In 1934, two Canterbury University Tramping Club members were the subjects of an intense search. Shaun Barnett abridged their story using Papers Past.
‘TRAMPERS OVERDUE’, Evening Post, 30 May 1934
James Lysaght and Brian Mason, two members of the Canterbury University Tramping Club, left Arthur’s Pass eight days ago for Carrington Hut to make a Three-Pass trip to Hokitika. They have not been heard of since, and anxiety is felt at their prolonged absence. They should have reached Hokitika on May 24, and are now five days’ overdue. Search parties were organised on Monday from Christchurch and Hokitika.
Lysaght, who is 26 years of age, was educated at the New Plymouth Boys’ High School. Mason came to Canterbury College from North Auckland. The missing men were two of a party of 13 Canterbury College students who went to Carrington Hut a fortnight ago intending to spend their vacation tramping in the mountain passes. The party was stormbound for a week and had to give the project up, and all returned to Arthur’s Pass. It was then that Messrs. Lysaght and Mason decided to make the trip to Hokitika. They said they would make what is known as the ‘Three-Pass’ trip, striking a trail through the Harman, Whitehorn, and Browning Passes, or alternatively through the Harman, Whitehorn and Pope Passes.
By following the first route they would eventually reach Lake Kaniere, via the valleys of the Arahura and Styx Rivers. The second route would take them down the Taipo River to the Main West Coast Road from Christchurch. It has been assumed that the trampers reached Carrington Hut safely, but so far confirmation is lacking of their arrival there. Nothing is known of their whereabouts at all.
At noon Lysaght and Mason were still missing despite a search of part of the snow-clad mountainous region between the head of the Waimakariri River and the West Coast. The weather has been very rough with much snow; but it is fine now. Both men are experienced mountaineers, and were well prepared for the trip. By following the chain of huts the searchers hope to find some trace of the missing men in a short time.
‘TRAMPERS SAFE’, Auckland Star, 31 May 1934
At 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, James Lysaght and Brian Mason arrived unexpectedly at Glenthorne Station near the junction of the Wilberforce and Rakaia Rivers, close to Lake Coleridge. The trampers were overdue, and changed their route down the Wilberforce River instead of up the river, because of a mishap to Lysaght. In the meantime search parties have left the Bealey Gorge, and also from the Hokitika end. They will probably find on reaching the Park-Morpeth Hut that the students went down the Wilberforce River.
‘FELL 500 FEET’, Auckland Star, 2 June 1934
Presenting a sorry sight after their exhausting experiences in the mountains, Messrs. James Lysaght and Brian Mason, arrived back in Christchurch, bearing every evidence of having passed through a terrible ordeal. It was on Mason that the heavier burden devolved when his companion slipped on a treacherous face in the Whitehorn Pass and was incapacitated. Lysaght suffered deep abrasions on the legs and body, and it is believed that his arm is broken, but the exact nature of the injury will be determined when he is X-rayed.
Relating his experiences to a reporter Mr. Lysaght said he fell down a 500 ft snow slope and lay for two nights and a day injured and unable to move, with snow and rain adding to his misery.
We left the Carrington Hut early on the morning of Monday, May 21, climbing up the White and Taipoiti streams, and came out on the Harman Pass at dawn. We made for the [Whitehorn] pass, cutting steps in the snow, and reached the top at 11 a.m.
I ventured on a snow slope, but as soon as I stepped on it, it gave. I tried to brake with my ice axe but struck some rocks and fell. In a dazed condition I rolled and bumped down the face to a depth of 500 feet. On reaching the bottom I was badly shaken and, realising I was injured, took off my pack. Then to my dismay I discovered that my bottle of whisky was broken. I was racked with pain and could not stand up. Mason cut his way down to me, making steps in the snow with a butcher’s knife. But we soon found that I could not walk, so Mason set out to get help from the Park-Morpeth Hut.
All day long I lay in my sleeping bag and tried to keep the drifting snow away by holding another sleeping bag with my uninjured arm. The pain was pretty bad, and I began to wonder seriously whether I would be rescued. Whenever I stood up it was only to fall down.
Lysaght said that he managed to crawl a short distance but fell into the stream, and only after much painful scrambling did he achieve a sheltered spot.
Late on Tuesday, Mason returned and the pair set out on an agonising journey over rough country to Park-Morpeth Hut, which they reached at nine o’clock. Lysaght shared:
I shall never forget those awful hours in the darkness. We were both exhausted before we reached the hut and I crawled the fifty yards by myself as I had lost Mason in the darkness. I could not find the hut and lay exhausted in the bushes in pouring rain. When dawn came I crawled to the hut and Mason came in a few minutes afterwards. Fortunately we found food and were able to warm ourselves.
Lysaght said that Mason then went off and found some musterers from Mt Algidus station, and horses were brought to the Park-Morpeth Hut. Lysaght managed to ride a horse to the musterers’ hut and eventually got to Glenthorne. At Lake Coleridge, nurse Bryant attended to his injuries.
Mason, telling the story, said he, did not remember a great deal but made a big effort when he realised that Lysaght might be left to die.
I thought he was dead, but when I saw him take off his pack I knew there was hope. Hacking the steps in the snow with a butcher’s knife was a terrible job, and when I got to Jim he was vomiting and in a bad way. There was nobody at the hut when I reached it after leaving Lysaght, and I went to look for some deer stalkers down the river, but could not find them, and spent the night in the rain under a boulder. It was freezing and I could not sleep.
Describing the journey back to the hut with Lysaght, Mason said that when they arrived on the hill above the hut they became separated and finally he fell exhausted. When he awoke at dawn his feet were frozen into a small tarn by a crust of ice.
When I got to the hut I made a fire, dried out blankets and did my best for Lysaght. I went up the Cronin for food and got enough to make a heavy pack, but as night came on before I got to the hut I had to dump it. For three days – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – I stood by Lysaght in the hut and then set off for help. Then I heard the bark of a dog but was not sure about it, but I was gladdened when I found some shepherds who gave me a huge meal. That was the beginning of the end of our troubles.
This article was re-published from the August 2014 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.