Tararuas: Marking poles and signage
Darren Myers' death breaks my heart. I want to open a discussion regarding marking and signage in the Tararuas. I know there have been other threads that addressed this topic. However, Darren's death highlights the issue for me. Simply, I think all major tops routes in the Tararuas should be poled and bomb-proof signage should be at all major bifurcations. My reasons include the Tararuas are a geographically small range, sit amongst a heavily populated region, are easily accessible, and consist of complex topography that demands a confluence of many factors to allow a tramper to safely negotiate the country. We all have had close calls, and every small grace helped guide us to a safe outcome. If even one of those graces did not appear at the right moment in time, we may have had the same fate as Darren. I think that the addition of thoughtully spaced poles along the major tops routes along with robust signage able to withstand the 7,371kph gusts the Tarrys are known for could help save lives. I know there may be many in the community who may be strongly against this idea, and that's what the forum is all about. I welcome the discussion. Many trampers have a strong passion for the Tararuas and I've often heard cited that the lack of markers and signage is an enjoyable enticement. Rather, "If you don't have the skills, you shouldn't be out there." I do understand and respect those thoughts but shall we hold onto a notion of notoriety at the expense of safety? Many of us have experienced the awesome might of the Tararuas; sometimes it has been exhilarating, sometimes it has been menacing, even dangerous. For Darren on that day, it was deadly. Numbers are only going to increase: more trampers, more international visitors, more everything. Te Araroa runs through the Main Range, and all sorts will be tempted by the storied lore of the Tararuas to explore even more of the Forest Park. Increased markers and signage will not diminish the Tararua experience, but it may help to prevent an increase in the frequency of mishaps as visitor numbers increase. A glimpse of a pole or the hint of a silhouetted sign on a ridge may help a distressed tramper; disorientated, hypothermic, scared, desperately searching for any moment of grace.
people have done overseas trips in higher mountains, in colder weather. so how hard could the Tararua's be? hard enough to kill 60 people and require numerous more rescues... anyone who socialises with trampers who go there much have horror stories to trade about the weather... the wind and not just the rain, the dampness itself contributes to its coldness... experienced locals are wary of the place... i've heard numerous stories about uncompleted trips or trips that turned into long slogs because of the conditions and i've had a few myself. i've completed a winter north crossing, but the group were all locals and had better knowledge of our options, we had to deviate off the ridge and did so via dorset ridge and park forks and back up to macgregor... being a group we were able to take turns doing exhausting postholing through the snow. it was hard enough with five people to take turns, someone on their own would have really struggled to complete the trip.
> Given offline GPS apps are free, and everybody has a phone, poling is mostly outdated IMO. Each to their own but my smartphone is utter crap in something like a blizzard situation. I carry it in my pocket around town but I hate doing that in my tramping shorts. It's a bulky, relatively heavy thing that gets in the way and falls out every time I sit down. The touch screen doesn't work at all if I'm wearing gloves, and if I take them off then a small amount of water on the screen, or my fingers, causes it to get confused about where I'm pressing if I can even feel and move my fingers at all. My GPS is also tricky to use sometimes, but at least it has big thick buttons instead of a fragile touch screen. Honestly when the wind is blowing my beanie underneath my eyelids, I'd be totally happy to have a pole or two or three to confirm that I'm roughly where I think I am. I'm not one for destroying the wilderness with gratuitous signage and unnatural constructions (some would say we've already done that with huts), but at times there's something to be said for a modeless navigation device that's simply there in the real world in front of you when you look for it.
in a blizzard you wont be able to use a phone.
Don't get me wrong I think there's merit in poled routes from ridgelines to huts on undefined descents like arete. I've ended up taking wrong routes in clag and finished up on vertical faces in a sea of Colenso olereii. But those are character building. Turn around and retrace your footsteps. Personally my first time to arete biv was all alone in thick clag. I had never been there. Had a big day coming all the way from poads carpark. So was fatigued. Stumbled around a bit before it finally appeared in the mist. But it wasn't that hard to find. Minor panic averted. But none of them are too hard to find if you have done your research and keep on the ball. Dundas, mcgregor, Nicholls, Aokap, Dorset. They are not hard to find in white out or gales. But if your alone and you don't have a plb, fitness, top notch gear, bail out options, map, and GPS with spare batteries your an idiot tbh. When I was a younger buck I was doing a southern crossing in winter when I met up with an old man. We walked together to field hut and had a cuppa and he told me the best lesson he has learned in the hills was pride always comes before the fall. When I broke out onto the tops into waist high snow and white out I turned around and hitch hiked back to welly, even though I had told friends and family I would conquer no matter what. I always teach that lesson to young people I take into the hills as well as the story of the hare and tortoise.
@gaiters: aye indeed and retreat is your best defence. We turned back the week before last and completed the objective the following weekend instead. Too many unknowns about conditions further along the ridge and getting too late in the day with delayed travel due to obstructions and having to step plug in deep snow. That photo of the leatherwood growing close together above the tramper's head was sobering.
thats why Ed Hillary said, you haven't climbed a mountain successfully until you have returned back safely He was putting the idea in peoples heads they had to not just consider completing their objective, they had to consider their own safety first, completing the trip is second to keeping yourself safe and coming through unscathed... dont be single minded, consider the wider implications of what could happen if you continue in bad weather and or snow conditions...
The odd pole is OK, but signs are intrusive, and once you start where does it end? A sign at the head of each spur or split-ridge just in case someone might pick the wrong route? We just have to accept some people are risk-takers and once you make a route too civilised, they will look for something harder. Perhaps it would have the unintended effect of pushing people into more extreme tramps. I am not a hairy-legged gung-ho, like the characters that rip down tape-markers on the Maymorn and Oriwa Ridges, but a balance is needed, and I think DoC have got it pretty much right at the moment.
It's a difficult question but I'm on the side of less route marking and more self-reliance. I've been on Mt Bogong plateau (way above the treeline and very open) in 60kph wind and cloud so thick that poles would need to be every 2m to see them. I had the route across the plateau (2km) and off the tops in my GPS. Difficult to walk upright but following the GPS was pretty easy. Unlikely to have made it without it. (earlier forecast had the bad weather coming in 12hrs later so we were caught exposed) I agree with Gaiters : ... if your alone and you don't have a plb, fitness, top notch gear, bail out options, map, and GPS with spare batteries your an idiot... ... and I would add, specifically for solo, experience.
There's arguably a difference between being an idiot and doing an idiotic thing, though. Maybe the former is about failing to recognise and learn from an experience. I'd wager that plenty of people have taken comparable risks as Darren appears to have. Nearly all will have gotten away with it due to a combination of circumstances. As many in these forums have already communicated, hopefully you recognise and learn something from an experience like that as long as it doesn't kill you. Chances are more than a few people out there never learned anything, though, and might even be being critical despite the only difference perhaps being that so far they've been lucky. It's hard to know which category a person might fall into without knowing them a bit.
Yes, arguable it is. Certainly failing to learn from (repeated) experience qualifies . A single idiotic action could also - if sufficiently dumb. Heading out solo without appropriate experience, planning (forecast, PLB, GPS, map, escape routes), food and gear is idiotic. The risk is not just to oneself but to searchers who come looking for you. (... and please note that I'm commenting generally - not on this recent sad death.)
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