Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Fox Glacier Reunion and Joe Fluerty

The view that Joe Fluerty had when he visited Lake Matheson and looked up at Horo Koau, Mt. Tasman.

This weekend Mike and Carrol Browne are having a gathering of all former mountain and glacier guides who worked at Fox Glacier. I wish them every success for a memorable weekend. One man who has travelled over most of these glaciers. peaks, valleys and rivers, was a little known Maori from Tai Pountini, the West Coast, Joe Fluerty. Let's raise a glass to him. I would like to talk a little about Joe who was a great inspiriation to me as a young climber.

Joe Fluerty in the middle of the back row, standing, with fellow guides taken in 1925. Seated left to right Peter Graham, Frank Alack, Alec Graham. Back row Jack Pope, Joe, Tom Sheeran

In 1926, some entries began to appear in the Glacier Hotel visitor’s book under this name; the comment ‘packing stores’. Thus starts the illustrious guiding career of George Bannister’s cousin, a larger-than-life character, with a quick wit who soon became a master of step-cutting, learning much from Alec and Peter Graham. Surviving movie film footage shows the sheer brilliance of Joe’s step cutting in one sequence as he cuts up a vertical ice wall. The other outstaFluerty who was a master of all climbing skills.”
nding mountain guide of the 1930s,Jack Cox, pays tribute to Joe’s skills, “I learned the art of step cutting on the daily glacier trips, with much help from Joe

A climber on skiis on Pioneer pass at the head of the Fox Glacier

People liked Joe Fluerty. His trips were fun, safe and comments in hut books written by his clients, record greatenjoyment and fun on his trips. There is a wealth of information available on Joe Fluerty, who in his 18 year guiding career, touched the lives of so many people.Joe started off his career by packing tins of kerosene and food to huts, glacier guiding and guided ascents of peaks like Moltke, Roon, Drummond and St Mildred, before graduating to the high peaks.Horo Koau, later named Mt Tasman by European settlers, is a mountain of special significance to the Maori
people of South Westland. It stands supreme over all the others, including Aoraki (Mt Cook) and is clearly visible from most parts of South Westland on a fine day. As a boy and young man, the view of Horo Koau became part of Joe Fluerty’s daily vista. Unlike Aoraki, which he considered tapu and once turned back close to the summit, Horo Koau was a mountain he wanted to climb.

Chancellor Hut overlooking the lower Fox Glacier

On 10 March, 1932, Joe Fluerty, together with fellow guides Jack Cox and Jack Pope, did the first ascent of Mt Tasman from the West Coast side of the Divide. The Christchurch Press of 12 March describes the climb.
‘The party left the Glacier Hotel on March 8, for the Almer Hut, next day crossing over Newton Pass to the bivouac on the Pioneer ridge at the head of the Fox Glacier. On Thursday morning the party set out at 3AM, crossing the Fox Glacier neve, and ascending the steep couloir between Mt Tasman and Mt Lendenfeld, and reaching the Divide at Engineer’s Col. From here, except when negotiating an awkward schrund below the shelter of Mt Tasman, where the party was forced out on the east face, the main north-east arĂȘte was followed for its entire length, the ridge between the shoulder and the summit being exceedingly narrow.

Mt. Tasman with Engineer col on the left.

On the descent the party deviated from its route at Engineers Col and made the complete traverse of Mt Lendenfeld to the bivouac… The whole climb occupied 11 hours 20 minutes.’
Next year Joe played a key role in the rescue of Mark Lysons, who broke his leg on Mt Goldsmith.

Low peaks on the true left of the Fox Glacier

In the one day, Joe helped carry Mark Lysons back to Almer Hut from near Teichelman’s Corner, splinted his leg in the hut, went to Franz Josef township to get a doctor and rescue party and returned to Almer Hut the same day. The next day he helped carry Mark out to the road. In January 1935, Joe, together with Mark Lysons, guided Molly Williams on the first traverse of Mt Haidinger, a long 21 1/2 hour climb.16 The following year Joe guided a Dr Bradshaw on an ascent of Lendenfeld.
Apart from the numerous guided ascents achieved by Joe Fluerty, the one quality that fellow guides commented on was his uncanny navigation skills.

