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Mountain Rescue - Chamonix Mont Blanc

A Season with the World's Busiest Mountain Rescue Service

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Don’t look, I’ll have to cut your trousers.’

‘But they’re new!’

‘Don’t worry! My knife’s new too!’

A surreal conversation, but it is the act of talking that matters, the human exchange of words, proving that you are stronger than the adverse forces of nature.

Anne Sauvy starts her season with the Chamonix mountain rescue on a beautiful August day that sees the complicated and dangerous rescue of a couple who have fallen from the Frontier Ridge on Mont Maudit. A shattered kneecap, exposed bone, a gaiter holding half a litre of blood and a rescue attempt from an insecure belay on the rotten ice of a near vertical wall. All in all, a typical day.

The mountain rescue service based in the French resort of Chamonix is a highly skilled and speedy operation; it lifts stricken climbers from the huge glaciers, rock peaks and hazardous snow slopes of the highest massif in Western Europe. It is run by a section of the Gendarmerie, skilled mountain doctors who conduct emergency medicine in incredible situations.

While researching for a novel set during an Alpine rescue, Sauvy was so struck by their work that she decided to document their activities for a complete summer season. So began a season of freak accidents, big technical rescues, modest alarms for lost children or aging relatives, high altitude illness, eccentric soloists, parapent plummets, potential epics averted and, of course, much tragedy. In all this Sauvy notes the stoicism, team spirit and humour of the rescuers, often consoles the rescued and sometimes find herself comforting the bereaved.

A month into the assignment, after several fatalities she was so disturbed by events she nearly quit. The rescuers persuaded her to continue. They needed their story to be told by a sympathetic observer, to balance the flippant media coverage that they have to tolerate – ‘shock/horror’ reports to feed an apparently prurient and critical public.

Despite many difficult experiences, thanks to the speed and skill of the mountain rescuers most call-outs have a happy, if not miraculous, ending. After an eventful three-month tour of duty, rich with events and anecdotes, Sauvy had all the material she needed to complete a moving and candid portrayal of a mountain activity all too often taken for granted.

Anne Sauvy began climbing at the age of 17 and has made 170 alpine ascents. She is a renowned mountain writer, and among her nine books the short story collections Flammes de Pierre, The Game of Mountain and Chance and Darkness and the Azure won a number of international literary awards. Her other books include the novel Nadir about mountain rescue and Chamonix d’un siècle à l’autre. She lectured on the history of publishing and censorship at the Sorbonne. Sauvy is married to the English mountaineer John Wilkinson and splits her time between Chamonix and Paris.

  • Title: Mountain Rescue - Chamonix Mont Blanc
  • Sub-title: A Season with the World's Busiest Mountain Rescue Service
  • Author: Anne Sauvy
  • Imprint: Bâton Wicks
  • ISBN: 978-1-898573-52-4
  • Rights:
  • Publication date: 3 May 2001
  • Edition: First
  • Format: Paperback
  • Size: 210mm x 150mm
  • Extent: 324 pages
  • Weight: 580g
  • Retail price: £14.99

This is the most human of books, both in its portrayal of the rescue crews, whom she invests with quiet grandeur, and of the pain, physical or emotional, suffered by those whose fun in the mountains has been dashed so abruptly.– Stephen Goodwin, Alpine Club Journal

‘A humbling and grave book, and one all serious Alpinists should read.’ – Steve Dean, Boardman Tasker Prize judge

Here is an unusual book, certainly exciting, deeply involved, passionately inspiring, thought-provoking, and rather grave.’ – Terry Gifford, Climb Magazine

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