EXPERIENCED hikers yesterday questioned whether Water Minister Tim Holding was properly prepared for his ill-fated climb up Mount Feathertop.
Bushwalkers said he was ill-equipped for the climb without snowshoes, crampons, an ice axe and an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indication Radio Beacon). He also broke the bushwalkers' rule of walking in groups of at least three.
"He didn't have the equipment to actually do that climb up Mount Feathertop and he was not prepared for those bad conditions," said Ray Kennedy, who was in a group of experienced hikers who last saw the minister as he set out from Federation Hut on Sunday.
Mr Holding told paramedics after his rescue that he had become lost after sliding 100 metres down a ridge while trying to climb towards the summit.
"If he had stayed on the trail, he would never have got up there anyway and might have got a third of the way or not even that far," said Mr Kennedy.
The night before his walk to the summit, he had attempted to set up his tent outside Federation Hut but failed because he had conventional rather than snow pegs, Mr Kennedy said.
"He had said, 'I've got a tent that I want to try out and see how it goes in these conditions'. He came back later to the hut saying his pegs wouldn't hold it up and queried what snow pegs were and I showed him."
Steve Grove, the paramedic who accompanied the minister on his flight from Bright to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne, said Mr Holding would have been found on Sunday morning if he had carried an EPIRB, which would have given his exact location.
Bushwalking Victoria, whose members were involved in the search for Mr Holding, said the devices cost as little as $200 and were essential in remote areas where mobile phone coverage was not guaranteed.
"We'd certainly advise them for that area, particularly at this time of year … Mr Holding slid down the side of the ridge and was found in a gully which means a mobile phone is unlikely to have worked," said president David Reid.
Mr Reid said the ordeal demonstrated the dangers of bushwalking alone. "You should not go off by yourself in that part of the world and our policy is to say there should be a minimum of four people on any expedition so if someone does get injured, there are people there for support and to get assistance."
Despite his lack of snow equipment, the minister was praised by paramedics and bushwalkers for carrying enough food and wearing layers of warm clothing to ward off hypothermia.
Earlier Mr Holding had told paramedics he was surprised by the level of media attention, but he had never thought he was in danger and always believed he would be rescued.
Mr Grove said Mr Holding was ''well aware of the amount of effort that went into his safe return and wanted me to express that to the public and the services involved''.
"I don't think he got much sleep over the last couple of days but he's fine," Mr Grove said. "He is in very, very good spirits considering he has been up in that rather cold environment for the last 2½ days."
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