A Scottish woman watched helplessly as her climbing guide plummeted past her to his death on Mount Cook.
The New Year's Day expedition ended in tragedy when the 54-year-old Wanaka guide fell 60m to his death.
The guide, who will not be named until his family has been informed, has been described by colleagues as a "rock-solid mountain guide", and "very, very careful".
He was guiding a Scottish woman client near the Summit Rocks at 3400m on the Linda Glacier route yesterday morning when he fell. The client and the guide were sharing the same anchor point on the steep, icy stretch of mountain, only 350m below the summit.
Fellow guide Bryan Carter, who was involved in the rescue attempt, said the Wanaka guide had climbed above his client on a length of rope to secure a new anchor point higher up.
He had put two ice tools in a slab of ice to assist his climb, but the slab peeled off. He fell 60m past his client to the end of his rope, hitting rocks on the way down, but the anchor point held -- saving the client's life.
The alarm was raised at 9.30am by another guide on the mountain, using his radio.
The Department of Conservation mountain rescue team lifted the guide off the mountain by helicopter, but he died of his injuries before arriving at the emergency services building in Mount Cook Village.
The two helicopters involved in the rescue also ferried the guide's client, four other guides and five clients in the area off the mountain.
Fellow climbers said the man was a very experienced and careful professional.
Carter, a director of Alpine Guides Aoraki, said the death was "devastating".
"He is quite a well-known guy and has been around a long time. It is pretty devastating ... He was a very, very careful guide and he was known for being very careful," he said.
Adventure Consultants owner Guy Cotter said the guide would be "sadly missed".
"He was a rock-solid mountain guide with many years of experience and he was very well respected in the guiding community. He will be sadly missed. Everybody is in shock about this, as you would expect ... He was a quiet, considerate type, who always thought deeply about his approach to the mountains," he said.
Experienced mountain guide Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, co-owner of Alpine Recreations, said it was unusual for a fatality to happen at such high altitude.
"The hardest parts are usually lower down the mountain. We always try to learn from accidents on the mountain. We are all fully aware that you are exposed to risks on the mountain and you try to minimise them," he said.
Braun-Elwert, who has been a mountain guide on Mount Cook since 1971, said the guide was a "very likeable and competent person" who he had known for many years.
Twizel police Senior Constable Brent Swanson said the climbing community "were all pretty shell-shocked".
Police are continuing investigations into the incident and witnesses are being interviewed.
The conditions on Mount Cook yesterday were good, although there had been a hard freeze the night before.
The fatality is the first major incident on Mount Cook since two Japanese climbers fell 500m to their deaths from a similar location in January last year.
They were abseiling down the Summit Rocks when a rock they were attached to gave way. A third man survived when a rock cut his rope, saving him from falling.
- © Fairfax NZ News