and Frédy were as active as ever during the summer of
1978. They made a memorable ascent of the Jungfrau, an epic
involving two twenty-hour days and a "Thank God" bivouac
in the restrooms of the upper railway station. They could no
longer climb as fast as in earlier years, and after that they
chose their itineraries more carefully.
were many ascents that summer, some with their daughters,
others with friends, still more by themselves. On a bright
day in early September they climbed the Dent Blanche. The
views were magnificent and they spent a long time examining
the nearby Dent d'Hérèns, the peak immediately
west of the Matterhorn. The Dent d'Hérèns (4171
m) was one of the few summits in the Valais that they had
not yet reached. Two attempts had failed on account of bad
weather, and now the peak was high on their list.
Monday, September 25, Dorly and Frédy left Survigne
for a mountain tour in the Alps without telling anyone where
they were going. They just had time for one last ascent before
leaving on a trip to Buenos Aires and Santiago, where they
planned to visit family and friends.
was fine, and Wednesday dawned clear and sunny. Late in the
afternoon, a sudden storm passed through the higher elevations,
lasting into evening. Mariette was expecting a call from her
parents Thursday night, and she was surprised when she did
not hear from them. She thought it odd that no one answered
the telephone at Survigne. Friday there was still no answer.
By Saturday morning, Mariette and her sisters were frantic.
They called several climbing friends to organize a rescue
party, but where had Frédy and Dorly gone? Then Christiane
recalled an offhand remark that Dorly had made about Aosta.
Sunday morning, ten cars pulled up to the central plaza in
the Italian city of Aosta. Inside were all the people the
sisters had been able to round up overnight. Many were climbers
laden with rescue equipment, the rest friends and relatives
who came to help in any way they could. Maps of the region
were issued to the drivers, and then they fanned out to check
the mountain roads and trailheads.
noon, Dr. Bach found the Marmillods' car high in the Valpelline
valley. So, they had headed for the Aosta Hut. Dr. Bach phoned
the news down to the Army base outside of Aosta, where a helicopter
remained on alert. Within a few minutes the chopper was on
its way, carrying two Italian guides.
crew flew directly to the hut but was unable to land on the
moraine. As the helicopter hovered, one guide jumped out,
sprinted into the hut for the register, and dashed back to
the aircraft. There it was. Frédy had signed the register
on Tuesday night. The helicopter flew up the mountain and
about three-hundred vertical meters below the summit the crew
spotted two figures on the glacier. It was impossible to land,
and too windy to risk lowering a man on a cable. After circling
for a few minutes, the chopper dropped away swiftly toward
the army base.
news was received by the hushed assemblage of friends and
relatives waiting in Aosta; Frédy and Dorly lay frozen
on the Dent d'Hérèns. Apparently they had been
caught by the storm on Wednesday and forced to bivouac. When
the guides reached them later, they found the couple had anchored
themselves to their ice axes and laid down with their crampons
still on. Frédy's head was resting against his hands
and shoulder, like when he slept in a hut without a pillow.
Dorly had snuggled up against his back. She often slept that
way to keep warm because her circulation was not as good as
his. They had no bivouac gear and must have succumbed quickly
in the winds and low temperatures, estimated at -40 degrees
Celsius. After a lifetime together, Dorly and Frédy
died together doing what they loved.
paper was found in the glove compartment of the car. It was
an unfinished letter that Dorly had written to one of her
daughters. "Tomorrow we will climb the Valpelline to
reach the Aosta Hut," she wrote. "We very much wish
to see the Dent d'Hérèns close at hand, this
superb mountain that has not wanted us up to now."
memorial service was held in Lausanne a few days later. Several
hundred people attended, coming from every corner of Switzerland.
Survigne, Janine, Christiane, and Mariette began the heartbreaking
task of arranging and disposing of their parents' belongings.
Janine's sons Marcel and Patrick were there too. The boys,
ages 12 and 8, asked for their grandfather's rope. Janine
gave it to them and went back to work. After a while she missed
the boys, so she and her sisters began looking for them, first
inside the house, then outside.
is built so that the roof slopes gently almost to the ground.
The two boys had gone up on the roof and tied into the rope.
One stood belaying the other, using the same stance and the
same climbing signals as their grandfather. The sisters stood
in silence watching from below. In that moment they did not
see Marcel and Patrick on the roof, but themselves a generation
earlier at the Sierra de la Ventana. The women silently returned
inside and let the boys continue their play.
month after the memorial service a crate was delivered to
Survigne. Inside lay the granite statue of a marmot. Marmots
had been one of Frédy and Dorly's favorite animals,
symbolizing the peace and seclusion of the mountains. Dorly
seemed to have had an affinity for them, and in spite of her
short-sighted vision she often spotted them. The explanation
for the animal was found among Frédy's papers: he had
commissioned it that summer without telling anyone about it.
A foundation was poured and the statue lovingly placed next
to the garden as Frédy had wished. Standing erect and
alert, the marmot looks past neatly-trimmed vineyards, over
the village steeple, and beyond the shimmering waters of Lake
Geneva until its sight comes to rest on peaks where glaciers
sparkle in the sun.