Tributes paid to great guide

By JOHN HENZELL - The Press | Thursday, 21 August 2008

MOUNTAIN MAN: The Tekapo funeral of mountain
guide and legend Gottlieb Braun-Elwert. Son-in-law
Keith, daughter Elke, wife Anne and daughter Carla
have happy memories.

Mountain guide Gottlieb Braun-Elwert would have hated being inside on the kind of crisp winter's day that saw more than 250 mourners attend his funeral in Tekapo.

His daughter Carla turned to her father's coffin yesterday and said she knew what his reaction would be on a cloudless day in which new snow coated the Southern Alps.

"You'd say that today would be a beautiful day in the mountains. Why should you be inside on a day like today?" she said.

Paying tribute to one of New Zealand's best-known mountain guides brought mourners from as far as Australia and Germany, filling to overflowing the largest hall in the lakeside town that had been his home for more than 20 years.

The service was told that Braun-Elwert had been planning to celebrate his 60th birthday next February by climbing 60 peaks in 60 days. That goal was thwarted a week ago when he collapsed outside his skiing hut in the Two Thumb Range, near the head of Lake Tekapo.

The funeral began with Braun-Elwert's brother-in-law, Sumner Anglican minister Ron Hay, announcing that the coroner had found the cause of death was a ruptured aorta, the main artery to the heart, and not a heart attack.

"Even if this had happened in the middle of the city close to medical support, he couldn't have been saved," Hay said.

Widow Anne Braun-Elwert said the family had been heartened by the turnout and she gave particular thanks to Prime Minister Helene Clark and the others in the group climbing and skiing with him "for your valiant effort to bring Gottlieb back to life".

She told how during her European OE in the 1970s, Braun-Elwert had wooed her on trips into the mountains, eventually proposing after they climbed Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest peak, by the long rock and ice route called the Brenva Spur.

"He didn't tell me it wasn't the standard route," she said.

"We were married within nine months of meeting each other. I'll always be grateful for 30-plus years.

"You've been our anchor rock and our guide in more ways than one. You've left a huge gaping hole but you've shown us how to be strong, to lift our eyes to the light on the hills.

"Auf Wiedersehen, mein Lieber."

Prime Minister Helen Clark was at a Pacific nations forum but wrote a eulogy, read by her husband Peter Davis for the "mountain guide extraordinaire" who had accompanied them on 13 trips into the mountains.

"He was bold and prudent, and the risks he took were calculated. He inspired us to take journeys we never thought possible," she wrote.

"The only consolation to the sudden and tragic death was it happened in the alpine environment and he was surrounded by people who cared desperately for him."

Braun-Elwert's daughter Elke quoted her father saying it was "better to live your life doing something you enjoy than to wrap yourself in cotton wool and kill yourself with a knife and fork".

"There were so many trips that Dad still wanted to do. When he got to the top of one mountain, he'd spot another one he wanted to do," she said.

"I'm sure he'd be annoyed he's missing out on the best ski season in a long time."

His other daughter, Carla, told of the support, inspiration and courage she received from her father, whether it was following his ski tracks through the maze of crevasses on the way up Mount Cook or in choosing what to study at university.

Some themes emerged time and again during the service his attention to detail, his generosity with his time and knowledge to help others, his willingness to raise controversial topics that he believed in and had rigorously investigated, and his doggedness in pursuing them, regardless of the criticism it might attract.

Besides the mountain guide in the public eye, they recalled the father who would cheat outrageously at board games and play pranks, the gifted photographer, and the conservationist who lobbied for quiet in parks and for diminishing light pollution in the night sky.

Instead of in a hearse, Braun-Elwert's journey from the service was in the battered blue Toyota Land Cruiser that had taken his family, friends and clients on countless happy trips to the mountains.


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