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Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

Auckland, New...
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Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

The article below appeared on Stuff today. To me, it seems a bit harsh pointing the finger at the transport operator, it's not as if this operation is acting as a mountain guide. Trampers are responsible for their own preparation and safety - and should check the weather forecasts themselves and be prepared appropriately.

An "ill-prepared" group of 16 people walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing were found soaked to the skin, with many in the early stages of hypothermia.

Police have criticised a tourism operator Tongariro Mountain Shuttle for dropping the group off on Saturday during severe weather conditions.

Weather in the area was hazardous with poor visibility, rain, strong winds and very cold temperatures.

The group were left at the Mangatepopo car park with the intention of walking 19km to their waiting cars at Ketetahi.

Inspector Steve Mastrovich said they were informed by the transport operator that the weather would improve and that they would be fine.

But when they reached the summit of Tongariro the weather had not improved.

Mastrovich said the group was inexperienced and lightly clad, some wearing shorts, others wearing jeans and none had any alpine clothing.

The group was soaked to the skin and many of them were in the early stages of hypothermia when police received an emergency call about 11.30am.

Two other trampers who came across the group provided warm clothing, before helping them down to South Crater where a Department of Conservation hut warden was waiting to help.

Search and Rescue teams from Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation then met the group near Soda Springs and gave them food, drink and warm dry clothing.

They were led back to the Mangatepopo car park where they were treated by three waiting ambulances.

Two women from the group were transported to Taupo Hospital for further treatment.

Mastrovich said the rescue happened on a day when other transport operators in the area had refused to deliver clients to the start of the crossing because of weather conditions.

Police were disappointed that Tongariro Mountain Shuttle dropped the group off, and Mastrovich said it would be discussed with the operator.

Encouraging ill-prepared and under-equipped people to go into an alpine environment was irresponsible and contrary to the practices of the local tourism operators, he said.

Tongariro Mountain Shuttle owner Kevin Gardiner said the trampers were adults, believed to be in their 30s, and he expected them to act responsibly when it came to their wellbeing.

Gardiner believed the group was properly dressed. They had woollen hats, jumpers and gloves, though he could not say whether anyone was wearing shorts.

He said he advised the group of the weather forecast and told them to call the company if they wanted to return.

"The weather forecast was actually read out to them: showers, clearing and strong winds in exposed places, dying away in the afternoon."

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1. Re: Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

If one does even the most basic of research into the Tongariro Crossing one is told of the need to take warm clothing, wet weather clothing, food water and wear a decent pair of boots. This is basic mountaineering /tracking common sense. The shuttle company should not be the judge and jury about whether a group should or should not attempt the crossing. Those doing the trek should also have obtained a weather forecast. The weather on the Central Plateau can change in an instant. Having lived in Waiouru for three years I am only too well aware of changeable weather conditions. One summer we marked a softball diamond with a mower which was used to lift the snow off the ground and in that same year we had a snowfall at lunchtime on Bozing Day and were barbequing in shorts for dinner. The weather can change that quick.

From the radio reports I have heard today many of the party were irresponsibly dressed and should never have been on the mountain. They should have been charged for the police and rescuers time as they are in some European jurisdictions.

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2. Re: Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

The transport operator may not be a mountain guide, but when I read that other local transport operators had refused to take people to the Crossing, then I do wonder why this particular operator did. It seems that the police aren't happy with him either.

And as for criticising the tourists, yes, we all know that some people don't do their homework. However there are also a lot of misleading sources of information out there. I'm currently researching for a future holiday which will involve some walking, and the descriptions I've read of a particular track range from what an easy scenic morning walk it is, to needs decent walking shoes/boots and should not be attempted by anyone prone to vertigo because of narrow ledges where there are wires to hold on to for safety. Obviously one of these sources is wrong!

Who knows what this group of people read about the Tongariro Crossing? Maybe it was painted as an easy outing. If I was the transport operator, I'd be telling the group that conditions weren't safe, given the weather advice over the weekend.

Auckland, New...
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3. Re: Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

In my view, if you go as an independant walker it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the necessary gear for wet/cold/windy weather. You might ask the transport operator for advice, such as the expected weather conditions - but I wouldn't expect them to check your pack for a rainproof jacket/fleece or whatever. I looked at Tongariro Mountain Transport's website, and they do have links to both the DOC site and Met service sites. If you need more support than this, then I would suggest doing the hike as part of a guided group. Independent walkers are generally expected to be able to cope in most conditions, unless the weather turns really ugly and the track is closed and evacuated.

I am a bit confused by where the article says "other transport operators had refused to deliver clients to the start of the crossing because of weather conditions." I would have thought it was the role of DOC and the hut wardens to decide when weather was sufficiently adverse to close the track. Clearly the track was open as this group was assisted by other trampers who were apparently not in difficulty in the conditions.

Having said that, I guess you would expect the transport operator to take some action if the group were obviously ill equiped. And if they did send them up with a the promise of improving weather, then that was reckless.

Edited: 3:11 am, April 30, 2012
Wellington, NZ
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4. Re: Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

I agree it is the hikers' responsibilty to be prepared, but the transport operator also has a duty of care. It sounds like many of the tourists had limited experience, no waterproof jackets and some were in jeans (which is more of an issue than shorts), and the transport operator should have warned them not to go considering it was raining and windy.

DOC only closes the track because of the track condition, they don't close it because of weather. But if you call their office they will give advice on the weather. They changed the official name of the track from the "Tongariro Crossing" to the "Tongariro Alpine Crossing" to emphasise to people that it was not a light day-walk. There are also signs warning about weather conditions at the start of the track.

5. Re: Poorly prepared trampers rescued from Tongariro crossing

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