Climber on perilous perch after rope cut

Luke Welch (left) and Chris Sommer enjoying the start of the climb. Photo: Supplied
Luke Welch (left) and Chris Sommer enjoying the start of the climb. Photo: Supplied
The strand of cut rope Luke Welch was left with.
The strand of cut rope Luke Welch was left with.

A climber has told of his state of panic at being stranded on an icy rock face after his rope was cut loose in a ''freak accident''.

British man Luke Welch and American Chris Sommer set out to climb a classic 200m ice route on the west face of the Remarkables Range, known as Friday's Fool, on Sunday morning.

Mr Welch's rope was cut as he closed in on the final stretch of the climb about 3.30pm, causing it to fall between his legs towards Mr Sommer, who was belaying for him 40m below.

The 24-year-old said the climb had been going to plan up until that point.

''I moved up to get a good hook into this nice rock I had seen and as I push up to get that in there, just complete weightlessness comes over me.

''I look down between my legs and just watch my rope fall. I was stuck.

''We don't know what it snagged on. It has got us both stumped. I was left in the s... .''

The rope was cut just 6m from the top of the route.

Mr Welch, who is originally from Newcastle, England, and has lived in Queenstown for four years, heard his climbing partner ''scream and shout'' up to him to check he had not fallen.

He was left in a ''compromised stance on ledges less than half the size'' of his feet as darkness set in.

''We could hear each other but it was greyed over, windy and snowing.

''That much rope going slack to the belayer is a sign that the leader has fallen.

''The rope is coming hurtling back towards him and the next thing he thinks he is going to see is me coming past him.''

Once Mr Sommer saw the rope was cut, he called Search and Rescue and let Mr Welch know rescuers were on their way.

When Mr Welch realised he would be stuck on the rock face for a while in a ''blizzard'', he wrapped up in the warmest layers he had in his backpack.

A team from Search and Rescue, Remarkables Ski Patrol and Alpine Cliff Rescue arrived at the scene about 7pm and the pair were taken to safety at the Remarkables Ski Area base.

Both men have been climbing for most of their lives. Mr Welch said they were thoroughly prepared for the climb, with all the equipment they needed to complete the route.

Once the rescue team arrived to help, the pair finished the climb with their assistance.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Mr Welch expressed his ''sincere appreciation and gratitude''.

He wrote: ''To hear the voices and see the headtorch light of the rescue team above at around 1900 [hours] came as one of the biggest reliefs of our lives.

''A day of firsts for sure, the mind can get tangled in 'what ifs' at this point, but the fact is that because of these legends volunteering to come out, we finished the day under a heater with a beer in hand.''

Chris Prudden, leader of Wakatipu LandSAR's alpine cliff rescue team, said on Monday, ''The message for assistance went from one of the guys through social media.''

Mr Welch said as well as calling rescuers, Mr Sommer also called his girlfriend in America.

-By Joshua Walton

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