New Zealand Climbing

If there was one word to describe my experience of rock climbing in New Zealand, it would be adventurous. Still in it’s relative infancy, New Zealand has immense potential for rock climbing however there hasn’t been enough interest to push it up the agenda at the moment. Typical New Zealand climbing consists of crags with difficult to find information, long approaches and high first bolts. Don’t let that put you off though

There is a large range of rock types and quality from sea side limestone to alpine diorite. Over the last four months travelling in beautiful New Zealand, I can share my experience of what slowly became a crag touring trip (mostly in the South Island).

The best resource for climbing in NZ is climbnz, checking out libraries for guidebooks (though many are outdated) and local beta (the best). Unfortunately NZ has not caught on to things such as thecrag yet. Below is a summary of some of the climbing in the South Island.

Payne’s Ford

Located in the Golden Bay area in the North West of the South Island, the climber’s camp Hangdog is a little bubble in the small town of Takaka. Like a tiny counter culture colony, Payne’s Ford is a must visit for any climbing trip for both the climbing and the community. Climb good quality limestone with short approaches from the camp (5-10 minutes). There are a huge amount of single pitch climbs (over 200) with the famed Payne’s Ford slopers. Generally well bolted with traditions such as nude climbs at night by moonlight on Temples of Stones (18) on the Stone symposium wall. The Globe Wall is by far the best wall around if you climb hard with the easiest climb there a 19/20 and 23+ climbs mostly starred, especially on the Electric Globe Wall. Many people get into climbing here after stumbling into the Hangdog camp and there is an incredibly friendly vibe. The camp boasts a communal fire pit, wood-fired pizza oven and $2 4 minute hot showers. Don’t forget to visit the 1080 wall to do the classic roof climb there 1080 (23), it has a pocket just before the anchors in which you can cam your feet/body in and hang hands free. Well bolted, the climb is the photo featured in the Hangdog sign.

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The classic 1080 shot

Beautiful swimming holes are a short walk away with crystal clear blue waters a 3 minutes walk opposite the camp with deep water soloing on a roof, traverses and numerous rope swings. This area really comes together in summer where jumping into the water is a pleasant experience, worth to note that Hangdog is sometimes closed for winter.

There’s plenty of options for wet weather cragging as well including sea cliffs at Pohara, a 20 or so drive away with the ironically named Bo Peep slab (which is actually an overhung wall). There is a fantastic 18 here (which is also the easiest route on the wall) in which you abseil through a canopy in the trees into a net below. There is also a belay armrest chair there (hopefully still there) for shits and giggles.

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Franklin’s Tower (18), the highest climb in Pohara at 30m+, you’ll reach the bottom off a 60 on rope stretch

There are plenty of things to do on rest days including Harwood’s Hole, a cave with a 180m abseil. Expect a 12 hour day to undertake this endeavor, ask the manager for information if interested but beware there have been incidents in the past.  Anatoki Salmon Farm where you can catch your own salmon and have them cook/smoke it for you and also see tame eels.

Canyoning near Pupu springs near the Hydro Walk down Campbell Stream or down a water race. The water here is incredibly cold so a wet suit is a must as you have to jump off some small (3-5m) waterfalls as you descend. Again, ask the manager if you are going to attempt this, no ropes or equipment required though we did spot some bolts. Plan for around 5 hours as you walk up to the opposite end of the stream and end up back at the car park.

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45 minute walk to the start of Campbell stream then cruise down the canyon

There is also phytoplankton to see in the Golden Bay region if you’re really lucky and the conditions are just right.

A guidebook can be purchased at the camp for $10 detailed the area and Pohara sea cliffs.

Charleston

For the trad climbers out there, Charleston is a must visit for some very atmospheric climbing by the sea with great quality rock (granite I think?). The South Cliffs are where it’s at for this area with Cathedral and Wonder Wall being the most obvious walls around with a brilliant traverse across an obvious crack line over the water aptly named Shark’s breakfast (18). Most climbs are equipped with bolted anchors and protection is generally good. Visit European Cove for a great experience, the track is hard to find but there is definitely one there (we abseiled in and found it on the way out). Try your luck on the North Cliffs though we couldn’t locate them when we did (the approach is a walk through a graveyard). Reckon you could probably spend two to three days of fantastic climbing here.

