Queenstown climbers opted against climbing the western face of the Remarkables just 48 hours before experienced Christchurch climber Jamie Vinton-Boot was swept off his feet there by an avalanche, falling to his death.
The Mountain Safety Council warned of dangerous avalanche conditions and the likelihood of human-triggered avalanches in its advisory yesterday, ranking the ”considerable danger” of avalanche on all Queenstown mountains.
Mr Vinton-Boot (30) said in his blog he had ”a burning desire to ascend mountains by the most challenging ways imaginable”.
”This has nothing to do with conquering summits. It is about discovering what it means to be alive and to be human.”
Mr Vinton-Boot was ”an exceptional climber and climbing was his passion”, his friend Queenstown Climbing Club president Guillaume Charton said yesterday.
”He was one of the most talented climbers in New Zealand in regards to mountaineering and rock and ice climbing.
”Lots of people in the Queenstown climbing community knew him because he was quite respected and would often come to this part of New Zealand. He was young and had a bright future.”
New Zealand Alpine Club general manager Sam Newton, of Christchurch, said Mr Vinton-Boot participated in the New Zealand Alpine Team to mentor the next generation of climbers, despite being a young man himself.
”His death is a tragic loss for the climbing community and, of course, his friends and family.”
Mr Vinton-Boot was in Queenstown ahead of the Remarkables Mixed Rock and Ice Festival from August 15 to 18.
Mr Newtown said the fundraising gathering of 100 enthusiasts was likely to go ahead.
Mr Vinton-Boot and his 34-year-old male companion were caught in the avalanche at 8.35am yesterday at Queens Drive, around the west face of the Remarkables, used by rock climbers because it is far from the ski area.
Mr Charton said Queens Drive was very exposed to snow transported by the wind.
”Conditions are changing every day and when we went there on Saturday, we decided to turn around because there was so much fresh snow,” he said.
Mountain Safety Council avalanche and alpine programme manager Andrew Hobman, of Christchurch, said yesterday there was a ”considerable danger” of wind slab avalanche because 10cm of fresh snow had fallen in the past day and a-half on to a compacted snow pack.
He said the wind deposited snow into dense layers called wind slabs that did not adhere well to the layers below them and were susceptible to light loads walking on them.
”This event highlights that any time you’re on snow and the slope angle is greater than 25 degrees, avalanches can happen, and even very small avalanches which can take you off your feet are just as deadly as a great big avalanche,” Mr Hobman said.
”The advisory for the day was noting it was likely to trigger an avalanche and the size would be small, so it’s all about, then, the consequences of what happens when you do get taken.”
Queenstown police said Mr Vinton-Boot fell 500m in an avalanche that was about 4m wide and 300mm to 400mm deep. It swept him off his feet and down a steep face. He was unable to gain control of his descent.
The climber’s uninjured companion called avalanche control at the Remarkables Ski Area first, which was the best thing to do, Sergeant Steve Watt, of Queenstown, said. The ski area patrol and police responded. Three or four search and rescuers were airlifted to near where the climber was found and had to trek to where he was, due to the terrain, Sgt Watt said.
”They carried out initial first-aid response on the victim and they put an airway through and tried their very best to bring the deceased back, but were unable to do so. He was not breathing when he was initially found and that’s when CPR began.”