They Survived an Avalanche, Then Had to Survive the Night

2 climbers in New Zealand's Remarkables mountain range built a snow cave
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2022 8:42 AM CDT
Getting Buried in an Avalanche Was the First of Their Troubles
Double Cone (7,568 feet) is the highest peak in the Remarkables Mountain Range, clearly visible from Queenstown, New Zealand.   (Wikimedia Commons/Bernard Spragg)

Two climbers were caught in an avalanche on a mountain in New Zealand—and that was just the start of their troubles. The 20-something males were finishing up a three-day climbing adventure in the Remarkables mountain range when they awoke Tuesday to find their tent buried in fresh snow, per Stuff. After packing up, they decided to try to walk out of the area, only to trigger an avalanche that carried them 20 yards downslope and left them partially buried. Equipped with shovels, the men were able to dig themselves out uninjured, per the Otago Daily Times. Then came the whiteout.

They retreated to their camp site and called for a rescue, realizing there was no way they could make it out on their own without causing another avalanche. But the blizzard prevented two rescue attempts by helicopter, meaning the men would need to wait out the night. "When storms come out it can be a pretty inhospitable place," Wakatipu Alpine Cliff Rescue team coordinator Russ Tilsley tells the Guardian. But the duo "were in good spirits," and rather than set up their wet tent, "decided to build a snow cave" next to a large boulder, removing them from what would have felt like 10-degree weather and putting them into temps closer to 32 degrees. The men had run out of fuel for their stove, preventing them from melting snow to drink, but they did have "maybe 10-15 muesli bars," Tilsley notes.

A helicopter was again prevented from reaching the pair on Wednesday morning but managed to drop a rescue team more than 1,000 feet below their position. "The weather was bloody awful," team member Derek Chinn tells Stuff. "You couldn't see a damn thing." The team finally reached the duo around 10:45am, per the New Zealand Herald. The weather then cleared enough for extraction. The climbers "were a little bit shaken, a bit damp more than anything else, and they were pretty humble," Tilsley tells the Guardian. But "they were lucky." Had they been another 50 to 100 yards into the avalanche flow, rather than on the edge of it, "they probably would have been dead." (More rescue stories.)

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