Avoid­ance best preven­tion on moun­tain

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By JOHN EDENS

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.

Jamie Vin­ton-Boot

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