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February 2022 Issue
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Robert Ridge safety improvements

At any time of year, the Robert Ridge Route can be hit by bad weather. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

I’ve heard several tales of people coming to harm on the Robert Ridge Route in Nelson Lakes National Park, especially when snow and ice are present. 

One that sticks in my mind is the weekend a tramper waded through snow on the less exposed Speargrass Hut route (taking advice to avoid the icy Robert Ridge) and on arriving at Angelus Hut found two others in residence. One proclaimed the Robert Ridge Route to be dangerous. The following day, the weekend crowds arrived and it was a miracle no one died. One tramper ended up in a snow hole up to his armpits, another slipped and sliced his leg with a crampon. Near dark, there were reports of 11 trampers slowly making their way along the ridge. Most didn’t have ice axes and crampons and several were walking without head torches. Inevitably, one slipped and fell 200m. She was stopped by a rock and dislocated her shoulder, which was popped back in later at the hut. 

Any of these incidents could have ended more severely. Incredibly, this all happened on one day. 

So it’s good to see the Robert Ridge Route has received a safety overhaul (see Terrain Trap, this issue). The popularity of the route is undeniable; the Angelus Hut and lake which are the route’s destinations are among the most photographed locations in the backcountry – at least judging by the unscientific method of counting the number of photo competition submissions we receive and which feature these locations.

But, as with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, popularity brings inexperience and a must-do-it-no-matter-what mindset. So behind the many glorious photos, as Shaun Barnett discovers in his feature story, are numerous mishaps and search and rescue callouts each year – an average of one for every 700 trampers who attempt the route (compared to one in 3639 across New Zealand). 

None of us should ever take for granted that there are facilities such as Angelus Hut in amazing alpine areas for all to enjoy. This particular place has been made even better now that improvements have been made for safer access and increased awareness of the risks so visitors can make more informed decisions about whether or not to attempt it. 

I’m now more than a quarter of the way through the Walk1200km challenge. It’s been a real blast walking every day and sharing in the progress of other participants. Remember, it’s never too late to sign up. Once you’re ready, register and give yourself 12 months to walk 1200km. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to sign up today and start making a positive and lasting change in your life. Really, what are you waiting for?