Coroner finds climber slipped during descent

Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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Renowned New Zealand mountaineer Athol Whimp died after he slipped on a patch of mud and fell while scrambling on a Fiordland peak in February, a coroner has found.

Mr Whimp had completed the ascent of Mt Moir, near the Homer Saddle, with two colleagues and was descending the mountain in wet conditions on February 20 when he fell.

Otago-Southland Coroner David Crerar found Mr Whimp died from multiple traumatic injuries.

It was not possible to ascertain whether a medical event had caused him to lose his footing, Mr Crerar said.

In his report, Mr Crerar described Mr Whimp as a fit, strong and experienced mountaineer with world-class achievements in the Alps and Himalayas behind him.

A past winner of the Piolet d'Or, or Golden Ice-Axe, from the International Mountaineering Association, the route he was attempting down from Mt Moir, while unsuitable for inexperienced climbers, should have been relatively straightforward for him, Mr Crerar said.

The three-man team had been traversing an exposed ridge in wet conditions without ropes, but this was not inappropriate given their ability level, Mr Crerar said.

The shoes Mr Whimp was wearing were robust and stable in the conditions.

However, Mr Crerar speculated Mr Whimp had suffered a head injury at the start of his fall which prevented him from taking any action to save himself.

Wearing a helmet and using trekking poles could have helped him, Mr Crerar said.

"The sport of mountaineering will never be totally safe. That is part of the challenge."

Mr Crerar quoted English poet William Blake in his decision. "Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street."

He recommended the Mountain Information Service continue to provide updates on hazardous conditions on mountain routes, that climbers ensure they are wearing appropriate footwear, consider the use of belay ropes in adverse conditions, and that helmets provided limited but useful protection.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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