|LUCKY TO BE ALIVE|
The Summit Rocks
“Do I really have to un-rope”!
11 January 2005 – actually my 73rd birthday -seven thirty pm. It’s getting late, the sun has left us and it’s freezing again. My partner Keith and I have been climbing for sixteen hours. We need to keep our wits about us.
We prepare to rappel this, the steepest pitch of the mountain, almost vertical. I go first. “Have we set up right,” neither of us having abseiled or rappelled for years. I’m away on my descender, hopping off the rock. As I approach the end of my rope, bugger, I have gone too far and passed the bolt (protection). It’s now too icy, steep with no holds to get back up to the bolt and clip on.
I look below me, down the rocks onto the Linda Shelf and to the three hundred foot ice cliff following. I have to get out of this. My only option is to un-rope.
My mind flashes to the scene a year ago while on the Linda Shelf, attempting the same climb with Keith. As we watched helplessly a young Rumanian climber flew past us and over that cliff. This would be my fate if I slip. There’s a tiny ledge for my feet. It’s rock so nowhere for my ice axe above. It’s only fifteen meters across, but seems like a mile. I unclip the rope from my harness and gingerly edge along not daring to think of last year. It takes a few minute but seems an age. I make it and clip on to the protection.
In the weeks following Keith researched and found that I am the oldest person in the world to climb Cook by seven years. Also unguided. This wasn’t much help to us on the summit rocks but writing this, we obviously made it.
My wife of seventeen years Fleur left me in 1974. I was a bit of a mess as I guess I loved her and she was the mother of our four great kids, so I had a pretty rough time drinking, crashing cars (yes I survived).
One day, Ivan Hurst, a young guy I had met in the bowels of a ship travelling to London, rang me and asked me if I would like to join him and a friend to ‘do’ The Copland Pass. I lethargically said yes. What was this pass, the name of a boat, a new dance? I did find out!
We hired crampons etc and the three of us met this mountain guide at Unwin Hut at The Hermitage where he led us on up the Hooker Valley to Copland Hut. Our guide turned out to be Nick Banks, I was to find one hell of a guy
We left early next morning and within minutes I thought to myself “What the hell is this all about. Why would I do this, it’s crazy”. Then I got into a pattern which I have followed ever since. I got behind Nick and put one foot after another right into his foot prints and gradually I softened my attitude and seeming to be pulled up by his magnetism and started to feel good and enjoy. Very quickly Nick and I connected and before we got to the top we clicked and have been best friends ever since. At the ice below the top we donned crampons (our first ice). Nick cut steps for us novices and when we reached the top he took the crampons, ice axes etc and showed us how to abseil down the rock on the west side. He retrieved the rope and we high tailed it back to The Hermitage. We bashed our way through the bush to welcome Flat Hot Pools, had a soak and continued on to get to Franz Joseph by dark. We were met there by Ivan’s sister, his mate’s girlfriend, where we stayed the night and drove home the next day,
So, at age 44 this was my introduction to climbing and the mountains. What a journey was to follow.
My next climb was with our beautiful son Greg and only the second time ever using a guide who was Dave McNulty. Greg was really young at fourteen, and I thought I was really old at fifty . (I did get younger) As we got away a bit late we three slept on the Rudolf Glacier in a two man tent and I have never been so cold. In the morn, on up The Rudolf and over the Graham Saddle onto the Fox Neve with Greg and the Old Man going well. On over this vast flat, sloping ice field which is a wonder to behold, (everyone should at least land in a ski plane there) and on to the Alma Hut which sits on a rock overlooking a sea of massive seracs, (ice towers and cliffs running into deep crevasses). Beautiful. Next morning Dave led us down the true right edge of these seracs and on out to The Franz Pub. I am so glad Greg and I had that experience, as you will read later.
