Two deaths occurred near Alpha Hut in the Tararua, in late 2016. I didn’t write about them at the time, but today Stuff published an article regarding the Coroner’s investigation.
The men were attempting to walk the standard Neill-Winchcombe circuit. It starts at Waiohine Gorge, into Cone Saddle and up to Cone (.1080). Then there’s a steep dip into Neill Saddle before climbing up to Neill (.1158), across the ridge to Winchcombe Peak (.1261), then to the junction of Mt Hector (.1529) before continuing along the main Southern Crossing route back to Alpha Hut. From there, there’s a route via Bull Mound and Cone Hut back to the starting point. Here’s a topo map of the region.
The route is a good fit trip, but it’s also very exposed to the worst sorts of conditions which the Tararua Range is capable of throwing at people. The route is notorious because there are very few good places to bail out if something goes wrong. For much of the route along the tops, the only practical directions to take are either forwards or backwards.
The two men were found about 900 metres short of Alpha Hut, sparking confusion about how they managed to get so close without reaching comparative safety.
I’ve read this article a few times, and each time I’m finding it more and more incredible about what these people were trying to do compared with how badly they seem to have been prepared. On one hand, I’m sure people have gotten away with worse than this and, hopefully, learned something. But still…..
These distances could be misleading, because the exposed ridges could be demanding and difficult, Rix said. In his opinion, the two men were not wearing adequate protection from the weather, which they may have struggled through for a while.
Neither had a maps, compass, GPS or light source.
The idea of this seems almost unfathomable to me, considering what they were attempting. Maybe they’d planned to do all their navigation with a smartphone? Maybe they’d committed the route, and everything around it, to memory?