Thursday, 3 October 2019

Anton Coberger - Obituary

Obituary - Anton Coberger

I was saddened to read in the Star today that Anton Coberger died on 21 September. Anton will be remembered for his contribution to skiing and the Coberger mountaineering and skiing shop in Cramner Square. Anton and his siblings lived in Arthurs Pass and did their schooling by correspondence and were very active members of the ski club at Temple Basin. Many of us have fond memories of his father Oscar, who was also a very active skier and climber and buying equipment from Oscar and Anton. His daughter, Annelise became the first Southern Hemisphere athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics when she won a silver in the slalom at the 1992 games. In 2004 his very close friend and leading NZ climber of the 60s and 70s Lyn Crawford died and Anton wrote a very moving obituary for Lyn in the 2004 NZAJ and detailed the many climbs they did in their twilight years. R.I.P Anton.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Second Kiwi to reach Mt Everest summit looks back on triumph and tragedy exactly 40 years on

Former New Plymouth climber Nick Banks was the second Kiwi to reach the summit of Mt Everest. His successful ascent on October 2, 1979 came 26 years after Edmund Hillary.
Former New Plymouth climber Nick Banks was the second Kiwi to reach the summit of Mt Everest. His successful ascent on October 2, 1979 came 26 years after Edmund Hillary.
Nick Banks says the day he reached the top of the world's highest peak was the best he ever had in the mountains.
But, unbeknown to him, the triumph would be tinged with tragedy.
On October 2, 1979, Banks, now living in Wales, became the second New Zealander, and the 100th person, to climb Mt Everest after Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.
Up until then, Banks, a former New Plymouth man, had never climbed a peak higher than Aoraki/Mt Cook.
He planned to remember the 40th anniversary of the feat at with friends and family in North Wales, where he has lived for the past 33 years with wife Lindsay, and owned a guiding business and a cafe. "I may even have half a shandy," he said by email.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to reach the summit of Mt Everest in 1953.
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to reach the summit of Mt Everest in 1953.
Most people can name the first New Zealander to climb Mt Everest but few pick Banks' name as the next Kiwi to reach the top of the 8448m Himalayan summit.
The former Spotswood College pupil achieved the feat as part of an eight-strong West German-led party.
However, the expedition was touched by tragedy, with two of the climbers dying on the way down from the summit.
Since then another 49 New Zealanders have made the ascent, including two from New Plymouth - Andy Harris, who died while descending Everest in 1996, and Julian Haszard in 2004.
Few of Banks' expedition party will be at the 40th reunion, with most of the 13 climbers and Sherpas now dead, Banks said.
In an interview in 2004, Banks said climbing high peaks was a balancing act between "being afraid and staying cool, even though you know you're going a little bit crackers".
It helped to be a bit of a daredevil and be mentally tough, he said.
"Some people thrive while others hate it. The experience can only be enjoyed when it is all over."
Looking back on his Everest climb, Banks a retired mountain guide, said he only climbed for the views, and the physical and psychological challenge.
Nick Banks, with wife Lindsay, sailing in the Western Isles in Scotland this year. The couple have lived in North Wales since 1986.
Nick Banks, with wife Lindsay, sailing in the Western Isles in Scotland this year. The couple have lived in North Wales since 1986.
"I don't have a spiritual bone in my body," said the 67-year-old, who spends most of his summers sailing in the Scottish Western Isles.
Banks first climbed Mt Taranaki when he was 12 and went on to be the first to scale the six ridges and six faces of Aoraki/Mt Cook, and qualify as an international mountain guide.
But he had never climbed higher than Aoraki/Mt Cook before Everest, he said.
He was still grateful in his early climbing experience to have a group of Taranaki Alpine Club mentors, including the late Colin Wright, Eric Larsen, Dave Clough, John Jordan, Ted Thompson, and George Mason, who took him "under their wing".
Jordan said Banks was very skilled as a climber, and he was not surprised when Banks reached the summit of Everest.
"He enjoyed challenges, he wasn't reckless and was always keen to develop his skills further."

