Matterhorn Accident Adds to Deadly Season in the Alps
Tuesday, August 26, 1997

Two Americans who were killed while climbing the Matterhorn from the Swiss side were among five climbers killed in the Swiss Alps last weekend. At least 16 climbers have died in the past two weeks, and reports now put the number of climbing -- or skiing -- related deaths in the Alps at almost 100 since June.

An Idaho woman and a climber from California were killed when they fell, still roped together, on the East Ridge of the Matterhorn. Seven climbers were reported dead in Zermatt, Switzerland 10 days ago, including a 22-year-old American who fell into a crevasse and died from exposure before being reached by rescuers.

The Alps, which span five countries, have a socially acceptable high-risk culture in which climbing, backcountry skiing, parapenting and other dangerous sports are completely unregulated and therefore left to individual enthusiasms. But even in trendy Chamonix, the French mountain town and center of Alpine mountain sports, this summer's carnage is raising eyebrows.

World-renowned climber Reinhold Messner called for more stringent safety rules in the wake of the death toll: "It's time for national Alpine associations to organize a European conference to study mistakes made in the mountains and establish new guidelines," the Austrian climber told the Italian newspaper La Stampa. "Otherwise, politicians in Italy, France and Switzerland will end up closing the mountains."

The deaths have been blamed on heavy June snowfalls and unseasonably high temperatures in July, resulting in rock slides, avalanches and falls. Authorities have said that an unusually high number of inexperienced climbers has taxed the vaunted Alpine rescue infrastructure and inflated the death toll.

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