Mountaineer Murray Jones
Murray Jones at his home in Bannockburn. Photo Tim Hawkins.

Keeping a low profile in his house overlooking the Kawarau River in Bannockburn, is arguably New Zealand’s greatest mountaineer. In the 1970’s he and his climbing mate Graeme Dingle were ranked among the best technical climbers in the world. To this day, some of the routes they put up have never again been climbed.

Murray grew up in Dunedin and went to work at the Lake Manapouri Hydro Power Station in the 1960’s, working with survey instruments. It was in this Fiordland region that Murray first found his love of mountaineering.

Another climber, Bob McKerrow, in his blog describes the Murray Jones he met in 1965 as “A handsome guy, wiry and slightly built, with a scarred face.”He says that Murray was known as a hard man and other Otago climbers predicted that he would be a force in the world of climbing.

“What drove me really was that I just wanted to see what I could do,” says Murray.

New Zealanders first climbed in the European Alps in the 19th century but did not make a significant impression there until 1968, when Murray and Graeme were the first in the world to climb all six classic European north faces in a single season, proving that New Zealand’s best climbers were at least the equal of Europeans.

“The six climbs….  a feat that stunned the international climbing community,” remembers Graeme.

Murray and Graeme formed one of the greatest ever climbing partnerships. 

Murray supported Sir Edmund Hillary when his wife and daughter died in a plane crash in the Himalayas, and a planned one year in Nepal turned out to be over a decade spent helping Sir Ed with his projects, including building Sherpa hospitals.

Murray stayed because “The Sherpas are such awesome people.”

In 1977, he joined Hillary’s New Zealand Ganges Expedition, jet boating and climbing the 1500km length of India’s sacred River Ganges.

To quote Bob McKerrow again, “(Murray) was a humble man, and I liked the way he treated the Sherpas as absolute equals. Later, he built a house along Sherpa designs in Bannockburn, Central Otago.”

Back in New Zealand, Murray worked on the Clyde Dam from 1979 till 1990. He has maintained a keen interest in politics, including in the past lobbying successfully for a two-lane bridge to Bannockburn, when the plan was for a one-lane structure.

He is a former member of the Hillary Trust.

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