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October 2021 Issue
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High summer in the hills

Alpine flowers at high lakes on crossing to the Matakitaki Valley. Photo: Pat Barrett

An idyllic tramp in Nelson Lakes National Park with a group of long-time friends, superb weather and magnificent scenery. What could possibly go wrong?

Finally I could see them 60m above, off the scree and working through some small rock steps which looked easy, but ended in a sheer rock face that rose over 90m above them. 

It was a hopeless proposition for us, without a rope, and even with one I would not have been keen. So it was with amazement and fear that I saw Peter begin to work his way carefully upwards. Joseph had abandoned the route to opt for a view from the ridge above and then to return below.

I called to them to flag the climb as it looked far too dangerous. “If you fall off there, Pete!” my voice trailed off.

To my relief, he began to descend and I offered a brief prayer that he would get down safely. Just as I did this, I glanced again at the cliff to see him fall slowly backwards off the bluff.

I stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed as he tumbled and slid, bashed and skidded over the rocks looking like a rag doll dropped amongst the rocks. Fear gripped me as I watched the horrifying sight and all manner of outcomes flooded my mind. Mostly that he was surely dead.

He fell 15m and when he reached the base of the cliff, still some 60m above me, I was again incredulous when he jumped up and moved quickly to the left out of view!

“Peter! Peter!” I hollered at the cliff. Silence.

A clammy fear crawled up my back as I was gripped in a rising wave of panic.

September 1996