There’s been a story in the news lately about a chap walking on Ngauruhoe having been struck by a boulder coming down the mountain, despite trying to dodge it, and having a broken leg. As Stuff points out, it probably could have been worse if he’d not seen it coming.
What I found at least as interesting was the last three paragraphs in that article which note that there have been three similar incidents on Ngauruhoe since November. All required helicopter rescues and two involved head injuries. The head injuries were probably (and I’m guessing) as a consequence of people falling and hitting heads rather than directly having had rocks falling onto heads from above.
What the article doesn’t touch on is the source of the rocks that caused the injuries.
Ngauruhoe is a side trip off the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (formerly the Tongariro Crossing), often marketed as New Zealand’s “most spectacular daywalk” and it’s probably one of the most popular in terms of the number of people who walk it. A mountain such as Ngauruhoe is perpetually eroding and rocks come down by themselves, but on these occasions I think it’s more likely that the rocks were dislodged by people further up the mountain.
Slopes with scree and loose rocks can be difficult to negotiate without dislodging rocks and watching them careen down-hill, even for people experienced in walking on them. Furthermore when there are rocks coming towards you on such a slope, they can be difficult to dodge given the steep slope and uncertainty of footing underneath. When in groups, it’s usually a good idea for people to be careful not to cross each other’s paths too often, and for people to take precautions such as stopping movement when others are underneath, to reduce the risk of something being dislodged and rolling onto them.
If it’s true that other people were involved further up the mountain, I think these accidents highlight the added danger in places with so many people, often people who don’t know each other or aren’t in good communication with each other. With the Tongariro Crossing’s tendency to also attract people (frequently tourists to NZ) who don’t spend much time in mountain environments, it might also be that experience was a factor.
I don’t know what can or should be done, but as has already been pointed out in a thread on NZ Tramper, it’s quite important to be careful and aware of those around you, and if you dislodge something that might be dangerous, to make a lot of noise about it immediately so that those below have more time to prepare themselves. Sometimes this is still not enough, as sound has a habit of not going very far sometimes on mountains.