Three Climbers Killed by an Avalanche on Iconic Alpamayo in the Andes

AvyBrains | | Post Tag for AvalancheAvalanche
avalanche, climbers killed, Peru, Alpamayo
Alpamayo. Credit: summitpost

Three mountaineers, a Peruvian, a British and a Slovenian died as a result of an avalanche when they were trying to reach the summit of Alpamayo, in the Andes reported the High Mountain Division’s rescue unit of the National Police. The three were buried by the deadly avalanche on Saturday 30th June.

The rescue teams were able to locate the bodies of the climbers yesterday, Tuesday and began work to move the bodies to the municipality of Caraz, the closest to the snowy peak. They have been identified as Samuel Paul Richard Blelock from England, 27-year-old Eva Zontar of Litija, Slovenia, and Peruvian Guide Jamie Quintana Figueroa.

Alpamayo is considered one of the most beautiful peaks of the Andes making it a popular destination for mountaineers seeking to reach its peak, at just under 20,000-feet. The peak, inside the Huascarán National Park, is part of the Cordillera Blanca range, home to some of the highest mountains in Peru and the largest system of tropical glaciers in the world, which are sadly shrinking due to global warming.

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18 thoughts on “Three Climbers Killed by an Avalanche on Iconic Alpamayo in the Andes

  1. Thankyou,Thankyou you met him? Where? The Jam! Wow . Thankyou so so much. Any information, chats prior, any worries? We are still numb. thanks so much, please ANYTHING PLEASE LET ME KNOW.?where we’re you talking to him, how DO you know it’s Paul? My brother?again Thankyou for replying.Any information you can help us with we would be so grateful, you are a star, stay safe.

  2. Claire, you might want to get in touch with PHIL CRAMPTON of ALTITUDE JUNKIES. Phil also guides in the Andes and knows people there. Maybe he can help.

    I remember vividly your brother’s big smile. I remember talking about the song “That’s Entertainment” by The Jam, as it was yesterday… So sorry, désolé…

  3. Claire,
    I can share with you my observations of the climb and the conditions that week. I can also offer my opinion of the fall, etc. based on several experiences, my twenty years of climbing, my experiences as a US Marine officer, and my experiences as a firefighter here in the US. I can’t make any judgments on the guide or decisions they, your brother and the guide. Since this is a public forum and open to other’s ad hoc replies I will do my best to be objective and fact based.

    The conditions were generally good when we arrived at Camp Col on 25 June. It was light snow and overcast. Visibility was less than 100m. We settled in for a rest day to acclimatize on 26 June and a goal of summiting 27 June. The weather cleared the afternoon of 26 June. There wasn’t much new snow so we did not see any avalanche threat. Our guide, whom I have climbed with for over ten years, is an IFMGA certified guide. IFMGA guides, in my personal experience are experienced, use sound judgment, and offer safe, standardized approaches to climbing. Though we work as a team, he is in charge and I trust his judgment of conditions coupled with my experience. As American climbers, we stereotypically sometimes take a conservative approach on routes and aim to minimize risks – I say that because I have encountered climbers from other countries and we joke about that.

    That said, we were very comfortable with the conditions to make a summit bid the morning of 27 June.

    We awoke at midnight and set out across the glacier around 0100 27 June for the summit. We had made agreements with another climbing team on departure times. There was a five person group from another country there composed of a team of 2 and team of 3. While we had a verbal agreement to head out first, they quickly arose and nearly ran to the base of the climb to get ahead of us.

    The approach from Camp Col is a direct route to the base of the ice wall and bergshrund. It was 45 minutes to an hour I guess. I lost track. The snow conditions on the glacier were, in my experience, normal. Firm snow with easy travel and no post-holing (where your feet sink in and it is difficult to walk). One descends the glacier about 200m then climbs back up as one approaches the bergshrund area. There was some minor post holing on the approach up to the bergshrund – no issues and to be expected as there is often snow slides and build up there. At that point the two other teams raced past us to get ahead of us on the wall.

    The transition from the snow on the top of the bergshrund to the ice face/wall itself is a bit difficult due to the fact one has to cross the crevasse area. The bergshrund is where the high angle of the ice wall stops and forms the glaciated part of the lower mountain. As the glacier moves it separates from the ice wall/face and creates an opening or crevasse which can be deep, wide, narrow, or still joined to the ice wall/face. We found a narrow area to cross and began an ascent on the wall.

    Our plan was to do 11 pitches to reach the summit, I think 450 meters or so. Once on the actual ice wall we began climbing. There was snow on the lower two pitches making ice tool and foot placement a challenge at times. On the lower face this happens as the angle is not as steep thus allowing snow to layer over the actual ice. Challenging but not impossible. Conditions were good enough and we were in good enough spirits and endurance to change our plan and do long pitches vice short ones. We had 70m ropes and began to lay out near full rope pitches thus going from 11 pitches to get to the summit to 7.