Mountaineers from around the world have gathered in Nepal for the spring climbing season. Nearly 300 people have died attempting to climb Everest, but the mountain continues to draw climbers
In 1977 Banks was a member of the NZ Everest Expedition which reached the South Col, a sharp-edged pass between Mount Everest and Lhotse, the highest and fourth highest mountains in the world, respectively.
The trip laid the foundations for the successful ascent two years later.
Banks became friends with Gerhard Schmatz​ and his wife Hannelore​, who invited him to join their Everest expedition in 1979.
In an NZ Alpine Journal article in 1980 Banks remembered the summit day was the best day he had ever spent in the mountains.
The night before he had felt the summit was a possibility, and later on the climb to South Col, just under 8000m, he felt the battle with the mountain begin, he said.
Banks was in the second party to summit after Schmatz had led another party to the top the day before.
Thick cloudy conditions on the summit meant the the group could only spend 10 minutes taking photographs and shaking hands, before climbing down as their oxygen tanks emptied.
The lack of views and "grim conditions" at the summit did not take away "the pleasure and relief of having made it", Banks said.
He felt "pretty rapt" to be at the top but apprehensive about getting down.
Banks reached South Col camp four hours later and fell asleep.
In Banks' group were Schmatz's wife, Hannelore​, and American Ray Genet, who both tragically died on the descent when conditions deteriorated.
Genet had decided to descend solo, while Schmatz who stayed with him when his oxygen ran out, later collapsed and died from exhaustion. 
All the climbers were experienced but the lack of oxygen, and the freezing temperatures bite at their hardest during a descent, and mistakes are made, Banks said.
The conditions had been good and all the climbers were of a high standard "but sometimes that's no protection", he said.
Banks said he was reluctant to criticise anyone "who wants to do anything", including those who add Mt Everest to a lifetime bucket list.
"There is a lot of nonsense talked about the lack of experience and technical ability of people on Everest today," he said.
"The vast majority of them are very experienced and competent climbers.
"When I went to Everest first in 1977 I had never climbed anything higher than Mt Cook.
"I would question some people's behaviour on the mountain but when you get that many people anywhere a few of them are going to be bastards."
However he said the overcrowding on Everest was "ridiculous."
"It is just lack of will and lack of good management on the part of the Nepalese Government, and the totally ineffective liaison officer system," he said.
Banks would rather emphasise the big clean-up carried out by the Sherpas over the past years.
"Despite all the negative reports Everest is still an amazing place to be."


Sunday, 29 September 2019

Colin Aikman - Distinguished New Zealand Jurist and Diplomat.

In 1975 while working for the International Red Cross in Nepal, I met Dr Colin Aikman the New Zealand Ambassador to Nepal, and High Commissioner to India and Bangladesh, when he visited. What a warm, friendly, helpful and highly experienced diplomat I remember him as. I recall a very entertaining dinner he put on for the small group of New Zealanders working in Kathmandu.
It wasn't until 60 years later, that I discovered in some declassified Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade documents an account by Colin Aikman of the Nuremberg trials. Dr Aikman, a Department of External Affairs lawyer who was accredited to attend the trials, went on to become one of this country's most distinguished jurists and diplomats.
.The International Military Tribunal, sitting in Nuremberg, tried 22 Nazi leaders.
Eleven were sentenced to death, three to life imprisonment, four given sentences of 10 to 20 years, and three were acquitted. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering committed suicide before his death sentence could be carried out.
"With the possible exception of Goering and [former Foreign Minister Joachim] von Ribbentrop, they are a very ordinary-looking set of old buffers," Dr Aikman reported back to New Zealand.
"As a general impression of all the prisoners, they are a bunch of second-rate men whom opportunism and the accidents of history have put in a position to perform first-rate atrocities," Dr Aikman wrote.

Colin died in 2002, aged 83.  Here is a link to an article about Colin Aikman.

Nazi trial (from left, back) Doenitz, Raeder, Schirach, Saukel, Jodl, von Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, von Neurath, Fritsche; (next row): Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Funk, Schact

Friday, 21 June 2019

Mid-Winter's Day in Antarctica. 49 years ago.

After four months at Scott Base, I arrived at Lake Vanda in January 1970 where I spent 10 months as a science technician. We celebrated mid-winter on 21 June 1970, some 49 years ago today .

Left: Our laboratory at Vanda station. For electricity, we used a wind generator to charge our 12 volt Nicad batteries. When there was no wind, we would use a small Petter diesel generator. Photo: Bob McKerrow

On reflection, the 13 months I spent in Antarctica was among the best of my life.

I remember vividly the last helicopter leaving us in early February and we knew it would be at least nine months before we saw anyone else.

i spent the winter with three other people, and still today, this is the smallest NZ group to winter-over in Antarctica.

At the end of the long winter's night where it was totally dark for four months, I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time in five months. I wrote in my diary " A man without a woman about him is a man without vanity."

A few weeks later while reflecting on the winter, I wrote " I turned 22 in March, it is now September. During the past five months, I have got to know and understand my worst enemy, myself."

The Wright Valley, View north through Bull Pass into Victoria Valley. The small stream flowing west (into Lake Vanda) is the Onyx.

