Carla's Tribute

There was a blizzard last Thursday night. But the snow that fell at Tekapo was "mausknietief". It then cleared wonderfully so that Elke, Keith and I could come home safely in the moonlight, and so we could see Tekapo as a marvellous winter wonderland. "Mausknietief" means mouse-knee-deep, and refers to a rather pathetic snow depth. But even small things like a sprinkling of snow would make Dad smile as much as the prospect of another big adventure. He would go on about the tussocks or Mt. Cook Lillies in the breeze, the effervescent bubble of a stream, the cheery faces of edelweiss and the twinkling snow crystals. He would always bring us back a pretty rock from the peaks, or smooth pebbles from a beach he’d been to.

Dad was fond of telling me about how I opened my eyes for the first time. He said I would open them, and look, and look, and look, then get tired and close them for a moment, before opening them wide again. I may have opened my eyes myself, Dad, but it was you who filled them with spectacular sights.

Dad took us places to see the most breathtaking views. From when I was carried on his shoulders, playing with the thinning tufts of hair on his head, to when I could see right over his head from my own two feet, he showed us the best vantage points, from which to appreciate the natural world.

In so many ways, Dad carried us. He was vigilant about supporting us so we could go further independently, with packs, boots, computers, books, cameras, software…the list goes on. We could in this way, stay inspired, and had a recipe for sharing his adventurous spirit even when we weren’t sharing his company. His note on a card when he gave me a headlamp for Christmas read "so that there is always light on your path." The best gifts of course were all the adventures he took us on. Other treasured gifts were simply help or advice. Dad occupied himself by fixing my bike whenever my parents came to visit me at uni. Dad told me to take care of my feet and of my eyes. And Dad was so excited to finally be able to talk about more technical things with me this year when I began to film and edit.

Dad lifted us up out of the puddles in life, literally. (I was the kind of child who would sit in the wet and cry after landing in the puddle at the bottom of the dinosaur slide at Lake Wanaka). Later, when I was ten and Elke twelve, we thought that the Milford track would be, in his words, "a doddle". We’d just done the Copland Pass. The Milford was flooded. The puddles we sloshed through became longer and longer and eventually Elke and I were left at the end of a rather epic one, as Mum and Dad vanished into the misty bush to find the end of the water. They dumped their packs and finally came back to fetch us after a good forty minutes. We proceeded, me on Dad’s shoulders and Elke on Mum’s. I was tall for my age, and had a pack on. Dad waded and waded, and as the water reached to above his chest, I saw a little wooden footbridge floating past. I clung on and felt this tower of two humans was far too top heavy and that surely I’d be swimming soon. After we got through it, Dad went back to get Elke, whom Mum had parked on a convenient hook-shaped branch. In total, Dad went through the deep water five times and was nearly hypothermic once we got to the hut. From a library book, about "The Phoots", we had taken on board a habit. They would give each other "an ear shine for the lift across the puddle". After the Milford Dad must have had very shiny ears.

Dad always found a way around obstacles. To me, on Mt Cook in 1999, the Linda Glacier was an incomprehensible minefield. I waited by moonlight with my torch off, in some of the eeriest hours of my life, as Dad found a way over a snow bridge through the maze: bottomless black and blue caverns peppering a towering city of ice blocks. But I was calm, knowing all I had to do was follow his neat seam of ski tracks, or later, put one foot in front of the other into his big footsteps. My nerves had been eased by listening to the jingle and clink of gear as he packed the night before... and also in the early hours of the morning, hearing him pacing the hut, while I was waiting to be shaken into action. I knew he would be sniffing the spooky breezes outside, making the right decisions, even though he would have been more nervous than me.

In this careful way, Dad led people up, and without fail, back down, the mountains. At Welcome Flats up the Copland Valley, Dad and I had a break before we headed up Scott’s Creek towards Mt. Sefton. A patronising European was eyeing our boots and asked us if we intended to go over the pass. Dad replied, no, we were headed for Sefton, to which the other guy said, "In those boots? And where’s your rope?" Dad simply replied that he knew what he was doing. I still believed him a couple of hours later, as he managed to find a way around a tricky waterfall he’d only come down once, and over fifteen years earlier.

Indeed, Dad was a beacon. Elke and I were with him in Munich after he’d just bought some new ski-mountaineering boots. Because they were heavy, he wore them on his feet and carried his street shoes. He strode ahead of us and people stared. This was the early nineties, and fluorescent yellow was in. I’m sure that the area around his feet, for a 30cm-wide radius, was glowing - in high contrast with the dim, uniform grey of an urban German winter. Gottlieb often didn’t see any need to fit in.

The sight of Dad was so characteristic that it was easy to draw little cartoons of him. The sounds of Dad were just as distinctive- his holler or yodel as he reached the top of something, or had found a particularly terrific ski run. The stomp of his boots on the back doorstep would mean it had just snowed. And forever synonymous with his sense of adventure was the roar of Tigger, our old Toyota Landcruiser, more recently known as the Russian Concrete Mixer. We would use Tigger for every adventure, even the Christmas tree expeditions each year. Dad would get Tigger through everything, and even burn a few wheelies on a snow-covered paddock every now and then.

I think one of your favourite sounds was absolute, natural silence. But a perfect interruption of this would be the twinkle and swish of your feet passing each other in a swift rhythm through sparkling, diamond-crusted snowfields. As we all look up the lake and wonder, and all our memories scamper around in whirlwinds on the same slopes, we are reassured. We know you are moving in the moonlight, basking in the sunlight- drying your socks perhaps, and having a "wonderfill" trip.

You would say today is a beautiful day to be in the mountains and that we shouldn't be inside on a day like this.


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