US climbers chose 'absolutely bad' trail

By Sarah Harvey, Marjorie Cook

The Quarterdeck route on Mt Aspiring used by three American climbers before a fall which killed one and injured two was "absolutely bad" and should not have been used, says an alpine specialist.

Wanaka police yesterday released the name of the climber who died on the mountain. He was Austin Hanchey, 20, of Tennessee.

The three climbers were American exchange students attending a semester at Lincoln University in Canterbury.

Mr Hanchey's mother said yesterday that her son wanted to help others appreciate the environment.

She had spent 12 days visiting her son and flew home last Thursday.

"He loved it. He absolutely loved it," she said of New Zealand.

"He was in a place that he enjoyed and he was doing what he enjoyed, and that thought kind of has to carry you through."

The young man's uncle, Brian Hanchey, yesterday described his nephew as a "real go-getter" who loved climbing. "He loved the outdoors and mountaineering was one of his favourite pastimes."

His friends, one of whom climbed through the dark with a broken collarbone to raise the alarm, remain in Dunedin Hospital and were unable to speak to media yesterday.

Staff at the hospital said Jessie Kappmeyer was in a stable but serious condition in a general orthopaedic ward.

Michael Gavillot who had multiple fractures to his leg and pelvis had surgery overnight Tuesday and was in intensive care. His condition was listed as serious but not life threatening.

Mr Kappmeyer, who had concussion, a broken collarbone and possible back injuries, managed to put Mr Gavillot into a sleeping bag before going for help.

The group's climb, which had started on Friday, was hampered by bad weather which forced them to spend a night on the Bonar Glacier.

They then decided to return to the French Ridge Hut via the Quarterdeck route.

Alpine Cliff Rescue team leader Gary Dickson, a professional mountaineer who led Tuesday's rescue, said the group were roped together in standard practice for crossing glaciers.

Wanaka Search and Rescue was notified of the group's distress at 11am on Tuesday and located the injured climber at 1.15pm.

They had fallen twice and managed to self-arrest themselves on the first occasion, despite one climber losing his ice axe.

The men reconfigured before they fell again, still roped together, slamming into an ice wall after a 400m plummet down an ice face.

Mr Hanchey was believed to have died on impact.

Mr Dickson said normally climbers did not stay roped together once they had left the Bonar Glacier. It was common for climbers to rely on crampons and snow anchors, rather than rope, to tether themselves in case of a fall.

"The conditions were quite hard and fast and you need to have a good skill base. Cramponing would have been quite hard. When you fall over, it is not into soft snow."

A slip while roped up caused a domino effect. People could knock others down before a self-arrest could be made, he said.

Similar accidents had happened in the past where climbers had died while roped together, he said.

The runout on the Quarterdeck was "absolutely bad". Once started, it would have been very difficult to stop, Mr Dickson said.

The climbers should not have been using the Quarterdeck route. He said they were probably lost because of tiredness or unfamiliarity with the terrain.

Mr Dickson recommended anyone attempting Mt Aspiring at this time of year to use the Bevan Col route rather than the Quarterdeck. It was not known what route advice the climbers had sought.


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