Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Zealand Loses a Friend of the Mountains

The death of mountaineer and guide Gottlieb Braun-Elwert didn't make headlines around the world. Probably because, although he died out on a backcountry excursion, his death was not the result of a catastrophic accident or natural disaster. The event only made news headlines in New Zealand because at the time of his death, Braun-Elwert was guiding the country's Prime Minister Helen Clark, along with her husband and a couple of other government big-wigs.

His body was recovered from Mt Gerald Hut (which he owned) in the Two Thumbs Range near Lake Tekapo. Despite his death by heart failure at age 59, rather than avalanche or edema, I think he deserves a proper farewell. Hence this post.

Born in Germany, Gottlieb Braun-Elwert came to New Zealand in 1976 to take up an academic post. He fell in love with the country's mountains, and soon engrossed himself in the challenging vistas of the Southern Alps.

Eventually he gave up teaching for guiding and mountaineering. He set up his own guiding business, Alpine Recreation. He climbed New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki/Mt Cook, about 30 times with a variety of clients ranging from his own 14-year-old daughter to the Prime Minister herself. He also led climbs in other countries, including several in South America.

Braun-Elwert was a member of the Lake Tekapo search and rescue group, a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club, German Alpine Club, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. He was also involved in issues of public access to NZ waterways and rural backcountry. In 1993 he was named "Mountaineer of the Year" by local gear manufacturer Macpac.

Mountaineering in New Zealand has lost a good friend. But his life ended in one of the places where he was happiest, and that's the best most of us can hope for.

UPDATE: Just thought I'd let you know that after his autopsy, the cause of Braun-Elwert's death was found to be a ruptured aorta. This means that even if he'd been close to medical care at the time, he could not have been saved.


Alan Sloman said...

Nicely done. Thanks for that.

PowderLover said...

It's nice to hear of someone who lived an extreme life dying of natural causes instead of in an avalanche. Like you said, he died in a place he loved. I wish for the same.