I spent a lot of time with Nick and his lovely wife Lindsay, both at Mt Cook and down on the farm where they loved to come to get away from the almost incestuous climate of The Village. Nick was understated and said little about himself but I soon found that around 1972 he was part of a NZ lightweight attempt on Everest. Then a few years later he joined Gerhard and made it to the top and is the second Kiwi to summit after Hillary. There was tragedy though. When Nick and Gerhard came down to base camp, a Canadian nicknamed ‘Mr McKinley’ (for the times he’d climbed Mt McKinley in Canada) talked Gerhard’s latest wife and a Sherpa to overnight on top. The Canadian died in the night, the woman died in Nick’s arms while descending and the Sherpa was in hospital for a year at least.
One of my greatest experiences with Nick was when he and Russell Bryce were to run a guides course and Nick asked me along as a hypothetical ‘client’. Well, what an experience. We started from Plateau Hut up on The Grand Plateau on Mt Cook. They had to find me when they lost me in snowstorms. They buried me down in the snow, got me out of crevasses, all with the aid of a bleeper on me, double lowered me on a stretcher down vertical cliffs and the like.
Part way through the course we cramponed north across the Freshfield Glacier, on down and across the Tasman Glacier and up to Multi Brun Hut where we continued this gruesome stuff. By this time, around two weeks on, ‘the boys’ who at first were very suspicious of me as ‘Banksie’s rich farmer mate’ accepted me as I had filled the bill and stood up to all this abuse. Except one person, the scion of the mountains and master hard man, Bill Denz. What a challenge but I cracked him almost on the last day when he deigned to talk to me.
The sequel to this was when we got back to The Hermitage. There was Shorn Norman’s 40th birthday to celebrate at Unwin Hut. We had got out the day before and of course got into the grog. The result of this after three weeks up in the mountain was that I got very sick. So the next night I was strictly on fruit juice. Now some of the younger lads on the course thought “we’ll fix this” Nick Craddock, Murray Ball and another had this matchbox of magic mushrooms. I was new to this so they encouraged me to take the lot. Well, I met this old high country gentleman farmer, Gilbert Seymore from Ferintosh Station( back down the highway). The run holders often joined our celebrations. I was standing with him drinking fruit juice, making polite conversation about merinos, wool and the like. Suddenly, I saw a hawk fly past and I was virtually out the window flying with the hawk. Gilbert looked at me, then my glass, with the most astounded look on his face. He mutters to himself “who is this guy”. We’ve become friends since but I have never told him and the funny thing is, the mushrooms come from his place, under old rotten logs in his forest alongside the highway.
Another foray. Nick, Paul Scaife and I flew into Plateau Hut and headed off to climb Mt Dixon, East Ridge. Paul was being assessed by Nick for his Guides ticket and I, again, was the hypothetical client. This is a pretty easy climb but I learnt a lot. When we summitted I said to Nick, “You know, this is the first peak I have done with you, but every peak is because of you”.
Meantime, the Three ‘B’s, Banks Nick, Bryce Russell, and Ball Garry had started a climbing shop in Twizel where they all had gravitated to rather than living at Cook. I was to help them with financial advice, but three strong climbers!! Talk about herding cats! They all had different ideas so it flourished for a while then closed. The advertising picture for the shop was one of Paul Scaife guiding me on that Mt Dixon climb.
That reminds me – during time in India, around 1982, when I was in Kathmandu I knew Nick was climbing Mt Kanchenjunga. I tried to find him, enquiring everywhere. First the climbing shops where everywhere there was my photo on the walls advertising the Twizel business. Ha ha aye. Then after living in an Ashram for a while, I travelled up in the toy train to Darjeeling where I even climbed up the foothills of Kanje Anjunka looking for him. Back in Kathmandu, I’m cycling along and there’s a loud gruff “BROSNAN”. It’s Nick, in a rickshaw with his favourite Sherpa, back from the mountain and heading to debrief at his agent’s office. He took me to the Sherpa’s house where the woman fed me and the old men duly draped me in the traditional white silk scarf, which is above my bed to this day.