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Shark’s Breakfast (18) A traverse up the Cathedral Wall over breaking waves

Wanaka

What seems to be the emerging hub of climbing in New Zealand. The sheer amount of crags and routes in this area is massive and there is a whole guidebook dedicated just to this area. New routes being bolted every month, there is a crag for every time of the day and every season! The climbing is varied on amazing quality schist (metamorphosed greywacke with quartz inclusions). The climbing is characteristically thin with lots of crimping in the main areas of Hospital Flat and Diamond Lake. Approaches vary from 5 to 45 minutes. One of the classic areas is the tombstone, a monolith on which climbs are bolted on each and every side. For those of you who enjoy slab climbing, take a visit to the diamond slab, a 30 minute hike in to a relatively steep slab. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Pencil Dick Wall with great views over Diamond Lake and great climbs with thin moves if you climb above grade 22.

The Cutting also boasts superb climbing for the thinking climber for those climbing in the 18 – 23 range. Almost perpetually in the shade, this area is great for the afternoon or for those hot days.

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Take a respite from the sun at The Cutting

Sunnyside, as the name implies is in the sun much of the time. Short, great quality rock and route, this is the go-to winter crag for many. The routes are suited for moderate to hard climbers with the stars pouring in above grade 20.

There are bolted multi-pitch climbs (up to three) in the Matukituki valley at Pearly Gates but be sure to avoid Phoebe Creek. What seemed like a great crag in the guidebook turned out to be the worst crag I’ve ever been to with dead sheep lining the base of the crag and a pit full of decay nearby. Presumably to keep climbers off the private land on which the crag is located.

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Pearly Gates

For those rainy days, take a visit to Mt Iron where the walls are steeply overhung and the climbing characteristically different from the typical Wanaka with pump-fests all around. Rock quality here is slightly lower as bits are coming off all the time, the route quality is still fantastic however.

Queenstown (inc Glenorchy)
There is a good amount of climbing in this area although I only visited one of the classic crags in the area, Wye Creek. A beautiful location overlooking Lake Wakatipu and a great walk in over a pipe. Many come here to climb the 21 to take their silhouette photo with the lake in the background, myself included. A steep 45 minute walk to the crag or 15 minutes if you have a 4WD and can take your vehicle up to the second car park.

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Classic Wye Creek 21 overlooking Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown

Glenorchy boasts one of the classic multi-pitches in New Zealand, Ravages of Time. Be ready for a great adventure if you take on the challenge as route-finding is difficult, rock quality is greatly varied and a 2 hour hike in is required to the start at Chinaman’s Bluff.

Dunedin

Dunedin climbing is growing slowly with three major climbing locations in the area. The most popular of these is Long Beach. With climbing straight on, you guessed it, a beach. There is a sea cave at the end of the beach where there are some short bolted climbs and you may find climbers bivy’d. A beautiful location by the ocean, there is also trad climbing in the area. You will find many climbers at the pinnacle in the middle climbing the three star 14 though there is harder climbs on the opposite face.

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Andy rappelling down the three star trad route (14) on the Pinnacle at Long Beach

Lover’s Leap is an incredibly atmospheric crag on the Otago Peninsula, the area is a natural amphitheater and there is a giant chasm and bridge right next to the crag. There appeared to be a recent landslide and as such the platform wall is now inaccessible. Slightly difficult to locate at Sandymount but the climbing is well worth it. Basalt columns tower high above with climbs of up to 33m, it’s a crack climbers paradise. The approach is a 30 or so minute walk including a descent down a steep grass slope. Although many routes are bolted, they tend to be difficult but there are still many crack climbs/lines that are fun on trad. We chose our own lines as we found the topo incredibly hard to read when everything looks the same on a drawing. The wall takes a long time to dry so avoid visiting the crag after rain.

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The organ pipes of Lover’s Leap

Doctor’s Point is geographically close to Long Beach although the topography dictates taking a 30 minute drive to reach it. Atmospheric climbing as the tide comes in and. The routes here are typically hard for the grade and the topo is not that detailed. Bolts are aged and rock quality is average.

