Friends climb Mont Blanc weeks before 12 die in avalanche
THE tragic deaths of nine climbers in an avalanche on July 12 while attempting to climb Mont Blanc in France brought home the stark, “eye-opening” dangers that Tandragee men Jonathan Morton and Nick Durrans faced weeks beforehand.
Jonathan (22), who works for Ulster Carpets, and Nick reached the summit of three of Europe’s most formidable mountain peaks, France’s Mont Blanc and Italy’s Grand Paradiso and La Trecenta, in June.
Friends since childhood, the pair were accompanied by mountain guide, Dave Hollanger, originally fron Ballyclare, but now based in England. Jonathan and Nick climbed all three peaks in just five days with only two days spent travelling.
Jonathan, who has enjoyed mountaineering and rock-climbing since he was a child, admits that when he learned news of the avalanche - which claimed the lives of nine climbers at Mont Maudit, part of the Mont Blanc range - the dangers of mountaineering hit home. “What happened two weeks ago was a sobering thought, it was an eye-opener,” he said.
The tragedy was followed by the deaths of two young climbers - a Spanish man and Polish woman who froze to death on Mont Blanc - two days later. Fortunately Jonathan’s expedition was largely free of danger, although he had a ‘near miss’ moment when Nick saved him from falling into a snow-covered crevasse.
“We were being guided through the crevasse when I stepped off the path to let someone pass. I fell but Nick managed to grab me,” said Jonathan.
There was also a hair-raising moment when they had to cross a gully in darkness. “The guides say that you have to cross it at night time because it’s colder and less rocks will come away. It was loud because you hear people shouting ‘rock’ and you only have the light coming from the torch on your helmet in front of you.”
A frequent climber of the Mournes and the Scottish Highlands, Jonathan, who works in the custom planning division at Ulster Carpets, said mountaineering in continental Europe differed vastly to climbing closer to home.
“You just couldn’t compare them,” he said. “The difference (between them) is incredible; the size, the huge scale. The weather conditions weren’t as bad as the Sottish Highlands, in fact, we had a good spell of weather at Mont Blanc.
“The summit climb to Mont Blanc took 14 hours in all. In your mind you’re just thinking of getting to the top and of course, really you’re only halfway through it. Coming down (the mountain) is easy but it can be hard on your knees. Altitude sickness was also a problem. I wasn’t too bad but it was an issue for Nick who was sick.”
Jonathan’s dad Gary and Nick’s father Peter accompanied their sons on part of the Mont Blanc climb. “My dad would have taken me to the Mournes as a child so that’s where it all began for me. I’m addicted to mountain climbing. I plan on doing more in the Scottish Highlands and I would like to do the Himalayas but financially it is very expensive so we’ll see,” added Jonathan.
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Weather for Portadown
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west