More Group Coordination Problems

From the Herald about a week ago:

Three young men took a wrong turn at the Red Crater Summit and wound up heading along a ridge to Mt Tongariro’s summit in 70km/h winds, with icy rain falling, snow underfoot and visibility at just 10 metres. Meanwhile, the main group carried on and the leader did not realise until they got to the Ketetahi Shelter, that three of her group were missing.

On the ridge, one of the students turned back, leaving the other two still ascending the mountain. Some time afterwards, the cold and wet pair realised they were lost and running out of strength, with hypothermia beginning to set in.


[Professional guide Terry] Blumhardt dug a trench in the ice and put up an emergency shelter and the trio force-fed the hypothermic young men with sugary food, electrolytes and hot drinks and wrapped them in foil blankets in an attempt to revive them.

Once they had warmed up a little and after two RARO rescuers had arrived, the group attempted to get the stricken students off the mountain.

The visibility made a helicopter rescue impossible and so the rescuers had to half walk, half drag the young men down to Central Crater to get them out of the wind, then walked them further down the mountain to below the cloud cover…


[Former police senior constable Cliff] Jones estimated the temperature on the ridge was well below zero. He said if help had not arrived, they would have died and it was touch and go whether they could even get the young men walking again and off the mountain before dark.

“This is one of the closest I have seen for a long time.

“These people haven’t got the relevant experience or possibly the relevant training to be carrying out what they’re doing.

“Somebody needs to be taken to account. They bloody near caused the death of two boys there yesterday.”

This incident has also been covered by Stuff. Unfortunately with the educational institute (Te Wananga o Aotearoa) not saying much except that they’re running an investigation, media coverage seems to have been relatively minimal.

Nobody died, thankfully, and thus the coroner’s not involved, so there’s no guarantee that results from that investigation will ever be released in a public way. There’s also no guarantee that it’ll even be an appropriately run investigation for adequately assessing what happened and what needs addressing. Hopefully we’ll see the institution pressed for answers in due course.
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Something to listen to

I’ve not yet read Laurence Fearnley’s Going Up Is Easy, but it’s on my reading list. It’s the biographical account of Lydia Bradey as the first woman to ascend Everest without oxygen, and the only New Zealander to do so.

Last Monday, Radio NZ began playing a 10 part audio adaptation of her story. It’s narrated by Lydia Bradey herself, and began playing on Monday as a daily part of Kathryn Ryan’s Nine to Noon programme. The episodes will show up here as they become available over the next two weeks.

Also of interest will be Kathryn Ryan’s interview with Lydia Bradey, from June 2015.

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One Way Communication

There was a report a couple of days back of some people being rescued in Kahurangi National Park, having activated a personal locator beacon.

The three women […] had been tramping on the Leslie-Karamean track when they became stranded on Sunday by the rising waters as they attempted to get to the Venus Hut.

After retracing their route, they sheltered at Thor Hut overnight before reassessing their situation. With river levels still rising on Monday morning, the women activated their emergency locator beacon. […]

Rescue helicopter pilot Barry McAuliffe said the women set off the beacon so people meeting them at the end of the track didn’t consider them overdue.

“They were just worried about their deadline at the other end and if they weren’t there at the end then all hell would have broken loose,” he said.

There’s been some criticism in social media about whether this was an appropriate activation. From that description is reads as if they were most likely safe at a hut.

Exact guidelines for appropriate PLB use are ambiguous. The NZ Radiocommunications regulation which grants a general licence for broadcasting signals on 406 MHz states that it’s only legal to send a signal under that licence if safety of life or property is threatened. The Mountain Safety Council states that PLBs “must only be used in life threatening situations“. Maritime New Zealand’s Beacons page has a lengthier explanation (abbreviated below):

A distress beacon is an emergency device to be used when assistance is required to ensure the safety of lives e.g. any life threatening situation or when a serious injury has occurred – it is not a taxi service!

Situations can deteriorate rapidly, however, if you are unsure about when to activate the beacon, it is better to activate it and get help – don’t wait until it’s too late!

When considering activating your beacon please remember that carrying out a rescue can be extremely dangerous not just for the casualty but for the rescuers as well, particularly if the rescue is carried out at night or in poor weather conditions. If your situation is not life threatening and you are in a safe and secure position it may be prudent to delay activation of the beacon until daylight or the weather conditions improve.