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Scenic walk to the crag at Doctor’s Point

Fiordlands

The fiordlands of which the Darran Mountain Range are a part of boast incredibly high quality diorite and hard climbing. As the area is quite inaccessible, there is not a lot of traffic through here. The main crags of the area are Babylon, Little Babylon, The Chasm and Moir’s Mate. The Fiordlands is no stranger to the rain but luckily most of the crags here are sheltered from the rain with the exception of Moir’s Mate. Steep and hard climbing, expect long approaches to the crags. There is not much available information on the climbing in this area and your best bet would be to get local beta or check the New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC) hut nearby called Homer Hut where many climbers and alpinists base themselves out of when undertaking a climbing or alpine trip. Therein lies a book in which new routes are detailed in. $35+/ night for non-members and $20/ night for members. Some of the best climbing I have done was at Moir’s Mate on a multi-pitch climb called Lucky Strike, it is however a full mission to get there so be sure to be prepared.

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The diorite face of Moir’s Mate

Mt Somers

About 2 hours out from Christchurch, Mt Somers is a 2.5 hour walk in up and down steep terrain to a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut. Most of the climbing is 30 to 45 minute walk from the Pinnacle’s Hut which tends to be incredibly busy especially in summer. Rhyolite and andersite columns dominate the area with a 40m finger crack Skate (22) and a 40m three star crack climb, Uno (21) on the Orange Wall. Majority of the climbs here are trad with bolts placed sparsely. Rock quality is generally great except on the pinnacles of which holds tend to break off the conglomerate, however the routes are well protected and of good quality. The area is worth a visit for up to three days of continuous climbing though we ended up spending five nights to justify the hike in. Christian Principles wall has some great easy trad climbs of grade 15-18. Short and serviced by bolted anchors, this crag is great for doing a lot of climbing in a short time.

Summary

Depending on how hard you climb, the type of climbing you like, New Zealand has a huge amount of variety of climbing styles and rock to keep you entertained. Although climbing is still in it’s early stages in this beautiful country, climbing partners can be easy to find in the climbing hubs of Payne’s Ford and Wanaka and quite difficult outside those areas.

The Grand Traverse

17th April 2017, our party of four embarked on our adventure to complete the Remarkable’s Grand Traverse a short way out of Queenstown. A relatively short traverse going over Single Cone and Double Cone in the Remarkable’s mountain range (which is a ski field in winter). I first heard about this several weeks ago from various people mentioning that they wanted to/ have done it. We only decided (vaguely) to do it two days before in Wanaka when our larger group split up with several people heading to the Mt Cook region to summit the more technical (and colder) Mt Sealy. We consolidated our group of four the day before consisting of Aaron, Marie, Dirck and myself. Our little international party drove for the Remarkable’s on that day to prepare for an (almost alpine) early start. A 4 degree night left me reconsidering what we had in store for us (I don’t like the cold) but alas I was in too deep already.

We were up at 7am and after eating, gearing and losing some weight in the toilets we were ready to begin our ascent. With a two page description of the approach and route and various bits of beta from previous summiters, we took up a small rack consisting of one set of nuts, a number 2 and link cam and a couple of slings. I heard that it was a easy route and found that to be true, the hardest part (as usual) being route finding.  We made our way to the telecom tower and had a look down to see Queenstown (and just about everywhere else) shrouded in clouds. After checking the route description again, we realised our folly in going up to the telecom tower and had to backtrack down lower and traverse across lower before we starting a short scramble up to a flat area, commonly known as the helipad, which marked the actual start of The Grand Traverse.

The traverse consisted almost entirely of short scrambles and finding gullies on the east (and markedly warmer) aspect of the ridge. Some route finding involved circumventing some faces that looked hard, walking a bit further on to find a much easier gully though it seemed I ended up taking the more exposed and harder traverses to save myself some walking.

Aaron and I simul-climbed one short 60 degree wall just to spice things up a little bit, slinging some rocks and shit to meet the other two later on who took an easier gully and were waiting for us already. More scrambling saw us on the peak of double cone on a balance-y rock before making our way to single cone. The col between the two peak was well in the shade and the rock was ice-covered as we down-climbed carefully. Once leaving the sun, the temperature dropped significantly and we continued our journey to single cone.

