'One of NZ's best' killed in avalanche on Mont Blanc du Tacul

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, Lynley Bilby

Russell Braddock, one of the country's most experienced and well-regarded mountaineers, has been killed in an avalanche on Mont Blanc du Tacul. Photo / Facebook
Russell Braddock, one of the country's most experienced and well-regarded mountaineers, has been killed in an avalanche on Mont Blanc du Tacul. Photo / Facebook

One of the country's top mountain guides has been killed after he was swept away by an avalanche in the French Alps.

Russell Braddock, 60, died while climbing Mont Blanc du Tacul on Monday. Two other people were also caught up in the avalanche but survived.

Today the alpine community is mourning the loss of their friend and colleague, one of New Zealand's most experienced and well-regarded mountaineers.

Friend Mark Pihema paid tribute to a man he called his mentor.

Mr Pihema - who owns an outdoor personal training company - worked alongside Mr Braddock - at the then Army Adventurous Training Centre.

"Russell was a bit of a mentor for me,'' he told the Herald.

"He helped to build up the reputation and the quality of the centre both for young soldiers coming through at the time and was basically a [mentor] for us learning how to look after people in the outdoors.

"He's a fantastic guy, a very gentle soul and a nice person - but also a really good teacher. I learned so much.

"I couldn't believe it that he had passed on in an avalanche in France. It was a real shock.''

Russell has been described as an "all round awesome human being". Photo / Facebook
Russell has been described as an "all round awesome human being". Photo / Facebook

Mr Braddock had worked on and off for mountain guiding company Adventure Consultants, based in Wanaka, for several years.

Chief executive and fellow mountaineer, Guy Cotter, said this morning his friend of more than 30 years had initially trained as an accountant, but decided to change to a career that would let him enjoy a more "beautiful and dramatic environment.''

"He was a career guide. Some guides stop doing it after a few years, but Russell was a professional right until the end.''

Mr Braddock is understood to have two adult children - one of whom lives in France.

Among Mr Braddock's most notable ascents are Cerro Tore in Patagonia, Argentina and Mt Fitzroy, also in Patagonia.

Details are starting to emerge how the popular European-based mountaineer was caught in a slab avalanche.

The Chaminox News said the avalanche may have been triggered close to the summit by gendarmes from the Chamonix PGHM performing routine training.

It is believed they were also carried some distance down the north face of the mountain but survived the ordeal.

The newspaper said a rescue helicopter reached the victim shortly after the avalanche but he could not be resuscitated.

Mr Braddock was described as an experienced mountaineer and a qualified high mountain guide who had lived in Chamonix for many years, working regularly with the Company des Guides.

Mr Cotter said there was nothing his old friend could have done to prevent himself from being swept away and said it was a risk that was part and parcel of the mountaineering profession.

Meanwhile, tributes continue to flow via social media.

A spokesman for the New Zealand Alpine Club said they would be issuing a statement later today.

However, the club has already posted its condolences on their Facebook page.

"Saddest news from Mont Blanc du Tacul today, our thoughts to all affected."

Andrew Soebroto, wrote on Facebook yesterday: "Today we lost a friend, a hero and all round awesome human being in an avalanche in France.

"He lived his life truly doing what he loved and inspired and taught many of us to do the same. My thoughts are with you, Russboy - forever in the mountains.''

It is understood Mr Braddock was due to come back to New Zealand in late August.

Wrote Bill King:" A good mate and climbing partner died living the dream."

"Sad news. He was a top bloke," wrote Dave Chowdhury.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said consular staff at the New Zealand Embassy in Paris and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were providing advice to the family.

The New Zealand Alpine Club released a statement this afternoon, acknowledging Mr Braddock's death.

The group paid tribute to Mr Braddock's achievements in the area over the years and his contribution to the NZ climbing community.

"Russell started climbing in 1975, at the age of 19. He was an important member of the New Zealand climbing community through the 1970s and 1980s. During his career, Russell climbed extensively throughout New Zealand's Southern Alps, pioneering many new routes.

"Some of Russell's notable first ascents were routes on: the west face of Mt Taranaki (1976), the south face of Mt Hicks (1983), the south face of Nazomi (1984), and the north-east face of Mt Aspiring (2003), as well as the Burton Spur on Mt Elie de Beaumont (1984).

"Russell began mountain guiding in 1984. He qualified as a full mountain and ski guide in 1987. Guiding led Russell to work and climb in South America, North America, Nepal and the European Alps. Two of Russell's most memorable and challenging climbs include an ascent of Cerro Torre and an ascent of Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina."

The organisation said Mr Braddock also worked as a ski patroller and trained ski patrollers for the Mountain Education Centre of NZ from 2000 to 2009.

"In imparting his skills, experience and knowledge to a new generation of ski patrollers, Russell contributed to an increased level of safety within the New Zealand environment.
"Our thoughts and condolences are with Russell's family and friends at this time.''

- NZ Herald

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