The view of the Wright Valley taken from the survey station on the summit of Mt Newall (which now has a microwave tower on it).

We did long trips on foot in the late Autumn, throughout the winter and early Spring. Bob McKerrow left and Gary Lewis right, with frozen beards and faces. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Bath time at Vanda Station. Gary Lewis having a bath after six months Photo; Bob McKerrow

The old hand-painted sign outside Vanda Station

There was also the poem I wrote just before the long winter's night ended.

I journeyed south to an icy cage
The sun never shone, there was no day
When I looked into the jaws of night
Far off I saw the threads of life
Twisting themselves into an eternal web
That stretched unbroken from dawn to death
It was the Aurora that gladdened the eye
A frenetic serpent that snaked the sky
Pouring mellowed colours that sparkled rime
On icy pendants soon to sublime.
Yes high above towers all form
Soon will come the first blush of dawn
My life has changed my dash is done
O welcome the King, O welcome the sun
So today I will raise a glass of red to my old comrades who I wintered over with at Vanda Station, in that remore dry valley in Antarctica: Gary Lewis, Tony Bromley and Harold Lowe.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Mountain Film Festival hosts adventure greats

Mountain Film Festival hosts adventure greats: As a festival that started small and partly by accident, the NZ Mountain Film and Book Festival has become a Mecca for armchair—and...

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Climbing and Exploring in the Hindu Kush mountains = Afghanistan

Today it was confirmed that I will be a guest speaker at the New Zealand Film and Book Festival to be held at Wanaka - Queenstown - Cromwell from June 28 to July 7, 2019; In preparation for my talks at the festival, I took time to update various climbs and expeditions I went on in Afghanistan during the period, 1993-1996.
John Tinker (l) and Ian Clarke with Mir Samir in the background. The route they attempted was a ridge on the face just to the left of centre to the left of a small avalanche in a snow gulley: Photo: Bob McKerrow

Mir Samir and ascent of P5000. After years when it was too dangerous to enter the mountains of Afghanistan, New Zealander Bob McKerrow and Englishmen Ian Clarke and Jon Tinker headed for Mir Samir in the Hindu Kush. McKerrow is head of the International Red Cross in Afghanistan and Clarke is a former Royal Marine, now head of the Halo Trust mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan.

Tinker has worked in the country a number of times in the last seven years.The three climbers set out from Kabul on September 23, 1994, acclimatizing near the Salang Pass before setting out for Parian in the upper Panjchir.
There four horses were hired to carry food and equipment up the Chamar valley to base camp at 3,400 m. Clarke's skills were put to the test when the saw air-dropped scatterable anti-personnel mines.

They established a high camp at 4,300 m on September 29. Because of the deep snow, the two Englishmen made slow progress the next day to bivouac at 4,900 meters on an unclimbed snow route on the southwest face of Mir Samir. On October 1 they made While Clarke and Tinker were climbing Mir Samir, McKerrow climbed an unclimbed peak at approximately 5000 metres, a prominent feature when viewed from the Chamar Valley. a summit attempt.but unseasonable deep snow turned the back at 5200 meters, some 600 meters from the summit.(end of article from American Alpine Club Journal, 1995)

Above, the peak climbed solo by Bob McKerrow on 1 October 1994. The peak was named P5000 by the American Alpine Journal 1995. The photo is taken from the Chamar Valley.  

We spent a few nights in the Panjcher valley. This trigger-happy commander put us up for a few nights free. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Tinker with parts of land mines which we found scattered through the region. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Bob McKerrow (l) with John Tinker at Base Camp on Mir Samir. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The donkey that carried our supplies in with Mir Samir in the background. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I couldn't resist putting the photo of Eric Newby taken on their attempt on Mir Samir in 1956 and an extract from his obituary in the New York Times, October 24, 2006.

Sixty-three years ago, in the summer of 1956, Mr Newby set out on the trip that would make him famous: a voyage by station wagon, foot and horseback to climb Mir Samir, a 20,000-foot peak in Nuristan, a wild region in northeastern Afghanistan. The fact that he had never climbed a mountain did not deter him in the slightest.

                                               Mir Samir. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Mr. Newby chronicled the trip in “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush,” published in Britain by Secker & Warburg in 1958 and in the United States by Doubleday the next year. As in all his work, the narrative was marked by genial self-effacement and overwhelming understatement.

Bob McKerrow reading some pages from Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush to children whose Grandfathers helped Newby. We retraced a large part of their journey, Photo: Bob McKerrow

Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review in 1959, William O. Douglas, a noted travel memoirist who by day was a justice of the United States Supreme Court, called the book “a chatty, humorous and perceptive account.” He added: “Even the unsanitary hotel accommodations, the infected drinking water, the unpalatable food, the inevitable dysentery are lively, amusing, laughable episodes.”

