Talk Ultra Blog - Summits of my Life - A tribute to Stephan Brosse
Released: Wednesday 27th June 2012 | Share this Tweet
A blog post by Kilian Jornet http://www.summitsofmylife.com/en/news
Mont Blanc crossing report 23 June, 2012
June 16th 2012
It’s midnight when the alarm rings. We put on our ski suits and harnesses without uttering a word. We have a hot cup of tea and some biscuits and take the rucksacks which are already prepared. Two crampons, an ice axe, sunglasses, thermal gloves, a hat, a thick coat, a gore-Tex jacket, a canteen, some gels and a 20m rope will be our travelling companions in the following hours. We drive in silence to the Contamines. Not a cloud in the sky.
At one, we start running towards Tré la Tête. Nico Mermoud and Anna Frost have come to join us for this first part until, an hour later, we move into the glacier, our skis on.
We climb up the Tré la Tête glacier enjoying the magnificent views the white mountains around us offer, gleaming under a sea of stars that shine above our heads. A shooting star.
We reach the Dômes de Miage summit at 4h30. It starts to get light. We see the north face is white. It looks nicer to slide down on our skis following the line of the wall as far as Durier, rather than walk down the long arête. Stephan starts to go down the ridge. The snow seems good, he is careful and drives in the ice axe to secure each step. Ten metres on he stops.
“The snow is slightly frozen, but I think we can cross.”
I start descending slowly with the help of the ice axe. I reach the ice and manage to slow down using the axe. Both of us are sweating. Some thousand meters of ice are invisible in the darkness under our feet. We hesitate. The crossing on skis seems to be getting more and more difficult. What had appeared to be a soft layer of snow has turned out to be, in fact, a hard sheet of ice. We decide to take off our skis and climb up to the ridge using the crampons and the ice axe. An hour of nerves and sweat to get back to where we started!
We climb down the ridge striving to make up for lost time. The descent is easy, with some manoeuvres where we have to climb up and round and a small 10m rappel, where we need to use the rope.
Finally, we reach the Durier refuge, where the most technical part of the crossing begins. The first stretch of the Bionnassay ridge is easy until we get to the rock spur. There is no route marker. We had seen on survey maps that the way was up the north face. We climb up the rock following some shelves that take us to the north face, towards a dihedral angle covered in snow. Some 100m of narrow ice goulotte lead us to the mountain top ridge. We reach Bionnassay. A wonderful view, the sun rising behind Mont Blanc. We walk along a sharp ridge with the Chamonix and Aosta valleys below on either side. We find it hard to make our way. The heavy snow from recent days means we sink in up to our knees and so, half way along the ridge, we decide to get back on our skis and ski down to the Col of Bionnassay.
A strong wind from Italy begins to blow on our ascent to Dôme de Gouter and makes us forget the high temperatures and lets the cold invade our bodies. The altitude and fatigue due to nearly 8 hours of effort combine and the climb up the Ridge des Bosses to Mont Blanc seems to be never ending. We reach Mont Blanc alone. The strong winds, with gusts over 100km/h, mean that there are very few people that high up. A magic moment, the two of us alone on the summit of the Alps, at the mid-point of our adventure.
Without stopping for more than a few moments, we start the descent towards Mont Maudit. The snow is hard but we can ski quickly. A little climb up Maudit and what a surprise when we see the north face where we have to descend. It is a white wall. There is no path. A narrow spit of snow-covered land allows us to descend a few meters using ice axe and skis until we get to the permanent ropes which are there in the summer and go down as far as Col de Tacul where we look for the path between the Séracs. The descent of the Tacul is easy; the snow has covered the bergschrund.
When we get to Col de Midi, we realize how hot it is. We carry on skiing down at great speed through the Vallée Blanche so as not to lose inertia while the snow is becoming heavier and heavier and melting more under our skis. We make our way over the Mér de Glace, climbing down and jumping across the large cracks until we get to the Salle a Manger, where we have to take off our skis to cross a vast moraine of stones. The heat is unbearable; we take water from the glacier and start to climb the stairs to the Couvercles refuge.
