Fatal Fiordland fall: Climbing community devastated by double loss of two climbers

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

A leading New Zealand alpinist says the climbing community has been ''rocked to the core'' by the deaths of two friends.

New Zealand Alpine Team members Conor Smith, 22, and Sarwan Chand, 27, died in a fall in the Darran Mountains in Fiordland National Park. Their bodies were found on Monday evening.

''It's rocked us to the core, especially because they're young guys,'' team leader and mentor Ben Dare, of Queenstown, said yesterday.

''It's such a tragedy to lose two bright young stars like this together. They were both great guys and strong, competent climbers.''

Smith, originally of Greymouth, lived in Queenstown. Chand, originally of Canterbury, lived in Wanaka.

They had been good friends since they met on the West Coast.

Rachel Knott, of Wanaka, met Smith while climbing in Yosemite National Park, California, a few years ago.

''Conor, I've always thought, was very much like the mountain keas we often encounter in the Darrans. Always very cheeky, bold, tenacious, intelligent, and full of character.

''A great guy, very kind and vulnerable, thoughtful, classy and always with a soft spot.

''He was unpressured, safe, in control. Those were some of the things I really loved about him.''

Knott had been on many climbing trips with Mr Smith.

''Winter climbing in the Remarkables, lots and lots of climbing in the Darrans, from multi-pitch to sport climbing at Little Babylon. He's a very, very good rock climber.''

She had also been on a climbing trip with Chand in the Darrans.

''It's a pretty big day. We bivvied out on a ledge; this is last year. He's the type of person who always made sure you were nice and warm.

''He was one of those guys with a fantastic, dry sense of humour, just solid all the way. And he was indefatigable. He'd go out and do ultra-runs, which were just amazing and then go and climb hard the next weekend. He was never flapped by anything.

''They were great mates.''

Smith and Chand joined the national team in late 2015 and had recently returned from a month-long ice-climbing team expedition in the Canadian Rockies.

On his return, Smith told the Greymouth Star he wanted to explore unclimbed peaks around the world.

''I want to head overseas to remote places no one else has ever been and push my own physical and mental limits,'' he said.

The duo were believed to be attempting a challenging route on the south face of Marian Peak in the Darran Mountains, a popular area for advanced climbers.

A search was launched when they were reported 24 hours overdue.

Their bodies were seen from a helicopter at the base of a climbing face on Monday evening and recovered the next day.

A post on the team's website said it appeared to be a ''factor two lead fall''.

That means the lead climber fell a whole length of rope down to the belayer and then continued to fall the same distance below, at which point both men were pulled off the wall.

Chand had recently been inducted into the Wanaka Alpine Cliff Rescue Team.

''He was willing to devote his spare time as a volunteer, with his huge amount of skills, to the flip side of the cause that unfortunately he became part of,'' team co-ordinator Richard Raynes said.

Smith was a graduate of the Tai Poutini Polytechnic outdoor education course.

Programme head Dave Richie said Smith was a vibrant person with a wry sense of humour and a humble approach - ''a rare and beautiful combination in a young man''.

Chand had studied at Lincoln University and spent four years on the West Coast working for the Department of Conservation before moving to Wanaka.

He had climbed extensively in the Southern Alps with ascents of La Perouse, Cook, Sabre and others.

The NZ Alpine Team said both were experienced and competent mountaineers with many successful ascents in New Zealand and overseas.

''Conor excelled as a rock climber while Sarwan had a long list of successful alpine ascents.''

Dare said the team was devastated.

''Unfortunately, some of us have had to go through this before and it doesn't get any easier.

''So at the moment we're just trying to provide support to each other and their friends and family.''

- Additional reporting Viv Logie

- Otago Daily Times

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