Another time way back then I hooked on behind Nick and a client where we grunted up the Haast Ridge to Plateau Hut where we got snowed in for a week. Now we were about 25 climbers in the hut and they were a great group of people. Rob Blackburn, my dentist since, (he was a student then) has been a friend to this day. Duncan Ritchie, Lin Bowering, Judith Terpstra, Paul Scaife, We had a whale of a time. I can’t remember where I went when the weather broke.
I often say – the higher the hut the more interesting the people.
Nick was a great networker and I met people like Reinhold Messner and Chris Bonnington and others at Mt Cook with him. He guided many wealthy clients around the world, often bringing them down to the farm. He brought the owner of the Polarus Industry who he had taken up Cook, Tasman, Mitre Peak and others. A nice guy. I wined and dined him and then late at night, it was down to the climbing wall, wine glass a hand, lights on, mattresses on the floor and all go. At breakfast he said “You will be hearing from my agent in Christchurch soon.” A week later a brand new, state of the art, Polaris Sportsman 500 quad bike worth $13000 arrived. I was to have it !! All I had to do was be photographed flying through rivers, climbing steep banks, jumping ditches etc. I understand some of those photos adorn his main office in Minnesota.
When NZ got too small for Nick they shifted to Wales, Snowdonia, eventually to Plas y Brenin, Britain’s largest outdoor pursuit Centre at Capel Curig, Snowdonia where he became Chief Climbing Instructor. When he left he went back to guiding on his own and the last time he guided on Everest he had a semi stroke and was paralyzed down one side. He insisted his clients went on up with the other guide and somehow got down off the mountain by himself!
As distinct to most high climbers, he saw the light and stopped the big stuff. I often felt, in such situations he would think of his lovely wife Lindsay and great girls, Rebecca and Jacque at home. It can be easier to die than be the ones left behind. Lindsay is incredible. She learnt that tricky Welsh language to the degree she taught school in Welsh.
Nick left Plas y and bought, did up and sold houses, then a few years ago they sold their house at Llanrwst, Conwy and bought a sailing boat. Like many old climbers, the ones who are still alive, (as many of my mates are dead) they scaled up to sail the seven seas I hope they sail down to here one day.
I have had many wonderful times rock climbing in Wales and ice climbing in Scotland with Nick and others like Garry Ball, Smithy, Al ? Reid, Alan Ward and Ian Sykes (Spike) who owned the Nevisport climbing shops and built Anich More skifield at Fort William.
Back here. Whilst always keeping a sneaky eye on Mt Cook, I guess my first peak was the Footstool next to Mt Sebastopol. Several attempts with Gary Ball went wrong. We would overnight in Copland bivy and set off at eight am, but get beaten back by the inevitable clag (cloud) creeping over from the West Coast at around eleven am. I knew nothing then, but got to understand that as Gary those days was an avid party man, he just didn’t rise early enough to beat that clag. I eventually climbed it with my lovely friend Hazel Chapman, who was a better riser.
Another fun foray. I teamed up on one rope with Rob Blackburn who I had met in Plateau Hut and on the other was Nick shearer and Ross Cullen. We decided to do a first ascent on the east ridge of Mt Johnson on the Multi Brun range. This wouldn’t have been hard for those seasoned climbers, but hard enough for me as I was pretty much a new chum.
I found Rob a good teacher, though tough enough. He gave me Hell for not keeping a tight rope. (I guess that’s why I’m so adamant about that since.) Starting a bit late, we bivied halfway up on the rock, a good experience. In the morning we got to the top and – “what way down”. We glissaded down a snow slope until coming to a tough bit. We decided to work our way down a rocky gut which led down into an amazing sort of canyon with vertical sides. Eventually we came out of the dark into the bright sunlight of the Tasman Glacier and on back to Unwin.
