"@Ian_H: "You can back off and get people down something like this quite quickly as long as you have one competent person"
Not being an alpinist myself, how does that fit in with this extract, taken from the article?
"Kirsten didn't fancy descending the intimidating face they'd come up. If you're a skier in trouble, do you take the black diamond run or the cruisey green run, she reasoned. John knew the North Ridge. The East - that was something else. Alright when you’re climbing, but when you turn around - vast, and terrifying. He didn't want to go down there."
I guess that was their perception at the time and the reason the continued up in the face of lateness and deteriorating weather.
I would disagree with the above perception, it wouldn't be too difficult descend the East ridge in those conditions using a rope, even from the point where they had started pitching and were a couple of pitches up.
First make the decision: too late, going way too slow pitch climbing so many people to get over the top in any reasonable time, everyone getting hypothermic waiting as they're moving one at a time.
Put in a snowstake, tie the rope to it, tie a loop in the other end and let it down. Put the second most competent on the rope attached with a prussic to their harness, the two weakest just above them similarly attached. Move down together using the rope as a handhold and protected by the prussics knotted onto the rope. More experienced one can encourage others and help them down facing inwards, no one can fall. As they get going, get the other beginners going down similarly side by side on the rope. At the bottom of the rope put in an anchor, clip the bottom loop to it, once all but top person are at that anchor, top person pulls out the top anchor and lets it go, the top person down climbs solo while rest continue descending on the rope which is now below them. Repeat.
It should go fast - second competent person can more or less drag rest of group sliding down the rope, they can't go anywhere as they're on the rope. You're doing full rope lengths at a time rather than the half rope lengths with so much waiting around as people go down one at a time if you are abseiling. No gear left behind, so you won't run out of gear.
It depends on the last one down being confident and capable of climbing down solo, but with competence, two ice tools, crampons and facing inwards, it should be safe enough.
If the top person needs / wants rope protection, the competent one going down first puts in a runner at half way and another a few metres above the end of the rope and belays the last one down before continuing.
Big plus of going down is each pitch is a pitch closer to home and safety.
I guess I started climbing in a time before these 'beam me up Scotty' plbs and GPS, you had to think about how you would manage a self rescue if say someone was injured, lost or broke an ice tool or crampon or glove, or weather deteriorated seriously and meant a serious route needed to be downclimbed and you couldn't afford to leave any gear behind.
Another thing to think about in advance is finding your way down in deteriorating conditions: Does the route veer left or right on the way down, is it better to err more to the left or the right to stay out of trouble as you descend, what features provide a big enough target and a funnel to lead you back to your hut / tent / snow cave. People have got into serious trouble not being to find their snow cave returning from a climb in deteriorating weather.
This post has been edited by the author on 11 October 2017 at 14:19.
"But I'd never traversed this part of the ridge before and I had no idea what lay beyond. I crouched there for a bit and concluded that if I pushed past this step but found conditions further on even worse ... I'd be in a bit of strife trying to retreat on my own"
it might have been the right decision, PhilipW, in very high winds that's the bit that a wee bit tricky, as is one just below the summit of Girdlestone.
Tramper had a very bad fall along there couple years ago, bad break in leg I think, and rescued thanks to a PLB
"Tramper had a very bad fall along there couple years ago, bad break in leg I think, and rescued thanks to a PLB"
This one? https://www.wildernessmag.co.nz/beacon-and-sausages/
Here's Don's personal account: http://donstevens.co.nz/2016/not-beer-sausages-part-sixteen/
This post has been edited by the author on 11 October 2017 at 20:43.
Re the down-climbing, thanks for the insight.
Aside from whatever individual skills were present, I guess that can all count for nothing when there's no clear structure or leadership for a group.
In a given instant, individuals might have the perfect technical ability to get everyone down safely. If they don't have the assertiveness, confidence and respect from everyone to be able to pull it all together in that moment, though, it only takes one or two people to argue or have alternative ideas or be running off to try their own thing, and everything falls apart. A bigger collection of people will just increase the chances of this happening.