A young mountaineer who fell to his death on Mt Aspiring was about to achieve one of his main climbing goals.
The body of Ari Ross Kingan was recovered yesterday morning after he died while descending from an area known as The Ramp, Wanaka police sub-area commander Senior Sergeant Allan Grindell said.
Kingan, 21, was a member of the New Zealand Alpine Team, one of eight young climbers selected last year.
His mentor, Daniel Joll, said the team had lost a good friend.
"Anyone who knew Ari knew he was just a really nice young guy, genuine and down to earth."
In June he had spent his 21st birthday in Alaska, climbing at Denali National Park - North America's highest mountain. He was this month doing a climbing road trip around the South Island.
"He was a young, 21-year-old guy living the climber's dream - travelling the country, hanging out with his mates and having a good time."
Kingan was not a risk taker, Joll said.
"He didn't have this accident from excessive risk taking. He basically got caught out on a descent coming off the peak - they'd finished their climb and were almost at the hut."
The Alpine Team released a statement last night describing the incident.
"Ari had just completed an ascent of the South Face of Mt Aspiring with a friend, having set off at 2am from French Ridge Hut," it said.
"They were descending the North West Ridge at night and had just begun descending The Ramp when a change from powder snow to blue ice caught Ari, who was in front, by surprise. He lost his footing and fell several hundred metres to the Bonar Glacier below."
Kingan was a "well-liked and respected member of the team", the team said.
"He was a capable rock and mixed climber; he was sensible and a solid climbing partner. He was strong, talented, generous and honest. He brought his good nature and willing attitude to every climb and to everything in life."
The climb had been one of Kingan's great goals, it said.
"He had previously climbed the technically much easier North West Ridge in summer, and it is a tragedy that his life should be taken when their climb was almost over."
The Alpine Team said it was a sad reminder to all mountaineers that all too often accidents occur during descent.
The Ramp was a notoriously treacherous place that had previously claimed the lives of others descending the mountain, it said.
The Rescue Co-ordination Centre alerted Wanaka police at 8.48pm on Sunday after a personal locator beacon, leased from the Otago University Tramping Club, was activated.
Kingan and a friend had been climbing since 2am on Sunday and were attempting to traverse the south side of Mt Aspiring to meet five other members of their group who had tramped to Colin Todd hut.
A Southern Lakes helicopter from Te Anau, flown by Richard Hayes and carrying winchman Lloyd Matheson and doctor David Hamilton, was sent to the site where they winched Kingan's friend to safety.
Matheson said the climbers were together on the ridgeline of The Ramp when Kingan fell.
The friend, who had attempted to abseil down to the fallen climber, was winched to safety by the helicopter crew.
He was uninjured and did not know his friend had died. When told he suffered anxiety and shock.
Using night-vision equipment, the helicopter crew located the climber after his friend flashed a torch light at them.
"Because it was dark, he couldn't see and had hoped to find him [Kingan] on a ridge," Matheson said.
While it was not uncommon for climbers to be out after dark, "I
imagine they would have become pretty fatigued".
Matheson said the men were carrying the right gear for the climb. "It was good they had a beacon. It took us straight to them," he said.
There had been concerns the man would be blown off the ridge by the helicopter blades but he had snow anchors to safely secure himself and Hamilton was able to talk to him about how to attach the winch correctly.
Wanaka mountaineer and guide Geoff Wayatt said The Ramp "has been the scene of the majority of the accidents of Mt Aspiring in the past four decades".
"If people do have a difficulty . . . if there is a loss of concentration and a slip, then it's very difficult to self-arrest with an ice axe," Wayatt said.
Fitness and fatigue could come into play after a long day climbing, he said.
"You've got to be careful on descent. Accidents have occurred both going up and down when people may or may not be tiring."
The Ramp was a 45- to 50-degree slope and it was uncommon for it to be climbed at this time of the year because of the shorter daylight hours and the inconsistent weather, Wayatt said.
Along with the Buttress route, The Ramp was the most popular climb to get to the peak, he said.
Hayes said he had been called to the area "many times" to assist with rescues.
Kingan, who came from Takaka in Golden Bay, had studied for a Diploma in Outdoor Instruction and Guiding at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth.
In December he was the recipient of the Cave Creek Student Excellence Award, in memory of the 13 students who lost their lives in 1995 at Cave Creek in Paparoa National Park when a viewing platform collapsed into a ravine.
AT A GLANCE
Climbing deaths on The Ramp, on Mt Aspiring
January 2005: German man Niklas Werner, 28, a PhD student at Waikato University, fell 100m to his death while traversing The Ramp; Marc David Freedman, 22, was recovered from a crevasse on the Bonar Glacier after he fell 50m while climbing The Ramp with a friend.
April 2004: Gavin Cederman, 49, of Takaka, and Barrie Arthur, 31, of Franz Josef, died after falling from The Ramp. Climbing companion Christopher Moore, 30, of England, survived. The climbers were roped together. The Ramp is one area of Mt Aspiring where there have been deaths.
Fairfax Media has recorded more than a dozen climbing deaths on the mountain in the past 10 years.
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