Queenstown climbers’ private dilemma at 3500m

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Two Queenstown climbers rescued from Mt Tasman last week had wanted to be taken off the mountain by private helicopter.

Michal Karnik, 30, and Michal Svadlenka, 28, were carried off the peak last Wednesday in a helicopter rescue co-ordinated by police.

In a decision commended by police, the Czech nationals called for help after becoming stuck about 50m below the summit of the 3497m mountain.

Karnik told the Otago Daily Times they had wanted to be picked up by a private helicopter company, but “misunderstandings and miscommunication” conspired against them.

They were extremely grateful after fearing for their lives, but uncomfortable it had happened on the public purse.

“I’ve never been rescued before, and I didn’t want to be. There’s this feeling of ‘I can handle this’.

“But there’s been a lot of deaths in the past year – we didn’t want to be the next ones.”

Approaching the summit about 9am, the pair found themselves in wet, deep, “very avalanchey” snow.

After deciding to turn around, they found the conditions on their descent to be even more treacherous.

“Then we had two choices: get a helicopter and get rescued, or stay overnight and bivvy up there and wait for the freeze.”

With the wind rising and bad weather threatening in the west, climbing down the exposed ridge the next morning seemed too dangerous.

After being unable to contact the helicopter company by phone or radio, he managed to connect a 111 call about 9.30am.

Karnik says he wanted to be transferred to the helicopter company – “we were fully prepared to pay for it” – but the operator ended up activating a rescue by the Aoraki Mt Cook Rescue Team and Mt Cook Alpine Guides staff.

In hindsight, he realised the operator had to follow a set procedure for such a call.

After being taken to Mt Cook village, the pair arranged to be flown back to Marcel Col – at their own expense – to collect their gear and walk out.

Karnik says if they attempted Mt Tasman again, they would probably do so during summer, when snow conditions were more stable, and would start their climb earlier in the morning.

They would take a break from ice climbing “for a while”, and focus on rock climbing over the next few months.