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Kathmandu co-founder John Pawson, who fell 800m to his death from Mt Aspiring last week, was a "million-dollar man" of inspiring vision and vast talents, say his widow and sister.

Pawson, 48, was the 11th person to die in Mt Aspiring National Park since January 2004.

He was about 200m from the summit when he fell down a sheer face about 11.40am on Thursday, passing his horrified friend and climbing partner Martin Hill.

Hill, a designer and photographer, told the Herald on Sunday he did not see what happened. "He came past me but I had my headgear on when it happened so I couldn't tell you anything about what caused it."

The southwest ridge route the men had taken was technically demanding, but both were experienced mountaineers and had been planning the ascent for more than a year.

Conditions were excellent, Hill said. "We were doing what we really loved. It was a great day until tragedy struck."

The pair were not roped together, which was normal practice for the section they were on.

Pawson's wife Meg Taylor, said yesterday her husband of 18 years would have made a judicious decision about roping. "He went in to have a good day in the mountains. He would never have gone in if he hadn't fully expected to come back out again. He had a lot out here to live for."

The couple ran luxury Wanaka lodge Riverrun and a 180ha mixed farm. Pawson was a dedicated advocate for the environment.

The couple moved to Wanaka in 1997 after Pawson sold his share in Kathmandu, the successful Australasian chain that brought outdoors gear to the masses and revolutionised the sector.

Upper Hutt-born Pawson founded Alp Sports with Australian Jan Cameron in the early 1980s, and the firm later became Kathmandu.

Pawson designed all the stores, his father Albie fitted them, sister Christine became national manager and Taylor did the marketing.

Taylor met Pawson when they flatted together in their early 20s. "We had an instant liking for each other," she recalls. "The romance came later, when we moved to Melbourne."

The couple were based in Australia for nine years. They had no children.

Pawson's sister Janet Hunt

said the couple were an incredible team. Her brother was "a million people in one - a million-dollar man".

Taylor said the family were deeply touched by the support they had received.

"The whole town feels like it's wrapping us up."

She said he was holding herself together for her husband.

"You have to for someone like John. He deserves the best."

A celebration of Pawson's life will be held at Riverrun on Wednesday, and he will be buried on the property.

Department of Conservation spokeswoman Annette Smith could not comment on Pawson's death.

"When there is a fatality, the findings of the coroner will indicate whether we need to take action or not."