Stephane is very tired. We have been on the go for 14 hours and have ascended and descended a total of 6,000m. I go ahead to find out about the conditions in les Courtes. The strong heat makes us fear that there will be serious problems. At the Couvercles glacier, I meet Vivian and Bastien who are coming down the Col des Droites. They have not been able to get to the top. As they feared, the heat has increased the risk of big avalanches and the snow is very unstable. We go back to the refuge together and find Stephane waiting for us. We do not take long to decide. We can not continue; safety is the most important factor. We will wait for the temperatures to descend and continue the next morning.
We spend the afternoon remembering the intense experiences of the long morning, and chatting with guides and alpinists about things that have happened in these mountains and future projects until the sun goes down and we are sleepy.
17th June 2012
It’s 5 o’clock in the morning when we get going again. Stephane feels as good as new and we move forward at great speed over the glacier climbing up to Col des Droites where we overtake those who are climbing with ropes and had set off at 1 o’clock. We arrive at the Col and look at the last obstacle of our journey. The Aguille d’Argentiére is right in front of us. We start to make our way there along the Courtes ridge, and need to use our ice axes in some icy places. The NNE of Courtes looks fantastic, with snow along its whole length.
Stephane goes down first, as always. He does a first turn to test the strength of the snow and then moves forward doing bigger turns alongside this impressive 50º slope. He has a wide grin on his face when we get to the bottom of the narrow valley. He has never skied down here in such good conditions. The bergschrund is another story. A 4-meter wall and a wide crack under it block our way.
“Blimey, we will need to do a huge jump,” says Stephane, while I am thinking where we can attach the rope to climb down. I don’t have time to think. At my side I hear Stephane take a leap saying, “You will need to take a run at it before you jump.” He jumps easily and manages to steady himself before he stops some ten meters further down. “Come on, take a run up and jump!” he shouts. I am scared.
I take a deep breath and jump. I see the crack stretching below my skis. I touch the snow and I try to regain control. The deep snow makes me fall forwards and I start to roll down. I stop at Stephane’s feet. We both laugh.
We start to climb the Y corridor in the Aguille d’Argentiére very quickly. The snow is hard and so we can climb quickly with our sticks and the help of ice axes from time to time. We see Sebastien Montaz and Bastien Fleury ahead of us and we are catching up.
When we get to the end of the Couloir, we meet up. They look really happy. We eat a little and we all explain the things that have happened in the last few hours and what we are planning. We are enjoying being there and the fact that there is only a long descent left to enjoy. The birds glide around taking advantage of the strong wind around us. We give them some food. We feel pure happiness.
We start on our way again between the two summits of Aguille d’Argentiére. I am going along the inside on the West side. Stephane is following me but on the outside, 2.5m from the edge. Seb and Bastien, who are following the same path as Stephane, stop for a moment. I turn to see what they are doing and I realize that behind him there is a huge cornice of overhanging snow. I lift my stick to signal to Stephane. One second, that’s all that separates happiness from pain. Everything is decided in millimeters, in tenths of a second. The cornice where Stephane was standing is breaking off, taking him away with a large quantity of snow. A piece some three meters wide and 6 meters long.
Everything stops. We run, we look to see where he has fallen, and decide to phone the PGHM, the emergency service. Bastien goes down to Argentiére to sound the alarm. We find shelter and manage to get through on the phone. We wait for the helicopter. The seconds become hours. Time seems to have stopped.
The helicopter carries away Stephane, who has not survived the 600m fall on the Eastern face of Argentiére.
Stephane died as he lived, with happiness, in silence, without screaming, without making any noise but, high up as we were, with that elegance and humility which characterized his life, he fell as softly as a tree.
Now these are difficult days, days when we search for the whys, if only…, days in which friends and family have to support each other. The empty space he has left will never be filled: he will always be there. The image will never go away, but what filled us, all the moments we spent together, all the things we learnt from him, in the mountains and elsewhere, will never disappear. They will be present in all the summits we reach from now on.
With Stephane I had so many projects, first as my hero, then as my mentor and finally as a friend. We had talked so many times about the mountains we wanted to climb, the dreams we wanted to achieve. We will keep on doing it for you Steph.
We have chosen a way of life, an environment, the mountain, whose risks we are fully conscious of. We know that despite wanting to control the uncontrollable, there are risks that you cannot foresee, that do not depend on us. Life means living your passions. Death is the thing which makes all men equal, without a doubt. The mountain takes many things away from us but it