Missing climber on 100-peak quest

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Missing mountaineer Simon Bell was on a mission to be first to climb the 100 “great peaks” of New Zealand.

Mt Earnslaw was about No 60 on Bell’s list when, three weeks ago, he told friends he was setting out to scale the 2819m peak in Mount Aspiring National Park.

He has not been seen since.

The 33-year-old Wellington engineer is understood to have taken leave from his job for the summer and relocated to Wanaka to pursue his ambition.

After his ex-partner reported him missing on Monday, police found Bell’s car at Muddy Creek, near the start of the track to Mt Earnslaw, about 25km north of Glenorchy.

They were flown into the area by helicopter yesterday to check shelters on Mt Earnslaw, including Esquilant Bivvy Hut, Rock Bivvy and Earnslaw Hut, but found nothing.

Acting senior sergeant Steve Watt, of Queenstown, says police are concerned for Mr Bell’s safety given the length of time since he has been seen.

They want to hear from anyone who has been in the Mt Earnslaw area during the past few weeks who has seen or spoken to him.

Watt says Bell was well-prepared, and carrying a cellphone, tracker and personal locator beacon.

The beacon has not been activated and the phone has not been connected to a cellphone tower since January 13.

Bell is 190cm tall, of light build and wears glasses.

Tararua Tramping Club president Paul Maxim says no-one has climbed all 100 peaks.

“Simon’s ambition was to do that.

“Mt Earnslaw was on the list.”

Maxim says Bell is a nice guy who has been in the Tararua club for several years and is also a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club.

“Although things are obviously not looking too good, there is a possibility he’s still with us somewhere.”

Bell recently climbed 3000m peaks around the La Perouse glacier in the Southern Alps.

Maxim says Bell “did occasionally” climb easier peaks solo.

“He followed good safe practices.”

Maxim, who has climbed Earnslaw, describes it as a “reasonably straightforward” climb in the right conditions which normally takes a couple of days.

It is “very unusual” a tramper is out three weeks at a time without reporting in. Maxim’s sure Bell will have left his intentions with someone, following the usual practice.

Bell is a member of the club’s alpine instruction committee. He is single and has no children, Maxim says. – additional reporting Mark Price

Otago Daily Times