By Mike Brosnan
MOUNTAINS – MY ADDICTION -
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE
“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
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
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
CLIMB OF MT COOK
|We made it! Kevin, Me and Andy
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.
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!
|The Joke at the Club. Big Andy
carried me to the top!
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
|Andy relaxing on top
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.
CLIMB ON COOK
I am 72 by now, too old aye! But still cheeky.
|Keith Ramus and partner doing
coffee just before the accident.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Now 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.
|My Son Greg
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
I am still dancing. Greg would want me to. Dance
with me world.
Mike and Keith on Top
of Mt Cook