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June 2014 Issue
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Tarn Ridge Hut Basil Blatchford grave. Photo: Shaun Barnett

The outdoors can be a dangerous place at times. Here are four memorials to fallen trampers

On a recent trip to the Orongorongo Valley, we followed an old section of track which passes through a fine stand of hard beech. There, among the trees, is a concrete block with a clover leaf-shaped plaque. It reads: ‘In memory of Don Dement, who drowned here, June 2nd, 1951’. One of my companions told me that for many years the plaque was missing its top half, and simply read ‘who was drowned here, June 2nd, 1951’ making the memorial seem like it was some sort of bush quiz.

A surprising number of memorials exist to backcountry people, some of whom have lost their lives in the hills. Several huts – such as Fenella (Kahurangi), Colin Todd (Mt Aspiring) and Leon Kinvig (Ruahines) – commemorate outdoor individuals. Then there is the large memorial at Aoraki/Mt Cook to those who have lost their lives in the area. Other lesser memorials come in the form of plaques, concrete plinths or even a simple cross. Here are four with interesting stories behind them.

Shaun Barnett


Basil Blatchford cross, Tararua Forest Park

In March 1959, deerstalker Basil Blatchford set off from Te Matawai Hut over the Northern Crossing. A scout party, who had crossed over the route that day, warned Blatchford not to go in the deteriorating conditions. He replied ‘I’ll be all right, I’ve been doing it all my life’. The hunter almost made it to Dorset Ridge Hut, but found to his cost that the Tararuas can exact a terrible toll for those who venture onto the tops in the worst conditions. Blatchford died, probably from exhaustion and hypothermia, on Tarn Ridge. He was buried on site, marked by a simple wooden cross that now serves as a landmark for trampers.


William Colenso memorial cairn, Ruahine Forest Park

Printer, botanist, missionary and explorer William Colenso played a remarkable role in the early period of New Zealand’s colonisation, but is best remembered by trampers for the remarkable number of crossings he made of the Ruahine Range. Colenso’s route crosses from the Makaroro River to the Maropea, by way of a peak known as Te Atua O Mahuru. At the base of Colenso Spur, where the track begins, is a simple memorial cairn, constructed from rocks cemented together by the Royal Society in 1975. Now covered by moss and ferns, it seems a fitting tribute to a man who loved plants.


Clough memorial, Browning Pass, Wilberforce Conservation Area

The Wilberforce may be relatively benign when in low flow, but heavy rain can turn into a monster. James Park and John Morpeth drowned in the river in 1929, prompting the Canterbury Mountaineering Club members to build a memorial hut in the valley. Some 27 years later, 16-year-old Allan Clough drowned while fording the Wilberforce on a CMC trip, and his grieving friends erected this pyramid-shaped structure at the base of the climb to Browning Pass. It serves as both a memorial to Clough and a warning about the hazards of rivers.


Dowling memorial plaque, Whitcombe Valley, West Coast

In 1938, Norman Dowling died while descending Mt Evans following the second ascent of the mountain. This came just four years after the famous first climb by John Pascoe, Priestley Thomson and Gavin Malcolmson. In Unclimbed New Zealand, Pascoe later wrote of Dowling as ‘a very enterprising and skilled mountaineer.’ Inside Cave Camp, the rock overhang at the Wilberforce and Wilkinson confluence, is a memorial plaque for Norman Dowling. The cave entrance has, fittingly, a grand view of Mt Evans.