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Tragedy near Kime Hut

Also see Tragedy near Kime Hut, part 2 [1] and Tragedy near Kime Hut, part 3 [2].

It’s always sad to hear about tragedies in the outdoors, but it hits home more than usual when it’s nearby. The recent occasion in which the bodies of two trampers were found in the Tararuas [3] will no doubt be remembered for some time not because two people died, but because one of them was particularly well known. Even now, most media reports focus their attention on obiturising one of the trampers who is presumed to be of most interest to their readers and about whom there is probably more readily available information, mentioning his companion almost as an afterthought. I can fully understand why this happens from the media perspective and its audience, but I think it’s important to remember that irrespective of the profiles of both people, two people were equally unfortunate.

This equality is one of the wonderful things about the outdoors in New Zealand. it manifests itself in the informal experiences of meeting people out of context and away from their normal day-jobs. If Craig and I or anyone else had been tramping up that way this weekend (as we’d planned [4]) and happened to meet people, it no doubt would have made no difference who they were or what they’d achieved. You get to meet and chatter with all sorts of people in New Zealand’s back-country, and meet them on equal terms. One way or another everyone’s out there to enjoy themselves.

I won’t dwell on the specifics of what happened right now. The published information is so sparse and it wouldn’t be fair to people involved. No doubt more information will emerge from those in the know in the coming weeks. Whatever happened, it’s a testament to the impressively coordinated and largely voluntary Land Search and Rescue [5] organisation, and to the SAR Coordination team of the New Zealand Police and all other organisations involved, that the trampers were found so quickly once it finally became possible to mount a search.

It’s strange having been to these places, even felt as if I was in some kind of trouble near there at times (especially this time [6]), yet never for a moment having thought I wouldn’t get out safely. I’m fortunate enough to have never been in such a catastrophic situation to date, and I hope I never am.

Perhaps it helps to ease the mind if you’re as prepared as you can be, to the extent that if you make a mistake (preparation or otherwise) your further preparation will be more likely to compensate. Having experienced, competent and level-headed friends nearby also helps tremendously when things get difficult. When this kind of awful thing happens, however, it’s a saddening reminder that on occasion things can go tragically wrong, even for experienced people and in places that are well frequented and which might sometimes give the impression of being much more safe than what they really are. Probably all we can do now is try to learn from it.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Tragedy near Kime Hut"

#1 Comment By Robb On 15 July, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

Kia ora Mike,
Driving around today listening to the result unfold I felt my thoughts drifting to this the other person, her family and friends, as the focus seemed to be driven towards the guy and his higher status.
I think back a month or so ago when two young Palmerston North boys were found just a short away from Rangiwahia hut in waist deep snow at night and hypothermic and would not have lasted the night being ill equipped in every way.
I am not in anyway infering any comment to the two people who died and apparently were both experienced and well equipped, but there can tend to be a certain nonchalance in regards to the Tararuas and Ruahines at times. Not the lofty snow covered giant ranges of the south island, yet a great mistake to assume anything at anytime in my experience. I have been late coming out of the Ruahines more than a few times, turned back from a trip into the Tararuas once, and never got out of the car on a couple of occasions as well. Especially on solo trips I always feel a certain nervousness. Yet I still go.
My thoughts are with the loved ones of these two people.

#2 Comment By Adrian On 16 July, 2009 @ 10:35 am

Hi Mike,
I was on leave yesterday and listened as the story unfolded. I was also shocked and saddened by the news. I guess the news was so poignant as this was so close to home for me.

I have walked up to Kime and around the Tararuas in the winter but like you have never yet felt ‘unsafe’.

My thought are with the families.

#3 Comment By hdoleman On 16 July, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

Although so sad. there is also something quite beautiful about them dying together, he was best friends with her husband that died 4 years ago.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 17 July, 2009 @ 10:25 am

Thank you everyone for the comments.

I have wondered for a while now what might have happened up there, and the more I think and learn about it, the more it seems as if they just made one or two bad decisions with extreme and very sad consequences. I’ve developed my own theories about what probably happened and they’re becoming more defined as time goes on, but it’s really only possible to speculate until those fully in the know come out to explain it.

