Media fanning the flames of regulation

Details are still thin, but it’s sad to learn of another death on Mt Taranaki. Not much detail has yet been released, except that an accident appears to have occurred somewhere in the vicinity of Ambury Bluff and Humphries Castle on the north-eastern side of the mountain [approximate map]. The conditions were winter conditions, but until more official details emerge I don’t think it’s fair to speculate too much.

The article, from the Taranaki Daily News, is interesting for other reasons, though. It appears to be planting an idea for some kind of regulation, even though there’s no evidence presented that anyone’s actually asked for it.

The journalists first went to Ivan Bruce, who commented that it might be appropriate for DOC to consider a permanent alpine-trained ranger on Mount Taranaki, to talk to people as they pass through with an attempt to climb, and maybe build a better picture of what’s happening regarding accidents on the mountain.

“People are dying on the mountain at almost a rate of one a year but no one knows of those who go up whether they have adequate experience or not,” Bruce said.

“It could be time for the Department of Conservation to have a dedicated alpine trained ranger permanently on the mountain, as the department does in the Mt Cook region, to offer advice, and check and monitor climbers and experience levels.”

This seems like a perfectly reasonable comment to me. My own anecdotal observations have been that the accessibility of Mount Taranaki means that many of those who venture to climb it don’t necessarily even think to consider the need to have any alpine skills, let alone considering if whatever skills they have are appropriate.

The mountain attracts plenty of highly skilled visitors who know exactly what they’re in for, the risks and how to manage them, even in winter, but it also attracts masses of people who’d probably benefit from some unsolicited advice, even if they chose to ignore it.

If the actual quotes of Mr Bruce are accurate, however, the article seems to continue into a distracting context. The journalists next went to Mike Daisley of the Mountain Safety Council, and several other people. In so many words they all said, apparently in response, that climbing should not be regulated… as if someone had said it should be.

But Daisley said regulating who should climb on New Zealand’s mountains would go against the culture.

“New Zealanders like to get out and enjoy the mountain environment.

“It’s better to make people aware of the risks, and understand the mountain safety code involved, than putting a gate up at the park entrance.”

I agree with these statements that there’s a need for people to understand the risks and learn to manage them. What concerns me about the article, though, is that nobody seems to actually be calling for any form of regulation. Purely through presentation, the journalists have planted an idea which nobody who’s been interviewed is suggesting.

I get saddened when I see accidents occur, because they’re usually avoidable. I agree with the view, however, that there needs to be trust and flexibility for people to learn and make their own decisions. Rather than regulating participation in outdoor activities and trying to determine what’s “safe” and who knows how to be “safe”, we’re much more appropriate to encourage up-skilling, educated acceptance and management of risk, and taking responsibility for one’s decisions.

I hope this idea which the Taranaki Daily News has seemingly chosen to push does not propagate too far.

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