I went to Switzerland for a brief 10 days recently on my tour of continental Europe. I was staying mostly in the small town of Wadenswil, about a 20 minute train ride south of Zurich, being hosted generously by a friend (Priska) I had met in New Zealand. Initially I had never planned to visit Switzerland when I thought about travelling a year ago, hearing that it was beautiful, but insanely expensive. I stayed at a wonderful lakefront house on Zürichsee (Lake Zurich), an incredible opportunity to be able to swim in the 25 degree water everyday and lounge in the spacious garden.
The first couple of days we went to do some cragging, heading first to the limestone cliffs of Holzegg on the mountain Mythen. An hour or so hike in saw us reach some beautiful grey faces and I was having my first taste of Swiss sport climbing. Difficult to read rock and I thought rather stiff grading compared to what I had experienced in the previous countries.
The following days saw us visit the sport crags of Ibergeregg, Wilderswil and Plattenwand, all over an hour drive away from where I was staying. Having local beer at each of the locations, it became a little bit of a beer tour on the side.
There were plans to do a long bolted multi-pitch at Bockmatli but we were abruptly shut down unfortunately. We were driving there for an hour after a 6am departure only to see rain and thunder on the exact location we were supposed to go (blue skies everywhere else!!!) That was when we defaulted to Plattenwand (Slab forest is the direct German translation apparently) for more single pitch sport climbing. Swiss rock seemed to be consistently difficult to read and stiffly graded, or maybe I was just shit (probably).
On a rest day we drove through Interlaken to take a cable car from Grindlewald to First for a pricey 60CHF. We hiked to the lake Bachalpsee from the cable car station, about 1.5 hours later where we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Eiger behind a still alpine lake.
Nearing the final days I was heavily recommended Magic Woods, a bouldering paradise down in the Southeast of Switzerland. That Saturday I found myself taking two trains and two buses for a 3 hour round trip for one night at what was to be amazing outdoor bouldering. I met up with one of my host’s friends midway along the journey as she had a birthday party to attend. It was quite the sight and cultural education seeing everyone taking their sports onto the train. There were kayaks, ropes, ice axes, bikes and so on. It was amazing to see! The final bus dropped us right outside the lone campsite at Schmelzi (the name of the bus stop).
I started out quite clunky, having a little trouble on a 6a traverse, consisting of moving hand over hand and shuffling the legs along; a kind of movement I have never encountered before. I started to get into the hang of things, surprising myself by getting a 6c (V5) clean after a few attempts. I then amazed myself flashing one of the classic 6c’s in the Woods, U-Boot. A much longer, pumpier version of the first 6a I did. There were around 8 people projecting it with equally large amounts of boulder pads to cover the long boulder. I felt pretty bad-ass flashing it. I flashed another 6c and climbed an incredibly soft, but fun 7a+. Spent the night and the next afternoon bouldering and then I had to leave back for Wadenswil, just when I was starting to enjoy it!
An incredibly scenic forest which was definitely “Magical” with the glacial river and beautiful boulders scattered through the woods.
Lakes, rivers and mountains galore! Switzerland was amazingly beautiful and a dream location for the outdoors. Adventure sports everywhere and a tight climbing community (including a volunteer run boulder gym rüümli 94 owned by the inspirational and fantastic Franz and Maya) I encountered there on my travels was splendid to see.
I would rate Switzerland a solid 5/7 in my books, will see you again… When I return for the Eiger…
This is by far the worst airport experience I’ve had (so far). I had an easyJet flight booked to London from Edinburgh yesterday night for 9:15pm. A couple of hours before I was due to depart, I received an update notifying me that my flight had been delayed by 90 minutes. So like any normal person, I moved forward my departure time from the hostel to the airport by 90 minutes.
Later that night, I arrive at Edinburgh airport all ready to check-in and make my way to London when I realize there’s no travel desk so I go to the help counter. I find that there is another man there on the same flight and me and we soon become informed that check-in has closed as we were supposed to check-in with the original departure time in mind. A little squabbling later I get a boarding pass but cannot put my check-in luggage through as they have closed the luggage drop. Great.
