Climbing in Jurassic Park – Paparoa, NZ

Paparoa_Park

“Chossy, mossy and pretty runout – that sounds like us.” These were the words that Joe and I exchanged on our way to the West Coast. The Paparoa National Park is perhaps most famous for its Pancake Rocks and monsoon-like downpours, but a hidden gem is waiting for those who enjoy bush-bashing through jungle-like vegetation… Bullock Creek.

An unlikely weather forecast for the West Coast (which normally gets doused with 2274mm of rain per year) left no question open – Joe and I go climbing over the long  weekend. Equipped with a positive attitude, great hope on sending climbs and lots of baked beans, we left Christchurch on Friday straight after work. It was dark already as we drove across New Zealand’s wintry South Island; we crossed Arthur’s Pass beneath a star-studded sky that lit up panoramas of prideful mountains around. “Do you know any constellations ?”, asked Joe, “Only the Southern Cross, but I can’t find it in this abundance of stars.” We continued our interstellar journey and arrived in Punakaiki, where we slept on the beach. The next day welcomed us with a bright-blue sky and brilliant sunshine – someone forgot a piece of eden… and we… we forgot to buy gas for the stove… Afraid of not having coffee on our climbing trip, we had to drive back to Hokitika. “Not too bad a drive on a sunny day.”

We warmed up on the Air Traffic Control Tower in the Punakaiki River Valley. After a  few joyful routes, Joe and I climbed “Flight Control  (22).” A steep, and surprisingly juggy vertical dance towards a delicate crux. We then moved on to the Ocean Wall’s “Endeavour (22)” with sustained climbing on a healthy series of pumpy overhangs. From here, we witnessed a fabulous sunset over the Tasman Sea and called it a good first day out. We then took the Tiki-van up the gravel road in Bullock Creek. “Ready or not !”

The second day started with an overcast sky providing an outstanding light for looking at the multi-pitch routes from the ground. It didn’t take us long to decide we’ll venture along the river bed, balance over piles of drift wood and navigate our way through thick West Coast bush to the unmistakable Two Towers. Here, we climb “Ohu, Karearea (18-22-19)”. A three pitch climb that had been on Joe’s bucket list for a while. Especially as it goes to the very top of the right tower, overlooking the flax fields and rain-forest like vegetation below… “Welcome, to Jurassic Park.” After a good meal, we spotted very unusual footprints in the river bed. Not from dinosaurs, but from gumboot wearing individuals that lead us to a vegetated grotto filled with glowworms. We’ve seen these bioluminescent creatures elsewhere in NZ, but never so many of them…  Dr. Alan Grant would have put it straight: “They’re moving in herds. They do move in herds.” Glowworms glow to attract insects, which get caught in the glowworms sticky lines (you can even see them if you get really close !).  The light is a reaction between chemicals given off by the glowworm and oxygen. They control their glow by changing the amount of oxygen reaching its light organ – and apparently yelling at them makes them shine brighter…

We grabbed our head-torches from the van and moved on to explore a hole in the ground – the entry to an underground labyrinth and our next action-packed subterranean adventure. We squeezed through narrow cracks, belly-crawled along low tunnels and discovered the cave’s inhabitants. “Wētās” are large insects and look like long-horned crickets. It is still uncertain how Wētās came to New Zealand – “Life, finds a way” is what Dr. Ian Malcolm would have said. However, Joe was so keen on squeezing through a tight crack that his helmet got stuck, and his head with it… what a good laugh.  Eventually we found our way out of the cave, but there was one final challenge: Worm over the last obstacle, feet first ! And if this wasn’t hard enough, we did it just with a burning candle in our hand. Stoked, we returned to the Tiki-van. But the day was too good to just go to sleep… so Joe honoured it by introducing me to my very first Haka – a traditional genre of Māori dance to acknowledge great achievements. Thanks Joe !

