Avoidance best prevention on mountain
The Mountain Safety Council says climbers need to better understand decision-making and the best technique to mitigate against a hazard is avoidance.
Expert alpinist Jamie VintonBoot, 30, of Christchurch, was swept off his feet and fell about 500 metres below the Queens Drive traverse on the west face of The Remarkables on August 12 last year.
A 4m-wide slab avalanche dislodged about two tonnes of snow as Vinton-Boot and climbing mate Steven Fortune traversed without ropes.
Coroner David Crerar’s report said climbers needed to better appreciate terrain risk while a report by climbing guide Geoffrey Wayatt referred to the traverse as a ’’classic terrain trap’’.
However, Vinton-Boot’s climbing mate Paul Hersey defended his friend and said he considered the traverse had the potential to be a trap and, on the day in that terrain, it could have been anyone.
MSC avalanche programme manager Andrew Hobman said a classic climbing mistake was familiarity. Vinton-Boot and Fortune had climbed The Remarkables and the Queens Drive traverse before, he said.
‘‘There were a number of things that fell into place that day that affected their decisionmaking. They had been there a lot. Those guys were very experienced climbers in extreme terrain.
‘‘For them walking through that terrain unroped was totally legitimate. The hazard was an avalanche, the consequences were that a tiny one would sweep you off your feet.
‘‘They had discussed the avalanche the night before . . . on the day they didn’t. They were experts [but] the best technique is avoidance.’’
Hobman said there were multiple indicators that slab avalanches were highly likely on the traverse.
Using ropes - belaying - in avalanche prone terrain was not recommended and roping in on the Queen’s Drive was at the limits of accepted practice in such conditions, he said.
Belaying anchor systems and ropes were not designed for the weight of a moving snowpack and a climber’s weight if caught out by an avalanche while roped in, he said. Vinton-Boot and Fortune were skilled enough to climb around such a hazard.
In New Zealand many mountaineers started as rock climbers and, in some cases, people were climbing in alpine conditions without equivalent avalanche expertise for their climbing abilities.
Hobman also said independent climbers and back country enthusiasts were failing to report avalanche incidents. Commercial operators log incidents on ski fields but independent users needed to selfreport avalanche incidents.
Crerar’s report said the climbers were not reckless but a more prudent approach, including talking to ski patrol, observing avalanche control work and considering an updated advisory, may have led to them reconsidering.