Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Six Week South Island Climbing Trip

Recently I came back from a six week climbing trip in the South Island. Most of our days were spent in the Darran mountains in Fiordland, but we climbed at other places as well. My sister is on a three month exchange trip to Canada, so it was just me, Mum and Dad. On 14 December we caught the ferry and were on our way.

Our first stop on the way down was Mt Cook. We spent the night and did a couple of nice walks with good views. On the second day the lack of climbing started getting to me though, and on the way back on our second walk I did a few easy boulder problems in my sneakers.

Next up we had four days in Wanaka. We went to Al Cap and I sent my project from my last trip, Tuffer (27). Al Cap never sees the sun, and back in April My hands would be frozen by half way up and I couldn't feel my fingertips. This time conditions were good and anywhere in the sun was sweltering. I tried Continuous Play (27) as well but left that a project for our return trip. The climbs at Al Cap are long and pumpy and don't suit me, but I felt better than last time and I was able to recover at the rests.

Next up, we climbed at Diamond Slab area, and I tried to onsight some stuff. I fell off two 26's but did easier climbs first go.

We headed south to Milford and arrived at Homer Hut. There was a good crew staying there including Derek Thatcher, Zac Orme (my old coach) and Rachel Musgrave. It was great to meet these guys and they showed us around and gave me lots of good route recommendations and beta.

All of our climbing that first stint was at big Babylon and Little Babylon. Little Babylon is cool with lots of hard pumpy and bouldery climbs. I left a project there, Xerxes (30). Big Babylon has two different styles of climbing. The right hand wall is slightly overhanging with very little contour change. It has lots of sharp crimps, some underclings and a few heinous slopers. I did Fuel (29) on this wall. The left wall is very high and has lots bulges. There are lots of jugs and no-hands rests but getting between them can be hard. On Christmas Day, Dad and I did an awesome three pitch 24 called Project Aqua. I had lots of fun and onsighted each pitch. Getting down wasn't easy though and Dad had to swing me in to a belay. I wasn't put off and two days later we hopped on a four pitch 25, PSI, that went right to the top of the wall. It was 78m high and I almost fell off on the hardest pitch, but I onsighted this one too. After having trouble swinging me into another belay Dad suggested another method of going down: as I came down I would clip draws into the bolts and clip the rope in above me so I would stay close to the wall. This worked better and we made it down.

We left Milford to avoid the rain and drove to Queenstown. It rained for the fist two days of the new year and when the rain cleared there was snow on the mountains all around us. We did some climbing at Wye Creek which was freezing. Despite the cold I managed to onsight Projection (26) and did a soft 28, Boss Combo, second go.

We went back to Milford but this time Dad and I had gumboots. The track up to the Babylon crags is long, steep, wet and muddy. It involves climbing over stuff, and gumboots were an improvement. We got the idea from Derek and the others who all wore them.

This time back we were staying at Milford Lodge which has showers and a nice lounge with power. To keep costs down though we were sleeping in the tent.

After a few days, heavy rain came in. Because the rain wasn't going to last and we had enough food, we decided to wait it out. Normally the mountains around Cleddau Valley are steep granite slabs with some snow on the more rounded tops and some thin water falls falling into the valley. When it's raining heavily the whole valley transforms. On the first rainy day we went for a drive to look at the waterfalls. The valley was full of them. They were running over moss slops and some even over trees. We stopped by the slip before Babylon. It was amazing. The small water fall left of Big Babylon had turned into a massive torrent. Farther up the valley we went for a walk to the Chasm. Not the Chasm crag, but a spot in the river where the water runs through a chasm. It was cool the first time we went on a sunny day, but this time it was spectacular. The water rushed through and there was lots of spray.

It rained so hard that night that we got moved to a free room at the lodge in the middle of the night. This was because the tent could have flooded.

I didn't get Xerxes that trip. After the rain I had a cold which lasted a few days. We had an easy day at Chasm and went to Little Babylon the next day. The last time I'd been there I'd tried a climb called Hercules (28/29). The climb is really cool, just big moves on big holds. After a warm up I hopped straight on it with no rest as it was a cold day, and sent it first go of the day.

That day we drove to Te Anau to stock up on food and stuff.

When we next went to Little Babylon I put my draws back on Xerxes by aidclimbing it as a warm up. I was determined to get it this time back and planed to keep working on it until I sent. I had a go before we went back to Homer Hut, where we were staying again this time. I did the bouldery first crux confidently, just like the last five plus times. I got to the second crux, and with the intermediate I had worked out I grabbed the pocket. I put my feet up and powered to the gaston slot. I yelled loudly and stuck the hold. The yell was louder than necessary, but I hadn't stuck the move before so I put the effort in. The next moves were pumpy and I made it to the third crux. I put my heel up and pulled past the big sloper. I had only one hard move left, a throw to a three finger chink out right. I set my feet up and went for it. My hand went around the hold. I gripped it, but not hard enough. My hand uncurled off the hold, but I caught myself back on the previous holds. I was pumped and I knew the move would be harder this time. I did not want to fall off at this point, having come so close. Those thoughts went through my head in the two seconds before I went for the move again. My hand went around the hold again. I gripped hard. I let out a tremendous yell and put all my effort in. I stuck the move. The next two moves felt hard too and I struggled with the last clip, but I made it. I was really pleased I did it, because the climb felt right at my limit.

