Friday, 29 March 2013

Mt. Awful New Zealand

John Nankervis (right) with hat on at old Pioneer Hut in 1975. Bob McKerrow left and Russell Combes centre. Photo: Bob McKerrow

There is something in a name. Mount Awful.  My cousin Michael Cooper died on Mt. Awful at Easter 1967 when I was climbing on Mt. Huxley, some 100 km away as the crow flies. It was a dreadful blow to our extended family.

This morning I got the news that my good friend and fellow mountaineer John Nankervis was badly injured on a fall on Mt. Awful last Wednesday.

                                           Mt. Awful in the Mount Aspiring National Park.

This is what the Southland Times reported:

Climber falls 140m; helmet and registered beacon help save him

By Mark Price on Thu, 28 Mar 2013

Wearing a helmet may have saved the life of a climber who fell 140m on a rocky peak near Mt Awful, 
yesterday, in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The New Zealand climber, whose name was not released last night, was flown by helicopter to
Dunedin Hospital with serious head, back, facial and arm injuries.

Constable Les Andrew, of Twizel, said the man was in a party of four climbers descending and
sidling around a rocky ridge.

His foot slipped on a damp rock and he fell - 3m at first and then another 140m.

After a debriefing of the Department of Conservation alpine rescue team at Mt Cook late yesterday 
afternoon, Const Andrew said the man was ''lucky to be alive'' and wearing a helmet might have
saved him.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre search and rescue mission co-ordinator Dave Wilson said the man, in
his 60s, required ''some serious medical attention''.

He was flown off the mountain by helicopter to Queenstown Hospital and then to Dunedin.

The centre was alerted about 11am when a personal locator beacon carried by the climbers was
A Helicopter Line helicopter flew the rescue team to the scene of the fall, near the Gillespie Pass 
at an altitude of about 1300m.

Const Andrew said the rescue was made easier by the actions of others in the party.

Aware a helicopter would be on the way, one member of the party remained at a higher altitude
with bright clothing.

He was spotted from the helicopter and the rescue went reasonably smoothly after that.

The four male climbers are understood to all be New Zealanders ranging up in age from about 20.

Mr Wilson said the incident showed the value of carrying a distress beacon registered on website

''Because it was registered, we were quickly able to establish from the party's emergency contact
 the make-up of the party and their climbing intentions.
  ''It has enabled the injured person to get medical attention as quickly as possible.''

John Nankervis, 2nd from right, taken with a party comprising L to R, Colin Monteath, Mike browne, Dave Bamford, Chris Bonnington, Nank and veteran Ed Cotter. Photo: Bob McKerrow

This morning Colin Monteath informed me that Nank is recovering in the ICU at Christchurch Hospital. Close friends John Wild and Dave Bamford visited him this morning. I am praying, I am sure along with many other friends, that Nank will make a good recovery for he is such a wonderful human being who has contributed so much to mountaineering in New Zealand.

I now switch back to Easter 1967 when I returned home to Dunedin elated after  a successful climb of Mt. Huxley my Mother hugged me and said, “ Michael Cooper, your cousin is dead.” I was numbed.

While we were putting a camp in under Mount Huxley on March 26, 1967, and preparing for our big climb the following day, Michael had camped on a ledge somewhere under Mt. Awful, and as he walked along a ledge to get some water to cook the evening meal with, he slipped on some mountain tussock, and fell to his death over a rocky ledge and down a mountain face. Eighteen years old, academically bright, handsome, athletic and the world was at his feet. A life snuffed out like a flame from a candle.

In the conservative 50s and 60s, we were never encouraged to go to funerals and somehow I never really grieved for Michael.

Sadly for his father and mother, my Uncle Campbell and Auntie Mavis, they had lost their first son, Murray. His death was on the same website I visited this morning.

Cooper, Murray Campbell, Born Feb 15 1940 in Dunedin,, Otago, New Zealand, Died 1945 in Portobello, Dunedin, , Otago, New Zealand

Uncle Campbell lived in Portobello and used to take a small ferry across the Otago Harbour to his work in Dunedin. One night he came home and he looked for Murray, who usually met him at the ferry, and he couldn't see him. A few minutes later his body was found floating in the sea. Campbell and Mavis are dead, but one son, Maxwell survives.

The same year two other close friends who were emerging mountaineers died: Richard Tilley killed by an avalanche on Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass, and Howard Laing, in a car accident. Mt. Awfaul and Avalanche Peak are names that stick in my mind.

I remember writing a poem at the time about the deaths of friends on mountains. Perhaps that is how I worked through my grief:

All stones we learn as children
Are dead inanimate things
But stones falling on a mountain
Are alive with a death that sings

A stone's song is enchanting
Fit for mountain Kings
First it’s high, then low
Lachrymose from the strings


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Unknown said...

I'm keen to learn whether your cousin Michael Cooper could have been my cross country teammate in USA in 1965-1966. I've been thinking of him and looking for him recently; knew that he had died in a climbing mishap back home. It seems likely that my friend is your cousin. Please advise. Respectfully,

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Unknown said...

I believe our CC mate MUST be your cousin. How many Michael Coopers of our age, from Dunedin, and who were killed in such accidents, could there possibly be? So I take these few days' silence as tentative affirmative, and make a moment of silence in his memory. Honor and thanks to you and your extended family, all who gave him to us, and all who carry him forward! Best to you Mr. Bob McKerrow, LLL

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