First published in the Evening Post, 2 June 1927, p. 10.
‘Try Not the Pass!’
Within the last year or so there have been an unusual number of accidents in mountaineering or in the river-work which is ancillary to mountaineering, but I consider that this plenitude of accidents is due to coincidence rather than to any specific cause.
The utterance fell from the lips of one who is a bush-tramper and mountaineer, and who as such takes more than a passing interest in adventures and misadventures amid snow, ice and flood.
The bad cycle, he continued, may be said to have begun when three members of the Christchurch Tramping Club [later the Canterbury Mountaineering Club] tried to come down the Waimakariri in a raft. This wide-bedded snow-fed river, with its vagaries of channel would seem to be a bad proposition for rafting, but they tried it. They capsized, recovered, re-loaded, went on and capsized again after travelling about ten miles—finish!
Two were drowned [including club founder Gerard Carrington, after whom Carrington Hut is named]. The next fatality he remembered was on a mountaineering trip, when a West Coast lady, with considerable mountaineering experience, died while attempting to cross the Copeland [sic]
Pass. There was a storm at the top, and the lady collapsed in the cold.
Lost in Mountain Mist
More recently a Marlborough schoolteacher, formerly of Wellington, where he had tramped in the Orongorongo and other places, was lost on the Inland Kaikouras while pig hunting with two mates. They became separated in a mist. Two got out, but the schoolteacher, who was known to be weak in that somewhat peculiar quality known as the locality sense, was subsequently found dead. It was reported that he was only a quarter of a mile from a hut that would have provided shelter. This one was a fine scholar. He was buried where found.
Still more disastrous was the recent trip of four to Mt Egmont, from which two never recovered. The slide which was fatal to half the party was an indication that Mt Egmont in certain conditions presented difficulty, and though sometimes easy of access could not be classed as an easy mountain. On the same day the ascent might be comfortable on one side, tricky on the other. [This tragedy, which occurred on the southern side of the mountain, prompted the Hawera-based Mount Egmont Alpine Club to build Syme Hut two years later].
Freshest of all in memory was the fatal ford of the Mangaturuturu, where Mr Horace Holl, aged 45, considered by the Tararua Tramping Club to be the finest mountaineer in New Zealand, was swept away in floodwaters and drowned. It seemed that Mr Holl and his companion Mr Bartrum were making for Mr Holl’s camp, a journey involving a good many crossings of the stream.
Horace Holl, pioneering Tongariro mountaineer; Photo credit: Graham Langton collection
Flood Risk at Bad Fords
The systematic way in which Mr Holl had attacked the Ruapehu-Tongariro group was illustrated by the completeness of his camp, which comprised in skeleton form everything that such a camp could be: frames for sleeping places, cookhouse, and all conveniences. A mountaineer would hardly expect to face death at a ford en route between railway and camp, but experience many times showed that it is not at the most dangerous spot that mountaineers lose their lives. Nevertheless, a ford in a fresh is always a danger spot if not even in flood. Where the discoloured swirl of water renders invisible the unexpected boulder, with its sharp side and its slippery side, and the scour beneath its shoulder, the surest wader is liable to lose his footing, and once down in a waist high torrent it is hard to get up. The question being asked, whether a man at forty-five is too old to wade mountain torrents or to climb mountains, came back the answer: “Consider the case of that eminent mountaineer who in this country, at the age of sixty, still conquers unsealed peaks, puts up skipping records, and is said to have designs on Everest itself!”
After Many Years
Conversation passed to an older accident, in which, in 1914, Mr King and two guides were overwhelmed on the Linda Glacier by an avalanche from Mt Teichelmann. It was estimated at the time that remains of the lost ones would begin to appear at the bottom of the glacier by 1935. As a matter of fact, for the last year traces of them had been appearing, one of the most recently discovered relics being a boot, in perfect condition and neatly tied. “Do you consider the recent deaths to be due to any inexperience or lack of judgment?” “Taking them as a whole, there was a fair leaven of mountaineering experience present, and I think that the main cause was misadventure. But among inexperienced persons there is a tendency towards rashness and under-equipment in some directions, and unless this tendency is checked there will surely be some fatalities with which mountaineering as a skilled pastime cannot fairly be debited.”
While FMC’s Backcountry Accidents columnist Johnny Mulheron was working overseas, Backcountry magazine ran historic articles on past misadventures. The National Library has in recent years been digitising most New Zealand newspapers, beginning with the oldest, and making them available through a searchable online database. Some, like Wellington’s Evening Post, have issues as recent as 1945 available. Scans of any text can readily be converted to text. Backcountry magazine thanks the staff of the National Library, who have made this wonderful service so easily available from anyone’s desktop at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. The editor added comments in square brackets.
This article was re-published from the March 2013 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountry. The Backcountry Accidents Column, in one form or another, has been a feature of FMC publications since 1938. Read Shaun Barnett’s article on the history of the column to understand the thinking behind this highly regarded series of articles.