Hikers’ lives on the line

TWO hikers are lucky to be alive after losing their way on a Mount Bogong trail and spending Saturday night in below-freezing temperatures.

The men, a 35-year-old from Bendigo North and a 33-year-old from Box Hill, Melbourne, returned safely to Mount Beauty about 2pm yesterday ending a 12-hour search to find them.

Both had severe hypothermia after a night in temperatures as low as minus 1 and winds of about 20km/h with a high wind-chill factor.

“They were in life-threatening conditions and, if we hadn’t found them, they might not have made it through the night,” Sgt James Bate, of the Victoria Police search and rescue squad, said.

Sgt Bate said six hikers had set out in pairs on Saturday morning from Michell Hut on Eskdale Spur, for Cleve Cole.

He said heavy snow, rough weather and poor visibility apparently had caused the men to lose their way.

Local police, the Melbourne-based search and rescue squad, and the SES started a search after the pair called triple-0 about 4.30pm.

Search crews found the pair about 3.45am yesterday on Staircase Spur, near the trail they supposed to take.

They were treated for hypothermia on the spot and spent the rest of the night in warm sleeping bags to help overcome the chill.

Crews helped them back down the mountain after dawn and once their conditions had improved.

The other four hikers who had made it safely to Cleve Cole, were returning back to Mount Beauty, Sgt Bate said.

He said the full circumstances of how they became lost remained unclear.

“As a general rule, incidents like this tend to feature poor preparation or insufficient hiking skills,” he said.

“Being out in adverse conditions is more than safe, provided you’ve got the right skills and do the right preparation.”