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.
experience can make you complacent and arrogant... if you've gotten away with doing reckless and dangerous things and acting impulsively in the past, it can diminish your reasoning...
"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." That comment had me thinking. And I have to say I couldn't think of anything remotely in that ballpark. Plenty of instances of canning trips or turning back due to the appearance of a sudden wild card. I guess I've been on an endless number of trips where an injury would have put us into epic territory which is why we always carry emergency shelter and you will see my continual emphasis of this on the tramper.co.nz website and other fora.
Hi @Honora. I never meant to imply that everyone falls into this category, but I reckon it definitely exists. Of the people who do questionable things and suffer consequences, many more will have done comparable things and gotten away with it.
I’m a South Island tramper and climber but haven’t been in the Tararuas. I’ve read this forum with interest and truly feel for the families affected by the deaths over the queens bday weekend period in the Tararuas and Nelson lakes regions. Tops travel is inherently risky and the idea of embarking on a tops trip with a poor weather forecast is a recipe for disaster IMO. Whilst some of the northern crossing isn’t poled, Robert Ridge is. But having poles didn’t stop the tragedy in Nelson Lakes from occurring a couple of weeks ago (and another party had been airlifted from the area earlier that day). To me the issue is still that people are heading out into areas under equipped, in bad weather, and without the appropriate skills and knowledge required to make good decisions. If the weather is bad outside, stay in the hut. If the rivers flooded and uncrossable, wait for it to go down. If you’re out of your depth, turn around - the mountain will still be there another day. Take a PLB - hell, set it off if you’ve been stuck in a hut in the tararuas in a blizzard for a while. Better that an uninjured, embarrassed tramper is airlifted out of an area and scalded for being unprepared than landSAR doing a body recovery. If poles will help then I say go for it - I just think that a good chunk of these fatalities involve making decisions prior to starting at the trailhead that narrow the margin for error (e.g heading out in a very poor weather forecast, no tent or shelter, no plb, travel above the snow line without prior experience, lack of appropriate clothes etc.). I understand that Shackleton and his men had to endure atrocious weather - I’m just at a loss to understand why kiwis continue to take themselves out into it simply because they have a paid day off work.
He's done the touristy back pack thing in Europe. Came here did the tongariro northern cicuit then jumped into the tararua northern crossing. My boys second tramp was the tongariro northern circuit. The youngest was 6 and he had a full pack, it took us 3 days. You bet your bottom doller I'm not taking them on the tararua northern crossing for their third tramp. The youngest is now 12 and I'm not taking him up there. I can literally do it in a day but I'm not taking it lightly. I never will. The problem is not tramping, doc signage or the tararua. It's people not taking the mountains seriously. That's the issue. It's always the issue.
@izogi: I meant to say your comment made me reflective and I discussed some trips with Frank! It's that old classic unknown unknowns scenario. I always used to read Johnny Mulheron's postmortems on accidents in the FMC journal and on trips was mindful of his comments, e.g. the deceased was found with their helmet still strapped to their pack.
I agree with the notion that people don’t take the mountains seriously but as someone said earlier in this thread unfortunately we often don’t know what we don’t know. Studies have shown that the less knowledge and experience someone has in a particular field the more likely they are to over estimate their ability in it (I’m thinking of a certain president perhaps?). I’ve spent hundreds of hours and more than a decade walking and climbing in both the north and South Island but the most dangerous situation I’ve ever found myself in was in fact my second ever tramp. My group of three was air lifted out of Arthur’s pass after setting off a PLB near the top of an alpine pass. Long story short although our navigation was spot on (sparsely poled as the route was) we didn’t have an understanding of terrain that could require crampons given the right conditions. I think that beginners are mostly getting into trouble for reasons other than navigational mistakes, in fact I don’t think nav is really on their radar at all. Whether there are poles or not I don’t honestly think encourages or discourages someone from entering into an area. They’ve decided they’re going long before they figure out what type of track marking is available and so my vote would be to add in poles wherever it would have an obvious benefit in poor weather. If we’re wanting to save lives I have to agree that it’s about stopping people leaving their cars in the first place without suitable weather, gear, fitness etc. if anyone has any ideas on how to achieve that I think we’d be onto something.
its survival of the prepared in the mountains, have your wits about you.. problem is, in day to day life you dont have to think much about surviving, modern technology has sorted a lot of that out. so peole are focused on entertaining or challenging themselves or relaxing in the outdoors and the survival aspect doesnt feature in their thinking enough
Poling or putting signs adjacent to hut like Arete Biv is all very well, but if conditions are such that you cant see the hut, who's to say that you will see the poles/signs? How many of these would be needed in one spot to reduce possible risk? I think something reasonable being placed at spots like this would be beneficial - if it reduces risk of death/injury, and/or if they are inline along the logical approaches, that could possibly work. I agree with others that poling/signage still wont necessary assist those lacking in experience, or those not bringing GPS, maps or beacon. Rule number one for mountain travel for me is still (always) stay on the tops, stay out of the valleys wherever possible. The other rule number one for me is always know where you are.
There are plenty of examples around where 4-6 poles have been used to guide people the last few meters to a hut. I can think of many occasions where I've been grateful for them in clag / whiteout - e.g. Lake Morgan Hut, or Kime coming along the range from the north (now fully poled but at the time just had a few for the last bit to the hut). I don't feel that this detracts from the otherwise wilderness experience (there's already a hut there, after all) - jut ensures you take a sensible route to the hut rather than missing it entirely, or bashing a direct line off the ridge through leatherleaf or complex terrain where a good route exists. Not sure about your '(always) stay on the tops' rule @si-dog. My rule would be quite the opposite for any Tararua main divide trip: 'always have an escape plan for getting off the exposed tops into safety & shelter from any point along the ridge'. Though obviously knowing what you're dropping into is part of researching your escape routes. I've been forced to bail from the pinnacles myself, many years back, in ice-rime conditions and increasing wind. I took the traditional route to Arete Forks - though it took 3 of the only 4 self-arrests that I've ever had to perform in anger. Even with good run-outs it wasn't fun on an unpredictable mix of hard ice and soft snow. Not a great place to have to escape from - and for someone without an ice-axe ... who knows where it would have ended. Which, despite constant derision, is one of the many reasons the ice-axe comes along on most trips.
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