    I say this because the conditions appeared good, the ice solid, confidence high, risks appeared, for us, to be low.

    However, the two teams that had raced past us to get in front were now above us. We felt they were somewhat self focused and could have been more considerate. At Camp Col the agreement was once on the wall they would climb on the right, us on the left so as to minimize falling debris. The debris from ice tool placement and foot placement falls down the wall and picks up great speed. It is as if being under fire and one can hear the fragments of ice bouncing and speeding past one’s ear. The teams above us were pelting us with debris. Normal custom is to call ‘ice’ when knocking debris down. They did not make any calls to warn us.

    At the end of pitch 5 the team above us knocked down a 0.6mx06m chunk of ice. It hit my partner in the shoulder and broke it in several places. I say this because the other team was above us by only 50-60 m at the time. The force of the ice falling from that distance caused severe injury in that short distance. Luckily my partner was near the anchor with a limited fall due to the shock. The teams above us saw what happened yet continued to climb and offered no help.

    I only recount these events to give you insight into the conditions being good but still there was an ability to have falling ice. Also, I do not know if there were teams above your brother’s team – it gives, I hope, a vision of the challenges, coordination, skill, and risks. Even if you think all is well something can and will challenge you whether nature or another man.

    We safely performed and emergency set of rappels. I, since I have emergency medical skill, tended to my injured partner, while the guide began rigging rappels. We made it to Camp Col where other teams, Italian, Swiss, Peruvian Guides, all helped us. It was humanity at its best.

    We left Camp Col on 28 June. Two teams began climbing at 0100 on 28 June. The night was clear – they both summited. Overcast set in later in the morning of 28 Jun as we descended to basecamp. We met, I am sure, you brother and his guide on the glacier going from Camp Col to Camp Moraine. I appeared they were headed to Camp Col. I suspect they would stay at Camp Col a day to acclimatize, 29 June, and summit on 30 June. That, in my opinion, is sound as acclimatizing a day prior to summiting is a low risk approach.

    We also met the Argentinian and his partner/girlfriend in the Moraine area about two hours behind your brother.

    I do not know if there was weather on the summit or col area on 29 June. I do not know of the weather conditions on 30 June.

    Regarding your question about the 23 hours. Based on what I heard from my partner/guide who heard it directly from the guide who arrived on 30 June at Camp Col and helped in the recovery, there was a sizable ice fall from the summit area. I do not know what triggered it. But, the ice moving at speed down the steep face would have certainly hit with such force that immediate blunt force trauma most likely would have occurred. They were swept off the ice wall; it would have been, if not instantaneous, mere seconds. Recalling my partner being hit in the shoulder – had it been 20 cm to the right he would have been killed instantly due to a head injury.

    I suspect the event happened quickly with no warning. Once any fall began at that angle arresting the fall with an ice tool would have been impossible. It sounds like both the guide and your brother were swept off together thus no chance for one to arrest or stop another from a fall. I do know that the female climber’s, Eva, rope was broken at or near the anchor point. That suggests a large force moving at speed hit and snapped the rope. It sounded like the actual anchors, made of the ice screws, remained in place.

    The length of time to find your brother was a factor of limited resources at Camp Col and the possibility he was down in the crevasse area of the bergshrund – that gap between the ice face and glacier. The American guide who arrived at Camp Col then helped indicated they were in the crevasse area. Also, there was an avalanche on the glacier area as well. Teams would have proceeded with caution for their own safety. Also there may not have been climbers skilled in crevasse rescue – I am sure there were guides there who were, but may not have been many until more resources made it there.

    That would count for the time lapse in recovery.

    I hope I filled in some gaps. I am happy to answer and discuss more. I am providing my email if you desire direct contact: I am happy to dialogue here as well, but if you have more pointed questions I am happy to answer especially if you want anything that might be interpreted as opinion. Again, I am sorry and am happy to honor your brother in any way. Skip Reindollar. (sorry didn’t get a chance to proof read this as I wanted to get it out tonight – excuse the spelling)