In other words, the agency that’s mandated as a first responder to PLB activations in New Zealand states that it might be acceptable to activate a PLB if you think the situation may get worse. That makes sense.

The pilot quoted above suggests that the activation was appropriate, and without a full context beyond a media that’s often incomplete and inccurate with this type of thing, it may be worth giving the party the benefit of the doubt. This is certainly a good opportunity to discuss some of the wider issues around PLB activation, though.
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Comparing accounts of accidents

I’ve only been reluctantly following the recent winter incident on the Routeburn track, where a man slipped and fell, eventually dying. His partner stayed with him in freezing temperatures for several days as he died, then made her way slowly through deep snow to the isolated Lake Mackenzie Hut. She eventually broke into the nearby warden’s hut where she waited for a further 24 days before concerned friends on Facebook triggered a search with the help of local consular staff to liaise with New Zealand Police. Wilderness Magazine summarises the accident well.


I’m not reluctantly following because I don’t care about the accident. It’s more that I’m reluctant to follow the coverage because so much of it is awful. At times it’s seemed more fascinated with the light-hearted “survivor” trivia of a person lasting alone for a month than of recognising and respecting that one person died, and another suffered a serious traumatic event. She then had to cope with it for a month before receiving any help, and having finally been rescued was very quickly subjected to a press conference that several media outlets advertised and live-streamed, in a language she doesn’t understand, and which she really didn’t need to be at.

Stuff’s video example (see screenshot) is the one I’ve so far found most troubling to watch. I won’t bother embedding the video here, but I just hope it’s enough to note that the title image is symptomatic of the presentation that follows. To me it simply seems that the video’s makers and publishers have taken a terrible tragedy for multiple people, and dressed it up as if it’s simply a cheap reality TV entertainment show.
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Why can some huts be locked from the inside?

Yesterday, Federated Mountain Clubs published an informal facebook post. It noted an experience at Blue Range Hut, in the Tararuas, where the overnight inhabitants had locked the door from the inside.

Most of the discussion under that post has been about whether it was poor form for the people who arrived first to lock out late arrivals. General consensus, which I agree with, is that it’s very poor form if it’s done with intention to keep others out.

More significantly, though, it’s had me wondering about why any public back-country hut can have its door locked from the inside. What’s the legitimate purpose, if any, of allowing those inside to lock others out?
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Taranaki exploration ideas

The two ends of what
used to be the Pyramid Route.

In the past I’ve dropped a few references to the various tracks around Egmont National Park which have been ‘closed’ (in official terms) in relatively recent times. Reasons have generally ranged between erosion and lack of maintenance.

Here are a couple of recently-posted trip reports (not mine) on, covering a couple of them.

Note that these are not (any longer) officially maintained tracks of the Department of Conservation. You really do need to take sensible precautions and have the appropriate skills if you wish to investigate. Especially the Pyramid Route. The first of these, in particular, is most definitely not a beginner experience. If you stumble on orange triangles on either of these routes it’ll be purely coincidental.

I just appreciate seeing information about them.

I should add that it’s also a slightly contentious point to talk about this. DOC in Taranaki has had issues with people unofficially retaining old tracks.
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A Fortunate Outcome at Kapakapanui

2013-10-28 13.55.25
Looking towards the inner Tararuas
from near Kapakapanui Peak.

Late last month, two women had a very fortunate outcome in the vicinity of Kapakapanui.

In the past, I’ve written multiple trip reports describing the very accessible loop walk which the women were attempting. Here is the region on a map.

The pair, an international student from the USA and her visiting mother, set out on Tuesday 26th April, intending to complete the commonly walked loop route which, under normal circumstances, is very accessible to anyone reasonable fit. They never checked out of their motel on Wednesday 27th April, but it wasn’t until they failed to return their rental car by 11am on Friday 29th April that Police were called.

Police quickly located the car at the base of the Kapakapanui Track entrance to Tararua Forest Park, at the end of Ngatiawa Road east of Waikanae. By now, statistics were already not in their favour, but exactly how long they’d been missing was unclear and weather had been unmemorable during recent days.