This led on to a group of us attempting Mt Aspiring. After the first night spent in French Ridge Hut, we woke to a clear day and set off over The Quarterdeck up onto The Boner Glacier and on to the foot of the Southwest Ridge where we paused to take a reccy. The object was this route, but who could manage it. We had four young gun climbers from John’s set, Roland Logan, Jonathan Davies, Tremain and ?? John had hardly climbed at all and I had done little. We both felt this climb was way beyond us but the four young ones convinced us both to try.
The others, including my daughter Marney and Ed Cotter decided to walk on down the glacier to get onto and climb the Northwest Ridge, which is longer but less steep. I was surprised at myself for trying this but if John was keen, what the hell! It was so easy for the youngsters and with them leading we made it. What a buzz! It was too long for the others to make it so we all met back at French Ridge hut that night.
Now Marney had lost her sun glasses, after me telling her I carry three pairs, and her eyes were not good. Poor Marney had one hell of a night and in the morning she was basically blind. We set off down, me with Marney on a rope. We were so slow we told the others to go on as it was the thing to get to the pub in Wanaka to celebrate and one was enough to support her. We eventually groped our way quietly down, then on to the hut and made it to the pub to join our happy mates.
I’m fifty years young now, still with my eye on ‘the big one’ so I teamed up with two young guys to ‘have a go’. In fact we had been trying for a year or two. To get everything right for a ‘hill’ like Cook can take a long time. Some of these are – the weather, the conditions eg avalanche, crevasse, loose rock, freeze height etc, fitness, finding a gap in all three of our lives, businesses and social lives.
We made it! Kevin, Me and Andy FIRST CLIMB OF MT COOK
I belong to the North Otago Club and I went there most Friday nights. The Boys would always ask me if I had done Cook and no, so they started to say,” you are too old”,” you will never do it”. Then they would see the look on my face and say, “Oh you will get one of your classy climber mates to carry you up there”.
So – it’s 1982. Andy Harris 18, a lovely young man, (I cried when he died on Everest – the book ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer), Kevin Conaglen 24, later the person to overwinter the most times in Antarctica and myself at 50, gathered at Unwin hut to gear up to attempt ‘Her’. Being the first attempt by all but Kevin, we walked all the way in.Mike rather Proud
After driving to Ball Hut it was the big scramble down the moraine wall on to and then scrambling up the Tasman Glacier, first over the big boulders, then ice, to the foot of the Haast Ridge. On up past the Haast shelter, and right on up onto the ice and back down a bit to our destination for the day, Plateau Hut. Plateau hut is always interesting and full, of climbers of every ilk, from eager novices to hardy old veterans with stories to tell. “Where do this unlikely trio fit in – we will see.”
It’s one in the morning and our discrete alarm goes off. Creeping around, mug of tea to hand, we clothe and gear up. Outside to put on crampons where it’s a crystal cold, clear sky amongst a never ending mass of stars. As it’s a first for two of us, it’s the more conventional route, “The Linda”.
As I pointed out earlier, it’s not often it’s the right day on Cook, so there will be a big team of us on the mountain today. We pass a few and trudge on, one step after another, me stepping into footsteps, on the rope at the back as the true novice that I am, Kevin, the most experienced mostly leading.
The Joke at the Club. Big Andy carried me to the top!It’s looking good, “I’ll show them in The Club“. We cramponed down into and up the other sides of many crevasses at the neck of The Linda where it narrows and the ice is crunched up. We are using headlamps until well up, when the sun peeps over The Multi Brun Range at our backs. This is when it gets dangerous as with temperature change the rocks can let go and rain on you, but we are high enough by now and on to pure ice above all that. I need a tight rope on the Summit Rocks as it is my first time. After six and a half hours we summit and are first there. On top I say to lovely big Andy, “bend over, I’ll show them at The Club”. I hop on his broad back and with ice axe in the air Kevin, a good photographer, took some great photos. Back down to Plateau Hut taking a total of thirteen hours. Next day we walked out to complete a wonderful adventure. I couldn’t wait to get to the Club next Friday night to show the photos of how big Andy carried me up Mt Cook!
