'Panicky' novice was stuck

ROBERT BUCKLEY: The 31-year-old Scotsman, who was based in Christchurch, died while climbing in the Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park.
ROBERT BUCKLEY: The 31-year-old Scotsman, who was based in Christchurch, died while climbing in the Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park.

A novice climber told companions he felt out of his depth moments before he plunged to his death on Aoraki Mt Cook last September.

Scottish drainlayer Robert Christopher Buckley, 31, died on September 14, climbing to Sefton Bivvy.

He had travelled to the national park with three others from the Christchurch backpackers where he lived.

His inquest was held by Coroner Richard McElrea at the Timaru courthouse yesterday.

Two of his companions had climbed to the Mueller Hut and were looking for a more advanced climb. One rang the Department of Conservation and the Sefton Bivvy hut track was recommended, a walk of three to four hours.

The four arrived at the park in the morning, went to the DOC office and were advised about the climb.

One gave evidence the ranger advised it was a challenging route and slightly harder than the Mueller. They were advised to hire crampons and ice axes, which they did.

Buckley had not used them before. Companion climber Christopher Peters gave evidence that they began their expedition just after 11am. About 5pm they struck an icy buttress 400 metres from the hut.

"Rob said he was out of his comfort zone. Then I heard someone yell and Rob had slipped over a rocky bluff."

Companion climber Daniel McCarragher was behind Buckley when he fell.

McCarragher initially slipped 15m but managed to stop.

"We got to a bit that was quite tricky. Rob was getting a bit panicky. I said we would take it slow. Everyone was getting a bit tired. Rob said he was kind of stuck.

"I looked away for a moment and he fell. He hit me and took out both my feet but Conor grabbed me, and Rob slipped past and out of sight."

Fourth climber Conor Carolyn told the coroner Buckley had had enough and wanted to get off the mountain.

They called emergency services.

At 6.18pm Buckley was found dead in a snow gully 270m below the rock buttress. Due to deteriorating conditions, the men had to stay on a rocky outcrop overnight.

"It was a long night, 14 hours.

"We thought Rob had been taken to hospital. We couldn't fall asleep or we would have fallen off."

Twizel police constable Joe Rush said the four had very limited experience between them. He had climbed to the Mueller Hut and the Sefton Bivvy, and said the bivvy was a much more difficult climb.

The ranger gave evidence she had told the four to turn back if they felt they were out of their comfort zone.

Senior ranger Jim Spencer gave evidence that a visitor incident report was carried out after the death and new guidelines were created for advising climbers about routes in the park, with more emphasis put on the experience of climbers.

McElrea has reserved his finding.

The Timaru Herald