THE dangers of the peak known as Cursed Mountain are well-known, but the scale of the tragedy could never have been anticipated.
Close friends and avid climbers Steve Barber and John Taylor had travelled to the French Alps to take part in an expedition to raise funds for charity, but it was an adventure which was ultimately to end in their deaths.
Mr Barber, 47, and Mr Taylor, 48, were part of a 28-strong group which left a climbing hut to attempt the route, described by local guides as the second most popular to the top of Mont Blanc, in the early hours of Thursday. The alarm was raised at 5.20am local time by one of the injured climbers.
French authorities were told a “slab” avalanche had hit several groups of mountaineers who were roped together on the northern face of Mont Maudit at 13,123ft. The avalanche was caused by heavy snow and is thought to have been triggered by strong winds.
Local French police commander Jean-Baptiste Estachy said the risks of avalanches were known – “especially during July and August” – but stressed it could not have been predicted.
British Ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts said a consular team was supporting the victims’ families who have travelled to France, and added: “This is a shock. There is a feeling of sadness here in Chamonix.”
A church service is to be held in Chamonix this afternoon in memory of the dead climbers. All those believed to have been missing have now been accounted for. Two other Britons – including climber Dave Compton, 41, from Ellesmere Port – reported missing following the avalanche were confirmed safe and well after contacting French police.
Mr Taylor and Mr Barber lived almost opposite each other in Pear Tree Avenue in Upper Poppleton, a commuter village about five miles from the centre of York.
Neighbours said they were shocked by the news, but added they were too upset to talk further about the deaths. Flowers were delivered yesterday to Mr Taylor’s detached home.
The leader of York Council’s Conservative group, Coun Ian Gillies, who represents Upper Poppleton, said: “Devastated doesn’t cover it, really. I’m sure the people in the village and the wider community will provide the support the families need, not only now but for weeks to come.”
The council’s Labour leader, Coun James Alexander, also released a statement in which he said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy.
Mr Taylor was director of resources at housing organisation the Vela Group. Chief executive Cath Purdy described him as “a kind, gentle man” who had been pursuing his passion when he was killed.
She added: “This is an enormous tragedy and all John’s many work friends have been left absolutely devastated by his death.”
The mountaineering world paid tribute to a third Briton, Roger Payne, who died and was one of the UK’s most respected climbers.
Dave Turnbull, the chief executive of the British Mountaineering Council, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the tragedy.
He added: “Roger was one of the UK’s most enthusiastic and respected climbers, with a track record of Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering stretching back to the 1980s.”
Mr Payne, a former president of the British Mountain Guides, was originally from Hammersmith in west London, but is understood to have been living in Leysin, Switzerland, with New Zealand-born wife Julie-Ann Clyma, who is also an experienced mountaineer.