Now I find myself with my 70L backpack that I was supposed to check in wondering what the fuck I’m going to do with that and my carry-on bag. I think to myself fuck it, I’ll sneak it through or some shit.
I make my way through security pondering if my 15 year-old bottle of whisky, a supposed present for my brother, was going to make it through. Maybe I could pour the litre bottle into ten separate 100mL bottles…
I watch the bags go through the X-ray machine and the observe in great anticipation the decisive moment when the automated rollers decide whether the trays were clear to go through or had to be inspected.
One by one, all three trays I put through the machine get whisked off behind the poly carbonate shield as I watch in dismay. Fuck. I walk solemnly down to the inspection desk and I’m standing opposite the security staff with my belongings on the stainless steel top. He throws me the routine questions of “why are you trying to hijack this plane” and starts to rummage through my bag. All I can think about is the 40£ bottle of whisky all the way from the Glenlivet distillery.
Turns out I had a whole bunch of other stuff that set off some red flags in the scanner. Slowly a pile of contraband items accumulates as Graham (if I recall correctly) removes them from my bags. A six inch Swiss army locking blade, gross 2£ tingly shower gel, a camping gas canister, my tent pegs (for the second time FFS) and of course, the whiskey. Running through my mind was how incredibly ineffective tent pegs would be as a way of hijacking a plane.
“Everyone get down or I’ll secure you to the cabin floor!”
Anyways, I’m the only passenger in the security hall by this stage and there’s a whole bunch of contraband laid out in front of me and I look like the worst Asian terrorist ever. Like a comedy film playing itself out, except it was actually happening (to be fair, the gas canister I had completely forgotten about). The police are called around for the locking blade and I am reminded of Scottish hospitality again as the policeman comments with a laugh “Been camping hey?”, completely aware of the reality that I didn’t really intend to hijack a plane with a multi-purpose knife (or did I?)
It was a rather awkward situation with Graham, his supervisor, two police officers and me just standing about unsure of how to proceed. Of course at this point I had already explained my predicament with the check-in counter closing and thus having all this stuff that should have gone into the cargo hold. Everyone’s extremely friendly and helpful as the manager attempts to call the airline to see if they can chuck my bag (and whisky) into the cargo hold but of course, no one fucking answers (quality service, easyJet). I also learn that you can carry blades under 6cm onto a plane and that locking blades are illegal in the UK as they take it off for “destruction” (ooooh scary). I can only imagine my unopened, pristine 15 year whiskey was also taken off to “destruction” (see consumption). The policeman makes a report on his spiffy mobile electronic device on my blade and attempted hijacking, so I guess I’m on a watch list in the UK now or just added to the stats of “number of Australians bringing knives onto planes”.
The next part after now passing through security with a significantly lighter pack was getting through the gate with my 70L backpack AND my actual carry-on bag. I’m rearranging shit frantically in the line and set myself on clipping my carry on to my 70L bag so it looks like I’ve just got the one bag. This makes me a very long character as I have a bag, hanging off a bag at the back. Front on, I look normal. But take a side profile and I look like a camel. But I was counting on the gate clerks just looking front on.
Alas! I get through and now I get on the plane. I feel like a ninja getting all my shit on the plane. I’m in the aisle seat and two Scots people are my fellow lane bandits (AKA passengers) and upon learning that Jennifer had missed her flight to Budapest by 1 hour, a flight she had booked 2 months earlier (the irony is not lost), and had to buy new tickets. That made me feel a little better that losing a bottle of whiskey and my terrorist knife was not such a bad deal in comparison. Ends up being the most talkative flight I’ve been on, reminding me that Scottish people are indeed the most friendly people I’ve encountered on my travels!
Then I return to London where everyone is visibly miserable, hurrah!
After a couple of days in the Dolomites in Italy, we decided to head to Lake Garda 2 hours away to do some kitesurfing. Almost a month of climbing had quite frankly depleted our psych reserves and so after making use of the fine weather to complete a 250m climb, we made our way down to Limone, a small town on the west side of Lago di Garda.
A friend had inspired me to visit Garda after his experiences windsurfing there and I was tempted by the opportunity to kitesurf in an alpine lake (freshwater woohoo!) We arrived in Limone later that evening and checked-in to our campsite.
