Monday, 3 August 2009

Postcards from dead climbers

The cross in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. In the Church is a Book of Remembrance, a parchment book honouring all the early run holders, mountaineers, explorers, scientists, artists, blacksmiths, bullock drivers, innkeepers, coach drivers, wagoners, shearers, wool classes and rabbit inspectors. Photo: Bob McKerrow

When I placed a sprig of pine with small cones on Gary Ball’s grave at Burkes Pass today, and stepped back to say a few words to him, it brought back a flood of memories of sharing Plateau Hut with him in 1973, our friendship when I was editor of NZ Adventure magazine writing about his ascent of Mt. Everest with Pete Hillary and Rob Hall and the Seven Summits. Gary and Rob visiting our family when living at Franz Josef, and probably the most poignant moment was, the postcard I got from Gary, a month after he died. How many postcards have I received from climbers after their deaths ? I still have Robb Hall's one tucked away with Gary's. When mountaineers leave for the final push from base camp on big mountains, they know the risks they are taking and frequently send postcards to dear ones and friends, in case it is the last.

Gary Ball's headstone at Burkes Pass.

Hall and Ball. Back in Kodari, Nepal in May 1989 after a dramatic rescue off the north side of Everest in Tibet from left: 2 sherpas, Artur Hajzer, Gary Ball, and Rob Hall, (injured Andrzej Marciniak is in the bus)

The graveyard at Burkes Pass has a number of headstones inscribed with the deaths of mountaineers. One could lament the loss of great people but the cold stark facts show that mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, serious tramping and rock climbing do have risks associated. I have been back in New Zealand 15 days and in that time, have read about two deaths in avalanches. A week before that was the tragic death of two people in the Tararuas.

Peter Hillary, Gary Ball and Rob Hall taken in Auckland in 1990 after their successful ascent of Mt. Everest. Peter Hillary is the only one of that dynamic trio who survived. Rob Hall died close to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1990. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Gary Ball, died on Mount Dhauagiri 6 October 1993. Knowing he had previous health problems at high altitude he gambled on getting away with it. Life is about taking calculated risks whether in the workplace, family or recreation. Looking round the cemetery I saw the headstones of other climbers who died either on Mount Cook or close by.

Burkes Pass cemetery

Here is some of the information I got from other headstones of mountaineers at Burkes Pass that may be of interest.

Gary Ball, died on Mount Dhauagiri 6 October 1993.
A quote on his tomb stone says "If I should bow my head let it be to a high mountain. "

Alistair Stevens, died from a fall on the Nth face of Mt. Barnicoat, Westland National Park, 8 April 2002

Keith Joyce, b. 21.3.48 in Sydney, died at Mt. Cook 9.8.84

Peter John Linscott, died on Mt. Cook 25.1.84, aged 21

Gerald Nansen, Mountaineer, died 6 March 1990 age 82, Psalm 121 quoted. At least Gerald had a full innings.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. Photo: Bob McKerrow

As I am staying with my daughter Anita at her farmlet at Otipua, she and two of my grand children, Jed and Billy, accompanied me on this trip. The children brought laughter and warmth and livened up the Burkes Pass cemetery and the Church in Tekapo on this cold winter day.

With Grandsons Jed left, and Billy on my knee, at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. Photo: Anita Mckerrow

The view one sees when you start the steady climb up to Burkes Pass in South Canterbury. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Burkes Pass is a mountain pass on State Highway 8 at the entrance to the Mackenzie country in South Canterbury, New Zealand. It is named after Michael John Burke, a graduate of Dublin University, who discovered the passageway leading into the Mackenzie Country in 1855. This was an alternative route to the Mackenzie Pass which the notorious sheep stealer, James Mckenzie, had used to take his sheep into the Otago goldfields.

Once down the other side of Burkes Pass, the peaks of the main divide are visible. I was curious to find out more about the Church of the Good Shepherd which was dedicated in 1935. Luckily I bumped into David Clark, a local authority on Tekapo and the Church. He showed me the inscription on a front pew 'In grateful Memory of Explorers & Climbers who have crossed the Great Divide. Presented by NZAC.'