It’s unfortunate but true that everyone will make mistakes from time to time whether it’s in preparation, decisions or otherwise. This tends to be how people learn, and I think all you can really do is prepare and prepare as much as possible, so that when a mistake comes along, other preparation will compensate. Even the Tararua Tramping Club had to lose someone on their first serious attempt at crossing the range, back in 1919 when there was only cursory experience in exploring the mountains, before it became obvious that these areas were genuinely dangerous to such an extent and needed a privileged degree of respect and preparation.

When I learned about the two young people up and Rangiwahia, they were quickly criticised about their actions. I think this happens more rapidly when people are rescued safely. I can sympathise with people who level this criticism and I think perhaps the frustrations expressed are a reflection of some of the absurd and badly thought out situations that Police and SAR volunteers have to rescue people from. There’s [13] with much detail, although it’s restricted to the area around Arthur’s Pass. After reading some of these, it should be no wonder why those who do the rescuing can feel so much frustration, especially when volunteers give up their day-jobs and put themselves at risk.

Having said all this, I have to admit that one of my greatest fears in the back-country isn’t getting caught by the mountains, it’s being announced as an idiot by a SAR person in the media. This doesn’t seem rational, but maybe it adds something to my respect for what I’m doing. That said, I sincerely hope the two boys who were rescued from near Rangiwahia weren’t discouraged from going into the back-country, and that it was taken as a positive learning experience, and that next time they’ll be better prepared. It sounds like they had some interesting ideas and just didn’t get the execution quite right early on.

#5 Comment By Robb On 17 July, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

Kia ora Mike,
Very good thoughts, and I tend to agree. A number of years ago I was on a solo 3 night trip up, in, and around Pohangina valley. My last day was climbing up from Ngamoko hut to the Ngamoko range then meet up with Shorts track back to my car. I knew down at the river the wind had picked up, and when I got to the open tops it was white out, sleeting, and very very windy. I sat in the shelter of the leatherwood and considered my options. That stretch is not poled, very narrow with spurs heading off everywhere, and I had not been there before. After 30 minutes it got worse and I retreated back to the hut. I did not have a cell phone, nor did I know if I could have got coverage there. And had I got into trouble in territory I did not know, a cell phone would not have extracted me. It would have made things easier at home and I did learn that lesson.
The next morning at 5:00am it was still raging up tops, so I decided to walk out via the river and Mid Pohangina hut, and get to a phone to ring my wife and relatives we have living in the valley. I left very detailed notes in the hut books all through my tramp, and particularly in Ngamoko as to the time I left, where I was going, ect. At Mid Poh hut I stopped in to leave another entry in the hut book, had some soup and tea, then headed out towards the road – a fairly long walk sidling in the forest. Just as I got near the swing bridge I heard the unmistakable thump of a chopper coming down from Ngamoko way. I went back to the hut to see a chopper come down the valley, waved my poles and it spotted me. A team of SAR guys ran out, checking me over, and realized I was fine. They complimented me on my record keeping and had tracked me from the plan I left with my wife. I must say I felt a bit of embarrassment about the whole thing, and why when I was not even 24 hours overdue had they called out the proverbial dogs. In any case I got a chopper ride back to my car and thought that was the end of it.
Until that afternoon when I saw an article in the paper. While complimenting me on providing travel plans at home, and the detailed hut book notes, and being well equipped and experienced, it was critical of me for traveling alone, and without a cell phone and more so, I felt, insinuated I was “rescued” from being lost and then lectured about the necessity of carrying a mountain radio. I did feel a bit as if the local SAR guy used me as a platform to get onto his soap box a bit, and he is a guy I had met and have met several times since then. I guess they have to use these opportunities to get the messages they want out there, but I did feel I was used a bit to do it.
I could ramble on about the merits of solo travel and the personal philosophies we choose in back country travel, but I will save your readers from all that. Just wanted to point that your greatest fear was indeed something that happened to me.
Cheers Mike,

#6 Comment By Mike McGavin On 17 July, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

Hi Robb.

Your story is consistent with impressions I’ve had over the last few years of how some rescue operations have been reported. Maybe criticising a few people (perhaps unfairly) is worth it in some way if it helps get the message out to the masses. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, though. You can be a total idiot in the outdoors, obviously ignore all advice and act recklessly, and some people do exactly this. Often it’s just perfectly ordinary people who make a mistake, though.