We stayed at one of the two campsites in Limone called Camping Nanzel, both a 3 minute walk away from the kitesurfing school Wind-Riders. A small family run site with it’s own restaurant and mini-mart, it averaged out to be around 16€ a night per person (11 for the pitch and 10 per person/ per night) for a small terraced pitch. The campsite had it’s own charm with a jetty for jumping off, olive trees scattered all around and of course, a view of the beautiful lake.
A rather pricey experience at 70€/day (or rather session) for gear hire and the boat lift but I figured heck, when am I going to be able to kite in an alpine lake again? The fact that rock climbing psych was at an all time low was also a major contributor.
At around 2pm, a boat took us a 10 minute journey up north to one of the kitesurfing spots when we had to launch from the water. I had never launched a kite from a boat before so it was a rather interesting experience to say the least. After unraveling the lines which were connected on land, I connected to the bar and jumped off the side of the boat and swam out parallel to the boat to tension the lines while our driver for the day, Roman, pumped up the kite with the on board compressor. We then proceeded to launch the kite as one would on land but I was quickly tossed around on launching as the lines were tangled.
After being pulled downwind and tossed in the air for a bit, getting confused by which line was which, I released my safety to drop the kite. Roman came and picked me up, apologizing for the tangled lines and we relaunched the kite. This time, the bar was hooked onto Roman and it was a rather awkward moment when he flew out of the boat. Nicky and I were left alone on the boat while our driver was floating around in the water…
After what must have been a quarter of an hour of fluffing about, retrieving our driver and untangling the lines, I was in the water again. This time with a properly set up kite. I had a pretty good session with a 15m North Juice and nearing the end when the wind started to drop off, gathered enough confidence to try some down-loops in preparation to get my kite loop.The wind finally died and we were brought back to the beach, it was a cool experience after a kite session riding on the inflatable boats (like a military Zodiac).
The next day we went to the 6:45AM session in hopes of better wind, this time from the North. After having gotten warmed up from yesterday’s session, the stronger wind was welcomed with open arms (still rather low) as I took out a brand new 13m North Dice. I did some easy boosts and backrolls before building up the courage to attempt a kite loop which I was surprised to get on my first try and the subsequent attempts. After three seasons I had finally broken it! I did my other favourite trick, the inverted backloop, landing it clean once and on another attempt had my face dragged through the water.
After two days of kitesurfing in Garda, I was reminded of the trauma to the knees, feeling rather like arthritis was setting in. My abs were sore and lungs too from being compressed by the harness. It was a brilliant experience and I would have liked to have stayed longer but we had to return the rental car to Venice the following day.
Week four of our tour took us into the land of pizza and pasta, we took a bus from the seaside town of Koper in Slovenia to the domestic airport of Venice, where we were to pick up our rental car (a very manly Fiat 500 it turns out). After four hours on the bus and an hour of fluffing about trying to find the car rental place at the insanely crowded Maco Polo airport, we were off to the Dolomites!
Like straight out of a movie, we drove through quaint old ski towns (The Shining comes to mind for some reason). The mountains started to come into view and the sheer faces were huge and demanded respect. Cliff after cliff, peak after peak, every corner offered endless amounts of amazement and climbing potential (well not potential since the routes are already established).
Driving in the Dolomites however, is a well pain; the windy roads are enough to give you motion sickness with numerous hairpin turns; absurd amount of cyclists blocking you and random bike races means some sections of road are closed unexpectedly; numerous motorcyclists make you shit your pants as they speed around bends, narrowly missing your car.
The area was absolutely huge, spanning something like 80km and we only had time to explore the immediate areas of where we were staying but that already left us plenty to do. Luckily, we ended up in an area known for short approaches and easy descents (my fav).
The first day we arrived we were quickly introduced to the alpine weather where the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees from Venice and had started to rain. Nicky had picked a random campsite earlier on Google Maps and we were headed. We ended up at Camping Miravelle in Campitello di Fassa, a 5 minute drive west of one of the larger ski towns Canazei. We quickly learned from all of the posters that the IFSC Europe Rock Climbing Championships were being held that day! We went for a stroll outside the campsite and by chance saw the an indoor rock climbing wall and found out the championships were being held at 9pm that night.