At Point A on the Chancellor ridge, with my daughter Aroha, with Fox Glacier, Mt. Tasman and Aoraki Mt. Cook in the background.

Gar Graham, who still resides at Okarito, recalls a crossing of West Hoe Pass in 1936, with Joe and two clients: “Joe led us over West Hoe Pass in complete white-out conditions and with an unerringly accurate sense of direction, led us to Chancellor Hut,” said Gar Graham.
Gar also recounted the dark night that two tourists failed to turn up for dinner at the hotel, and Joe led Gar out to find them. “Around midnight Joe discovered the cold couple sitting under a bush, off the track up near the Callery River. He had found them without using a torch and to lead the couple back, he picked up a handful of glow worms, put them on his shoulder and told them to follow the lights back.”
As a teenage climber I remember older mountaineers who knew Joe Fluerty, saying that he was able to smell his way to Fox or Franz out of the high mountains. Dorothy Fletcher recalls her father, Alec Graham, saying that Joe knew whether people were in the hut or not, when he was some distance away. He would tell Alec that he could smell them.

Dr. Teichelmann and Herman Osmars on the Pioneer ridge, Upper Fox Glacier.

Jack Cox also talked of Joe’s keen sense of smell and superb navigation skills.Hundreds of quotes on Joe’s humour abound, and a typical one comes from a former client of his, the Rev. Bower-Black:“At my request, the Maori guide Joe Fluerty was assigned to us, and to say that we all liked him is a mild way of putting it. He is one of the senior guides, and has the Maori unfailing patience and good humour. He is capable and reliable, and his sturdy figure striding on ahead gave us a feeling of confidence and security. Joe was full of mischief and as ready as an Irishman with his tongue. ‘Why do you wear those pieces of cloth round your ankles?’ asked a rather gushing lady at one of the huts. ‘To keep the dust out of my eyes,’ retorted Joe. Whereat the boys gurgled gleefully and the lady took it in good part.’
The Second World War disrupted the proud West Coast guiding tradition. Joe Fluerty enlisted, together with Mark Lysons. Joe never returned to Franz, and his fellow guide Mark Lysons, with whom he shared so many memorable climbs, was killed at Monte Cassino.

The Fox Glacier

Here is a more formal summary of Joe's life written by historian TRISH MCCORMACK Joseph (Hohepa) Fluerty was born at Arahura, near Greymouth, on 1 May 1903 to Toihi Te Koeti of Poutini Ngai Tahu and Robert Fluerty, a goldminer of European and Ngai Tahu ancestry. His great-grandfather, Tutoko, was one of five Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe chiefs who in the early nineteenth century laid siege to the West Coast and established the foundations of Poutini Ngai Tahu. Fluerty attended schools at Arahura and Jacobs River.

Joe Fluerty was to become a well-known climbing guide in the Southern Alps, where he achieved a number of first ascents for Maori. In this he was continuing a family tradition of adventure. His uncle, Pahikore Te Koeti Turanga, had been a noted mountain guide in Westland. His grandmother, Ripeka Te Koeti Turanga, also known as Kawaipatiere or Hera Ripeka, and great-aunt, Te Ruaakeake (Mahi), completed an epic swim of Lake McKerrow near their village in south Westland.

In Greymouth on 7 July 1930, Fluerty married Florence Smith, a domestic worker, with whom he had one son, Neville. They divorced in 1938. Fluerty's subsequent failure to pay his wife child maintenance got him into trouble with the law. The couple remarried at Nelson on 17 February 1945. Neville died three years later.

Fluerty's mountain guiding career was ended by the Second World War. He enlisted and served on guard duty at Rongotai airbase in Wellington. He later moved back to the South Island to work at Woodbourne airbase near Blenheim, before retiring to Nelson. Joseph Fluerty died there on 25 December 1977. Florence had died in 1973.