We stopped at the top of single cone for a food break and summit photo whereby another group climbing from the other way in met us, panting. It would seem that they went up the route which actually required some rock climbing. We enjoyed the views up top before making our descent down.

We located the rappel station on the back face and made our way down with one 60m rappel off a double rope. This later got stuck when we pulled it through so Aaron went up to collect the rope and do the rappel again. A casual walk down following some cairns and a vague path saw us reach the car park after our 7 hour day for what could be described as an extreme hike, a fantastic introduction into mountaineering.

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Breathtaking views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

Lucky Strike

My second day in the Darrans lined up to be another big one, our little excursion would cost Andy and I 11 hours of continuous activity. Still recovering from the previous day’s adventure, we had a late start arriving at the base for the beginning of one of NZ’s esteemed multi-pitch climbs, Lucky Strike, around 10 in the morning. The duo who we met yesterday had a 90 minute head start on us and with no map or route description we had the task of navigation with only brief excerpts from others who had done their pilgrimage. The walk-in was an identical entry to that of the McPherson/Talbot traverse, walking up the steep scree to Homer saddle but turning left instead to heading for the North face of Moir, aptly named Moir’s Mate. We had wisened up on our second trip up the gully to the saddle and found a vague path marked with huge cairns (unsure of how we missed them the previous day) to provide a slightly easier path up to the saddle.

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Car park start

Andy, being the more experienced and fitter of the two of us, cruised up ahead while I trudged up about 10 minute behind him. Upon reaching the saddle, I heard Andy call out from a crack into the wall.

“What are you doing?”
“Being led through a cave by a kid”

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Entrance to said cave

I quickly went to put down my bag to alleviate my confusion of the situation and followed through the cave, a body sized slit in the rock which I had to shuffle through, getting stuck in a constriction with half my body on one side and the other half on the other. After hearing another voice telling me to go through another hole in the blockage, I pulled myself back to the entrance of the constriction, turned around to see a kid (who mustn’t have been more than six years old) behind me and his dad at the entrance of the crack. Reorienting myself, I had a second attempt at the lower aperture this time feet first and found myself successfully pass the obstruction.  It was then a short scramble through the exit of the cave and upon exiting just being astounded at the general bad-assery of this six year old boy.

From the saddle, we could spot two specks which were presumably Emily and Frankie at the base of the climb. After a short food break, consisting of some bars, we started the ridge line traverse to the base of Moir’s Mate. At one point, we encountered the most exposed knife-edge ridge I have ever done with a sheer drop on either side of the ridge to certain death. Using my practiced technique of straddling (from the previous day’s ascent you dirty fool), I edged across uncomfortably for the five or so metres to a friendlier ledge.

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Action shot

Hours of scrambling up and down loose rock, route-finding and following cairns later we found ourselves at the base of the climb;

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Looking back at our route

luckily demarcated by the bags of the earlier duo, eliminating the kerfuffle of having to find the route start with no description (yay for late start advantages).

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The other pair, a couple of pitches in front of us

We played with the thought of catching up with them as a joke as they must have been at least three pitches ahead and we were just gearing up.

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Looking badass, it comes naturally

Andy started our multi-pitch adventure on an easy scramble start, linking the first two pitches together to the ropes terminal lengths, resulting in a short simul-climb to the play for pitch three. Once that was set, I raced up the two linked pitches, we had a quick changeover of gear and I was off on the mixed 18. With bolts where you needed them, the high quality of the diorite after having a day of drying was sharp and sticky and led to an enjoyable climb (a little less enjoyable for me as I was knackered from the previous day).

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Being seconded up the first two pitches

After doing three straight pitches, I reached the belay for pitch four, quickly building my quad anchor and getting Andy up with gear already pre-arranged (for his imminent arrival) on my safety in size order for a quick changeover as Andy joined me on my little ledge over a kilometre off the ground. The alpine pair were in sight now and we were catching up (surprisingly) and the joke was becoming more and more of a reality. Two more pitches of efficient climbing (the most efficient I’ve climbed), management and fast changeovers and we found ourselves at the same belay as the other two who were completing a pitch which was run out to the anchors. The others seemed surprise we had caught up to them and it was rather satisfying to prove that we weren’t the scrubs (or not as much) that we seemed after our performance on Talbot yesterday.