I removed the bottom draws and put them on No Country For Old Men (29), an easer variation which met up at the second crux. I worked the start of this, then we went back to the hut. The next day, armed with bata from Derek, I sent the climb after a few goes. I felt fresher after the second crux than I had on Xerxes so I knew I would do it, but that throw still felt hard. That evening Tom Hoyle (aka Gomez), Derek and I tried a new route on the Pebble boulder next to Homer Hut. The climb has been dubbed The Russian Route and is grade 26 in my opinion. I did the route second go, just after Derek. It is very technical and bouldery and and the crux is not letting your feet pop.

Derek and Tom left two days later. James Morris, Zac, Rach and others had left earlier. I hopped on Cyrus the Great (30) that day and had fun working out all the moves. That evening Jon Seddon from Wanaka arrived and replaced Derek as warden of the Hut.

The next day Dad and I went to the Chasm and climbed there. We made our way up to Chill Out ledge in two pitches, carrying backpacks the whole time. The first part had via ferrata rungs up to the belay. Dad says I went the hard way up the next pitch and should have taken a different route to Chill Out ledge. I had a good time at Chill Out ledge doing a couple of hard onsights. The first one was Bus t' Milford (26). A really fun climb with a streak of pockets and then pumpy climbing on big edges. The next climb was Buster Gonad (25). This one had a steep juggy prow near the top with some cool no-hands rests. I missed these on the onsight but found them when got my draws back.

That evening we went back to Te Anau for our last resupply and stayed the night.

Back at Little Babylon, I worked on Cyrus fine tuning my sequence. Dad didn't get much of a go on his project, International Turkey Patrol (25), because there were so many people climbing that day. Some of them were trying Hercules and I passed on some of the beta I got from Derek and Tom.

The next day was different. Nobody else was there. I tried some new beta I got from Jon and got close to Cyrus a couple of times. Then when I was feeling unmotivated I had one last go. I pushed through the crux and made it to the rest, rested for a bit, then did the last hard move and made it to the top. My second 30 this trip. It felt easier than Xerxes to me and took less time.

Cyrus is one of the coolest routes ever. It starts with a grade 15 slab and then gets hard straight away with a V6/7 boulder problem. There are other ways, but my method through the boulder problem involved a high step with an undercling followed by a catch of a 45 degree sloping one-pad edge. I then had to pull up hard and fast to some better holds. Originally I went to an ok gaston and then caught a good pinch, but I often didn't get enough thrust to reach the pinch. Before I sent, I worked out that if I crimped the one-pad edge I could go straight to the pinch. The next hard bit involved a hard lockoff clip and then a hard twist-lock from a crimp to a poor pinch. I tried Jon's beta instead, going left to a good edge, which made the clip easier, followed by some hard undercling moves, which skip out the poor pinch. Next I reached a juggy crack, and a knee scum allowed me to clip while I was kind of upside down. A few more moves and I got to the crux. It starts with a crossover to a gaston. Then there is a smear foot to reach the first undercling in the bulge. I slapped the foot onto an edge. This is the crux because I barndoor, and the foot is hard to move. Then the climb gets easier. I traversed an undercling break and got a rest on the top right of the bulge with a knee bar or heel hook. Then there is a hard crossover from a set-back edge to a sloper/jug. Jon told me about a heel hook that made this easy. From there, it's a few jugs to the top.

After I sent Cyrus, Dad had a go at Turkey Patrol. He did his best yet, falling off at the end because he was pumped and forgot to move his foot.

The next day we planed to do Tufa Dub at big Babylon, but because of a slip the start was a wet, boltless slab, so we did other stuff instead. I was low on motivation and the only thing I sent was a 19. That evening we left the Darrans for the last time and began the journey home. The Darrans is home to the best climbing I've done and I look forward to a return trip sometime.

We had a couple of days in Wanaka. On the first day, Dad and I went to Far Horizons, a crag Jon told us about. I did two nice climbs, Komatsu (26) and Project Manager (28). On my 3rd go on Project Manager, I fell on the last move because I pushed the draw onto the top jug. I was very annoyed, but I came down and sent it next go.

The next day we went back to Al Cap. I planned to do Continuous Play, but when we got there both this and Huffer (Dad's project, the first half of Tuffer) were wet. We tried Popeye (28) instead, and I sent this fourth go and Dad did almost all the moves on toprope.

Our last climbing day was at the Cave in Christchurch. I worked on Bogus Machismo (29) most of the day and came close twice at the end but didn't send. Some other climbers were there including Vanessa who won the Masters last year in the Christchurch comp. I tried Gorilla Grip (27) and fell off right at the top on my onsight attempt. With Vanessa's beta I did it second go.

The next day we caught the ferry home and ended our six week trip. It was great to have so long to climb but I was getting tired by the end of it.


1: Me and Mum at Mt Cook.
2: Me working on Fuel and Zac working on Katelipsis (32) on the right wall of big Babylon.
3: Babylon in the rain.
4: Going to the Juggy crack on Cyrus the Great 5: Dad working on International Turkey Patrol.