Would-be climber alarmed hired crampons fell apart

DEBBIE JAMIESON
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2013

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A Queenstown woman attempting her first ascent of Mt Aspiring was stunned when not one but both of her hired crampons fell apart.

"I could've died," Maryjane Walker said.

The self-employed property manager who has previously climbed Mt Blanc and trained on Mt Cook had been planning the trip for months and taken time off from a busy schedule to get there.

She hired the Italian Grivel crampons from Wanaka-based MT Outdoors at a cost of $12.75 a day after leaving hers in storage in Auckland.

She paid for a helicopter to deliver her and friend Murray Ball, a professional climbing guide, to the Bevan Col on Tuesday afternoon.

The pair tented for the night and headed out at 4am for what promised to be a perfect day to head to the Colin Todd hut before tackling the northwest ridge to the summit.

At 4.10am the first crampon broke, with the spring-loaded adjustment link in the base coming loose. The second suffered an identical break 30 minutes later.

"I made it to the hut with the crampons off, which is not safe, and Murray fixed them with borrowed pliers from an Austrian climbing guide."

In the meantime, the day got later, weather reports came in that the freezing level was going to drop the next day and the opportunity to attack the summit disappeared.

Ms Walker was devastated. "I cried. I was pretty upset."

Not only had she missed her well-planned opportunity to summit Mt Aspiring, she believed the consequences could have been much worse if the crampons had failed on the glacier.

"People die from avalanches. You don't expect them to die from failed crampons."

The pair headed out on a helicopter about 5pm with Ms Walker returning to MT Outdoors in the morning.

"I was fuming. They looked at me. I said ‘I want the cost of getting in there and coming out - $2300'. I said ‘You've got my mobile and details. Ring me'. Two hours later I've heard nothing. I'm just getting angrier. I can't move on."

She had spoken to Outdoors New Zealand and would be laying a work safety complaint with the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation as well as considering civil action, she said.

Mr Ball said the mechanism on both crampons was worn and wasn't detectable when she adjusted them on a shop floor.

"When she used the crampon on a steep slope, the combination of her body weight and the worn adjustment link meant that it broke. It's unfortunate," he said.

The guide of 40 years' experience, who was also friends with the owner of MT Outdoors Steve Hart, did not believe the incident was life-threatening.

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The crampon would always have broken early in the day, before the pair made it to the glacier and he was confident his own repair job with copper wire would have held.

The time it took to carry out the repair did mean the window of opportunity to attempt the summit was lost.

However, Mr Hart said there was nothing wrong with the crampons when they were returned to his store on Monday.

"They're back on our rental shelves. There's nothing wrong with them at all. I'm quite happy to rent them out again. The only assumption I can make is that the crampons have been misused."

While the crampons were sized to a person's boot in the shop, it was the person or their guide's own responsibility to ensure their safety gear was correct, he said.

He had been renting equipment for nine years, had 35 years' climbing experience and said this was a sad situation.

"We see it every year. People get out of their depth and go up into the mountains. I don't know what sort of climber she is."

Mr Ball said the root of the issue was Ms Walker having left her own crampons, which would have fitted perfectly, in Auckland, he said.

"The first mistake she made was having two pair of her own crampons at home. The first rule of mountaineering is preparation. The most successful mountaineers and alpinists are very, very prepared. They do not forget anything.

"It was an unfortunate set of circumstances but not life-threatening. She's not a mountaineer. She's a tramper."

He believed she lost confidence when the crampons broke.

"It's a bit of a bummer for Maryjane, but life goes on. No-one died here."

- The Southland Times

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