Thursday, 14 August 2008

Prime Minister's Guide dies

GUIDING HAND: Braun-Elwert was the mountain guide for Prime Minister Helen Clark - he took this photo of her in 2003.

I just got home from work tonight to read that my old friend Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert died today. It was a sad day for New Zealand mountaineering. Goat-leg as we affectionately called him, was a stalwart of the sport in NZ. He brought a stiff, Germanic approach that was appreciated by some and spurned by others who believed he took away "Freedom of the Hills." Either way, he made a difference by introducing a set of rules that enhanced the professionalism and safety of our challenging sport. His star rose when he became guide to the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
I paste two articles from John Hartveld and Nancy Cawley.
I pray that God will bless his dear wife Anne and his children.


WELL KNOWN CLIMBER: The man who died was Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, he apparently had a medical condition.
Prime Minister Helen Clark has been involved in a dramatic, but failed rescue attempt, after a member of her climbing party, Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert, died.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister has confirmed Clark was involved in an incident while on holiday near Lake Tekapo.

Police confirmed that an emergency call was received late this afternoon after her guide and friend Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert (aged 59) suffered what is believed to be a heart attack, and subsequently died.

Braun-Elwert was a professional mountain guide with his own recreation business.

Due to atrocious weather conditions a helicopter which was dispatched from Christchurch was unable to reach the location.

Members of the party carried out CPR for a considerable period of time until advised by Ambulance staff that they should desist.

Search and Rescue volunteers along with a police Search and Rescue Squad member are believed to have reached the hut and will begin evacuating the party members shortly.

The spokeswoman said Clark was safe and well but next of kin had yet to be informed of the dead person.

In a piece published in The Press in january 2000 Gottlieb Braun-Elwert told Nancy Cawley that climbing is like life in general.
Braun-Elwert was a physicist at the University of Munich before he came to New Zealand but he has since discovered friends in high places.
Three years ago, he became mountain guide for the Leader of the Opposition, Helen Clark, and her husband, Peter Davis. The couple recently returned to climb in the Mount Cook region but this time as Prime Minister and First Husband.

Braun-Elwert describes the couple as easy company. Parliament is, however, a very different place to the mountains, and Helen Clark has always found the need for an initial period of adjustment to the high country.

"It takes her about 24 hours to tune out of her special work environment, and then she's like everybody else," he says.

Braun-Elwert has been impressed with the Prime Minister's determination. On each trip she has been a little fitter, a little more assured in her climbing. He says she goes to the gym two or three times a week, working hard and systematically on cardio- vascular and upper-arm exercises.

"'The first year she struggled on a very moderate mountain in the Two Thumb Range.

"Last year, I took her on the Hochstetter Dome (a 2822-metre snow peak at the head of the Tasman Glacier), and this year I took her on a couple of very nice trips on the Fox neve. She climbed Kilimanjaro last year. I wouldn't be surprised if, one day, she comes and wants to climb Cook. But I don't like pushing people. She is very realistic, and she will decide."

In 1976, German-born Gottlieb Braun-Elwert was invited to New Zealand as an academic _ he held a master's degree in physics from the University of Munich and had written a thesis on nuclear physics. But he was also a qualified alpine guide, and took the opportunity, while in the country, to climb Mount Cook.

Two years later, he returned to New Zealand to teach at Linwood High School, but dreamt of a job in the mountains. These dreams led to the establishment, with his New Zealand-born wife, Anne, of an alpine recreation company, Alpine Recreation Ltd at Lake Tekapo, two decades of high-grade climbing and skiing and an involvement in national and international guiding.

In 1993, he was named Macpac Mountaineer of the Year, for his climb of Fitzroy in Patagonia, with a guide on his staff, Erica Beuzenberg.

Braun-Elwert has climbed Mount Cook 22 times. In 1997, he hit the headlines when he took his daughter Elke, then 14, to the 3764-metre summit, making her the youngest person to have climbed Mount Cook. This year, Gottlieb's second daughter, Carla, also aged 14, repeated her sister's feat _ taking her record by four days.

Braun-Elwert calls New Zealand's highest peak "a very committing mountain".

"It's a big mountain, and every time I climb it, I am still impressed ... " He thinks that, too often, people fly into Plateau Hut, and so are not sufficiently acclimatised and ready for the challenge ahead. Walking in has its complications, too. Since Aorangi was first approached, the standard access route between the Tasman Glacier and the Grand Plateau has been the rocky Haast Ridge; now the ridge is badly weathered and crumbling.

But, at 50, Braun-Elwert is not taking the easy option. "With the girls, I flew in to the Grand Plateau and walked out. But I have walked in many times. It gets tougher every year, with the glaciers shrinking and the moraines getting ugly. I usually go up the Freshfield Glacier on skis _ with good snow-cover, you just zigzag up quite fast."

Much of the Tekapo guide's motivation for living and working in an alpine environment, and helping others to enjoy to enjoy it, is a belief in the wide- ranging benefits of the mountain experience. This can mean enjoying the scenery at valley level, or ski- touring on a lonely neve, but, for himself, as a passionate alpinist, reaching the summit is always important.

