Media release: Trampers reminded to understand the impacts of Aotearoa’s wild weather
For immediate release
Aotearoa's fast changing weather and the impact it has on trampers safety must be well understood before setting off, a coroner and the NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) say.
The recently released coroners' findings confirm that the failure to adequately check the weather forecast, understand its effects, and to adjust trip plans to minimise safety risks, were contributing factors to the death of Darren Myers in the Tararua Ranges in 2019.
Darren John Myers, then 49, of Wellington, died after falling down a waterfall while attempting to complete the Northern Crossing in Wairarapa's Tararua Ranges on, or about, May 30 in 2019.
The MSC was asked to provide the coroner with a report on the circumstances which led to Myers death, and to make recommendations on how tragedies such as this can be avoided.
The Northern Crossing is one of the four classic tramps in the Tararua Ranges and is considered as ‘expert level’ by the Department of Conservation (DOC). It is known for extreme weather conditions including strong winds and low cloud which results in poor visibility on the steep ridge lines.
In the report, MSC stated that lack of preparation contributed to Myers becoming significantly affected by the weather conditions. The wind and driving rain made travel extremely difficult and resulted in him being unable to continue on his planned route.
The MetService forecast on the day of departure was for northwesterly gales and severe gales that night, followed by rain becoming heavy with severe gale northwesterlies the following day. On May 31, snow was forecast down to 1000m - Arete Hut, where Myers stayed on May 30, sits at 1357m.
Due to the severe weather, which made it impossible for Myers to continue on his intended route, he decided to head off track down to the valley below. Rather than following a spur with thick vegetation, he travelled down a gully which initially may have seemed easier. Even in dry conditions, many gullies and streams are dangerous due to the steep gradient. In the wet conditions, Myers descended over exposed rocks that would have been very wet, eventually slipping and falling down a waterfall, sustaining fatal injuries.
MSC state that checking and understanding the weather forecast ahead of time is a crucial step of trip planning. The MSC’s new trip planning app, Plan My Walk, helps trampers select an appropriate trip, and presents the MetService weather forecast relevant to that track, any applicable DOC track alerts and severe weather warnings or watches, to help prepare for the trip. The ‘plan’ section in the app is for detailed notes and a section where you can share your plan with an emergency contact so they know your intended route and what you’re taking with you.
Coroner Tracey Fitzgibbon endorsed the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s recommendations, as follows:
1. Carefully consider the consequences of tramping alone. Those who choose to go solo should do so on trips that are well within their level of skill and experience. Solo trips are not recommended for inexperienced trampers, above the bush line or in winter conditions.
2. Source the latest weather forecast for the area, consider the impact that the weather forecast will have on the trip and be prepared to alter plans according to the conditions.
3. During trip planning, consideration of alternate routes is essential. Always have a backup plan and always be prepared to stay longer at safe points such as huts.
4. Consider appropriate footwear which is suitable for the terrain. Boots are essential on expert routes and when tramping off-track. Boots are also preferable on any multi-day tramps where packs are generally heavier.
5. In steep terrain, constantly evaluate the likelihood and severity of a fall. In principle, when descending off-track, plan to follow ridgelines and spurs as opposed to gullies and streams, as these are more dangerous due to being steeper and wetter.
6. Generally speaking, trampers should be well versed in the evidence-based Land Safety Code.
The MSC extends its condolences to Darren Myer’s family and friends.
Additional information for journalists:
Over 180 trampers were involved in search and rescues (SAR) in the forest park between 2010-2017, ranking it the third highest conservation area in New Zealand for SAR, behind Fiordland and Tongariro National Parks, MSC’s A Walk in the Park? research document.
There were also five fatalities in the decade ending 2017.
- NZ Mountain Safety Council Prevention work:
Alongside Department of Conservation (DOC) and NZ Police, MSC formed an Issue Specific Advisory Group to develop and propose a number of prevention solutions which will improve the safety of trampers in the Tararua Ranges.
In 2020, a report proposed eight solutions that would provide clarity on: expected journey times, a public interface for reporting track issues, encourage trampers to factor in longer journey times during their planning, and to provide accurate information on conditions for trampers to set realistic expectations.
Read the media release on the ISAG report.
- Stuff Article: New app, better communication for the Tararuas
Header photo: Caleb Smith.