it’s not al­ways good news

“the sad re­al­ity of be­ing a moun­taineer means that, climb for long enough and you too will likely re­ceive a phone call like the one i got.”

Adventure - - Adventure//Survival>> - by paul Hersey

The first mes­sage came through on so­cial me­dia – a friend in the moun­tains near Queen­stown post­ing that he was safe. It was a few days be­fore an an­nual festival, when clim­bers from around the coun­try con­gre­gated at the re­sort town to test them­selves on the ice and rock of the Re­mark­ables Moun­tain Range. I sent a text to one of my mates, Jamie, who I knew was also over there, get­ting in some warm-up climbs be­fore the festival started. 'You ok bro? Ac­ci­dent I hear?' Jamie was one of this coun­try's top all round clim­bers, so I wasn't too con­cerned about him per­son­ally. More, i won­dered if he had any news on what might have hap­pened to some­one else. a few min­utes later came the phone call no one wants to re­ceive. 'Hi Paul, it's Al.... There's no easy way to say this. I'm sorry, but Jamie's taken a fall. He's dead.' Moun­tain climb­ing is a dan­ger­ous, won­der­ful and, to some, provoca­tive out­door ac­tiv­ity. Non clim­bers of­ten pre­sume it is pur­sued by adren­a­line fu­elled risk tak­ers. Main­stream me­dia has a ten­dency to re­in­force this per­cep­tion, only re­port­ing on it when an­other tragedy oc­curs. But, the sad re­al­ity of be­ing a moun­taineer means that, climb for long enough and you too will likely re­ceive a phone call like the one I got. Ev­ery year clim­bers die in our moun­tains, and this sum­mer has been no dif­fer­ent. Since 1980, there have been over 220 climb­ing fa­tal­i­ties in New Zealand (ac­cord­ing to records kept by New Zealand Moun­tain Safety Coun­cil). Of those, ap­prox­i­mately 40 have been on ao­raki mount cook, slightly less on each of moun­tains’ ruapehu, as­pir­ing, and Taranaki and around 15 on Tas­man. Taranaki, though, holds the over­all record at more than 100 fa­tal­i­ties since its first as­cent in 1839, while Ao­raki mount cook has around 80 (the rea­son these sta­tis­tics aren’t ex­act is due to MSC, the Depart­ment Of Con­ser­va­tion and Police hav­ing dis­crep­an­cies in their records, as well as vary­ing def­i­ni­tions as to where a ' moun­tain' ac­tu­ally be­gins). And ev­ery year, the same ques­tions arise: Why do these tragedies oc­cur and what, if any­thing, can be done to pre­vent them? These are not ques­tions eas­ily solved. Clim­bers un­der­stand bet­ter than most how lit­tle is needed to sur­vive, but also how frag­ile that sur­vival can be. No one has a death wish – cer­tainly not any of the clim­bers I know – and they would be fool­hardy not to heed rel­e­vant ad­vice or learn from the mis­for­tune of oth­ers. In­ex­pe­ri­ence and a lack of un­der­stand­ing of alpine con­di­tions are not the only fac­tors in moun­taineer­ing ac­ci­dents, but they are cer­tainly two of the ma­jor ones. The first five years is con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­larly risky time for a bud­ding climber, and can be re­flected in the ac­ci­dent sta­tis­tics of 'pop­u­lar' climbs they at­tempt. in un­der­stand­ing why cer­tain moun­tains ap­pear, sta­tis­ti­cally, to be more dan­ger­ous than oth­ers, it is worth not­ing that our moun­tains with the highest death rates – taranaki, ao­raki, as­pir­ing, tas­man and ruapehu – are also among the most pop­u­lar. ruapehu and taranaki, along with ton­gariro and ngaru­a­hoe, are the only chance for scal­ing a 'real' moun­tain in the North Is­land. These moun­tains are usu­ally con­sid­ered by clim­bers as step­ping stones' to more chal­leng­ing peaks in the South Is­land, but they can also be dan­ger­ous. While the ca­su­alty rates can be at­trib­uted as much to the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of the moun­tains as to any tech­ni­cal or dan­ger­ous as­pects on them, ruapehu and taranaki in par­tic­u­lar are ex­posed to sud­den and vi­o­lent changes in the weather. There is also an­other fac­tor to con­sider. our highest moun­tains lie within the bound­aries of Ao­raki Mount Cook Na­tional Park. These moun­tains are steeped in a his­tory that is also the his­tory of alpin­ism in this coun­try. Clas­sic climb­ing routes abound, routes that have set New Zealand moun­taineers among the world’s best in times past. Routes like Jack Carke, Tom Fyfe and Ge­orge Gra­hams’ 1894 first as­cent of Ao­raki via its North Ridge, the caro­line face route on ao­raki, and some of the harder routes on Hicks, proved that Kiwi clim­bers could foot it with the best of our north­ern hemi­sphere, and later Amer­i­can, coun­ter­parts. In­deed ao­raki’s north ridge is still con­sid­ered rather daunt­ing even by today’s alpine stan­dards.

De­spite ap­proach­ing dead­lines for his lat­est work, Dunedin writer Paul Hersey fre­quently suc­cumbs to the the lure of the nearby South­ern Alps and Pa­cific Ocean. ‘It’s way more fun hav­ing an ad­ven­ture, climb­ing or surf­ing or just ex­plor­ing, then it is...

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