As the weekend and the stories unfold, I will be thinking of Joe Fluerty, Jack Cox, Alec and Peter Graham, Franl Alack, Franz Barta, Peter McCormack and Mick Sullivan. I will also think of my early climbs, and especially my my first climb of a 3000 metre (10,000 foot) peak in New Zealand. Photo below.

On top on Malte Brun in 1967 with Aoraki Mount Cook in the background.

We all have our gurus. When I was 17, I met Jim Cowie who was a year older than me. With a VW, skis on his roof rack, and climbing and rugby gear in the back seat, we met in a pie shop in the North-East Valley in Dunedin in 1966 and very soon I had found a soul mate and climbing partner. Jim taught me to climb. Cowie, McLeod. McIvor and McKerrow (the Scots are we were called) became a formidable climbing quartet in the Mt. Cook region in the late 60s and early 70s. Together or in pairs we climber most of the 10,000 feet oo 3,000 metre peaks in NZ. Unfortunately Keith McIvor died in the winter of 1973 when attempting the first winter ascent of the Caroline face of Aoraki Mt. Cook. That was a big blow to our climbing team. Keith stayed in my house at Mt. Cook village the night before he set off on that fated climb.

Jim Cowie and Bob McKerrow taken a few years ago<.

My second guru was Mike Browne. He is leading the celebrations at Fox Glacier this weekend. The toughest trip I did with Mike was up the Fox Glacier, to the Franz, into the Spencer, Callery and the Burton, over Whataroa saddle into the Whataroa valley, with Mike Browne, Peter Dawkins and Don McFadzien in 1986. We climbed Eli de Beaumont and peak 5555 feet on the Burton ridge.

Mike Browne and Bob


Ruahines said...

Tena Koe Bob,
I have developed a pattern of looking at your post to digest the photographs first, then return later for another lesson in New Zealand mountaineering history. I first read of Joe Fluerty in a New Zealand Wilderness magazine article some years ago, and he was well mentioned in the book I read on Harry Ayres, particularly for his remarkable ability to route find in any conditions. Kia ora Bob, I shall return later today for a more thorough read, and look forward to it! Have a great day.
Noho ora mai ra, e hoa,

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I am raising my glass to you and your memories, and to what must be a fine reunion. To absent friends!
Noho ora mai,

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Robb. I feel a bit nostalgic not being there but I promised my dear wife a two week holiday in India many months ago and I am looking our boys. I will raise a glass of white, the colour of the snow to those who are alive, those who are there, and to those who have crossed the divide.

Ka kite ano.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I have been going backwards reading some of your prior posts. Such a wide and varied body of work. I enjoyed particularly you writing of your fathers observations of war through his experience at Cassino. My father too fought in the second world war in New Guineau. He never spoke about it except in rare instances and I know it scarred him deeply.
I also reckon, from your 25 0ctober post, the NZRU could have saved 140 grand listening to you on this just released report. It pretty much is verbatim what you wrote. Maybe you should come back and coach the All Blacks eh? Have a great day.
Ka kite ano,

Marja said...

Wow Joe sounds like a talented and great person and what an amazing adventures. I find that many Maories have a good sense of humor. The pictures are stunning What a great time you must have had in this paradise.

Paterika Hengreaves said...

Kia Ora Bob

For sure I will never climb real mountains but for I sure like reading about the daring feats of mountaineers in your memoirs. The highest peaks I have ever climbed, LOL, are the hills around Arkles Bay. At some point in the climb I felt like I needed an oxygen tank that was before I got use to climbing up the bay to go to the Warehouse, in the mall at Whangaparaoa. After a couple of weeks I was able to take that hilly climb with ease. I read somewhere that New Zealand's Prime Minister,Helen Clarke is a mountaineer also. Now, is your daughter,Aroha a mountaineer too?
Aroha is a beautiful name.

Ka kite ano

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