Ill-equipped tramper 'slid, went over ridge'
JOHN EDENS IN QUEENSTOWN
A Wanaka mountaineer and search and rescue team leader who helped recover the body of a German tramper on Christmas Day said yesterday solo trampers must be prepared.
Police named 38-year-old Google software engineer Frank Spychalski as the man whose body was recovered from a steep, rocky gut near the 1534-metre-high Cascade Saddle.
He ventured into Mt Aspiring National Park almost a month ago as part of a trip along the Te Araroa trail and online posts suggest he was aware of the risks.
His Google+ blog stopped in November and friends raised the alarm when he failed to rendezvous with them.
On November 1, he posted about leaving Munich for New Zealand after a lot of preparation.
"Hope I can write some updates every few days, if you don't hear from me for a week or two, it's too late to call SAR."
Online, Mr Spychalski described his planned hike in New Zealand as the biggest adventure of his life.
On November 17, he posted about Department of Conservation warnings regarding attempting alpine passes in the Nelson Lakes area without climbing gear.
"I used up all my luck already on another close call two days ago where a few cubic metres of rock I was standing on fell five-plus metres down into a river and I just managed to jump back and hold onto a tree.
"I was already very scared after the last event, so I want to play it a bit safer now and won't take any stupid risks.
"I could walk on a forest road around the park, but that's no fun and not really the Te Araroa, so I decided to quit here and do a few other hikes instead."
Mr Spychalski was an active tramper and climber but it is understood he was travelling without climbing gear or a personal locator beacon.
A four-person search and rescue squad including Wanaka Search and Rescue team leader Gary Dickson and search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Constable Mike Johnston scrambled on Christmas Eve to define the search grid.
Mr Dickson said the saddle was usually under quite a lot of snow in spring especially the eastern side of the pass heading up to the "pylon". It was not possible to ascend to the top without stepping on snow in steep terrain, he said.
To reach the pylon, trampers leave the poled route a couple of hundred vertical metres before the saddle and ascend.
"It's the sort of terrain where the ground is really really hard and then it's got snow grass, it gets packed down by the snow.
"Coming down (on Christmas Day) it was bloody slippery. We almost had our crampons on just to deal with the snow grass. You get lots of trampers who cross up to that point. The hard thing is to turn around."
A fall was almost inevitably fatal and police said it appeared the tramper was unable to stop his fall, slid down the snow and over the edge of a ridge into a near-vertical gully 200 metres below.
Mr Dickson said it was not the first fatality at the Cascade Saddle and trampers needed to be conservative, tell people their plans and carry a personal locator beacon.
"People who are on their own, they don't have a sounding board from a decision-making point of view.
"If you go up with another party, you can reason it out."
Mr Spychalski went into the park on November 28 and talked to the hut warden at Aspiring Hut, which he left on November 29, about the alpine crossing and his mission to complete New Zealand's longest trail.
It was odd that he was decisive enough to turn back once in the Nelson Lakes but tried to cross the saddle in Mt Aspiring park, Mr Dickson said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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