"Climbing a mountain is like life in general. When you make a decision, you must put up with the outcome _ good or bad. I would say that, if you are able to pull off a climb on a mountain, you will see personal difficulties from a distant perspective. Fewer and fewer pursuits in life are as creative, as personally challenging, and as satisfying as being in the mountains."

The more structured our lives, our jobs, our relationships become, the more we need the freedom of choice that mountains offer, Braun- Elwert suggests. "The great thing with mountaineering is that there are no traffic cops, no traffic lights. Is it a law that you must have a helmet when you go climbing? No, nothing is law. You make your own rules."

For some people, Braun-Elwert stretched the no- rules idea when he applied and was granted permission to build a private hut in the Mount Cook National Park in 1985. The Caroline Hut, sited on the eastern slopes of Ball Pass, is a staging post for the approximately 170 clients his company guides annually on the two-to-three-day crossing of the pass.

"Right from the start, it was argued, very sensibly, that the first hut in the park _ the old Ball Hut, built in 1891, was a private one, owned by the Mount Cook Tourist Company. Our hut has an emergency shelter which is always open to the public, and all our toilet waste is flown out."

He has been a constant battler. As soon as Alpine Recreation was up and running, Braun-Elwert began lobbying for the abolition of Alpine Guides Ltd's monopoly in the Mount Cook National Park, and concessions for independent mountain guides. It took six years of fighting the bureaucracy, helped by "The Three Bs" _ Russell Brice, Nick Banks, and Gary Ball, of Mountain Guides, Twizel, he says.

"The then Minister of Lands, Jonathan Elworthy, was not in favour of independent guiding. But Jim Sutton got behind us. He won the Waitaki Electorate in 1984, so Elworthy was out, Sutton was in, and we got our concession."

Braun-Elwert was also instrumental in the affiliation of the New Zealand Mountain Guides' Association with the Union of International Mountain Guides, a crucial development for New Zealand guides wanting to work overseas.

Gottlieb Braun-Elwert continues to give his free time to the mountain industry. For the last five years, his company has sponsored groups of sixth formers from Mackenzie College, Fairlie, on a Ball Pass trip in summer, and a ski tour in winter. The pupils' sole cost is for a second guide.

But, always, his best trips are those with the family. "Both this year and last year, we all spent a fortnight in Canada, climbing and ski touring in the Selkirk Mountains and the Rockies ... when children become teenagers, they begin to distance themselves from their parents, but my climbs with my daughters on Cook have created a real bond."


pohanginapete said...

I saw Helen interviewed on TV this evening. She was visibly upset (although maintained her usual composure) and spoke as highly of Gottlieb as anyone would hope to be spoken of. And, this morning I heard a radio interview with a chief guide for one of the other operators and he too credited Gottlieb with a major contribution to safety and professionalism. I get the impression that the climbing community's stunned into disbelief right now.

He made some mighty fine photos, too.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Pete

I imagine helen would have been dreadfully upset as she and Gottlied were very close.

He contributed a lot to NZ mountaineering, especially guiding and standards.

Yes he took some mighty photographs.

He would have been the last person I knew who I thought would die young. Goes to show you Pete, it is only the good die young. Buggars like me linger on.


pohanginapete said...

At Baring Head there's a climb called Only the Good Die Young (named in tribute to Phil Herron). But Charlie Creese responded shortly after by putting up a climb he called, simply, Bullshit. Moreover, the fact that people like Gottlieb get cut down far too soon doesn't mean other great people don't have long and wonderful lives. Ed Hillary would have to be a fine example.

Bob, long may you continue to live an inspirational life, with just the right amount of wickedness to flavour it ;^)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I had wondered if you knew Gottlieb when I heard the news. Firstly my condolences to you for the loss of a mate. After reading your post I think I admire most his blending of his passion with family. It is not always easy to do. He had a great philosophy to the mountains and life. Aotearoa lost a good one. My thoughts go out to his family and those who knew him. Take care Bob, hope you enjoy the reunion with your famuily. Cheers.

Marja said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. Wish you all the strenght but knowing these beautiful people have left some marks behind.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Pete, Thanks for your insightful comments. Good to learn about the climb at Baring Head " Only the good die young" named after Phil, who I knew quite well. I will try to have to life my life well with "the right amount of wickedness to flavour it."

Always good to hear from you Pete.

Robb. Thanks for your comments. Yes, we lost a good one there. And yes, it was a great family man,

Have a relaxing Sunday.

Marja. Thanks for your thoughts. A lot of beautiful people have left a lot for us to ponder over.



Paterika Hengreaves said...

My condolences to his family he has left behind. Mountaineers are very special people. They inspire with awe as they pass the baton to successive mountaineers. May the spirit of mountaineering lives on.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...


I have discovered 6 comments from you today on various postings an I appreciate that. Writers need feedback to refine and improve. I enjoy the feedback you give on my poetry. Thanks always.


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