Later that night, we went to watch the championships unfold as the climbers alternated between female and male leads. Around 8 competitors later we were on our way out, in the sea of Italian from the announcer we picked out the very distinctly recognizable “Adam Ondra!“. In disbelief, we quickly abandoned our plans of leaving and went to get front row seats (or stands I should say.) The crowd was in suspense watching Ondra climbed and roared as he got a no-hands rest with a knee bar! Sadly, he ended up taking second place to a strong French climber. We perchance saw Ondra hanging out by the side once the comp had ended and quickly went to snap a photo squealing like little fanboys.
Still in disbelief, we recollected the string of unlikely events came together.
Choosing the exact date of the championships to arrive
Choosing the closest possible campsite to the championships
Deciding to take that walk and stumble upon the fact that the finals were on that very night
Staying just long enough to realize that Adam Ondra was there
Staying just long enough (again) to see him walking around after the comp
Needless to say, this was one of those travel stories that you can’t believe happened!
Anyway, back to the climbing!
The next day we scouted one of the larger climbs in the area on the Northwest face of Sass Pordoi. The climb I wanted to do, my big prize, was Fedele, a 500m route on a two tiered face. I wanted to link it up with the 200m Dibona Upper Wall to reach an ultimate height of 800m. A huge undertaking no doubt, I had already forgotten the trauma of Anica Kuk and was looking to go bigger. On our recon, the face looked immense. It was also, wet, very, very wet. Not confidence inspiring when the description in the guidebook states “The route crosses the black streak several times, most infamously on pitch 14, which is usually soaking at best and an impassable waterfall at worst.”
With the rain from the previous day, there was definitely flowing water on the face and I realised that plan was not going to come into fruition. Wanting to see what a dolomites “equipped” belay was like, I free-solo’d the first pitch of the climb stumbling upon a collection of random objects along the way like an old T-shirt, memorial plaque and the “belay”. Which was two slings around a thread, solid.
After abandoning our dreams, we went to climb up the Trenker crack at the first Sella Tower. Just as we got to the bottom of the climb, it started to rain (Yay). Undeterred, Nicky led the first pitch and I followed up and upon looking up from there into the crack, realized it was not going to be worth the misery of climbing wet and cold; we decided to bail (making intelligent decisions! Hurrah!). Shortly after on the way back in the car, it started to pour.
Next day, we went back to our unfinished business and glad to have abandoned it yesterday as the crux pitch would have been impossible wet as it was already incredibly polished. We finished the 6 pitch, 130m climb in around 2 hours rather uneventfully.
Mostly easy climbing with lots of run outs and fixed gear when you need it (sometimes), definitely some monster whip potential on the climb as placements were not as plentiful or obvious. Advice? Be prepared for the “equipped” belays to be a stark contrast from your standard two bolts as they were all large iron rings cemented into the wall, often with no possibly for other protection so you’ll find yourself of one bomber piece of fixed protection belaying. Pitches are easily linked (which we did on a single rope but had to cut short due to rope drag) but thin twin ropes would definitely have been easier with all the meandering of the route (hey we’re not used to twin roping!)
After returning to the car, we went to do some single pitching at Citta dei Sassi as we didn’t have time to commit to another long multi pitch (it was already mid afternoon). The single pitching was rather uninspiring, but then again no one comes to the Dolomites to single pitch.
The following day we were rather lazy and only got climbing at around 11pm, this time tackling a larger, slightly more serious 250m on Piz Ciavazes. A 8 pitch route, Little Micheluzzi direct. Efficient climbing saw us catch up to the New Zealand pair in front of us who were probably two or three pitches up before we started. A couple of route finding issues and delays behind the forward pair saw us complete the climb in a respectable 4 hours and 20 minutes, relatively uneventful. Seems we were getting the hang of multi-pitching! The descent was probably the more interesting part of the climb, descending down a scree gully followed by six or seven rappels/abseils. The continuous challenge of finding the rappel stations was amusing but we got down insanely quickly in about 100 minutes with little trouble (a great contrast from our time in Croatia).