I used to give the young climbers work on the farm, so as I couldn’t afford to employ both of them, Kevin built a climbing wall inside the implement shed.
Andy relaxing on top
SECOND CLIMB COOK
With Smithy. He is best friends with Nick Banks and lives at Betws-y-Coed, Snowdonia Wales. He’s great. I have had lots of fun climbing and imbibing in craft beer with him there. He’d always wanted to do Cook so when here in New Zealand we decided to have a crack at it. After the first climb where you walk all the way in, most fly on to the plateau walking the fifteen minutes to the hut, which I did from then on.
It was a pretty straight forward climb. He’s a great guy to be with. The top of Cook is always different. This time it was an almost vertical ice castle of about fifteen meters high. I wanted to do it, but Smithy didn’t. Anyway, Maori demand we don’t stand on top so that clinched it. It’s strange the different snow conditions in countries. Smithy’s crampons, a different shape than ours, perfectly good in Britain and the Continent, balled something terrible on Cook.
It was a great climb with great company
THIRD CLIMB ON COOK
Hazel Chapman and I had already done The Footstool, so next it was to be Cook. We decided on the Zurbriggen’s Ridge route. First trudging across the Grand Plateau is very dangerous as there are hundreds of crevasses, mostly hidden by fresh snow. The main thing is to keep a tight rope between us. With a firm rope you can easily stop your mate going in more than a foot or so. Many people don’t pay enough attention to this. We struggle across the massive shrund where the ice separates from the rock at the bottom of the ridge and climb on up this relatively easy rock spur. Hazel drops her light, “how will we manage”? She moves on in the flickering early dawn. A young, gutsy climber soloing, guns on past us in the night.
We’re nearly at the top of the ridge when Hazel lets go one of her crampons. It went flying past me as I tried unsuccessfully to grab it. That was her out of it and probably me too. I hobbled her up to the start of the Summit Rocks, and what to do? We knew we had to get down but I said I might have a little look up The Rocks. I tied her on under the lea of a big rock and went on for a look. I didn’t mean to go on but was drawn up by an invisible force. The young soloist hurtled down past me and I kept going feeling guilty about Hazel but knowing she would do this for me. When he got back to Plateau the climber had put the word around. (He thought I was guiding her, as it looked like that.) He said “I’m coming down and I met this old guide powering up The Rock on his own and below him was this bird, tied to a rock”. That story got all over NZ and overseas as I heard it in Nepal. “This bird, tied to a rock”!
I made it to the top but descending was a bit of a problem as it was late enough that others had gone down. I had no rope to rappel with. I caught up on a couple of doctors though and they tied me to their rope for one pitch but they had to go on then as it was getting late for them. Somehow I made it down to lovely patient Hazel. I really was repentant and she took it well while being happy for this silly old bugger who had risked his life going solo, but beyond his ability. We made it down and have remained good friends. Hazel made it to the top later with the younger brother of the English “soloist of the night.”
FOURTH CLIMB ON COOK
It was a day in December when a friend who had been a climber in Britain in his youth brought to the farm a couple of climbers from Scotland, Jack Ward and Jo his partner who were here on holiday. They were keen to have a go on my climbing wall.
For some years Pammie my girlfriend and I spent New Year at the camping ground at Mt Cook. New Years Eve we had a great night with some of my young climbing mates who just had to encourage me to knock back tequilas! Jack and Jo arrived and joined in the fun, but I noticed around ten pm they vanished. Getting home about one am, we then arose at eight. Pammie had a friend with her who was a bit pricey for me, putting on the right shade suntan and shorts, so I drove off back down to the village to look for life. At Unwin Hut I saw this couple walking down the road and pulled up beside them. It was Jack and Jo. He said “We’ve got two seats on the plane to Plateau to climb Mt Cook and there’s a spare one, why don’t you come” . I said, I can’t do that as am here with my girlfriend. So I sadly started to drive back to the camp. Then I had a brainstorm, did another u-turn and said “I’m coming, if I can do it in time”.
