Climber tells of heartache after friend fell to his death

THE climbing partner of a Brighouse man who fell to his death in the French Alps had to leave him behind to get help, an inquest heard.

Gary Nelmes, 42, plunged 120ft down a crevasse when a snow bridge gave way as he descended the Milieu glacier near Chamonix in July ,2009.

In a statement to Halifax Coroner’s Court, Richard Jones told how he was powerless to help his friend when he saw him plummet out of sight in front of him.

He said: “He dropped suddenly. He was held very briefly by the weak snow for maybe a second, then shouted: ‘Rich! Rich!’ and disappeared.” Mr Nelmes had been carrying their only rope so Mr Jones could not try to reach him.

The inquest heard he could not see him from the top of the deep ravine and got no response when he called out to him.

Unable to use his mobile phone in the remote spot, he took a GPS reading of their location, at 3,100m, and went to get help.

A mountain-rescue team was scrambled but a lightning storm broke out, rendering the helicopter unable to land.

Rescuers went back the next day as soon as the weather allowed them to and found Mr Nelmes’s body at the bottom of the crevasse.

He had died from multiple injuries, as well as a punctured lung and hypothermia.

The inquest heard that the two experienced climbers had been using their rope when they could use ice screws to secure it.

They were going without it at the spot where he fell because the conditions made it impossible.

Mr Jones told the inquest: “On the descent, snow conditions were softer and slushier.

“It was very difficult to get to the base of the ice in certain areas so you couldn’t always use ice screws.”

Going without a rope in these circumstances was best practice when climbing as a pair, the inquest heard.

“With two people, it’s difficult, sometimes impossible to stop the fall of one,” said Mr Jones, a police officer.

“If you have some protection in you can stop the fall but if you are not able to put it in then you are both likely to fall - then there is nobody to provide any kind of rescue.”

Recording a verdict of misadventure, coroner Tim Ratcliffe said the pair had known the risks and had done everything possible to minimise them.

He said: “They were both properly equipped, they both took account of weather conditions, they both climbed properly, came down at the appropriate time, and did what was appropriate according to best climbing practice.

“But mitigation of risk is not elimination of risk. Climbers know that.”

Mr Nelmes was the only son of Glyndwr and Janette Nelmes, of Bailiff Bridge, Brighouse.

He lived in Milton Keynes and worked as a media project manager for the Open University.

Speaking after the inquest, his dad described him as a driven and adventurous man who loved a challenge.

He said: “He was a very special person. He had two degrees, a master’s degree and another on the way. He did marathons, long-distance swimming - you name it.

“He was a very fit young man but he was also academic. He was extremely intelligent.

“He could do anything, he could sculpt, he could paint. I don’t know where he got it from.

“He was a very, very lovely lad.”