Just when I thought I wouldn’t have topped my 12 hour day on Mt Talbot, I surprised myself by breaking that personal record less than 2 months later in Croatia going for a 350m rock route. Flying in to the coastal town of Zadar, Nicky and I set off to Paklenica National Park in our rental car to begin the Europe tour. The limestone gorge was grandiose with sheer walls towering over us as we walked through, climbers littered on both sides throughout in Klanci, the main single pitching area of the national park.
We warmed up on some smaller multi pitches (100m, 120m) to get back into the swing of climbing after a short hiatus in the days leading up to the big one and also to get used to the famed Paklenica bolting (aka. run-outs). After many days of procrastinating it, one night we said “fuck it, let’s do the 350 tomorrow”. The largest undertaking either of us would have done till date. After some short beta from another group of climbers, we estimated it to be a likely 6 hour mission for the pair of us but added an extra 2 to 3 hours for our third addition to the team, Delfi, for good measure. With nothing more than a bowl of cereal, half a dry sandwich and a little less than a litre of water to sustain me, we set off on our adventure at first light (0515 hrs); after the half hour walk in, we arrive at the bottom of the climb; marked by a giant carabiner.
The route we were looking to do was called Mosoraski, one of the three classic and easier routes up the prominent cliff Anica Kuk. A 10/11 pitch climb that was supposed to be a simple cruise up easy grades with one crux pitch of 6a.
About the third pitch up, things started to go wrong as Nicky went up a chossy traverse on a separate line, bailed and swap leads onto me. After retrieving the gear, I went up a narrow dihedral, laybacking up to the next anchor.
At one point I reached a ledge expecting a bolted belay and felt my spirit dropped as it was devoid of any such equipment. Quickly building a five point anchor with nuts, I set up the belay for the others and halfway through the seconds up the pitch, looked to my left across a ledge to see the bolted belay having a movie-like “fuck” realization.
Tangled ropes, crowded hanging belays, terrible route-finding, uncomfortable run outs, horrible trad placements and other climbing nightmare-y scenarios followed us all the way up in true adventurous fashion. I started girth hitching nuts after using up all my available carabiners and had shocking placements which would probably have held but glad not to have tested them.
Three pitches of 6a, one pitch of 6a+ and one pitch of 6b for good measure later (which we discovered on inspection of the book at the top that we were actually climbing a 8 pitch route called Nostalgia;we had to break it into 10/11 pitches because of rope drag and other issues) we found ourselves on the summit, 12 hours after we started. After Jimmy Chin-ing (as Nicky described it, with inspiration from Meru) the shit out of it hauling Delfi up past the crux sections while Nicky ascended the rope off two prussiks.
Exhausted but happy, we took obligatory selfies and started planning our descent route which was to be no more than an hour or two while we eagerly anticipated getting exceptionally intoxicated on cheap Croatian beer… If we had gone down the right path. A fork at the top, a choice between left and right; a 50/50 chance and we took the wrong descent route!
Following the faint red markers, we first came to a gully and after descending for around 10 minutes, ran out of markers and had to go back up on the ridge to find the markers again until reaching fixed steel cables. We had some interesting encounters along the way with the local mountain goats and even capturing a picturesque arch with one of the aforementioned goats.
The sun was beginning to set and our earlier joke of “if we need our head torches we’re definitely doing something wrong” was not so funny anymore. The cables were sharp and sliced our hands as we descended sketchy vertical cliffs on them; which should have been a hint aside from the fact that even the descent route had a name, Duzin silaz ,a bad-ass one at that. When you know the descent has a name, you’re in for a bad time.
The steel cables eventually ran out, as did our water over an hour ago and we were parched. The trail markers had disappeared and I was leading blindly down the gully in the dark, unknowing of whether we were on the right track at all. By some lucky chance, I stumbled upon a fixed rappel that was anchored to a questionable tree. It seemed like someone had used this path as a bail point after facing the same dilemma as the equipment was a stark contrast to the fixed, bolted steel cables we had just been following.
