Etienne Lemieux and Louis-Vincent Lessard. Two bodies found. DOC does NOT manage avalanches on the Kepler Track

Etienne Lemieux & Louis-Vincent_skiing

Canadian students Etienne Lemieux and Louis-Vincent Lessard were experienced outdoor enthusiasts

New Zealand police have today confirmed two male bodies have been found by the search party looking for Etienne Lemieux & Louis-Vincent Lessard.

Etienne and  Louis-Vincent were reported missing after they failed to board a scheduled flight home.

The body of a male was found during an aerial search over an area between the Hanging Valley Hut and the Iris Burn Hut in Fiordland National Park about 4pm yesterday. The man was lying about 350m below the Kepler Track. Another body was seen in an avalanche debris field yesterday.

The two Canadian men are thought to be experienced outdoor enthusiasts with a love for skiing, mountain biking and hiking.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation’s website says the avalanche season in Fiordland is usually from May to November and are “part of life in the mountains. Anytime that snow and steep slopes are combined there is potential for an avalanche“…

Fiordland National Park covers 1.3 million hectares of remote mountainous terrain and avalanche conditions can vary throughout. The majority of the avalanche threat is on several of Fiordland’s tracks and all the Great Walks (Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks.) It is common to receive over 15 metres of snow in the northern area of the park during the winter and spring months.

The majority of Fiordland tracks meander along valleys that are clear of winter snow. However, due to the surrounding steep-sided mountains and wet snow, avalanches have a great impact on valley floors, usually travelling at speed and leaving little chance of avoidance. Avalanche run-out zones in valley floors are usually self-evident, with little vegetation and clearings in these zones.

However, DOC gives the Kepler Track a “simple” or “complex” ATES (Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system) rating depending on location.

Simple – Kepler Track (below Luxmore Hut and below Hanging Valley Shelter)
Complex – Kepler Track (above Luxmore Hut and Hanging Valley Shelter)

DOC offers advice about walking the Kepler Track outside the Great Walks season.

From late April to late October, facilities on the Kepler Track are greatly reduced, and there are additional safety hazards to consider. Furthermore, DOC says it does not manage hazards such as flooding or avalanches but still collects fees for hut use, believed to be about $50NZ per adult (see images below).

Avalanches

The Kepler Track has a lot of challenging and complex avalanche terrain. Avalanches are frequent. There are 9 avalanche paths, some of which may bring avalanche debris to the valley floor and have the potential to cross the track.

If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you:

  • have checked the Backcountry Avalanche Advisory (BAA) and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system (ATES) for the area where you want to go
  • have the skills for the ATES class you are going into
  • have checked what avalanche advisory and alert information is available from the DOC visitor centre nearest the area where you want to go
  • take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and a snow shovel. Know how to use these tools.

See Be avalanche alert in Fiordland

These are copies of DOC’s Kepler Track winter tramping advice. It is not known if the two Canadian tourists were aware of this advice.
Kepler TRack 1Kepler TRack 2

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One thought on “Etienne Lemieux and Louis-Vincent Lessard. Two bodies found. DOC does NOT manage avalanches on the Kepler Track

  1. Seems possible that the winter environment is becoming increasingly unstable, How vocal is DOC being on this possiblity.

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