Friday, October 06, 2006

The Loss of Erica Beuzenberg


10.03.05 by Monique Devereux, New Zealand Herald

Erica Beuzenberg, one of three climbers who fell to their deaths on Aoraki Mt Cook yesterday, had a string of firsts: first woman to climb Mt Cook in winter; first woman to winter climb the Balfour face of Mt Tasman; first woman to the summit of South America's Cerro Fitz Roy in winter - one of the most difficult mountains on Earth. By comparison it was a tame alpine slope that yesterday claimed the life of New Zealand's greatest female climber.

She was guiding two male clients across Ball Pass below Mt Cook and roped to them when one man slipped, dragging his companions hundreds of metres and over an icy shelf. The two tourists who died with Ms Beuzenberg were John Lowndes, aged 59, a salesman, from Stoke on Trent, England and Kazuhiro Kotani, aged 29, of Hyogo, Japan.The trio were part of an eight-member climbing party which included one other guide. The surviving guide summoned help but the three were dead when search and rescue teams arrived.

Last night Ms Beuzenberg's mentor Gottleib Braun-Elwert said "Erica had countless weeks of summer and winter guiding to her credit both overseas and in New Zealand." She had served an "apprenticeship" by climbing New Zealand's 30 highest peaks in a single winter. Sixteen years ago she approached Mr Braun-Elwert's guiding company Alpine Recreation looking for work but he thought her alpine experience was "a bit light". To get her up to speed he accompanied her on the exhausting and recording-breaking mission where they climbed every mountain higher than 3000m.

"It is an unspeakable tragedy that such an experienced guide died on the job on what is perceived to be easy terrain," said Mr Braun-Elwert. The accident came on the last day of a three-day adventure that offers views of many of New Zealand's highest peaks, including Aoraki Mt Cook, Mt Sefton and Mt Tasman. The trek is described as a "demanding" climb, crossing the Mt Cook Range from the Tasman to the Hooker Valley. It is not a marked track, just a route which follows the Ball Ridge. Alpine Recreation's website says the climb is "suitable for experienced hikers capable of sustained walking, at times over steep, rugged, untracked and very exposed terrain." No mountaineering experience is required.

Ms Beuzenberg, 41, worked for Alpine Recreation as a ski guide over the winter months as well as during the traditional alpine climbing season in summer. In 1993, with Mrs Braun-Elwert, she wrote a book for Year 9 students called Mountain Challenge, about the challenge of climbing Aoraki Mt Cook. She lived in Fairlie and was married, although it is understood she was separated from her husband. He was last night ringing friends and family around the world to inform them of her death. Ms Beuzenberg's parents were Dutch.

Prime Minister Helen Clark rang the Braun-Elwerts to offer her condolences yesterday. She has climbed with the company numerous times and met Ms Beuzenberg in 1997.

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