A Search and Rescue operation was initiated immediately. Several other trampers were located who’d seen the pair on the track on Tuesday, providing a time-frame for how long they’d been missing, but exact intentions remained unknown. Early on Saturday 30th April, four LandSAR teams entered the area. At roughly 1pm that day, the two women were spotted by a helicopter. They’d spent 4 nights outdoors, with the daughter in particular by now being extremely dehydrated, starving, and possibly within a few hours of death.
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Daywalk: The Complete Paekakariki Escarpment Track


Saturday 9th April 2016 was the official opening day of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track—a new connecting track between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, above the railway line along the coast. Intense interest meant that organisers had to restrict entry for the initial day, but it’s now fully open to the public.

Date: 10th April, 2016
Location: Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay.
People: Just me.
Route: Walk south from Paekakariki to steps under the SH1 road bridge, onto the Paekakariki Escarpment Track, then follow it to Pukerua Bay.
[Download GPX] [Show map] [Display in new window][LINZ Topographic Map in new window]

This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.

I never felt the desire to follow a narrow, steep track with squillions of other people on Saturday 9th April… or 400 as it turned out. I did, however, spontaneously decide to jump on a train on Sunday the 10th of April, to go and check it out.

For me, this track is a welcome addition to the network of walking options in the Wellington region. It naturally connects together two locations (Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki) which, until now, really had no practical on-foot connection short of walking alongside State Highway 1. I’ve walked that stretch several times. It’s not very exciting.
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The Walking Access Mapping System Goes Mobile

I’ve recurringly written about the Walking Access Mapping System since it was put online by the Walking Access Commission. The system collates masses of data from local and central goverment. It’s very helpful when trying to figure out places which are legal to walk, especially when physical features don’t always make the divisions between public and private land clear, nor the location of legal roads and access ways.


Earlier today, the Walking Access Commission announced that there’s finally a mobile edition of the WAMS. The announcement doesn’t seem to have received much attention, but I think it’s a valuable extension.

Until now, the WAMS has been a fairly clunky, Flash-heavy website that’s not entirely easy to use on a mobile device. Exporting information for other devices hasn’t been a trivial thing. For example, it’s generally necessary to manually trace lines and waypoints over the top of the WAMS maps, prior to exporting those lines.

Hopefully features like the ability to export data will improve over time. Meanwhile, the mobile edition of the WAMS means that it should not even be necessary to export info in many cases. If you’re in a place with mobile coverage, and want to find out which legal access ways are nearby, it’s potentially more a case of pulling out a smartphone, visiting, and seeing what’s around. (Try if your mobile browser is not auto-detected.)

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Overseas tourists and park access fees

It’s difficult to comment on recent calls for tourists to pay a larger share of maintenance of the conservation estate without detail of what’s being proposed. So far nothing’s been formally proposed.

This is a recurring topic. The most recent iteration seems to have begun with a Listener article about Te Araroa. One tangent included the following paragraph. It’s derived from an interview with DOC’s CEO, Lou Sanson, when discussing the impact of international tourists on the New Zealand conservation estate:

He hints at the possibility of a differential pricing system being introduced for backcountry huts to help protect Kiwis’ access. “We are moving to the stage where we have to look at this, because it may be quite unsustainable if you put another million people on top of it,” Sanson says.

Fairfax’s Stuff website picked up the story a few weeks later, headlining “DOC may charge overseas visitors to enter national parks“. Three days after, the Dominion Post (also Fairfax) carried an editorial titled “Yes to a fee for tourist trampers“. Then, Fairfax also published “Fewer Kiwis doing Department of Conservation Great Walks“. (The actual numbers quoted at the end of that article seems to show more New Zealanders walking Great Walks, despite dropping in some and increasing in others.) Following this came “Conservation boards say Department of Conservation is facing crisis“. Next, with the recent public purchase of Awaroa Beach comes “Should we tax tourists to it?“.

It seems fair to say that Fairfax, which controls a significant portion of New Zealand’s print media, has definitely adopted a theme, complete with a point of view. It’s triggered significant discussion in social media and elsewhere about whether international tourists, and particularly those who make use of New Zealand’s conservation estate, should somehow be made to pay more towards its maintenance.

I’m not diametrically opposed to the concept of using tourism-sourced income to subsidise the conservation estate (particularly the part of it which is affected by tourism), but implementation is everything. There are many problems with implementation.
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