Safety call after latest Mt Taranaki death

Officials were waiting for daylight to break on Mt Taranaki before airlifting the man's body off.
DAVID BURROUGHS

Officials were waiting for daylight to break on Mt Taranaki before airlifting the man's body off.

After the death of another young climber on Mt Taranaki, one of the region's experienced mountaineers has called for a dedicated alpine trained ranger to be stationed permanently on the landmark.

Ivan Bruce said with the number of deaths increasing, it may be time to start asking if those going up Mt Taranaki are equipped and experienced enough to complete the trip.

Bruce was speaking after rescuers located the body of a man, believed to be in his 20's, on the benign looking, cone shaped mountain on Wednesday night, where temperatures fell below freezing point. 

The area where the dead tramper's body was found by search and rescue members.
TOPOMAP

The area where the dead tramper's body was found by search and rescue members.

On Thursday morning low cloud hindered attempts by a helicopter crew to recover the body near Ambury Bluff and Humphries Castle, at 1600m altitude, but it was successfully brought down late Thursday afternoon.

READ MORE: 
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The man has yet to be formally identified.

The sun was shining on Mt Taranaki on Thursday morning.
DAVID BURROUGHS

The sun was shining on Mt Taranaki on Thursday morning.

"People are dying on the mountain at almost a rate of one a year but no one knows of those who go up whether they have adequate experience or not," Bruce said.

"It could be time for the Department of Conservation to have a dedicated alpine trained ranger permanently on the mountain, as the department does in the Mt Cook region, to offer advice, and check and monitor climbers and experience levels."

Bruce said it was vital climbers were technically proficient for the conditions when they attempt to climb Mt Taranaki in winter.

Police have found the body of a person who went missing on Mt Taranaki. (File photo)
Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ

Police have found the body of a person who went missing on Mt Taranaki. (File photo)

It was important to have some degree of knowledge of local conditions, he added.

"It's technically a difficult mountain to climb. It looks close and it's only 2500m high but it's steep and gets very icy.

"If people are not proficient and get into trouble, they are not only putting themselves at risk but also those who come to rescue them."

NZ Mountain Safety Council spokesman Mike Daisley said Mt Taranaki presented a very dangerous alpine environment to all climbers at this time of the year.

"Many people underestimate the mountain. It's an advanced tramping experience for many at any time of the year but during winter it can only be considered an alpine climb," he said.

"You can go from getting out of the car at the parking area with your coffee to being in a challenging alpine environment in the space of six kilometres."

Climbing Mt Taranaki has proved fatal for one man. (File photo)
Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ

Climbing Mt Taranaki has proved fatal for one man. (File photo)

But Daisley said regulating who should climb on New Zealand's mountains would go against the culture.

"New Zealanders like to get out and enjoy the mountain environment.

"It's better to make people aware of the risks, and understand the mountain safety code involved, than putting a gate up at the park entrance."

Being prepared was essential for an unintentional night out, alpine guide Don Paterson said.

Warm clothing and shelter were vital for survival if unintentionally caught out overnight on Mt Taranaki, he said.

"There's no problem spending the night out up the if you are properly equipped."

It is not known how experienced, or prepared the deceased climber was but it is understood he at least had crampons and an ice axe. 

"Two Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue members, one a police officer, stayed the night up the mountain with the man," New Plymouth police Sergeant Bruce Irvine said.

It is understood the man may have slipped above Ambury Bluff, a notorious danger spot.

Rob Needs, of Top Guides, said the conditions up the mountain would have been extremely dangerous.

"That white stuff up there, that's not snow up there. It's ice on a steep angle."

"But even when you can't see white stuff, it's still frozen. You've got frozen scoria which is almost more treacherous than ice."

Needs said it there were many factors in play when someone was climbing a mountain.

"It's not a case of just having the equipment, it's having the equipment and the skill and it's New Zealand alpine experience, not just alpine experience from North America and Europe."

He said conditions up the mountain were similar to when Victor Roucher, 25, from France,  fell near the summit and died in June 2016. 

"We've got another southerly lick coming this weekend that will lower the snow level, but very very similar conditions up there now to queens birthday last year when the French guy had his accident.

"Not a lot of snow, a hard frozen surface. You imagine glazed concrete on a thirty, forty degree slope and even with crampons it's still very very risky."

Sgt Irvine said the man's death was a terrible tragedy but mountain climbing was a dangerous sport.

"We have this debate every time this happens. People like climbing mountains and as long as they keep doing it, accidents like this are going to happen." 

"People should be out enjoying the mountain but the danger is that things like this happen. If you talk to any mountaineer they will tell you that it is just part of it."

"Even the most experienced climber, this could happen."

Despite clear skies and settled weather in Taranaki for the last few days, temperatures on the mountain would likely have reached below freezing overnight, Metservice meteorologist Josh Griffin said.

Wind chills at the summit on Thursday morning were predicted to reach -13C. 

The mountain can be a "beautiful" experience to spend the night camped out on but the changeable conditions made it very dangerous, said Taranaki climber Nick Brown.

​"You can lose your footing very easily and you need to concentrate all the time.

"It's a beautiful place to be when all your ducks are lining up."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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