Two climbers who were buried in an avalanche and hit by a blizzard earlier this week in New Zealand survived harsh weather conditions by digging themselves out of the snow, building a cave and feeding on just muesli bars.
The two men in their 20s had set out on a three-day climbing expedition in the Remarkables mountain range when they triggered a grade 2.5 avalanche – large enough to bury a person.
It carried them 20m downhill, burying them in the snow. The men, whose identities have not been released to the public, were able to reach the surface by digging themselves out. They then decided to call the police, who alerted the Wakatipu alpine cliff rescue on realising the danger.
However, blizzard conditions made it impossible for the rescue teams to reach them by helicopters and they failed in their two attempts.
The men went back to their camp, where there spent the previous night, and dug out a snow cave under a huge boulder. They spent the night hunkered down in the cave, where it was relatively warm.
“It’s very steep and rugged terrain and it is mountainous and snowy… when storms come out it can be a pretty inhospitable place,” said rescue team coordinator Russ Tilsley.
He said it was about -7C to -12C overnight on the slopes but it would have been around -1C to 0C in the snow cave.
The men had spent three nights camping and climbing the peak but woke up on Tuesday to find their tents buried in snow. The avalanche was triggered when they started to move down.
“They were lucky they were right on the edge of it. If they were further along the slope they would have been in a bit of trouble,” Mr Tilsley said.
After speaking to the duo, they found them in good spirits and decided to resume rescue operations the next day.
“It was getting late in the day and we decided it was too late to put a team in on foot … we knew we had a beautiful calm morning the next morning, so we spoke to the guys and they were in good spirits, and they decided to build a snow cave,” Mr Tilsley said.
The men had about 15 muesli bars to share but ran out of gas to melt water.
The “big concern” was they might get dehydrated in the snow, and eating ice was not an option because the body would have taken more energy to melt the snow than it gained.
A helicopter of the Alpine Rescue Team tried to reach them on Wednesday morning again, but failed due to adverse weather conditions.
The team was finally able to make contact around 10.45am on Wednesday after the weather cleared a bit and allowed them to reach them.