Assurance over signs

The Department of Conservation says trampers using the Cascade Saddle route in the Mount Aspiring National Park can be assured upgraded warning signs will be positioned at the most treacherous section of the crossing.

The Otago Daily Times recently reported Doc's plans to install replacement signs highlighting the dangers of a specific section of the route, after two coroners earlier raised concerns about the high number of tramper deaths which had occurred there.

The report referenced Cascade Saddle at an altitude of 1524m.

However, experienced mountaineer Markus Milne, of Christchurch, subsequently contacted the ODT to point out the most difficult section on the route was just below an area known as the Pylon [a trig station] at about 1800m in altitude on the Matukituki side of the crossing, where a slip or fall would result in sliding into a bluffed gorge.

''This is the area of most fatalities, I believe,'' Mr Milne said.

''The area around Cascade Saddle, about 2km from the Pylon, which is also bluffed on the Matukituki side, is generally less dangerous.

''Primarily because the poled route is back from the cliff edge and the route is less steep underfoot on that part of the crossing.''

Mr Milne said in warning potential trampers where to avoid or take extra care, it was important to differentiate between the two points.

Descending below, or ascending to the Pylon on snow or wet tussock grass was ''lethal'' without extreme care and equipment such as good boots, crampons and an ice axe, even in summer.

''It's a crossing I've always treated with respect because the `run out' if you make a mistake is game over.''

Doc Wanaka conservation services manager Chris Sydney said Mr Milne was correct most fatalities had occurred below the Pylon, which was where Doc planned to install the upgraded signs within the next week or so.

Descriptions of deaths occurring ''on the Cascade Saddle'' at coroner's inquests, in media coverage and by Doc referred more broadly to the overall Cascade Saddle ''route'', not the geographical feature, Mr Sydney explained.

The route began at the bush line in the West Matukituki Valley and continued over into the Dart Valley.

Doc's replacement signs near the Pylon will include the text: ''Extreme Care. Multiple fatalities have occurred beyond this point'', and will replace existing signs which feature only a slipping symbol.

-lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz

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