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Mt Cook climbing trips cancelled

Published: 8:17PM Tuesday January 22, 2013 Source: ONE News

Scientists have flown to the site of yesterday's dramatic rockslip in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park to assess the risk of more rockfall in the area.

The mass of debris left on the mountainside has meant some tour operators have cancelled climbing trips up the country's highest peak for the rest of the season.

GNS scientists and Department of Conservation staff touched down near the Mount Dixon rock avalanche today to test the area where several million cubic metres of rock and ice hurtled down the western side of the mountain.

Miraculously the slip stopped just 200 metres from the plateau hut - the final stop before climbers attempt the neighbouring Mount Cook summit. Yesterday, fifteen people were inside.

"I made the decision to close the hut and evacuate those who were in the building at the time," said Department of Conservation Area Manager Ronan Grew.

Most were airlifted from the scene, but five brave climbers chose to stay and set up their own camp.

Alpine Guides general manager Arthur McBride said his remaining tours for the season will be on surrounding mountains.

"It essentially cut off the route from plateau hut."

GNS scientists say yesterday's event is comparable to the 1991 Mount Cook avalanche when a large chunk of the eastern face fell away.

"It'll be weeks, if not months, of continuing dust coming out from the rockfall," said Jim Spencer of Aoraki Mount Cook Search and Rescue.

GNS said the slip was a once in a decade event. Its scientists will now decide when the hut will be reopened.