Athol Thomas Whimp (50), of Melbourne, who died while
climbing the Homer Saddle in Fiordland, was an experienced
and celebrated mountaineer and author. Photo by Colin
An experienced and accomplished mountaineer was not
wearing a helmet when he slipped and fell to his death in
Fiordland National Park.
Athol Thomas Whimp (50), of Melbourne, died on February 23
after he slipped while traversing Homer Saddle from Mt Moir,
in the Darren Mountains, Otago-Southland coroner, David
Crerar said in his report signed November 21.
The cause of death was "multiple traumatic injuries" after he
fell "a considerable distance" on to snow, grass and rocks.
"The climbing community has lost an icon," Mr Crerar said.
Mr Whimp, with Matt Evrard and John Sedon, climbers of
"significant experience and ability", set off from Camp Dog
early on the third day of their trip. It was raining and all
were drenched. Terrain was steep and exposed and slabs of
rock were wet and running with water.
Mr Whimp followed Mr Evrard who stepped on to mud.
Mr Sedon saw Mr Whimp slip on the mud, on to his back and
roll to the left and down the hill. His left foot went out
from under him.
Mr Evrard turned around and said he saw Mr Whimp "tumbling
off the side of the mountain ... Even at that stage he seemed
to be unconscious."
Mr Sedon said Mr Whimp "never made a sound at all; no words
came out of him, not even a shout".
The pair used ropes to try to reach Mr Whimp, but they could
not see him and called for emergency help.
Mr Whimp was a "very experienced climber and athletic and
fit". His clothes, equipment and boots were appropriate.
However, Mr Crerar speculated as to whether the outcome of
the first slip would have been different had Mr Whimp been
wearing a climbing helmet.
The coroner also speculated on whether trekking poles for
stability and traction would have helped.
Mr Crerar said he adopted the recommendations of experienced
mountain guide Geoff Wayatt, of Wanaka.
Mountain Information Services should continue to provide
information on the hazardous nature of many of New Zealand's
mountain access routes, particularly in wet conditions.
Climbers wearing heavy packs on exposed access routes had to
pay particular attention to their personal safety and
specifically ensure their footwear was the most appropriate
for the terrain.
Individuals should consider their security by always using
two or three point contact when soloing or scrambling.
The use of a belay rope should always be considered when the
exposure was great, conditions adverse and the risk of a
fall, and death, high.
Helmets provide limited, but useful protection.
"The sport of climbing/mountaineering will never be totally
safe," Mr Crerar concluded.
"This is part of its challenge."