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End of pitch 6!

We decided to begin our descent in consideration of the quickly diminishing light and started up setting double length rappels. We must have done four rappels to just reach a ledge at the base before packing up all our gear for the slog back to base, crossing the knife-edge a fear that plagued my mind. Putting our heads down, we trekked back to saddle and I traversed the knife-edge in a faster fashion with my hands (instead of the straddle) with little energy to care for the consequences. We reached the saddle just at sunset and headed down back to the hut in the dark while Andy sped off in front of me.

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Saddle at sunset

It was not long before I lost sight of the faint light which was Andy’s head torch and I had the task of finding the way back by myself. After coming across some creepy looking boulders and sights I didn’t recognise, I found myself suddenly knee high in bushes while I went in a straight line to a reflective marker on the road. Annoyed and tired, I spotted lights in the distance at what I presumed to be the car park and made my way through what was so far away from the actual track to meet up with Ellen and Andy again and we drove back to Homer Hut for a well prepared curry before I went to die in bed.

Summiting Mt Talbot

On Monday 3rd April 2017 Andy, Ellen and I went for the Mt Talbot summit in the Darrans. The route consisted of going through Homer Saddle, up Talbot’s ladder onto the ridge and crossing a snow field to the base of Mt Talbot. But first, we had to wait for Ellen to fly in the day before our epic began.

On that Sunday, faced with a couple of hours to kill before Ellen flew in to Queenstown, we decided to sharpen our skills for the upcoming adventure by going to go ice climb some trees. After finding a pine tree with suitable branches to sling for protection, which was also conveniently placed immediately next to a well used mountain biking track, Andy led up to the sturdiest branch about 10m off the ground and I followed after, being the amusement of several bikers who stopped to observe our oddities with one of them commenting with a rather curious exchange with Andy.

“So… is this for fun?”
” Yep. Not a lot of ice around at the moment”

I received my second ice-climbing accident, on a tree, when the axe slipped out and I punched the tree (I was particularly angry) grazing a deep cut into one of my fingers. The first, embarrassingly, was also a tree related accident… But that’s for another time.

Upon collecting our third party member, we begun our five or so hour drive for Homer Hut stopping by Te Anau for dinner (after a failed dumpster diving attempt) which consisted of a very salty (presumably MSG laden) fried rice and some signed hilarity, finally reaching our final destination at dark to find the alpine hut (unusually) empty.

It was like a scene from a movie being in an alpine hut for the first time, the timber walls and flue, pretty awesome stuff. Being the only ones at the hut was both an interesting and creepy experience in this random hut in the “wilderness” which was short lived as we were joined by two others later in the night (when I was sleeping).

A 7am rise turned into a 8am start at the car park right beside the entrance to the Homer tunnel with a ride from our new friends Emily and Frankie who turned out had the same exact plan as us for the weather window; Heading up to Mt McPherson and across to Talbot that day and going for one of NZ’s esteemed multi-pitch climbs, Lucky Strike, the next day.

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Te Anau side of the Homer Tunnel, up to Homer Saddle

The hiking and rock climbing guide duo raced off ahead of us up to Homer Saddle as our party moved slowly up the steep scree. Upon reaching the saddle, we looked at the next (daunting) part of our adventure; Talbot’s ladder, an exposed scramble up to McPherson. Halfway through the ladder, we decided to rope up to mitigate the consequence of falling off (death) and quite frankly make it a little less scary. It was about a grade 12 scramble with packs and boots while there were some icy parts on the diorite in the shade which had not yet been hit by the glorious rays of sun.

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After successfully conquering Talbot’s ladder, we arrived at a mellow snow field to practice self-arresting with our ice tools. A fun exercise which greatly boosted my confidence on snow and expelled my fears of careening down an ice slope to an uncontrollable demise. With our new found abilities, we traversed across moraine until we hit the main snow field to cross over to the ascent route to Mt Talbot.

We donned our crampons, mine on top of my super technical hiking boots and Ellen on top of her approach shoes. The snow was compact and after a couple of steps and brief tutelage on crampon technique from Andy, we were on our way across the field. We reached rock once again, removed our crampons and crossed over to the other face of Talbot where Ellen split off from us to have a rest while we began the ascent to the peak.

