Missing Mt Cook climber Stephen Dowall: Rescue crews may not reach glacier until Sunday

Missing climber Steve Dowall pictured on the summit of Aoraki-Mt Cook in November 2011.
David Grainger

Missing climber Steve Dowall pictured on the summit of Aoraki-Mt Cook in November 2011.

Attempts to reach an experienced climber missing in the Mt Cook area by helicopter continue to be thwarted by poor conditions.

Stephen Hunter Dowall, 52, has now been missing for two nights on the mountain after failing to follow his climbing companion into the Empress Hut on Thursday night.

Empress Hut sits at the head of the Hooker Glacier and under Mt Cook's Sheila Face.

A missing climber on Mt Cook has a personal locator beacon that has not been activated.
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ

A missing climber on Mt Cook has a personal locator beacon that has not been activated.

Dowall, who lives in Myanmar and works for the United Nations, was in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park with his friend, Wanaka man Rob Hawes.

Both men, in their 50s, had personal locator beacons with them for the climb but Dowall's has not been activated.

Mid-South Canterbury area commander Inspector Dave Gaskin said rain on the mountain was continuing to hamper the search-and-rescue team.

READ MORE: Climber missing on Mt Cook

Winds on Friday were too strong to fly a helicopter in, with two attempts made that had to turn back, he said.

It could be that they would have to wait until Sunday to reach the mountain, Gaskin said.

"This is definitely still a rescue mission, we still have hopes of being able to bring him off the mountain.

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"We don't know where he is so he might be on the glacier or he might have made his way to the snow and dug a snow cave and rode out the conditions."

Gaskin said the conditions on Mt Cook on Saturday were "abysmal" but it was expected to dramatically improve on Sunday.

"There's been sheer black sheets of rain hammering down up there all day and unless there's a remarkble clearance we won't get there until the morning.

"It's frustrating for everyone because we just want to be able to get up there and do our job."

The two climbers left Mt Cook village about 4am on Thursday to complete what was is listed as a 12-hour walk to Empress Hut.

Gaskin said they separated about 3.30pm after Hawes was significantly quicker than Dowall.

Hawes reached the Empress Hut and when Dowall had not followed him there by 9.30pm on Thursday, emergency services were called.

The landscape was "all open country", but both climbers were "extremely experienced", Gaskin said.

Photos online show both Dowall and Hawes on a successful climb of Mt Cook with a group of people in 2011. Canterbury Mountaineering Club records say Dowall has also climbed Mt Haast and Mt Tasman.

Gardiner Hut, situated at the halfway stage of the walk, was removed by the Department of Conservation in late-March after it was after it was damaged beyond repair by an avalanche in 2014.

 

 - Stuff

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