Here is the article I wrote on various climbs in Afghanistan we did between 1993 and 1996..

No foreigners have climbed in Afghanistan since the Soviets arrived in late 1978. I had heard about the passes and valleys strewn with land mines so it was with some trepidation I embarked from Kabul in October 1994 on what was probably the first expedition into the Hindu Kush for at least 17 years.
Roads in the Hindu Kush are difficult to negotiate in winter. We are heading up to the Salang Tunnel which is the only tunnel through the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I travelled with two British climbers, Ian Clarke and John Tinker, to the Chamar valley for an attempt Mir Samir, a peak made famous by Eric Newby in his book, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Tinker was fresh off an ascent of Everest by a new route on the north side and Clarke was head of a British Mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan and was a necessary companion as the area had received large amounts of small scatterable mines, dropped from Soviet aircrafts to prevent the freedom fighters crossing the mountain passes.

Having lunch at our base camp with a bunch of Pashtoon soldiers returning from just being released from prison in the north, to their home in the east of Afghanistan, a journey of 400 km through remote wild mountain areas. John Tinker left, and Ian Clarke 3rd from left. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Our safety was dependent on his knowledge of mines and where battles had taken place. Tinker and Clarke attempted an unclimbed face on Mir Samir and got surprising high considering the unseasonably soft snow that had fallen.
The mountains to the extreme left of Mir Samir at the head of the Chamar Valley. Photo: Bob McKerrow

While the others were attempting Mir Samir, I climbed an unnamed peak around 5000 metres and looked over to the enticing mountains of Nuristan, formerly Kafirstan. We explored a number of neighbouring regions with the hope of returning to do further climbing. .In June 1995 I did another trip was Clarke, crossing from the Panjcher valley to southern Badakshan by way of the 4260 m Anjuman Pass.

Early 1995, Ian Clarke and I did another trip over the Anjuman Pass on a journey towards the Wakhan Corridor. Photo: Bob McKerrow

It was a unique opportunity to explore this spectacular part of the Hindu Kush and check routes on the major peaks in the area ranging from 5900 to 6500 metres.

A rather dubious group we came across. Photo: Bob McKerrow

One of the best peaks in the area in Kohi Bandak. The highlight of the trip was when returning back over the Anjuman Pass when at about 3400 metres in high alpine pastures we met about 50 Kuchi (nomad) families on their annual journey to this area. Some were on the move, other camping in their black, low-slung goat hair tents. We passed strings of camels with babies and young children with intricately embroidered bonnets, tied on the backs.

Camped at a lake on the northern side of the Hindu Kush. We crossed by Kotali Anjuman, the low pass on the right. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Kuchi nomads wending their way through the Hindu Kush.

Young girls with page-boy style hair cuts, flashed their shy blue eyes at us as we passed.

We stopped in tents to share pots of tea and watched how they cared for their animals. Young goats were inside the tent, sheltering from the hot sun, women tenderly carried young lambs in their arms, and an old lame sheep rode past on the back of a camel. Over the hillsides, women and children were gathering alpine herbs, wood, leaves and wild vegetables. Nearby an old woman was weaving a carpet. This is what the mountains of Afghanistan are about, tough friendly mountain people who have symbiotic relations with the hills. They name their children after the mountains, names such as ‘Kohzad’, the meaning of the mountains.

Kuchi nomads on the move.

Despite the warmth of the people, many disasters befall them. Thousands are killed annually by avalanches and landslides. In late March word reached Kabul that a massive landslides had hit the village of Qarluk, situated high in the mountains of Badakhshan.
I was part of a Red Cross survey team that walked and rode by horse to the site. The whole village had been engulfed killing 350 people, all women and children. The landslide occurred at 11 am when the men and boys were out in the fields and the women. We arrived to find only one female survivor, 11 year old Gulnesa Beg, her arm broken in two places and with her good arm, hugging her father. A whole village wiped out by nature. Here we spent weeks running a relief operation to assist during the emergency phase and started helping these rugged Hazara people put their lives back together again.