With no marked route or track to follow (the normal ascent route is through the East ridge on the opposite side), we scrambled up for what seemed like eternity. With some exposed parts including a ridge which I unglamorously straddled to cross and a lot of bridging.

Reaching the top of a peak only to see a higher peak further, getting our (or rather my) hopes up to crush them again. 2 hours later (presumably, I wasn’t keeping time) we were at the summit and rewarded with magnificent views of the Darrans, mountains and peaks in every direction we looked it was quite spectacularly magical one might say. We then took our obligatory photo and begin the descent back down to find Ellen.

Scrambling down the same path, Andy found a horn to rappel the last bit down back to the base where we met up with Ellen again and faced the journey back to the hut. The fastest way down to the descent through Gertrude saddle? Boot-skiing. Or the more glamorous term, glissading. We saw the crampon tracks of the previous party down to the mellower terrain and said “fuck that”, we’re doing it the cool way. So we blasted down the snow slope, with Ellen opting for the safer option of doing it on belay as I zoomed past what must have been a 40 degree incline, initiating a wet slide on my way down as snow pooled up between my legs.

We reached Gertrude saddle just as the sun set and we were treated to a magnificent view of Milford sound through the Hollyford valley.

However, this meant we had to navigate the rest of the normally beautiful (when you can see) day walk in the darkness. Thankfully, the thoughtful people at DOC had placed reflective markers that we made good use of to finally reach HOMEr hut (see what I did there?) where our duo friends were waiting to see if we were still alive 5 hours after they had finished (to be fair, they didn’t summit Talbot). Several other guests had joined the hut party but after our 12 hour foray, I was dead and had no energy left for socialising. 2105m later, first proper peak summited!

In summary, up the ridge following rock until the large snow field, to the top of the field and on to the other face (not shown), to the summit peak and back down to base!

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The route we took as seen from the opposite side on Moir’s Mate

Ravages of Time

After hearing about this New Zealand epic by word of mouth, in a quest for a sick multi-pitch climb, in previous weeks and hearing it repeated several times I headed to the local library one fateful Friday to find a guidebook to find the route description. I found what seemed like a decade (at least) old guidebook in Queenstown Rock, Ice and Mountains, and perused it to find around three pages of information on the climb Ravages of Time in Chinaman’s bluff, Glenorchy.  Andy, Ellen and I decided to embark on an adventure to conquer this classic multi-pitch sorting out our logistics that day and leaving for Glenorchy in the dark. After an hour of driving in the night, transitioning to a long gravel road, fording streams and rivers in my Honda Odyssey, nearly hitting a large deer and several rabbits and generally losing my shit driving in a forrest at night I was relieved to see the lead car with Andy and Ellen (who had left earlier) at the road’s end in the car park. Exhausted, I fell straight to bed in preparation for an early start the next morning.

An 7am alarm awoke me followed by 30 minutes of summoning the willpower to exit the car and face the cold. With an initial “leave the carpark” time of 8, this soon proved to be a huge underestimation as we starting walking by 8:45 (which was better than the original 9 I thought we would have left after fluffing about). A cold start to the day left my feet numb after trudging about in thongs (stupidly). Setbacks were a plentiful, which should have been forewarning for the rest of the day, with first Andy forgetting to lock his car who ran back up the track to lock it only to catch up to us and find out Ellen and I had forgotten our head torches which we only realised as I read out the recommendation from the guidebook of which I had taken a photo of.

Recommended was a 45 minute walk to the turnoff for the climb from a well maintained track in the Dart Valley with a 15 minute walk to the base of the bluff from there on.

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Scenic walk in

With nothing more than a short description of “look for the cairn marking the vague path” and a black and white photo of a forrest, our party of three embarked on our adventure.  90 minutes later we found ourselves at the start point realising it was 45 minutes recommended New Zealand walking time.

