Rescued Ice Climbers Admit Pushing Limits Too Far

13th July 2023|4min

“We just pushed it too far,” says one of the ice climbers rescued off The Remarkables on July 2.  

“The ice climb was great, but then it turned to probably the worst day of my life.” 

The NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) caught up with Jake about the day leading to the rescue – what happened, and what he would’ve done differently looking back. 

Jake, who MSC has agreed not to publish his full name, immediately admits that what was meant to be an ice climbing day trip to Wye Creek, turned into a valuable lesson.  

“We were just underprepared and we were just going with routine.” 

The pair had planned their trip, studied access routes and factored the weather and travel time into their margins, Jake said. They had checked the weather forecast and knew it was going to turn bad later that afternoon. They had chatted to friends and people who knew the area and had been up days before saying it ‘should be sweet’.  

But the weather arrived early, and they were running late.  

“However, it wasn’t just the weather - we just pushed it too far,” he said. 

The pair set off at 7am on July 2, planning to be back at their car at The Remarkables Ski Field by 3pm before the arrival of the bad weather 

“It was about 10.30am when we got to Wye Creek, but the ice wasn’t fully formed, so we changed our plan and we jumped onto a route called Blue Velvet.  

“From the top of Blue Velvet we went across to the south face of Single Cone, and we did the first 30m pitch of Touch Down. By the time we got to the foot of the first 30m, the wind was really starting to pick up.” 
Shortly after 2.30pm, while heading along a common access route to take them back to the carpark, the pair triggered a small avalanche, prompting them to change route again.  
The New Zealand Avalanche Advisory danger for the area was ‘considerable’ at the time.  

Jake and his climbing partner making their way between Wye Saddle and Wye Basin at 9.30am on July 2. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“Tracking it on our GPS app on the phone, we followed the contour line round. However, since triggering the avalanche and during all this time, it was pure white out. 

“So, when we turned right, from where we thought would take us down to Wye Saddle, we just turned right too much and almost doubled back, and we ended up above Wye Basin,” he said.  
Checking their phones again, they realised they were “way off course”.  

“That’s when I made the call that we were lost, and it wasn’t going to get any better. We knew that if we kept going, we might trigger another avalanche or get more lost. So, we just decided to find the best bivvy spot, call in our position and say, ‘look we’ve messed up’,” Jake said.  

The pair were on the mountain for 10 hours before the search and rescue crew could reach them at 4.30am. 

“Hindsight is always the obvious thing to say now. Of course, we shouldn’t have done that other climb. . . the thing that got us caught was that we were too keen, and we just wanted to go climb.” 

Jake said that triggering the avalanche, “that really changed everything”.  

Jake and his climbing partner moved to New Zealand in January, and since, he had been up to Lake Alta twice and completed the Grand Traverse, while his mate had been ice climbing in the area twice this winter already.  

The rescue crew noted that the pair didn’t have a first aid kit, an emergency communications device or avalanche equipment.  

“In reality, yes we should've taken just five extra minutes and packed all of that,” he said.  

“We were like, ‘we’re just going for the day’, and we were confident in both our skill sets but that was probably why we did cut corners.” 

“We should’ve packed an avalanche beacon and there was no excuse for not having one. We were just underprepared. We were just going with routine.” 

Not doing the research by accessing the free information available to him was a mistake, he said. 
“You have all that knowledge sitting right there, websites and people, and we just didn't utilise it,” he said. 

“In terms of that, 100% we were underprepared.” 

“The ski patrollers [at The Remarkables Ski Field] are right there and they’re there every day. On the Friday afternoon one of us could’ve just called and said, ‘hey we want to go out tomorrow before the storm, and asked what time we should be off the mountain by, and asked about the avalanche conditions too, and we could’ve built that into our margins. 

“We are extremely grateful for the rescue team and everyone involved. It’s taught us that the minimum we can do is learn from this and take the appropriate professional courses to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Jake said.  

At the top of Wye Saddle on the way to Wye Creek at about 8.30am on July 2. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Are you avalanche ready? If you’re heading into the New Zealand back country this winter, be sure to: 

Submit a public observation here. 

Hikers and trampers can find the avalanche forecast under alerts on Plan My Walk. 

- Rebekah Wilson is a communications advisor at the NZ Mountain Safety Council. 

Header photo: One of the climbers, in blue, is reached by members of the Queenstown Alpine Cliff Rescue team on The Remarkables just after 4.30am Sunday. Photo: Supplied by NZ Police