Late in the afternoon of August 14, while guiding the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, her husband Peter Davis, and several other of the Prime Minister’s colleagues, including Energy and Tourism Ministers, Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, one of the most well-known and respected guides in New Zealand, collapsed and died of a heart attack. The party had been ski touring in the Two Thumbs Range, north of Lake Tekapo and well east of Mt. Cook, and had just returned to a hut for the evening when 59-year-old Braun-Elwert collapsed. The group performed CPR for two-and-a-half hours to no avail.
German Braun-Elwert was formerly a nuclear physicist who emigrated to New Zealand in 1978. He’d been a guide since 1971 and climbed Cook a reported twenty-six times, and had pioneered many of the country’s ski tours. His most noted non-guiding achievements took place in Patagonia, but in the summer of 1973 he made the first ascent of the entire Peuterey Ridge on Mont Blanc, France, starting from the Val Veni and traversing Mont Rouge de Peuterey by its south and north ridges, before continuing up the south ridge of the Aiguille Noire on the Peuterey Integrale. However, his three-day journey to the top of Mont Blanc with R. Kirmeier also included the Casati and l’Isolee of the Dames Anglaises pinnacles, involved more than 8000m of climbing, and took place in mid-July when conditions that year were quite snowy. In Patagonia he is best known for making the first winter traverse of Fitz Roy; climbing the Supercanaleta and descending the Californian route in the company of friend and fellow female guide Erica Beuzenberg. This took place in 1993, and in the next three consecutive years he returned to make winter crossings of the Ice Cap. He was the first person to climb all of New Zealand’s 3000m peaks in one winter season, and with his family he took both daughters to the summit of Cook, each becoming the youngest person to climb the mountain (at age 14). He and his wife Anne were directors of the guiding company Alpine Recreation.
Beuzenberg, who was a long-time guide at Alpine Recreation and had been a regular climbing partner of Braun-Elwert’s, died in 2005. She was short roping two clients across Ball Pass below Mt. Cook when one of them slipped, and she was unable to hold the resulting 200m+ fall that ended with the deaths of all three climbers. This prompted Braun-Elwart to write an in-depth paper on the whole issue of short roping, subsequently giving many guides food for thought.
Clark, who had reportedly been on thirteen trips guided by Braun-Elwert and had known him for more than a decade, was particularly upset by the tragedy when interviewed by the New Zealand media, but said she would continue to visit the mountains.