By this point I was exhausted and thirsty as I quickly chucked my harness on and set up my abseil, unsure of where the line went, if it even touched the ground. Halfway through the rappel, I annoyingly hit a knot (unsure of why it was placed there, who puts a knot in a rappel line!). After passing the knot, I lowered into a tree (yay) and then finally to the ground. Waiting for the others to join me I sat, thirsty, in what I later learnt to be the prime rockfall zone as moments later, missiles were whizzing past me. Like in a wild west saloon, I heard the pings of bullets (see rocks) pass and I quickly ducked under a tiny overhang but not before getting hit by a pebble on the leg which was rather painful and all too good a reminder of why we wear helmets. I quickly moved to another safe spot as I was getting eaten by ants and waited for the hailstorm to pass.
The fireflies had come out and reminded me of glow worms in New Zealand, aside from the fact that they were flying. Fluorescent green dots darting through the air, a magical experience if not for the the dehydration and delirium setting in.
Once all three of us were safely down the rappel, we started moving again where we hit scree 50m further on. Butt sliding down the rubble and causing mini land slides, we quickly developed a strategy as I was ahead path finding, I would find a rock to safely wait for Nicky and Delfi to arrive whilst avoiding their mini rock slides.
I hadn’t seen water for that past three hours, my mouth was dry and it was painful to swallow. I felt like I was on an episode of I shouldn’t be alive, except I wasn’t getting paid by Discovery Channel. Talking consumed too much energy so I jangled the hexes on my harness to let the others know where I was while I waited for them to catch up. I could feel my body shutting down as I started developing light tremors and having to focus to stay awake.
We continued descending in this fashion until we hit a cliff; in the darkness and delirious state, my depth perception was greatly diminished as I evaluated that we needed to rappel the section to reach the ground safely. Slinging a tree and making a double rappel (as I thought one rope wouldn’t reach) I went down first, into a tree again as seemed to be the common theme on the trip. The ropes were tangled as fuck and I made the decision to leave them and return for them tomorrow as it would have been near impossible to untangle 130m of rope in the dark. This was the right decision as we learned the day after retrieving the ropes as it took a ridiculous amount of time to untangle them in broad daylight. We sadly also learnt that rappelling was unnecessary as the cliff wasn’t actually that high (a shoddy 10m) and was easy to down climb.
After ditching our ropes, we headed down in our previous strategy on more scree slopes. Seeing the occasional flashlight thinking someone was looking for us like a little beacon of hope but later found that it was just the park ranger on patrol, and conveniently out of earshot as well.
At some point while ahead of the others, I heard the sound of flowing water; like a madman, my primitive brain took over and I stumbled forwards forgetting about everything else with only one objective on my mind. Water.
I reached the treeline and light was no longer a thing as it was pitch black under the canopy. I fell over repeatedly in my delirium, looking back I was surprised I didn’t walk off a cliff or break my ankle. I finally hit a dry creek bed and a wave of elation rushed over me as I could hear running water mere steps away. I stripped off my harness and pants to sit in the stream and drank an inadvisable amount of untreated water of unknown origin but man I didn’t care. The water trickling down my back was a godsend and even better was the water that I was drinking. Finally! After over five to six hours of continuous activity, it was liquid gold pouring down my throat.
Once my thirst had been satiated, higher cognitive functioning returned as I went back to assist my friends in reaching the stream. Nicky arrived at the treeline first and I advised him on the path to the stream while I went to aid Delfi. I had a Gollum-esque moment as Delfi finally reached the treeline 5 to 10 minutes later; I guided her through the pitch black, my eyes having the benefit of having adjusted to the darkness; running around in my underwear, moving on all fours gesturing “this way, this way!” (cue my precious) to the stream.
Overjoyed at reaching water and having had some, we found ourselves next to a dirt road, unsure of where the fuck we were. Using the remaining 13% of my phone battery (which had been switched off in the event we needed emergency services), we first used the GPS to locate ourselves which was of no use as it told us things we already knew (i.e. we were in the national park). On turning on the flashlight, we saw the magnificent sight of a familiar boulder which marked the entrance to the park. We were but 2 minutes away from the car! I had the biggest smile on my face as we walked back and saw our Hyundai i20. We drove back to camp at midnight and after drinking a stomach-grumble inducing amount of water and I collapsed in my tent completely destroyed.
Mind, body and spirit shattered but back to safety 18 hours later.
