Death on Ramp fifth in decade

KEEN CLIMBER: Ari Ross Kingan died on Mt Aspiring.
KEEN CLIMBER: Ari Ross Kingan died on Mt Aspiring.

When The Ramp, a treacherous 600-metre, perilously slippery slope on Mt Aspiring, claimed the life of Ari Ross Kingan on Sunday night, he was its fifth victim in a decade.

Kingan, 21, and his climbing partner had conquered the southern face of Mt Aspiring and were starting their descent of The Ramp when a change from powder to ice caused the Greymouth student to slip.

Once he started, there was no stopping. The Ramp tilts at 45 degrees, so Kingan had little chance of halting his momentum as headed toward the cliff at its foot.

He fell several hundred metres to the Bonar Glacier below.

His was the 10th life lost in Mount Aspiring National Park in the past 10 years. Five died after taking on The Ramp and losing.

Whitney Thurlow, chief guide at Aspiring Guides in Wanaka, described The Ramp as a "glacial strip of snow" about two hours down from the summit.

A climber who tripped would be unable to stop himself sliding and would inevitably fall off the cliff at the bottom, just as Kingan did.

Some climbers took it too lightly, Thurlow said. They felt safe detaching their safety ropes from the mountain during what they thought was an easy part of the climb.

But sometimes ropes could spell doom - deaths had occurred when a climber had fallen, dragging a partner roped to him down as well. Usually, ropes were life-savers, Thurlow said.

"It's a beginner mistake to be tied together and not tied in the snow," he said.

Kingan and his partner were experienced, well-equipped climbers but the decision to descend The Ramp in the dark was questionable.

"They were going down a route in the dark which they hadn't come up . . . if you were instructing someone, you'd want to think twice."

The Ramp is closed off around December each year as snow melts and deep crevasses are exposed. It reopens in the winter, when snow covers the ice.

Even then, climbers regard it as a known danger spot. 

The Southland Times