On Thursday 1 June 2023, the dead bodies of two climbers were found at the foot of the Whymper couloir. They were found by a group of mountaineers who called the The Chamonix High Mountain Gendarmerie Platoon (PGHM).
The Whymper Couloir is a steep (max 50 degrees) 600 metre channel on the Aiguille Verte that holds a lot of snow. At this time of year, it has usually avalanched so there is a large volume of avalanche debris at the foot of the couloir. The couloir can hold so much snow that one avalanche will not clear it. In the current climate conditions, a snow and ice base does remain in place. There is constant risk, particularly later in a spring day, when ice, compacted snow and even rocks from the couloir walls can descend very quickly.
The couloir is fitted with fixed belay points for a abseil descent.
The mountaineers decided to not attempt to move the bodies. After making the call to the PGHM, they continued on their way, with the salutary reminder of the risks that all mountaineers face.
The PGHM arrived at the accident site very quickly, thanks to a Dragon 74 civil security helicopter. The bodies were evacuated to the Drop Zone in the Bois du Bouchet, Chamonix.
Immediately, one of the two dead was identified as Bernard Guerin, a High Mountain Guide who had worked for the Chamonix PGHM as a mountain rescue specialist.
In 2014, at the age of 60, Bernard Guerin retired from the PGHM and moved to the Pyrénées-Orientales region in South west France. Regularly, he would return to Chamonix to spend time with friends and to climb in the Massif of the Mont-Blanc, usually as a guide.
On what was to be his last visit to Chamonix, his client was a resident of Paris who was born in 1994.
The investigation that takes place after all fatal accidents in the Mont Blanc massif is conducted by the PGHM. Its was quickly determined that the accident did happen on Thursday 1 June 2023, and not in the preceding days. It was deduced that the two climbers fell down the Whymper Couloir that they had climbed, probably in the early hours, on route to the summit of the Aiguille Verte. Also, it is reported that the accident sequence might have started when a belay point secured into the rock became detached.
Le Dauphiné contributed to this News Item