Planned to climb an easy 350m bolted multi pitch. Went up the wrong route up a significantly harder line mixed route with more than expected trad. Under-provisioned and misinformed. Lead for five straight pitches and belaying up two seconds with no rest. Went down wrong descent route. Took three times longer than anticipated. Didn’t die.
Dropped one sling and nut
Left a quickdraw behind
Fucked my harness butt sliding down scree
Tore two holes in my brand new pants, thanks again scree.
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 up 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 overshooting the actual route by going up to the telecom tower and had to backtrack down lower and traverse across before we starting a short scramble up to a flat area, commonly known as the helipad (because helicopters land there surprisingly), 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.
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.
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”
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.
Hours of scrambling up and down loose rock, route-finding and following cairns later we found ourselves at the base of the climb;
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Initial feasibility assesment
Andy leading a pine tree
“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.
A failed attempt after Andy realised an oven was required
Making sure we weren’t going the Wong Way
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.
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.
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.
View of the Cleddau Valley, gravel at the very bottom was our start point!
The snowfield to the base
Waiting for the others on my rock before mounting the snow
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.
Dismounting the snowfield and enjoying the view over the edge
Glad I brought my ski mask up
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.
…to action mode
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.
Spectacular views all round!
Andy looking like a future mountain guide with his borrowed sunnies
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.
Ellen descending the scrub way, walking
Andy being stoked at finding a use for his snow stake to lower Ellen down a glissade
We reached Gertrude saddle just as the sun set and we were treated to a magnificent view of Milford sound through the Hollyford valley.
Descent beer by sunset
Destroyed with a couple of hours left of walking to base
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!
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.
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.
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.
After arriving back on the mainland at Don Sak pier again my Russian companion from Ko Phangan, whom I will call Ms Russia, and I got off the ferry and waited for our bus to disembark the ferry as well. After some scrambling about figuring out which bus we were to take, we loaded up our stuff into the luggage hold and boarded the bus. Unfortunately we were seated near the back, where the toilets were. Luckily there weren’t many patrons to the mobile loo and there were only a couple of moments where the waft of ammonia bothered me.
The 12 or so hour journey went by relatively quick with a stop-by at a terminal giving passengers an opportunity to stretch their legs and grab a bite. With a few bouts of sleep on the bus, we arrived in Bangkok in the morning and spent a good 10 minutes figuring out how to get out of the terminal.
Ms Russia was off to stay in Khao San road and I had booked a highly rated hostel on hostelworld.com called Bed Station. After a not so pleasant stay in Khao San road, I was prepared to pay the slightly pricier tag of 450THB per night (200 more than my hostel on KS road). We bid our goodbyes and headed off in our separate directions.
Arriving at the hostel around an hour later, I signed in to the amazing hostel. The decor was modern with a bit of an industrial feel to it. I felt the use of materials made the hostel feel clean and cozy with an emphasis on concrete, exposed bricks and wood (as opposed to vinyl, tiles and so on). I really liked the organization of this hostel with a lift to access all five floors of it and a common shower/bathroom on the fourth floor. The free breakfast consisted of bread and a variety of spreads, nothing fancy but thoughtful. Check-in wasn’t until 2pm so I mulled about for a while, streaming some Suits.
After running out of episodes to watch, I decided to do what I planned the previous day which was to do some more cheap shopping! On my list were MBK, one of the newer, bigger malls in Bangkok and another mall called Terminal 21.
MBK wasn’t as fantastic as I had heard it to be, 5 or 6 floors with only 2 of them having good shopping in the Thai style of small shops lined in a grid. I met up with Ms Russia and had some street food right outside the mall and then we headed off to Terminal 21, two or so stations away on the BTS (a skytrain transport line).
Terminal 21 was better, a more boutique style of shopping with greater variety and more unique items for sale. The mall is themed with each floor decorated according to a country. For example, the ground floor was themed Rome and had statues. The other floors were themed Paris, London and some other places I can’t remember. The dresses on the women’s boutique floor were quite pretty though the prices were in the higher range costing at least 800THB but usually around 1500 – 2000THB and above. The men’s level was a bit better for prices but all in all my favourite shopping place in Bangkok is still Platinum mall in the Pratunuam district.
