Safer route to Blue Lake Hut proposed

CALLING FOR CHANGE: Ralph Kingston with a map of the area from  Blue Lake to Waiau Pass where he wants to see a safer route on the Te Araroa Trail.
CALLING FOR CHANGE: Ralph Kingston with a map of the area from Blue Lake to Waiau Pass where he wants to see a safer route on the Te Araroa Trail.

In the wake of the tragedy involving the death of a tramper over Christmas, a mapping specialist is advocating a safer, but equally spectacular, alternative route.

Andrew Wyatt, 41, of Cornwall, was last seen on December 15 and his body was found on December 27 below Lake Constance Bluff after an unsurvivable 100-metre fall.

It was presumed he fell from an area just one hour from the Blue Lake Hut where he was last seen.

Ralph Kingston, 88, of Stoke, said he was particularly struck by the tragedy as he had tramped there more than 10 times in 30 years.

"I really regard the Blue Lake Hut as a second home."

As a former aerial mapping surveyor of 37 years where he worked as a photogrammetrist at H O Lands & Survey, he felt he could offer his expertise to improve the quality of the area.

He first came up with the alternative route in 1970, after narrowly avoiding an accident when he was climbing a steep slope to pass a rocky bluff at the western side of Lake Constance.

When the area was wet it could be dangerous, slippery and in the case of Mr Wyatt - lethal, he said.

His alternative route "completely outflanked the moraine wall and the rock bluff".

The traverse was more direct, equally spectacular, and much less exposed to danger under most summer tramping conditions, he said.

He recommended that experienced rangers should take his idea and compare both routes for safety.

Poles and safety signage should also be added to provide extra support for trampers.

"I want people to enjoy it as safely as possible. Certainly, if you are going by yourself into the wild you are going at your own risk.

"But I think everyone who has done tramping in the area would agree the current track is awfully risky."

What saved Sir Edmund Hillary on so many occasions was that he knew when to turn back, he said.

"If you are on your own, lost or the weather has gotten beyond your control, the mountain will always be there, the path will always be there."

As a tramper of 30 years he had lost many friends and relations to tramping accidents.

"It makes you have much more of an appreciation of how fortunate my wife and I are to have survived after all these years of tramping voyages.

"I'm not saying I was the first to think of this alternative route but I'm going to be 88 next month and I feel I have an element of responsibility to do something.

"I am the first to admit life is a matter of survival of the fittest, but the Department of Conservation [DOC] has to take on a certain amount of responsibility to minimise harm."

Mr Kingston feared that the Government was neglecting to incorporate the trampers within the distribution of funding.

"We all know DOC resources are limited, but dare I say the political world is more interested in cyclists rather than trampers."

Araroa Trust chief executive Rob Wakelin said while they were responsible for areas in the vicinity, DOC was responsible for the area in question.

The trust was aware and had reviewed the proposal and passed a motion that it would engage with DOC to help establish whether the alternative route was feasible.

"We are pretty comfortable with Ralph's proposal but DOC are the ones with the people directly on the ground."

Conservation minister Nick Smith said while he was unfamiliar with the proposal, he would be happy to have a look at it and pass it on to his department.

Changes to routes would be subject to a lengthy and protocol-heavy process that was possibly outside his role as minister.

DOC was responsible for almost 14,000km of tracks around the country, through often rugged terrain, and it would be unrealistic to suggest they could ever completely eliminate any risk.

However, he said safety improvements would continue, citing the Government's increased funding for more detailed mountain and weather forecasts last year.

Dr Smith rejected the suggestion that trampers were neglected.

The Government spent $140 million on recreational facilities and a substantial portion of that was reserved for tramping tracks and huts, he said.

"If anything, as mountainbiking is a new activity I think funding towards it would tend to be less."

DOC spokesman Rory Newsam agreed with Dr Smith's assertions that DOC would not be rushing to make changes to the route without there being significant evidence to indicate it was unsafe.

"DOC has to manage its recreational budget carefully and it already spends more than $64m maintaining a network of over 14,000 kilometres of track and more than 900 huts nationwide."