David Clark (r) an expert on Tekapo and the history of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Photo: Anita McKerrow

Then David told me about the The Book of Remembrance which was under lock and key. a parchment book honouring all the early run holders, mountaineers, explorers, scientists, artists, blacksmiths, bullock drivers, coach drivers, innkeepers, wagoners, shearers, wool classers and rabbit inspectors.

David gingerly unlocked this treasure with the names written on old parchment in a very neat handwriting. Under the heading mountaineers, explorers, scientists and artists. the names were a walk through early New Zealand history.Julius von Haast, Broderick, Dr. and Mrs Lendenfeld, Green, Boss, Kaufman, Fitzgerald, Zurbriggen,, Mannering, Dixon, Harper, Fyfe, Graham, Jack Clark and Charles Blomfield the artist.
The Book of Remembrance was dedicated to Thomas John Teschmaker.

Next I asked David Clark about the death of Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert the mountain guide from Tekapo who died while guiding Helen Clarke, the Prime Minister of NZ, in 2008. See my article written last year.

As a friend of Gottlieb's, I asked David the whereabouts of the hut that Gottlieb died in. " Here, take the binoculars and look out the Church window, just above the island, there's a ledge with the hut on it." I could pick the hut out quite easily in the Two Thumb range. Gottlieb's death was another tragedy.
David also spoke of another tragic death of Gottlieb's protege, Erica Beuzenberg who died in 2005 climbing in the Mount Cook region. With Erica, Gottlieb managed to put a new and attractive slant on the concept of first ascent in 1989 by being the first, with his climbing protege Erica Beuzenberg to climb all 20 of New Zealand's 3000m peaks in a single winter season.
Gottlieb Braun Elwert Erica Beuzenberg
Climbing Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, Mt Dampier and the rest in a period of months is feat enough on its own, but in winter they had the added burden of deep snow (they often used skis for access) and the risks of avalanches, intense cold and short days. Their feats will be remembered by many NZ mountaineers.
A memorial to sheepdogs who shaped the economy of farming in the region. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Lake Tekapo takes on a sombre mood late in the morning. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The township of Lake Tekapo. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Jed McKerrow resting in a snow tussock at Lake Tekapo. Photo: Anita McKerrow

As I drove back from Tekapo through Burkes Pass, I thought of all those mountaineers who have died at Mount Cook, in the Southern Alps and Himalaya, a subject I have written about before. The death which affected me the most was the death of my close friend Keith McIvor which made me reshape my views on hard climbing and pushing limits to far. See link below:
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo, the cemetery at Burkes Pass are fitting memorials to those who died in the mountains. Today Gary Ball, Rob Hall, Gottlieb Braun Elwert, Erica Beuzenberg, Keith McIvor, Vicky Thompson and Bill Denz, climbers whom I knew well, were continually in my thoughts and prayers. When I got home I opened a bottle of fine Cabernet Savignon, and drank a toast to them. I also thought of Robb Kloss who is in the Ruahines. I prayed for your health and safe return Robb.

My favourite photo of Mount Cook, taken by me in the winter of 1972.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
A fine tribute to your friends and fellow mountaineers. This winter has been a rugged one in the north island as well, with Tararua's claiming a few lives, and the SAR kept busy there and the Ruahine. These last five days we saw only rain, snow, gales,white outs, and flooded rivers and we turned back a few different times. I like to think those who challenge high mountains, or even simply tramp in them, are aware of the risks and that their loved ones and friends are accepting of that part of them. There is some comfort there.
Cheers Bob, enjoy the rest of your time in wintry NZ!

Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Robb

Coincidence ! As I was editing this I wrotre a comment about praying for your safe return.

So pleased to learn that you are back safely. It sounds as if you had a torrid time, but it is those rough spells that make you appreciate all you have at home.



Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Cheers my fine friend for your thoughts and prayers, and I did indeed think about you more than a few times when out there and what you might make of a particular situation. There were a few moments of concern and discomfort, but many more of laughter, smiles, a hut warmed by the glow of the fire and good company, and simply being in the mountains. We learn more in storms I think. I fill my own glass with a wee dram and will sit in front of the fire and toast you as well Bob. The lovely Tara passes on her finest regards as well. I hope we can share a mountain hut one day my friend.

sixstars said...