After shopping, we went to Soi Cowboy. A lane filled with strip clubs and bars, it was what was pretty much a red light district of Bangkok. After a couple of beers at a sports bar, my companion returned back to her hostel and I ventured off to experience the place alone. Hearing stories about the ping pong show, I heard that many would not watch it again and I decided to stay clear of that for some self preservation.
Having never been to a strip club, I wandered into one of the curtained doors, being ushered in by presumably the lady of the house. The night was still young, probably around 6pm, and there was only one other patron there. A middle aged Caucasian man in his 40s. A stage was there with three poles, about a metre from the bar with three girls who danced unenthusiastic-ally. The girls rotated every song, with one girl going off and another going on. In total there were around six dancers who would keep rotating.
I sat by the bar with my beer and observed the often talked about rituals of old Caucasian men (or man in this case) and Thai women. The man couldn’t keep his hands to himself and would touch the dancers somewhat inappropriately. I watched the seedy behaviour and appointed myself as interim bodyguard if anything escalated (in my head anyway).
The man then started to leave and the prospect of being alone in what I realized was more likely a Go-Go club, I downed my beer and followed suit. It was a rather awkward and uncomfortable experience to say the least.
I headed over to Khao San Road after dropping my shopping off at the hostel to have dinner with my travel companion on the journey to Bangkok, and her new found Peruvian friend from the hostel. Enjoying the cheap, delicious street food for one last time I got a disappointing Pad Thai but finished off my meal with a good mango sticky rice.
My second day back in Bangkok and the last day of the trip left me in a solemn mood. Not really sure what to do with my last remaining day, I met up once again with Ms Russia.
It was the day my trip would finally end. My flight was at 9pm and so I had one last day in the capital of Thailand. Opting to do my shopping, I returned back to the Pratunuam district with the intention of going to Platinum mall again. An IT mall was on the way there and I wandered into it, buying myself some cheap tech gear including a Powerbank which I wish I had got before embarking on the trip. Following that, I walked one block over to Platinum mall and spent what remaining cash I had on clothes and then returned back to the hostel to chill until my flight time.
Receiving a text from Ms Russia for lunch, we met up and then wanting to maximize my food experience of Bangkok, we went hunting for street food. Finding an alley, we ended up with some chicken noodle thing which was pretty tasty but left us wondering if food poisoning would follow. Luckily, no food poisoning was encountered.
We collectively decided to get a massage following lunch. I had been in Thailand for two weeks but had only taken one massage in that time and thought it would both kill time before my flight and make use of the 200THB, 1 hr massages. Entering our chosen massage parlour, we picked the 1 hr traditional thai massage. With nothing but a thin curtain separating the three beds used for the massage, along with the old looking flowery sheets and dim lighting it felt like another kind of place.
I was directed to the middle bed with what I gathered to be an elderly lady to my right and Ms Russia to my left. As I sat in darkness waiting for my masseuse, it was a rather uncomfortable predicament as I questioned my life choices. My masseuse showed up soon enough and it was a man and I sheepishly went along with it from my lack of assertiveness. Most of the massage involved me trying not to die as elbows dug into my muscles and some uncomfortably close thigh massages left me feeling violated.
After the massage, which was unexpectedly uncomfortable, we headed off in our different directions as I went back to the hostel to prepare for the airport. The hostel was close to Phaya Thai station and I walked there to take the Airport Rail Link, looking and feeling rather like a fool cradling my duffel bag full of shopping. A straight train costing 45THB, I reached the airport around half an hour later and began my reluctant journey home.
My two weeks in Thailand was one of the most amazing times of my life with so many unforgettable experiences. I met so many other amazing people from a great array of countries and learned about many different cultures and languages. Travelling solo was the best decision I could have made, it pushed me beyond my comfort zone and gave me so many opportunities that would not have come by if I traveled with others. But that will be a whole other post by itself!
From Bangkok, to magical Ko Tao then to party Ko Phangan then back to Bangkok again, Thailand was truly an unforgettable experience!
Below is the dive video of my 14 dives on Ko Tao. Armed with only a GoPro and with bad visibility, I tried my best with my amateur video editing skills to create a highlight reel of my diving experience. I don’t believe this video at all captures the freedom and awe-inspiring moments that I had underwater but alas, it will have to do.