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.
I used to carry an ice-axe on all trips and one time had the jeering comment "where's the snow?". Once I cottoned on to the walking sticks I didn't take it as much. It sure came in handy on greasy steep terrain when it was dug into the slope for a hand hold and always good for digging cat-holes and anchoring tents.
I carried an old wooden shaft ice axe on all my trips for a very long time. I find an ice axe more versatile, stable and a lot more robust than walking sticks. I thought I had misplaced mine years ago and was recently delighted to find my younger brother had carefully looked after it for me, even oiled it, and it's still in great condition. I have tried sticks several times but never gelled with them. People claim they offer support and stability, but tbh I strongly suspect this speaks more to a lack of core strength than anything else. I believe that 99% of the time you should be stable on your feet only, with the ice axe in reserve as a third point like a three legged stool, for those moments when your footing is loose or a wind gust threatens.
Apologies that I have come to this discussion late. I am always pleased to see a pole in the clag but am (hypocritically)opposed to them for all the reasons already articulated. I was in the Tararua over Queens Birthday weekend and was up as far Aokaparangi, over from Holdsworth and Isobel, from where we retreated. On the friday the weather was a little windy but we had no trouble at all over Holdsworth and there was no snow, in fact it was strangely warm. Monday night on our way out we spent a night at Jumbo with one of the SAR teams, by then the weather was bitter and drifts of snow 1 metre deep. The SAR team arrived right behind us wet and frozen and had to sit around waiting for further instructions before finally being stood down some time after dark. Listening to their radio it was staggering the size of the operation, 15 teams in the field early Tuesday morning. Inc and airforce NH90 at about $100k/day. Any death is tragic but when you go alone, don't take a beacon, don't leave notes in hut books my sympathy wains a little. Would poles have helped? From memory there are a few down to Arete Biv. I have been down Arete stream from the biv and though a long time ago, from memory, wasn't that bad. We sidled a couple of times in the scrub but just standard Tararua stuff. I wonder if he ran out of daylight, that would be tricky. A few years ago we passed a contractor on the main range near Mangahuka who was mowing the route with a "line trimmer". We were bemused to say the least. On the Kaweka tops a year or two ago, we were heading south toward the Makahu Spur in average conditions following the well poled route. Suddenly they stopped and we spent a bitter 20 min finding where we were because we hadn't bothered keeping track on the map (because of the poles). Turned out a couple of poles were down, we had found one of these but it was well off the "track" and misled us.
I noticed wooden poles can be shoved over by snow loading and then snap when some good samaritan levers them upright. I saw this on the ridge going up to Steadman Saddle from the headwaters of the Hokitika R.
I'm pretty sure I know the exact spot on the Kawekas you mean @bmackz as I did the exact some thing in terrible conditions and poor visibility. Had to try and find what limited shelter I could and bring out the map and compass to re-orientate myself (which was not easy given the gale force winds). I believe it was mentioned earlier that poling a whole route can produce an illusion of safety to less experienced/competent trampers but it can also become a crutch for more experienced people, especially when conditions are poor. As in the above Kaweka example I was just putting my head down and slogging in to the wind and rain/sleet and relying on the marker poles intermittently popping out of the gloom to guide me. It wasn't until I realised I hadn't seen one for a few minutes that I actually took it on myself to think about navigation. Sadly, I have not yet had the chance to venture in to the Tauraruas yet so can't comment on specifics there, but while I am generally not a fan of full poled routes some guides down to huts that are somewhat obscure to locate may not be a bad thing.
As someone who spends most of his spring standing-back-up high country fences I can assure you both warratahs & flat standards also snap after being bent over by snow when you try & straighten them. So any form of marking will require ongoing maintenance.
Thanks to all who posted. Wonderful insights, thoughtful proposals, stimulating discussion. Cheers~
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