YOUNG married couple Stuart Hollaway and Dale Thistlethwaite lived for and loved the mountains.
The pair were on one of their regular climbing holidays in New Zealand when they fell, roped together, more than 700m down a steep face on the eastern slope of Mt Silberhorn in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
Stunned friends last night paid tribute to the couple, who had been married seven years. And they were puzzled about what could have caused the deaths of such experienced and safety-conscious climbers.
Police are investigating and believe one may have fallen and pulled the other down.
"They were passionate people who laughed a lot and could tell the best stories," friends from the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club said in a statement.
"They were admired and loved. Stu especially was an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher and mentor."
Hollaway, 42, taught avalanche safety in New Zealand and had been coming here to climb for the past 25 years.
Thistlethwaite, 35, shared her husband's passion for climbing but also worked as an audit manager for the Victorian Auditor-General's Office.
A close friend said they were "absolutely the most passionate people I knew".
There were some "fantastic" rock climbing areas to the west of his native Melbourne but there was no place quite like New Zealand.
The couple ran Vertical World Mountain Climbing and on the company Facebook page, Hollaway gives straight-talking advice on how to avoid death and fall.
On one video he talks about always being roped together and being attached to the mountain.
"Don't join the people who fell just after they commented on the steepness. There are no style points for being dead," he said.
The pair were from East Brunswick but spent many months this year climbing in New Zealand.
They often stayed at Unwin Lodge, Mt Cook. When staff at the lodge heard of the deaths they toasted the couple.
"Last night we opened a bottle of wine given to us by two people we have been getting to know better over many visits. It seemed appropriate as they're no longer going to visit. A new journey is their path, if not their choice."
The couple had been missing since December 28. It is believed they fell early in the morning of December 29.
They had been camping high in the mountain, and Commander Inspector Gaskin said they had fallen a considerable distance. There was an ice axe in the mountain face 700m above them.
"They're both roped together so one may have fallen and then pulled the other or they may both have fallen together. We can't figure that out at this stage," Gaskin said.
It took four rescuers more than two hours to recover the bodies from the bottom of a steep face on the eastern slopes of the mountain.
The rescue team had to wait until late in the day to minimise the risk from melting ice.
Rescuers were able to remove the couple together. The matter would now be referred to the coroner.
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