In August this year (1996), the highlight of my time in Afghanistan was a trip to Nuristan, the legendary 'land of light'.
Parun Valley, Nuristan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Afghan Red Cross is establishing a medical clinic in the Parun valley and I went with our medical staff. Nuristan hugs the southern side of the Hindu Kush and is been isolated from the rest of the country. Six main valleys make up Nuristan each with their own language and for four to five months of the year, the mountain passes in and out of Nuristan are blocked. In is an area where snow panthers, wolves and fox thrive in forests almost untouched by human hand, this is paradise on earth. These blue-eyed and sometimes blond haired people claim they are either descendants of the original Aryans, while others say they are descendants of Alexander the Great. In 1895 they were forcibly converted to Islam and even today there are remnants of their former pagan past. Nuristani villages cling to mountainsides, sometimes perched on peak-tops. a legacy of the past to avoid invaders. Like the mountain Tajiks, the Nuristanis are true mountaineers. In 1889 George Robertson the author of the book ‘Kafirs of the Hindu Kush’, described the Nuristanis as" 'magnificent mountaineers<-"' because of their mountain skills, fitness and agility.
Skiing near the Salang Pass. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The northern entrance to the Salang Tunnel and the men who keep the road open. February 1996. Bob McKerrow

  McKerrow and Tinker sorting out gear at Base Camp in 1994. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The writer sitting on an old Soviet tank. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Our last climbs in Afghanistan were in June 1996. I went with Mathias Luft, Ross Everson and Bruce Watson. Mathias and Ross climbed  Kohe Jalgya 6260m, the peak in the background in the photo above. Bruce and I climbed a 5300 m peak. Photo: Bob McKerrow 

This was quite a difficult expedition and the first mistake made, was letting a Frenchman buy the food without supervision. We ended up with pasta, stale and hard bread, rice, onions sugar and tea. There were no breakfast food, no milk powder, no salt, nuts, meat, chocolate meat or sardines. I wrote in my diary after six days we were starving. A group of armed locals stole equipment from us and Mathias was threatened by a soldier with an AK 47.

Bruce Watson on our Kohe Jalgya expedition at about 4,800 metres, just above our base camp. Photo: Bob McKerrow 

It took us five days to cross from the Panjcher Valley over Kotali Anjoman, down to Anjoman village, where we turned a sharp right up a side valley called Darrahe Paghar and set up a base camp at 4300 metres under Kohe Jalgya.

We soon realised that Kohe Jalgya was quite a technical climb and we didn’t have enough climbing equipment for such an ice climb. So Ross and Mathias head for Kohe Jalgya and Bruce and I for another less technical climb, an unnamed peak at 5,300 metres.

On the ascent of Kohe Jalgya, Ross and Mathias spent a night half way up the peak. They made good progress the next day but found the ice climbing difficult. After negotiating the hardest part of the climb, they came to a small snow field where they had to plug through waist-deep snow near the summit. They turned back at 4 pm on the 6th of June as the weather closed in. The descent turned into an epic in worsening weather. Mathias had two axes for front pointing down the face, but Ross only had one which slowed him down. Mathias gave Ross one of his ice axes, and he used one axe and an ice screw as a dagger, to descend. About 9 pm, Mathias lost footing and fell down an icy coliour and tumbled head over heels for 300 metres, just coming to a stop before a rocky bluff. Although cut and bruised, he was able to walk. Meanwhile, Ross continued descending alone in the dark on steep ice. Now separated by 300 metres, Mathias managed to stagger back to their tent situated on a snow ledge. Ross kept down climbing on ice another two hours, reaching the tent at midnight.

Meanwhile, at base camp, Bruce and I were anxiously waiting, for they were a day late. We had eaten our last spoon of milk powder and had no food left, not even a cooker to make tea.

So on Saturday 8 June, Bruce and I left a note and emergency equipment under a rock cairn, and said we were leaving for the valley to buy a sheep, cook it and come up with some locals to effect a rescue.

We got down to a small hamlet in the valley about 4.30 pm and I glanced back at the mountain, and saw two specks slowly moving on the lower snow slopes of the mountain. It could only be Ross and Mathias. Bruce and I were elated. They were alive! We bought a stringy old female sheep and got the farmer to skin it, cut it up and boil it, preparing a feast for Ross and Mathias. Four hours later Mathias and Ross crossed the risinf river, and joined us for a feast of mutton. Four days later we were back in Kabul.

Two of the best ! Over the years i have climbed with many high competent mountaineers but John Tinker (left) and Ian Clarke (right) are two of the best I have climbed with. We did an expedition to Mir Samir together and Clarke and I did a recce of the Anjuman Pass area in 1995, trying to reach the Wakhan.  The central Hindu Kuah in the background.

So during the three years I lived and worked in Afghanistan, (1993-96), I was fortunate to get out to many parts of the Hindu Kush, and explore, trek and climb. With the difficult security situation today, I am so grateful to have taken that opportunity. On reflection, I suppose it was minefield mountaineering. Thanks to Ian Clarke for giving me the confidence to travel in a country that was heavily mined, and teaching me what was safe and what was not.
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