SAR aside, I think some members of the media occasionally act irresponsibly in reporting back-country incidents.

If you haven’t yet seen it, Matthew Briggs’ complete write-up ( [14]) of his having been injured at the heads of the Landsborough last March is a good read. He’s the guy who had a severe fall, spent a week camping to wait for a rescue, then spent 3 days dragging himself to a nearby hut when no rescue came. Part 5 is especially interesting in the context of what you’ve said, because he discusses how his initial refusal to talk to the press shortly after being carried into A&E basically resulted in them making up their own story for a while, which included lots of unfair criticism as well as stating things that were out-right incorrect. It didn’t settle down until the Police and SAR officials stepped in to speak out on his behalf and that he hadn’t actually been condemned by them as had been claimed.

The [15] back in Feb 2007 is another great example of dubious media coverage around SAR situations.

#7 Comment By Simon Hathaway On 20 July, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

Hi Mike, maybe huts on the high tops are to blame, people aim for them and attempt to get there at all costs, there was a tradegy in the Cairngorms,Scotland quite a few years ago with a school group making there way in winter for an overnight stay in a hut on Ben Macdui[since removed] I myself love the high huts, you certainly need to be fully confident with map and compass in bad conditions, and be out regularly in those conditions to retain it, all hillwalkers and climbers push it on occasions, but perhaps the greatest skill is knowing when to turn back and call it a day, I myself aggree that the outcome was maybe the result of one or two bad decisions.

#8 Comment By Mike McGavin On 23 July, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

Hi Simon. Yeah and it’d be ironic in a sense if that were the case, particularly since Kime Hut and several other huts were commissioned by the Tararua Tramping Club many years ago specifically because it was realised there was a need for reliable shelter on the tops in case the weather should turn bad.

I guess aiming for huts for the sake of it is an okay thing to do (and I certainly do it more than enough), and it’s very unfortunate that the ideal may have influenced a decision in a risky way in this case. Or if that’s not what happened in this case, it certainly does happen. Despite the scraps of info out there that have filtered through the media and other channels, I guess I’m reluctant to speculate too much until more information is officially made public, though. At the very least, I hope everyone can learn something about what happened in order to reduce the chances it’ll happen again.

#9 Comment By Simon Hathaway On 25 July, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

Hi Mike,

Yes speculation doesn’t help anybody really, they passed doing something they obviously loved, I have only spent one weekend in the Tararua being a newcomer to Wellington, I was very pleased at having a wonderful mountain area on the doorstep, most of my walking and climbing has been in the Scottish Highlands where a healthy respect for the winter weather was developed through pushing through the rain and snow, the hills are, I believe, at there best and most beautiful on a winters day, they also knew this.

#10 Comment By Adrian Wood On 17 February, 2010 @ 11:01 am

More on this from Stuff although its the usual poor standard. Whilst I don’t agree with the writer of this article regarding the compass saving there lives I do feel they were under prepared.

#11 Comment By Mike McGavin On 18 February, 2010 @ 7:53 am

Thanks Adrian, and yeah I’ve been following it. It’s getting very interesting, especially with the most recent report on the inquest this morning.

#12 Comment By Judith Hamilton On 9 August, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

I am seeking information about a tradgedy that happened in 1922.My father Alan Bollons and tramping partner Edward Kime were caught in a blizzard in which Edward Kime died and Kime Hut I understand was erected in his memory.Any details would be appreciated.

#13 Comment By Mike McGavin On 9 August, 2010 @ 10:11 pm

Hi Judith. Thanks for the comment. I’m not an expert on the history but there’s information here and there around the place. I’d maybe suggest getting in touch with the [17]. Historically the club is tied to Kime Hut, and they probably have archives going back as far as that.

Back in February I posted [18] (a few paragraphs in), which summarises the very brief notes about it in Chris MacLean’s Tararua: The Story of a Mountain Range and in the footnotes I linked to a couple of old newspaper articles on the National Library’s website that mention E. J. Kime. Chris MacLean’s book is hard to get these days, but it’s in many libraries, or currently [19] if you’re quick, though it’ll typically sell for about $140 depending on how many second hand book-sellers notice it.