Now Pam hated me always having my climbing gear in the boot. I shot back to the camp to tell her . Checking my gear, I was short of an ice hammer and a coat so I shot round to Shaun and Judy Norman’s where Judy lent me a coat, but no ice hammer. No time to wait for the climbing shop to open aye, so I took my old straight picked ice axe
On the plane and off. I wondered why they went to bed early around four pm. I saw why as we arose at 10 pm to start the climb. Now I must say at the beginning, Jack was a guides assessor in Britain and was much more experienced than me, so I just went along with him. I soon saw why we started so early as we went so slow across The Plateau that I had a real problem staying awake.(I have this problem, getting bored easily). We were heading for the East Ridge of Cook – a classic climb.
Hours later, reaching the foot of the ridge off up we went. Still painfully slow, we got to the first part where there is a long level step. This is an arret, too sharp to walk along, so you kick steps into the side and crab along. I could see at this stage Jo should never been on this climb, or any on Mt Cook as she wasn’t a climber. I had made a bad mistake climbing with people I didn’t know. I was never to do this again. Whilst Jack was a lot younger than me at forty eight, he wasn’t very fit, so dragging Jo across that arret he was exhausted. I only had to get me there. I realized Jack didn’t understand our mountains or conditions, which is peculiar to all different countries. So I started trying to communicate with him, for instance “if one of us slipped on the arret the other would jump over the other side to be able to hold”. First he couldn’t hear me because of a woolly hat over his ears, then she went spare at me telling “her man” the famous assessor what to do. I had got off side with her and this was to be for the rest of the climb. I had wanted to lead to take the pressure off him but he was too proud to allow me, but now that he was so buggered he let me. He and I had the ability to go free and four point all the way up this amazing ridge but because of Jo I belayed them both to my stance, then four pointed on and did it over and over.
We gained the top or Middle Peak around eight pm, twenty two hours since we left the hut. We should have been well back there by then but we were not even at the top. Now the Middle Peak Hotel is where Doole and Inglis were holed up and lost their legs which taught us never to get caught on top, but I was so worried about doing the GT. From Middle to High Peak that late I would have stayed there. But Jack wanted to carry on. Worse was to come. Most of this section you have to side crampon on the West Coast side, a thousand feet drop below and it was covered in sustrugie, little down facing ice hooks that love to catch ropes. Jo just wouldn’t keep a tight rope – it would bow way down the slope, almost impossible to retrieve. I was appalled but when I asked her to tighten it she just went spare. Why Jack didn’t coach her I had no idea. I guess he must have been “in love”. If she had even tripped, she would have been going so fast by the time the slack rope was taken up, Jack and I would be whipped off our feet and all would be gone down thousands of feet. Well across this worst piece he actually drove in an ice stake.
We got to the High Peak around eleven pm. Our batteries were low and it was far too dark and dangerous to attempt descending the same summit rocks so having descended a hundred feet below the top we cut little shelves for a place to lie down. I only had a bivy bag as hadn’t expected to overnight up there. Jo, not having carried any of her other gear pulled out of this tiny pack a small sleeping bag (not a blow for women’s lib). It was a hell of a night in this thin cortex bag so we got up before light and I found I had made a mistake by not undoing my boots as the tightness had given me frost nip.
It was a little faster downhill so we roped down the summit rocks and traversed the Linda Shelf to where you come to the Gun Barrels – aptly named as detritus, rocks and lumps of ice barrel down, so I was telling Jo how we usually run down there to beat the debris. She was so upset that I, and not her man would tell her anything (he had not been there before) that she screamed at me, jumped down off the shelf and sprained her ankle. So much for running. We eventually got back to the hut about six pm – forty four hours since we left.
