Climber solidarity after fatal avalanche in Queenstown

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New Zealand’s largest climbing meet has gone ahead in the shadow of a top climber’s Queenstown death days before.

More than 150 climbers took part in the second Remarkables Ice & Mixed Festival on the stunning Queenstown mountain range from last Thursday to Sunday.

It was the scene of a fatal small avalalanche last week for highly-regarded Christchurch alpinist Jamie Vinton-Boot who was swept from the west face of the Remarkables, in an area remote from the recreational ski area.

The 30-year-old, described as a passionate and exceptional climber by Queenstown’s Climbing Club president, had been in town as a lead-up to the fundraising festival.

Festival organiser Daniel Joll says: “Quite a few of us were really good mates with Jamie.

“We didn’t have a very big field in the Traverse race on Sunday because people were attending the funeral.
“And about 10 people who were originally going to come pulled out. But the actual festival itself had a really good mood,” Joll says.

“No one took on any major undertakings over the weekend though, people were cautious with the conditions.”

Joll reveals Vinton-Boot wasn’t climbing a face on the Remarkables when caught in the avalanche two Mondays back.

Vinton-Boot had simply been walking to a climb with his climbing partner when the four-metre wide, 30-40 centimetre deep avalanche took him off his feet and over a cliff at about 8.35am.

Vinton-Boot fell about 500 metres.

“That’s the sad thing. It could have been any of us,” Joll adds.

“Half of us had actually planned to go out where they were that morning but we ended up changing our plans and going somewhere else,” Joll says.

“It was very random.”

Vinton-Boot’s 34-year-old uninjured companion called avalanche control at The Remarkables Ski Area – and ski area patrol and police responded, while three or four search and rescue volunteers were airlifted to near where the climber was found and had to then trek to where he was.

At the festival, Queenstowner Danny Murphy and Wellingtonian Mike Buchanan won the Double to Single Cone Traverse Race in a time of four hours 15 minutes in hard conditions.

Joll himself set the Hardest New Route of the Festival, while Wellingtonians Jono Clarke and Di Drayton took the Hardest Repeated Route category.

Guy McKinnon was named Black Diamond NZ Alpinist of the Year 2013 at the festival.

The event raised $15,000 for the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Expedition Fund.

Money from the festival will form a capital pot over the years, with the club only allowed to allocate expedition grants from the interest.