Friday, December 4, 2009

Day With A Legend

Many moons ago I backpacked around the South Pacific. Emerging from weeks of debauchery on the happy islands of Oceania, I arrived in New Zealand and headed for the mountains.

One of the most memorable events was ice climbing Ball Glacier on the South Island. We rocked up, secured a guide, equipment, and we were off for the day.

Our guide Russell, was an icon of a Kiwi: friendly, rugged, knowledgeable, confident, and a great sense of dark humour.

Not much of a mountaineer, but a keen mountain walker, I relished the instruction and greatly improved my technique. We cramponed, axed, pitoned and belayed our way up to a plateau enjoying a small hot lunch, and shared humourous stories.

We were close to the top of the world. The views were outstanding.

Glaciers can be dangerous places and Russell always had an eagle eye on us, the glacier, and the weather. Especially the weather, it can change in a flash, and often violently in the mountains.

At the end of a thoroughly satisfying day, he invited us back to his house, where his girlfriend was cooking dinner. Very hospitable, very New Zealander, very Canadian!

Following one of the best properly cooked dinners I had in months, his girlfriend suggested he show us THE video.

“What video,” asks me?

“Oh it’s nothing,” says Russell.

"Oh go on Russell,” says his girlfriend.

Reluctantly Russell loaded up the video. A most amazing story began to unfold. It was a documentary of a climb of Everest. Russell and his climbing mate were the first to successfully climb the Pinnacles on Everest's Northeast Ridge.

Russell Brice was a world class mountaineer and a leader of Himalayan expeditions, and still is, not that he would have ever mentioned this to anyone.

Last Monday evening, I was doing some late night channel surfing and stumbled upon Everest: Beyond the Limit, a Discovery documentary of Everest Climbers filmed in 2006/7. To my surprise and delight, it was led by Russell Brice.

Since my chance meeting with Russell, he has summited Everest twice, and numerous other mountains in the Himalayas.

Following our dinner and the preview of the video, I asked Russell how he got into mountain climbing.

“As a youngster, I hated my parents so much that I would run out the front door of the house, and the mountains were there in front of me,” he answered wryly cracking a smile.

Never underestimate the role your parents can have in motivating you in life.

Russell Brice is a living legend.

I am privileged to have spent a day with this humble, talented and endearing man.



nursemyra said...

I've been to the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers but not the Ball Glacier... where in the South Island is it?

ian in hamburg said...

You're one lucky fellow to have had the opportunity to do that, BB.

BTW, is that you in the Canadian blog awards nominee list?

daisyfae said...

great story! and the best possible way to learn to climb ice...

American in Norway said...

Lucky duck... very cool story..: )
We need drinks SOOON..

Anonymous said...

Great story BB! I am totally envious (and a little in awe).

I went through a phase not too long ago where I flirted with the idea of going an Everest expedition myself.

I can't recall, though. Was Brice on the mountain in '96 (the year of many fatalities)? Seems like the one expedition leader (who died) was from NZ, if I recall correctly.

There's nothing quite like pitting our pitiful selves against Mother Nature, eh?

RennyBA's Terella said...

What a great and exciting story - lucky you BB!

Anonymous said...

you were meant to run into him. a superb way to learn and conquer the glacier. your story has caused me to append my list of 'things to do'. thank you!

Upset Waitress said... purposely climbed a gigantic chunk of slippery ice? Do you jump out of perfectly good planes, flirt with venomous snakes, and eat your own poop too? Sigh.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your contact, and also for writing a blog about this event so many years ago. Sorry I really do not remember this particular trip as I did so many different trips in those days, but I am pleased that you do.

I now live in Chamonix in France where I am still involved in guiding. You can check out and

Kindest regards Russell Brice

Michele said...

What a great story! And you're not kidding about what a cool guy Mr. Brice is, as evidenced by his very nice comment. Looks like it might be time for the BBs to plan a French holiday... :-)

Zhu said...

I can totally see that happening in NZ! The two islands have a "small town" feeling and the Kiwis are really nice and hospitable people.

And apparently, modest AND mountain climbers.

Same question, I have been to Franz Joseph and Fox, but I have never heard of the Ball Glacier.

Anonymous said...

It is very valuable answer

ian in hamburg said...

Beave, thought you'd like this one:

beaverboosh said...

nm - outside of queenstown

ian - vlucky... re awards, doubt it

df - totally!

ain - drinks soon please...

rob - you should do the basecamp walk... re: Brice, don't know

renny - vlucky boy!

gnukid - iceclimbing is a total buzz!

uw - have jumped out of planes and had run ins with snakes but no poop eating, though I have been known for the occasional urine quaffing

Russell - hey dude, thanks and maybe see you in France

michele - ja! p.s serious about the harassment thing... what me!

zhu - kiwis are lovely like Canadians... see nm comment above

anon - okdokay

ian - thanks dude, i wonder if they have beaver on the menu?