Dave McNulty, another friend, famous climber and avalanche man was in the hut (sadly he died in an avalanche). Word must have got around as he quietly said to me “I hear you’ve done your first piece of guiding”. That would have been nice to have been acknowledged as people do not know our mountains when they come from other countries. Anyway we did it and are all still alive, no hard feelings. To the extent I was soon to travel to India. Jack and Jo were teaching in Australia so I flew into Melbourne, hitch hiked up to Horsham and although I don’t understand what happened back on the East Ridge we left friends.
FIFTH CLIMB ON COOK
Keith Ramus and partner doing coffee just before the accident.I am 72 by now, too old aye! But still cheeky.
I was lucky to team up with Keith Woodford. Keith led that lightweight attempt on Everest with Nick Banks, Mike Marney, Mike Brown and others back in the early seventies. He is also my neighbour just through the fence. We decided to have another crack at Cook. Keith hadn’t climbed much for years so was as nervous as me. To get ready we first did the Black Ridge, near Cass and the Waimack, a big day but not challenging. Next we did Rolliston, clag stopping us sumitting . A great wee climb.
So it’s January and we are off. Keith drove, me being the petrol and coffee man. I’m not a driving person. A night in Unwin Hut and next morning I find it’s nearly $1000 between us for the helicopter (can’t fly in by now as ice receding and too many crevasses). So in my usual way I scout around the village looking for climbers or loopies (tourists) to share the transport with us. I found a Rumanian trio who I thought were loopies to share. We were stoked, they were people to share the chopper and the price came down to about $200 each.
After we got to the hut and when these people found we were to attempt Cook the two men said they too wanted to do it and not knowing the way, could they travel with us. The wife of the small guy Ramus, would stay in the hut. Keith and Ramus
Surprised we said yes.. So our loopies were climbers.
Out of bed at midnight, gearing up and outside Keith and I were putting on our crampons when we saw the first sign of something wrong. Ramus and mate were not putting on crampons nor roping up. We were soon to cross the Grand Plateau with hundreds of crevasses. Keith is a professor and a strong leader so he took control. “What are you doing, are you crazy? Put on crampons and rope up.” They did and we’re off. We saw straight away the rope was useless as with Ramus leading, his mate wouldn’t keep a tight rope. If Ramus went down, by the time the slack had taken up Mate gets whipped of his feet and they both go down. We told them to no avail. This went on in and out of the crevasses. When we got well up The Linda we stopped and Ramus, a nice wee guy brought out a stove and made us all a coffee. In the mean time Keith found Mate had no sun glasses so he lent him his spare pair. First he did a no no and put a crampon thru Keith’s rope then he dropped the glasses and smashed them. Keith was very upset by now as they were his wife’s glasses.
So, off again. The going was more even now with few crevasses so Ramus un-roped from Mate. Thank heavens or he would probably be dead now. Ramus was as fit as a trout and it turned out a good climber, so he was like a hare in front. Mate, at twenty eight wasn’t much fitter than me at seventy two and just ahead of us. We gained the Linda Shelf and Ramus was not to be seen again, with Mate lumbering up just in front of us. The conditions were very bad. We were on pure water ice and the shelf is quite steep. Normally we would walk up roped but free. Today we were four pointing like crabs all the way. We decided it would be so slow, we could bivy beneath the summit rocks and do a two day affair, as we wouldn’t get up and back under these conditions in a day. The conditions were very bad, we were on pure water ice and the shelf is quite steep. Normally we would walk up roped but free. Today we were four pointing like crabs all the way. We decided it would be so slow, we could bivy beneath the summit rocks and do a two day affair, as we wouldn’t get up and back under these conditions in a day, but we knew it was a Nor’west tomorrow and that’s death stuff. Keith on linda shelf body flew past behind him
So we were deciding to stay alive and go back. Mate had disappeared so I cooed him and no answer. We said “where the hell is he”. We got our answer. A man came flying down the shelf gaining speed right in front of our eyes, twenty meters from us. An ice tool flew high in the air and I will never forget his last feeble attempt to bury his remaining tool into the lip of that one hundred meter ice cliff as he went over and was gone. In his usual manner, Keith took over. He was used to this, but he was worried about how I would cope with this drama. He made me drive an ice stake in and clip on. I was actually ok, but suddenly acutely aware of the cliff below us. Whilst he was right, he was a bit over the top as without all this belaying I was capable of getting back to the Gun Barrells as we came up. We had been four pointing and going free. Keith was right and is great in such times.
