British climber freezes to death in snowstorm on Mont Blanc

A British climber froze to death near the summit of Europe's highest mountain after becoming trapped for two nights in a snow hole.

Simon Triger, a researcher at Glasgow University, and climbing partner Iain Mount were 13,000ft up Mont Blanc when they were forced to take shelter from driving snowstorms.

After two nights in extreme weather and freezing temperatures, Dr Triger, 31, an experienced hill runner and Alpinist, succumbed to the effects of the cold.

Simon Triger

Tributes: Simon Triger, 31, froze to death after being trapped for two nights in a mountain snow hole 13,000ft up Mont Blanc (undated photograph)

Incredibly, Mr Mount was saved after he left the snow hole to try to find emergency supplies that had been dropped by a helicopter.

When poor visibility left him unable to retrace his steps to their shelter, he decided to head down the mountain and was eventually picked up by the rescue helicopter, cold but otherwise unhurt.

Last night, 30-year-old Mr Mount's stepfather, Glenn Ralston, spoke about the ordeal, saying it was "sheer luck" that helped him survive.

He said both men were experienced climbers and had already climbed the Eiger and the Matterhorn together and, before the tragic accident, Dr Triger - known affectionately as 'Trigger - was planning to climb the Himalayas.

Mr Ralston said: "They were always very sensible and checked the weather forecast that said it was at least three or four days before the bad weather would hit. The emergency services told us they did everything right - it was just one of those things."

The pair set off from the Gonella refuge on the Italian side of Mont Blanc last week and made it to the top last Tuesday.

"As they were coming down, the weather just closed in," said Mr Ralston.

"They got to the nearest safety hut, a bit like a Scottish 'bothy', to work out their next move.

"They decided the best thing to do was to dig a snow hole and get in it for the night. The next morning the weather wasn't any better so they texted mountain rescue to give their position and to say they were okay."

By then, the weather and visibility were so poor that rescue efforts had to be abandoned.

On Wednesday, Sheffield-born Mr Triger's condition started deteriorating rapidly; his speech was garbled and he was hallucinating.

Mr Mount, originally from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, contacted mountain rescuers again, who agreed to drop emergency supplies.

Mr Ralston said: "They dropped blankets, food and a Primus stove. Iain heard the drop, but couldn't see it through the fog.

Simon Triger

Tragic: The outdoor enthusiast was a keen mountaineer, runner and canoeist (undated photograph)

"After searching, he found the food and the stove but not the blankets, and then he realised he couldn't find his way back to the snow hole and Simon.

"He had to shelter in a crevice overnight, he couldn't open the food because of frostbite and he couldn't get the stove to work."

As the weather cleared last Thursday morning, the helicopter crew spotted Iain near the Dome du Gouter - at 13,000ft the third highest peak in the Mont Blanc group - and winched him to safety.

However, when he begged them to find his friend, the rescue team told him it would prove impossible to find the snow hole. They planted flags in the snow to give them a rough idea of where to begin searching for the stricken climber, when the storms cleared.

Around five hours later they found Mr Triger still in the snow hole but no longer alive.

"They took Iain down the mountain and he was questioned by police who were brilliant with him," said Mr Ralston.

"They placed him with a French family until he got his strength back and then he drove himself home from Chamonix back to Nottingham on Sunday.

"He lost three quarters of a stone and has frostbite in his hands but we aren't sure how serious yet. We are going to see him tomorrow. His mother, Angela, hasn't seen him since it happened and she just wants to hold her baby.

"Iain is very upset about what happened, but has already said he wants to carry on climbing in Simon's memory. That is a common sentiment among the climbing fraternity, I gather."

Yesterday, tributes poured in for Dr Triger, a keen mountaineer, hill runner and canoeist who had worked for the past two years at Glasgow University's microsystems technology group.

More than 20 messages were posted on the website of Glasgow-based Westerlands Cross Country Club, where he was a member.

A statement on the site read: "Despite being a highly experienced climber, Simon was unexpectedly caught out and trapped by a severe storm, and was unable to be rescued.

"Simon was a rare and unique character. He never had a bad word to say against anyone, and seemed on a mission to spread positive energy into the world, and get the most possible out of his life, packed to the brim with non-stop outdoor adventures and experiences.

"It is hard to imagine not seeing Simon again. His good humour and laughter always brightened up every club run, even in the depths of winter. Simon will be deeply missed by all who knew him."

Prof David Cumming, of Glasgow University's department of electronics and electrical engineering, said: "Simon was a great contributor. He was a lively character, very bright and very capable who will be deeply missed."

It is understood Dr Triger had a girlfriend, Kate McIntosh, who was last night being comforted by friends.

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