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The Remarkables deaths: ‘every guide’s worst nightmare’

The Grand Traverse crosses from Single Cone to Double Cone (pictured). This photo was taken in mid-October this year. Photo: Matthew Cattin

The two climbers killed on The Remarkables have been named by police.

They were 62-year-old Brett Alexander Lentfer and 44-year-old James Harry Spaile – both of whom resided in Australia.

The pair were climbing the Grand Traverse with a guide from Aspiring Guides when they fell 300m to their deaths.

The route summits Single Cone and Double Cone, near Lake Alta, and is popular with climbers.

Aspiring Guides company director Vickie Sullivan said the team is devastated and extends deepest sympathies to the families.

“Our immediate concern is for the families who have lost their loved ones and to support them in any way we can,” she said.

“We are also working closely with the NZ Police and the NZ Mountain Guides Association to aid their investigation around the circumstances of the incident and are conducting our own internal review.”

Sullivan said that the Aspiring Guides team and climbing community has been deeply shocked by the tragedy.

“We are providing support and assistance to our team but have also been overwhelmed at the response from our small NZ mountain and guiding community who have been in touch to pass on their condolences to those most affected and offer assistance where they can.”

“I would also like to thank the Emergency Services and the Wanaka and Wakatipu Alpine Cliff Rescue team for their quick response and assistance.”

Jane Morris, the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association president and an IFMGA guide with Tekapo-based Alpine Recreation, said the accident was a nightmare: “It’s always a shame when the mountains end up in the media in this type of scenario,” she said. “It’s every guide’s worst nightmare.”

Morris said guides do everything in their power to minimise risk, but it can never be completely eliminated in the mountains.

“Our number one priority is always client safety and if something compromises that, there can be real consequences – in the worst-case scenarios, it’s totally tragic,” she said.

News of mountain accidents are upsetting for guides, Morris said.

“It certainly gives you pause for thought, and it’s interesting to be going straight into a [guiding] job today,” she said.

“The shock and grief of the families is where our thoughts are.”

Mountain Safety Council chief executive Mike Daisley issued a press release in which he described the technical nature of the Grand Traverse.  

“The Grand Traverse of The Remarkables Single and Double Cone is an iconic alpine climbing route. It requires specialist skills and knowledge and is only suitable for climbing groups who are competent in alpine rock climbing and mountaineering environments,” said Daisley.

“This is not a tramp, this is not a trail. It’s a serious undertaking and not suitable for most people. While The Remarkables can be seen from Queenstown and may appear to be an accessible location, this is a tragic reminder of the very real risks our mountains can pose.”

Daisley said the Grand Traverse exposes climbers to steep and unforgiving terrain. The use of climbing ropes and specialist climbing equipment is standard practise for even the most experienced climbers. “It’s not a location you accidentally come across on an easy walk or mistakenly find yourself in, if you’re up there it’s because you’ve identified it as a goal, and you’ve committed to the challenge.”

The body of one of the climbers was retrieved on Wednesday afternoon by Police and Alpine Cliff Rescue, and another was recovered this morning around 8am.

Details regarding the two deceased climbers will be released as soon as formal identification and all necessary family notifications have taken place.

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