Back in the Gun Barrels we sheltered from the falling debris behind a large ice block and not really knowing which of the two was dead, as he was going too fast, we waited to see who would emerge hoping it would be Ramus as he had a wife in the hut and had a radio with him. I believed it would be him and it was. He came to us smiling totally unaware. He didn’t’ seem that surprised and it turned out they had only met in the last days, didn’t know each other at all (shades of my East Ridge climb!). Keith grabbed the radio and talked at Plateau Hut to a young climber who radioed Doc at The Hermitage. We three hiked it down the gun barrels to see Mate lying obviously dead at the bottom of the cliff. The Blood Bucket (rescue chopper)flew in, hovered and lowered a woman guide down on a rope. She checked he was dead then landed just below us on a flattish bit. We hiked down and and they took us out to Plateau and went back to retrieve the body taking it to The Hermitage. He then came back and flew us four out as well as they were worried about our trauma and also wanted to interview us. It turned out the pilot was
Lindsey Bell who I knew years before as “Ding dong” and he was on that guides course with us.
A sad experience.
SIXTH CLIMB ON COOK
Well at seventy three that day, 11 January 2005 we had to have a crack again, so Keith and I set off. We flew in with a full load of people again and this year the conditions looked good. Off again at midnight having a pretty uneventful climb up. I was very slow though and trudging along the Linda Shelf I said to Keith, “Can you get frost bite while walking”? Well I did get frost nip and still can’t feel my right foot toes. Last time it healed. I guess as I was only a boy of about sixty then, but was older now I guess. My right foot went deepest into the snow. Keith Woodford
We got to the top,(photo to prove it) in thirteen and a half hours, twice as long as when I was a boy of sixty. We headed down the summit rocks. That saga is back at the beginning of these stories.
Low down the Linda there were a few crevasses we had to jump. Now we genuinely thought they had got wider, ok for me, but Keith had a bad back he could feel, so I anchored on the lower side and he made it. Now the last hour of this climb was the most excruciating hour of my life. My whole body rebelled, but mostly my thighs. There’s an uphill bit on the last push to the hut. I would drop into the snow and dear Keith actually thought I was dead. I somehow dragged myself on and actually fell into the hut at three am on the 12th of January. Twenty seven hours without stopping. How mad is that. After some sleep we got a back flight out that day and got back home around nine pm
Now this part is very hard to write about but I think I should, in his memory.
Then the bombshell hit. The police had been trying to find me all day as my beautiful son Greg had tipped the wing of his glider on the Omamara Saddle and been killed. Greg was dead. I spent the night with his Mum and the kids, it was hell.
My Son GregNow dear Greg did live even more dangerously than his dad. He was a good pilot but was known to take risks and fly too close to the hot rock to get lift. He had forty four years of amazing life. He died like he lived. That was little consolation at the time but helped later. Now the press had been crazy keen to get my story on climbing Cook as the oldest person. Imagine if that had been in the papers alongside Greg’s death. I said to them “I would sue them if they printed anything about me” and I was really serious. The woman reporter said she “didn’t think she could stop her boss” but they didn’t print it.
A sad note to end on but we all have such beautiful thoughts about our lovely son, brother, lover, friend.
My climbing since then has mainly been a bit of rock climbing in Wales and Scotland. I have done some wonderful tramps in recent years as well. I always said “When I get old, I will start tramping”.
I am still dancing. Greg would want me to. Dance with me world.
Mike and Keith on Top of Mt Cook