#14 Comment By Mike McGavin On 10 August, 2010 @ 7:51 am

Hi again, Judith.

This morning I’ve checked the book I mentioned and just to confirm, Chris MacLean has about a page of text (spread over pages 136 and 137) describing the story of A. A. Bollons and E. J. Kime. He’s cited a few references including an June 1922 article in Hutt and Petone Chronicle by W. H. Wilson, titled “A Sad Tragedy”. Please let me know if you’re having trouble tracking down MacLean’s book, as I could type out a copy for you.

I forgot to mention that Kime Memorial Hut (usually just called Kime Hut) is definitely connected to the tragedy you mention. The Tararua Tramping Club commissioned its building and named it in Mr Kime’s memory. Along with the Department of Conservation that club is still very involved with monitoring and maintenance of the hut. The original hut has now been rebuilt (twice, I think), and the current hut was built in the 1970s. My understanding is that it’s on a list of huts to possibly be re-built again in a few years’ time, depending on budgets and everything.

Due to its location, it has a reputation as a very cold place to stay, especially in winter, and it’s nick-named things like “the refrigerator” (or “the freezer”). A friend of mine reckons he measured it as about 0.2 degrees celsius warmer inside than outside when he was there overnight a year ago. It keeps off any wind chill and storms, though, which is the point. 🙂 It’s a milestone point along the now very popular Southern Crossing track over the Tararuas, so it’s either stayed at or passed through frequently. If you search for photos of it [20].

#15 Comment By Judith Hamilton On 10 August, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

Dear Mike,
Thank you for your prompt and imformative response.Although I was aware of the tragedy my parents would never discuss it and the only info I had was through a newspaper item in the 1940,s when someone else had died and my father’s and Edward Kime’s tragic trip was mentioned.More details emerged in a magazine,(city Magazine winter 1987)with an artice To The Top of the Tararuas.When to CEO of Te Papa and his tramping companion died last year I was hopeful there might be something more come out on previous tragedies but not so.If you could sent me the information in the book you mention I would be most appreciative and if it is not too much trouble.I thank you for getting in touch with me.I am only new to the internet and not overly confident with my skills so thank you for getting back to me. sincerely Judith Hamilton Matamata

#16 Comment By Alexia Pickering On 25 April, 2016 @ 12:42 pm

I have recently started to find out more about Esmond or Edward James Kime who perished in the Tararuas in 1922. He was a cousin of my mother and her brother Dr C P McMeekan (Ruakura). I would like to make contact with Judith Hamilton. Can anyone help me please.

#17 Comment By Mike McGavin On 25 April, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

Hi Alexia. If you hadn’t already seen it, I pulled together a collection of newspaper articles on the accident at [21]

I have Ms Hamilton’s email address (or at least what it was a few years ago) and will send you a separate email.

#18 Comment By Mike McGavin On 10 August, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

Hi Judith. That’s not a problem. I’ll send you a direct email with the quoted story from Chris MacLean’s book when I get home tonight.

#19 Comment By Geoff Spearpoint On 27 June, 2016 @ 11:00 am

Hi Mike,
Im looking for the author of this piece of hut poetry, and wondered if you could help find them. Someone must know!
They are always waiting for us. Up a hot valley,
where the rounded river stones slip like prehistoric
eggs under tired feet, the hut hiding behind
waving toi toi. Or it might be just over the tussock
pass, rain sweeping, body chilled with sweat. There’s
a smudge of orange before you scrape through the
encircling ring of scrub and bust into the dry
reassurance of four walls. The belly is soon stoked
up, steam rises, the day seems good (in retrospect).
It’s early to bed whilst rain marches over the tin roof.

Huts can be palaces or just the pits!
The best ones have a certain raffish style,
a cocky endurance that sees through the
starlight and storms
whilst generations of trampers come and go.
Any help greatly appreciated. Geoff Spearpoint

#20 Comment By Mike McGavin On 27 June, 2016 @ 11:09 am

Hi Geoff. I’m afraid I can’t help you directly, myself. (Maybe someone who sees this can.) I’ll ask around but I see you’ve already broadcast the query in many other places.

Where did you encounter it? Is there some way to narrow down where to look?