  4. Claire, I can try to learn the name of the Argentinian guide – my climbing partner knows him. Well, at least they met on a prior climb. We spent at least twenty minutes talking to him in the Moraine area. If I cannot learn his name I can get the name the American guide whose team arrived at Camp Col and then diverted immediately to the bergshrund area to begin rescue/recovery. He knows much more information as he let my climbing partner know. I searched my photos to see if we took any during our descent and, perhaps, may have your brother’s team in them. But, I am sorry to say, I do not have any. Unfortunately, we had our own emergency – a few pitches from the summit a large ice block fell from above and hit one of my partners causing multiple bone fractures of the shoulder. We had to do an emergency descent to Camp Col then the next day make a quick descent to basecamp. It was on that descent I am very sure I met your brother. I will do my level best to get a name and email. What I can tell you is that there was a large icefall from an area near the summit. The ice and snow from that release avalanched down the main flute area used to ascend the face. There were at least two teams on the face at the time, your brother’s team and the other two climbers, the Argentinian guide and his girlfriend, Eva. From what I was told the icefall swept away the Peruvian guide and your brother. Eva was seconding at the time, anchored in to the ice face while the Argentinian was leading to the next anchor station. I was told the ice fall hit her and broke the ropes holding her at the anchor thus carrying her down the face. As the icefall hit the bergshrund area where the ice face of the mountain meets the glacier/snow area it caused a second avalanche. That avalanche then carried down the glacier for a distance. I do not now the exact locations of each team after the two falls/avalanches. My climbing partner, who is also an IFMGA guide, indicated he was told by the American guide who was there that most of the rescue/recovery effort was in the bergshrund area. That is the best detail I can provide second hand. I am sorry to convey any detail which may trouble you and your family. I will hold your brother, you and your family in my thoughts, and especially when I return to the mountains. I will do my level best to get the name of the American guide for you. All the best. Skip Reindollar

    1. Thankyou so much Skip, I had to read it many times (as a non climber) for the whole horrific situation to make as much sense to me. When I first heard my initial reaction was to blame the guides, but I suppose this was just nature at its cruelest. ANY information you can find for me, just so we can put the pieces together would be so grateful. This is a horrible question but one that plagues my mind, he wasn’t found for 23 hours, having seen what you’ve seen, do you think Paul would have died instantly? It’s just so tragic as this was going to be his last mountain. Thankyou so much again on behalf of me and my family

  5. Dear Skip Thankyou so much for your information. I have been trying to find the only survivor but to no avail. Thankyou for taking the time to write as it’s still so hard to comprehend, you’re very kind. Stay safe Claire Samuel

    1. I was on the mountain that week in June, a group of three. We made our summit attempt on June 27 and one of my partners was hit by a large ice chunk a few pitches below the summit. We had to make an emergency descent from the ice face and back to Col Camp (the high camp). We descended to base camp on June 28; I am sure we encountered your brother on the glacier as they ascended to Col Camp from either Base Camp or Camp Moraine. We met a climbing team on the glacier, two males I recall. We exchanged a few tips and information on conditions. We did encounter Ms. Zontar and her boyfriend, the Argentinian climber who survived the ice fall, on 28 June in the Camp Moraine area. We spent 15-20 minutes talking with them. Once we arrived at base camp a friend of one of my climbing partners met us; he and his team were headed to Camp Moraine then Camp Col for a summit attempt. When he and his team arrived at Camp Col on 30 June they were summoned to the base of the ice wall to help in the recovery. I am happy to provide additional information as much as able. I am sorry to hear of your family’s loss. I just found out about the accident yesterday – I was totally unaware until now.

  6. Hi AvyBrains,

    Thanks for your article, but I hope you can make some edits for accuracy. Alpamayo is probably not the mountain in the Paramount Pictures logo, although some have rumored so. Also, the side of the mountain you have depicted was not the side they were climbing (SW) as the avalanche occurred. Do you have recent pictures of the climbers themselves? I am sure that we met at least one of these climbers while trekking in the area just before. They were really nice folks.

    Thanks! No need to post my comment unless you want to.

    1. Hey Graham, you’re right. Paramount pics is Artesonraju. My bad. Will change.

      Ah, yes, the photo of the mountain is stock. It wasn’t reported which side of the mountain they were on.

      Please tell us more about your encounter with these mountaineers, Graham.

    2. One was my brother, Paul Samuel, British 55 years, we only managed to say goodbye to him last Friday. Heartbroken and trying to find out ANY information? Can anyone help? Claire

      1. Hi Claire

        I just wanted to say I am so sorry for your loss. I worked with Paul from 2011 until 2016 at Ixxus. Right from when it was about 15 staff until it was sold. Everyday he inspired me with his business acumen, kindness, insight and total humility. I think about him often and was very saddened to hear what happened. I know tomorrow is the anniversary and I am sure it will be so difficult but he is not forgotten.

        1. Dear Sarah, Thankyou so much for your message, it’s been a hard weekend and we miss him terribly. X

      2. Hi moderators. Could you please delete my last comment with email adress? Im already in touch with claire. Thanks

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