14 January 2018

David Julian Elphick 1935-2018 - Recollections

Very early in 2018 an old climbing mate, Dave Elphick, from over 60 years ago, died in UK. His death set me musing about our past. I've cut and pasted it here as a tribute to him.

"Where to begin with you, Dave?  I've thought a bit about it and think it best to just start at the beginning.

After Pat Barcham mentioned that you, Jim Wilson and Mike White were looking for a climber to make a four – "Quartet" – you and I decided to do a familiarization trip together. The plan was to climb Rolleston and descend the Jellicoe Ridge as far as we could towards the Waimakariri River. We didn't quite make it to Mt Stewart (only Guinevere) and only just made our way down the bluffs into the lower Crow. In the dark we stumbled down the lower Waimak to Klondyke Corner and up to the Pass. It was a hell of a long day.

But we'd started before that. On the way to Arthurs Pass, at Springfield, while we waited for the train engine to shunt things about we went for a run – in our mountaineering boots. We both knew how to run and some 20 minutes later had the measure of each other. Back to the climb. 


Long Whisper
(for David Elphick)


We traverse the skyline
plunge down the last ridge

now cloud from the west
shuts down the stars

water from the last crossing
warms in our boots

brings a niggle of river gravel
even talk chafes at the edges

and the gravity of a long day
drags heavy on shutters of vision

we stumble moonless down valley
bump shoulders  again and again

feel the long whisper of water
the comfort of mountain talk.


Soon we were planning our first big trip into the Southern Alps. Preparing the gear and food we enthusiastically gave ourselves nicknames – after our heroes. There was Andre (.. Roche the French climber) – you, Dave; Jim was Willy after the German Himalayan climber, Willy Merkl; Mike became Heinrich after Heinrich Harrer – the Eiger climber; and I ended up as Herr Schmid after the Schmid brothers. The names have stuck for over sixty years!


Dave on Red Lion Traverse

Dave on Summit of Red Lion Peak


Our first long trip was into the Arrowsmiths and the Rakaia. There were many climbs but one with you stands out. You and I decided to climb Red Lion but, because of the big schrund below Red Lion Col decided to traverse to the col from Full Moon Saddle (ah, those place names) – we climbed both Red Lion peaks but the big memory is of that traverse – one of the steepest I remember – cutting steps all the way – even with crampons – and worst of all the flying rocks – the ones we heard and never saw. And then on the return was the schrund below Red Lion Col – we definitely didn't want to go back across the face beneath Pascoe's 'piece de resistance'. So we jumped the schrund! You went first and I followed onto the lower lip. It was quite a drop and you managed to get a chip of ice in the eye. I bandage you up and you managed to do the next few days – and eventually down the Evans Glacier with one eye – not easy.


Dave on the Crux of Hicks

Dave sussing the Crux on Hicks


Next year our big effort was up the La Perouse Glacier behind Mt Cook. We had some wonderful climbs there but the one that stands out for me was our first ascent of the North Face of Hicks (or David's Dome as it was called). You led the crux of the climb and, sharing the lead, we struggled on (in good weather) reaching the top in time to see the lights of the Hermitage down below in the evening gloom. All night we shivered side by side in the cold as a storm developed, and struck at dawn. It amazed me that we managed to get down. For days all of us had cursed your long length of rappelling line and then at the crux of the descent amid hail and wind you pulled it out of your pack and saved our lives. We just made it back to the snow cave before we expired! Our journey back over the main divide to the Hermitage and the waitress from Bondi Beach was an epic in itself.

Our next season was ambitious – we planned to pack our gear over Teichelmann and climb everything in the Balfour! It was not to be. We were chased out of the Linda by a frightening ice avalanche and then the weather closed in. Just as it was clearing many days later we were summoned to help rescue another climber from the bottom of a crevasse. You and I were lowered into it and there, on the bedrock of the glacier, you splinted his broken femur. It all ended well and you were mentioned in dispatches for the amazing job you'd done. We had even greater ambitions for the following year – everything was directed towards one climb – a traverse of Tasman to Cook. It was not to be – having traversed Lendenfeldt we were turned back by the huge schrund on the north shoulder of Tasman. There were other climbs Dave. We had a great climb with Jim and Ivan, climbing Aspiring in a two-day weekend from Christchurch – one of those crazy things we set ourselves.

Dave at Chancellor Hut

Terry and Dave in Christchurch - This Time Dave Was Stonkered
You really get to know people when you live with them. I got to know you in huts, in tents, shivering together on mountain-tops and glacial moraines – to say nothing of the ice faces, gorges, dry riverbeds and aspiring ridges. You were a great companion during all those formative times – organized - prepared - disciplined – safe – energetic – thorough – generous and always seeking and striving. I often thought it was your thoroughness and intensity that held you back in some ways – probably from a good career in medicine.  But these characteristics served you well in your distinguished career in male psychiatric nursing. Like the other members of our 'Quartet' I loved you like a brother – and then suddenly you had to leave your three brothers - and your sisters of course.  Great journey, Dave."