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Look out for the Cairn. Note the huge pipe.
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Plastic markers

I led the first pitch, which we later discovered was actually the second pitch of the climb, up a 17 slab which was appropriately bolted making route-finding easy. After bringing two seconds up, we swung leads and Andy lead the next pitch by traversing across (unintentionally) to a 21 called Tick Tock, instead of the second 17 slab we had been aiming for. Ellen and I watched in fear as Andy mounted the arête with no protection and a ledge fall that would have for sure been a serious injury if our deepest fears were to be confirmed. Luckily, after some laborious breaths, Andy got a cam in to a crack and went up what turned out to be a pretty solid pitch (aside from the moss and dirt) while I seconded with an annoying pack and painful new-ish shoes.

Reaching the next belay consisted of a badly protected traverse (for lack of bolts or cracks) was somewhat frightening with the possibility of an uncomfortable (probably painful) swing following a fall, I racked up to lead the next pitch with no idea which pitch we were actually on. The belay station was uncomfortably placed, now bolted luckily, when described as a tree belay in the guidebook once we figured out which pitch we were on.

Thinking we were on pitch 3, I expected to see some bolts somewhere as I ascended but this day, luck did not favour us. Following the only decent crack line where I could put protection, I then got stuck under a roof with the perennial problem of this climb, route-finding. To my left the crack connected up with solid rock with no option of protection, wishing not to do an incredibly long run-out on trad with no promise of a bolt, I looked around the arête to my right which held some promise. I then tried to navigate around the arête but found it incredibly exposed and terrifying, not wanting to test my placements I moved further down to rest on the rope on the smallest nut in our rack. Not fully believing in the safety of my placement, I proceeded to place another nut and cam totalling to 3 pieces holding me in mid-air.

After what seemed like an eternity of going up, trying to mount the arête, getting too scared and going back to my gear nest, I decided to go down to give Andy a go. Withdrawing all the gear I could from the crack and leaving a different nut to lower off, I went to take on the nut and while carefully putting my body weight on it I heard a horrible pop as my gear was wrenched out from it’s resting place. By some miracle, I landed both hands onto a ledge at the moment of catastrophe and I was left hanging in mid air, a nut dangling off the rope and the last piece I was clipped into a bolt 3m down right which equated to a 6m fall followed by a swing into a buttress (which would not have been pretty or enjoyable). I quickly gathered my feet back onto the wall and shoved in two nuts into the crack, clipping myself in and then got lowered down to the belay station, re-evaluating my life.

Andy then went up and with the benefit of experience, mounted the arête lower down (in a much easier fashion than I) and was rewarded with an alpine draw which someone appeared to drop for his bravery. Ellen and I then seconded up the now less scary route which was mossy as fuck with a path through a soily patch which ended up with a considerable amount of dirt entering my eyes. By this time, I was well and truly done with this climb. Reaching the next belay station for what we had now learnt was pitch 5, I arrived with an annoyed look on my face and climbing adventure had ceased to be enjoyable. We agreed to do this one last pitch before beginning our descent and hike back to the cars with Andy leading it. With some redemption, pitch 5 turned out to be an excellent grade 20 first going through a perfectly sized hand crack as Andy walked up his lone number 2 cam before reaching the crux of transitioning to a face climb (bolted, thank god) which was reminiscent of the slow, technical, crimpy climbing I enjoyed in Wanaka (especially at The Cutting crag).

I topped out to see Andy belaying us off a tree, which evidently seemed to be “THE” belay tree, with two permanent slings, cordelette and a maillon taking residence on said tree. For extra protection, another tree was connected to the belay with a quad-length sling in an almost expected dodgy, but logical fashion. After revelling in the scenery of mountains and glaciers in the background (and how far we were off the ground), we began the four rappel descent, utilising a stone hitch so two could go down while Andy held the rear and I used the second rope to set up the next rappel.

We hit another roadblock as I had previously got two nuts stuck and couldn’t get them out while seconding (I spent a solid 15 minutes trying to banging and trying to force them out with no avail) and so I left them there for recollection on the way down. After about 20 minute of fluffing about and with the aid of a rock as a hammer, the two life-saving bits of metal were extracted but not without first ironically getting a cam stuck to remove the weight off the rap-line. We finished the descent back to the ground safely and exhausted with little light to spare as we headed back to the main track. An hour or so of trudging through the dark forrest and just generally being sick of moving saw us arrive back to the welcome sight of our motor vehicles where beers were cracked and our adventure came to its conclusion as we headed back to Queenstown.