Climbing. It’s a strange thing. You go up a cliff or a mountain, stand at the top for a while and then come back down again. Climbing is a useless endeavour. Nothing so encompasses this as George Harding’s answer to a reporter when asked why do you climb?
“Because we’re crazy!”
I’m sure at one point or another, every climber has found themselves in a sticky situation. Whether be it hang-dogging up a sport climb much harder than they expected, or having an epic on a multi-pitch halfway up a 350m cliff wondering how they got there. I’m sure at one point or another, we’ve all asked ourselves “Why am I doing this?”
As Jon Krauker put it in the documentary Meru, “the rewards of climbing are immense… if you come back”. Is it insane that we put ourselves in what many might call unnecessary risk? Those who have never climbed before may call it crazy, asking for a death wish but I daresay they have never reaped these rewards.
It instills perseverance and self-efficacy. When you’re faced with an obstacle and the uncertainty of whether you can conquer it, are you going to crumble? Did you make the right judgement five hours ago to keep climbing instead of retreating? Do you have enough faith and confidence in yourself?
It teaches trust. To trust that your equipment is going to save your life, that that cam you placed three metres ago is going to hold if you fall on the crux move, to trust that your partner is going to catch you if you fail that move.
It teaches confidence. That you can surmount a physical and mental challenge, come out on top. Exhausted, but victorious.
Of course, there is also the feeling of achievement and general bad-assery. When you look at a sheer vertical cliff face and you can say “yeah, I climbed that.”
We work in safety margins, some larger, some smaller but nevertheless we work within personal safety tolerances. Reducing our risk with placed (cams/nuts) or fixed (bolts, pitons) protection, testing our judgement every step of the way. Did we make the right call? Should we have linked those pitches? Is that block I slung going to hold if I take a whip? Each experience we have, we learn from (hopefully) and each epic we survive we pour from the glass of luck and into the glass of wisdom.
It’d be stupid to say that we are not putting ourselves at risk when we climb. A bolt may shear off, a rope may snap and we could very well find ourselves hitting the ground and breaking a bone, dying or worse, paralysis. But then again, we put ourselves at risk whenever we step into a car and no one questions that. At the very heart of climbing is risk management, reducing the risk to a personally acceptable level. Ropes are made to withstand at least 5 factor 1.77 falls, of which one occurs extremely rarely. Carbiners rated to 20kN or more, slings rated similarly. I don’t believe we are taking careless. unnecessary risks with our lives as the uninitiated may think. I believe the greatest risk is not putting yourself out there and to realize that you never actually lived.
I believe one of the real allures of climbing is the ability to manage risk. To be able to believe in your skill, ability and judgement to save you from harm. Climbing is much more than just a physical act, it’s a mental challenge. Sometimes to dig deep and find out what you’re really made of when push comes to shove; when you’re 200m of the ground and been working for the last 8 hours, can you find it in yourself to keep on going, to shut off that part of you that’s saying I’m tired, I need a rest.
Another allure of climbing is the problem-solving aspect, relating more to big wall and multi-pitch climbing. How do I get up there? Or more importantly, how do I get up there safely? Going to where most people would never even dream of, let alone actually getting there. As Petzl’s slogan so nicely puts it “to access the inaccessible”.
Community. While climbers are typically a odd bunch, the saying that the odd ones are the best is never truer here. Climbers are the friendliest, funnest and warmest bunch of folks to be around. Idiosyncratic with memorable personalities, we may all be a bit different but we all share the same passion. A passion that brings us together, our shared love of the outdoors and being high. The best people I know are all climbers, the best experiences I’ve had were because of climbing, but then again I’m a little biased.
And After all the grueling tortures of exhaustion, dehydration, sleep deprivation of epics endured, you come down back to safety and exclaim “Never again! Never!” But by the next day (or maybe two depending on the severity of your beat-down…) you’re already planning the next epic, the next peak, the next big climb because you realize it’s all worth it.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A guidebook can be purchased at the camp for $10 detailed the area and Pohara sea cliffs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.