Great photos and story of an amazing landscape and the very real dangers. I remember Erica she gave me a lift from Tarras to Mt Cook turnoff one day. She had a cabbage tree tied to the roof of the car for her house in Tekapo. She told me about her mountaineering job. When I asked if she was going mountain climbing she replied she might go for a walk along the tops! as if it was something anyone might do on a sunny afternoon.

Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Ora Sixstars

Erica was a wonderful person and so talented. You were fortunate to cross her path.

Yes the landscape is amazing.

Tks for your feedback.


Bob McKerrow said...

Thanks Robb

your coimments on being in your 'shelter from the storm' during the bad weather brings so many good memories.

Say hi to the gorgeous Tara.


Jamie said...

Ah Bob, great to see you enjoying your time with your family and your mountains. I trust it is proving refreshing for your difficult work ahead.

I love the proverb "Mehemea Ka Tuoho Ahau Me Maunga Tei Tei - If I should bow my head let it be to a high mountain". It sparks again my desire to learn Te Reo. The language of some of my ancestors. If only I was 10 years younger I may have learnt it at school!..

Take care aye,


david mcmahon said...

Mountains were a huge part of my teenage years.

One day, I must send you a link to a blogpost I wrote about the time I was at 25,000 feet with the best Everest mountaineers in the world - without oxygen.

Okay, so we were on a plane, heading to a reunion of Everest climbers in Darjeeling!

Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Ora Jamie

Yes that's a great quote and lovely to see it on Gary's headstone. I feel sad for Gary and Rob's daughters. We selfish mountaineers often forget, when we cross the line, the likely consequences.

Ka kite ano


Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Ora David

It doesn't matter whether you are on a plane or on the plains, being with bunch of great Everest climbers remains just that.

Give us the link you mention. My thirst for mountains and mountain history is never quenched.
E noho ra.


Brian Miller said...

have spent many a day in the mountains. wonderful post and tribute.

Bob McKerrow said...

Hi Brian

For anyone who has spent time in the mountains, their spell rarely lets you go. Tks for your feedback.


Anna said...

Bob beautiful tribute too your friends, yet very sad as there are many of them. I never knew that people were at that much risk. The postcard, that was very interesting. Thanks for sharing your story, and congrats on the POD, that should have been a winner. Anna :)

Bob McKerrow said...

Thanks for your comments Anna.

Take care.


aims said...

Have come here from David's and was taken in immediately with your story.

Living in Alberta, Canada - the Rocky Mountains are a constant quest for many. We too have had many losses and it always seems like such a shock to hear about. Still - those who challenge themselves and climb are an inspiration for us who can only crawl.

Bob McKerrow said...

Thanks aims

Thanks for your comments. Yes, those who push the limits of exploration in the mountians are an inspiration to many, if we can only crawl.

I have written about Konrad Kain that great Canadian mountaineer who spent time in NZ around 1915.



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Anonymous said...

Gerald Nanson was my father[spelt Nanson not Nansen]. Gerald Nanson climbed Mount Cook when he was 65 years old from the base hut with two young climbers to accompany him and his friend Austin Deans. My father also cimbed Mount Egmont in Taranaki during the winter when he was three days short of his 80th Birthday. He could name every peak in the Soutern Alps and climbed many of them in his life time.

Krystal.F said...

Hiya, I have to say it was lovely reading this post.
Gary Ball is my Great Uncle, and died a week after I was born, so I never had the opportunity to meet him, though he did know i was on the way and my mother received a postcard, like you did, asking about me and whether or not I had been born yet.
I do wish i had been given the pleasure of knowing him, but i wasn't and it is great reading about him and what he and his fellow mountaineers were like back in the day. Thanks for this post, it was great.
- Krystal

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Krystal, I really enjoyed connecting with you. You must be proud of your great Uncle. Gary Ball. A remarkable New Zealander. But it is sad to know that he and Rob Hall have crossed the great divide.

In 1991 when i lived at franz Josef, Gary's daughter stayed with my elder daughter. is that you Mum's sister ?

Take care.


Krystal.F said...

Hi again :)
Yeah I am extremely proud of him and do wish that I had been given the chance to meet him, and it is terribly sad that both men passed so young. Gone, but certainly not forgotten, thats for sure :)
My mum said no, his daughter Emma is her cousin. My Grandmother and Uncle Gary were brother and sister.
- Krystal.F

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