Two climbers mourned by teammates after fatal fall near Fiordland

By David Loughrey

Climbers Conor Smith and Sarwan Chand died after falling from Marian Peak in Fiordland. Photo/NZ Alpine Team
Climbers Conor Smith and Sarwan Chand died after falling from Marian Peak in Fiordland. Photo/NZ Alpine Team

Two climbers who fell to their deaths on a remote and challenging South Island mountain range were young stars of the alpine community.

The country's top mountaineers are devastated after fellow alpine team members Conor Smith and Sarwan Chand died two days ago on Marian Peak, Fiordland.

The New Zealand Alpine Team, which named the pair on its website today, said it was devastated to lose two well-liked and respected members.

Smith and Chand fell on Monday. Their bodies were removed from the peak in the Darran Mountains on Tuesday by Southland police search and rescue members.

The New Zealand Alpine Team, made up of volunteers who mentor young climbers, said it was "with great sadness'' the team reported the deaths.

The men were attempting a route on the south face of Marian Peak.

"While details of the accident are not yet fully known, we believe that while climbing, the leader fell before being able to place gear after the belay. This resulted in a fall, pulling the team off the wall."

Team members were now preparing to fly from across the world to attend their friends' funerals.

A gofundme appeal to bring home climbers Gemma Wilson and Alastair McDowell from Canada had raised US$5000 ($7195) in just a few hours towards their airfares back to New Zealand.

The two said they wanted to return to New Zealand tomorrow "to give our friends a last goodbye".

Smith and Chand joined the alpine team in late 2015.

"They were both well liked and respected members of our team," it said. "They were experienced and competent mountaineers with many successful ascents in New Zealand and overseas.''

Smith excelled as a rock climber, and Chand had a long list of successful ice and alpine ascents.

"To lose two of our friends and teammates together in this way is devastating for us. Our thoughts are with their family and friends,'' the team said.

The club's website shows that Smith grew up on the West Coast and got into climbing while studying in Greymouth.

Chand's interests included climbing, running, mountain biking and snowboarding. Originally from Canterbury, he studied at Lincoln University.

Both were part of the team's second intake of mentored climbers, coming in for the 2016-2019 period.

New Zealand Alpine Club general manager Karen Tait said losing two talented climbers in a single accident was a tragic blow.

"They were both bright young climbers," she said.

"It's a great loss to the climbing community."

She said the pair were considered "young stars" having earned places in the country's crack alpine team, which selected only the best and brightest climbers.

The accident had happened in the premier rock climbing region of New Zealand, regarded by alpinists as the place to test yourself, Tait said.

- Otago Daily Times

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