Called by the mountains – Bruce Grant’s sister reflects on his life


Twenty years ago today, a Queenstowner who embodied the resort’s adventurous spirit perished in a storm after summiting the world’s second highest mountain, K2.

Bruce Grant’s life is recalled by his sister and fellow Winter Olympian Christine Kelly, of Glenorchy. She’s also a trustee of a youth trust that bears his name.

The youngest of four, Bruce was born in 1961.

He started skiing young with a bunch of local kids. In those days his aim was to be up early to catch the first bus to Coronet then have the last run down the mountain.

He skied every day, all day, every holiday and weekend.

Bruce entered competitions - he found it was a great way to get some new equipment.

He joined the Wakatipu Ski Club and started ski racing. He progressed to national competitions. Bruce was a talented sportsperson.

Living in the Wakatipu enabled him to grow and flourish as a competitive athlete as the natural environment nurtured and challenged him.

He attended the local schools and competed on numerous school sports teams. He enjoyed many outdoor activities in the mountains, lakes and rivers.

At age 13 he was South Island junior ski racing champion, at 16, New Zealand men’s combined champion.

From 1980 he competed overseas for eight years on the NZ ski team at FIS, Europa Cup and World Cup level. His favourite event was downhill.

His philosophy was “set your sights high, the higher the better, and wonderful things will happen”. He was selected for the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo. He went on to compete in two world championships and the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

He began working in tourism - rafting, heliskiing and bungy. He was one of the first to begin the sport of parapenting in Queenstown and began commercial parapenting from Bob’s Peak.

His adventures in the outdoors continued and he climbed over 50 peaks, including 20 major peaks, and
several different routes on Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Often he skied or parapented from the summit or climbed solo. His travels took him to India, Asia and Nepal, trekking, skiing and parapenting.

He featured in the locally-made movie The Leading Edge, a Southern Alps skiing and sporting adventure.

In the American documentary The Summit of Extremes he and an American climbed then skied and snowboarded Aoraki/Mt Cook.

One week later, 20 feet of the summit ridge avalanched down the route they had taken.

Bruce twice climbed then skied and parapented from Aoraki/Mt Cook for Footsteps in the Sky, a documentary for the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain.

Bruce had a wonderful refined manner. He was taciturn yet perceptive, contemplative and disciplined. 

He was extremely loyal and he wanted to give something back to the community. He got involved in search and rescue and took part in a number of operations. He and his team were awarded the Royal Humane Society’s medal of bravery for rescuing climbers from Pikirakatahi/Mt Earnslaw and the operation was featured in the NZ TV series Heroes.

It was in 1995 that he was invited to join the five-man NZ expedition to climb K2 in Pakistan.

Bruce in his diaries writes about the changeable weather and avalanches and describes the exhaustion of route setting, packing loads and digging out equipment from under snow at camps high on the mountain.

His last diary entry was just prior to the summit bid.

He describes the simple pleasure of some “serious fun” with his fellow climbers, using aluminium plates for Frisbees.

“A sprinkle of snow covers the tent. Hallelujah! But that’s OK because today is the opening day of the International Frisbee Golf tournament. I designed the course. All compete in fine form. Longball Logan takes the lead. All retire for a cup of tea and a fine meal.”

Seven climbers died on K2 on August 13, 1995.

I travelled to Pakistan in 1997 with friends and family to say goodbye.

We placed a plaque with an etching of his face on a stone cairn at K2 base camp - I left a tiny tin box containing a gold Kiwi coin, his gold Olympic pin and a small gold nugget found by his brother from the
mountains and rivers he loved.

Bruce set new standards in extreme sports during his life and inspired people to look at things differently and challenge their limitations.

The Bruce Grant Youth Trust was created by his friends to remember him and has distributed more than $400,000 to the youth of the Wakatipu.

I know Bruce would be very happy about that.