We woke up to my 6:30am alarm on Monday morning. But as it was the Queen’s birthday and therefore public holiday in New Zealand, we didn’t go to work, we got ready to climb. “Long live the Queen !” There was one route left in the guidebook, that  sounded just like us. Pitch 1 “…a pant moistening move…”, and pitch 2 “… welcome to Tonsai !” The description is of  “Crown of Thorns (19-22)” up at Machu Picchu. The crag is arguably the best area in Bullock Creek if you are the type of person that: (1) can’t stand climbing on the same type of rock for two pitches in a row and (2) wants a steep and gnarly approach through some fine west coast bush. What a climb ! We even climbed the second pitch several times, with more than just scenic views towards the ocean where big sets of waves were rolling in. You could even hear the sound of breaking waves while you were getting pumped on the holds !

A big thanks to the two dodgy buggers with the same first name who put up this route and many others in the Paparoa National Park. “Mr. Silverwood and Mr. Warrington, after careful consideration we’ve decided to endorse your park.”

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Onboard SV Rāhiri – children of the sea

“I hope you’re ready for an adventure” – that was Joe’s text message, that I read when I was just walking out of the climbing gym last Tuesday evening. But who would have expected that the boys have been waiting around the corner already ? Adventure is nigh ! A few moments later I sit in a little rubber dinghy with Captain Simon Orr, 1st Mate Kolle Collis, 2nd Mate Joe Zonneveld, on the way to “Rāhiri” – Simon’s sailing vessel named after the semi-mythical ancestor of the largest Māori tribe in New Zealand. The night is pitch black and the sky is full of stars when we climb out of the dinghy and step foot on deck – “Welcome aboard”.

 

We start in the morning and leave Cass Bay behind – course set for the horizon “Aye, Aye, Captain !” The wind is picking up slowly as we pass Godley Head, a prominent headland located at the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. The Pacific ocean lays in front of us and with it all its surprises down in the deep blue. “A splash on starboard – get the lures out lads”, yells Simon, “I think I saw a fin”, adds Joe. We rush to the bow and scan the water surface – “a DOLPHIN !” I could hardly believe my eyes when suddenly a school of dolphins were swimming just inches below Rāhiri’s bow. They were Hector’s dolphins, endemic to New Zealand’s coast and the world’s smallest and also rarest dolphin. We lay down on deck to catch a glimpse of them – their dorsal fin is rounded and the eyes are surrounded by a black mask. The pale gray skin features a complex and elegant combination of white markings and black stripes. But the most impressing part of their body are their eyes. The Hector’s sometimes even turned to the side and looked at us – with kind eyes wishing an exciting adventure. And as we thought their visit couldn’t get any more better, they even started jumping out of the water right in front of the boat ! Joe was convinced that they love Rāhiri, as they hung out with us for the rest of the sailing turn.

We anchored in Blind Bay where Joe and I stayed on deck, Simon and Kolle jumped into the diving gear and got us some lunch. They gathered Pāua (also known as abalone), an edible sea snail that clings tightly to rocks using their large muscular foot. Their shell is brilliantly multi-coloured and a gem material for use in Māori jewellery. The flesh has a black covering and tastes cooked like… hmmnn… “Bacon of the Sea !” Joe then had the great idea to hang a hammock from the boom and enjoy lunch with style, a perfect moment.

The wind direction became onshore and it was time to set sail and leave our little paradise behind. With a warm breeze from South East, Rāhiri easily made up to 6 knots in joyful down-wind sailing conditions. We hung out in the cockpit and watched the Dolphins swim around the boat. Time to put the spinnaker up – a large three-cornered sail, typically bulging when full, set forward of the mainsail when running before the wind. The spinnaker can be controlled with both hands from the cockpit, while steering the boat with one foot simultaneously. “It feels like flying a kite while driving a van.” Time flies when you are having fun and we passed Lyttelton Harbour under full sail, but how do we get the spinnaker back down again ? “I haven’t read that chapter yet”. We then tied the vessel to a mooring buoy and were soon back on land… sneezing… “we’re probably allergic to land now, arrr!”. What an adventure ! “Chur bros”

Lessons learned:

  • Mind your head, the boom has its own will ! Ropes are called sheets, unless they are on the head of the sail, then they are called halyards. Winches are used to pull sheets and halyards when manpower alone can’t pull them. Winches have two gears, first spin the handle clockwise, then anticlockwise when it is too much for your arms alone. The handles can also be used as beer opener – thanks Kolle for confirming this hypothesis.
  • The bow is the front of the boat and stern is its rear, port is left and starboard is right – so “when nothing goes right, go port !” You always sail starboat of other boats, unless it is a container ship then better get out of their way.
  • Kaimoana (seafood) is free, tastes fantastic and can be harvested sustainably. 10 Pāua are permitted per fisher per day (except in Kaikoura); the minimum legal size is 125 mm. Don’t fish when there are Dolphins around; not because they would take the hook, but because there won’t be fish around anyway.
  • Modern pirates have moved on from the Jolly Roger flag showing a skull and crossbones and set up a gay-pride flag instead.
  • “We love recycling – and clean up the ocean one plastic bag at a time”
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Into Thin Ice – Mt. Rolleston Traverse (2212m)

Due to an absolutely perfect weather forecast for last Sunday, my friend Stepan and I spontaneously left Christchurch and traversed Mt. Rolleston via the Rome Ridge route.

 

We left Christchurch around midnight on Saturday and arrived at Arthur’s pass at 3am. After a warm cup of tea in the “Tiki-van”, we boosted up Coral track and got out of the bush line at 4:30am. At dawn, we were navigating through the first buttress (6:30am). After a short breakfast watching a beautiful sunrise, we reached the second buttress at 8:30am. Here, we dropped down into a couloir towards the Crow Valley on climber’s left, where we found ideal ice-climbing conditions – only a few crevasses delayed our ascent back up onto the ridge (9:30am). We followed the Rome Ridge, where re-frozen meltwater caused exciting mixed-climbing conditions towards the summit (grade II). We were pretty glad to have our 20m rope “confidence” and some snow stakes with us to pitch up some of the more exposed sections. The summit welcomed Stepan and I with a stunning 360° view of the surrounding mountains in the Arthur’s Pass National Park. A very short lunch, and we were on our way back down. The sun had softened the snow considerably and an increasing risk of avalanches and rockfall caused us to almost sprint down the Otira Slide in less than 1 hour. Out of the snow and on the bottom of “Avalanche Gully”, we then enjoyed the sunshine and had a well deserved break for afternoon tea until 13:45pm. We walked out the Otira Valley in 2 hours and where back at the “Tiki-van” at 16:30pm. All in all 13 hours round-trip.

 

 

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Winter is coming – Mt. Gizeh (2162m)

 

After every summer comes the winter, after every sunset comes the night and after every storm, there comes clear, open skies… Located in the far south of the known world extends an icy continent named Antarctica. It is said to be haven for ice-scientists and other cold-loving creatures. Last week, the “Southerly Beast” sent its cold breath from Antarctica over the Southern Ocean and with it howling winds and heavy snow across the seven kingdoms of New Zealand – a foretaste of what is to come.

Three maesters of the Citadel of Canterbury head out to Mount Gizeh, located at the heart of the Arthur’s pass region. Their mission was not to win the Game of Thrones, nor the quest of the Holy Grail.  Their order was rather to study, learn and climb… Tradition has made it that you know it’s cold outside, when you go outside and it’s cold. So us, the three maesters Daniel, Oliver and myself, tried to find an answer to this legend.

We left our loyal horse “Tiki-van” behind at the bridge over the troubled waters of the Waimakariri river. After a swift 2 hour tramp, we found shelter at the Anti-Crow hut as the rain clouds gave way to the night-sky allowing the stars to shine through. We woke up early to a Tui tweeting a song of ice and fire and continued our journey to the high basins at the head of the Anti Crow River. Waste-deep snow, however, slowed down our progress towards the Echo Col and forced us to establish high camp on an exposed snow-covered ridge, overseeing the Anti-Crow valley.

Snow conditions unfortunately didn’t improve during the night, but a new-moon and clear sky allowed us to catch a glimpse of the unfathomable expanse of the universe. With great enthusiasm for the upcoming winter season and sufficient reasons to say that our saga was a success even without a summit – we turned around and can confirm:

“Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.”

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The Paynes 1000 – sending day in Takaka

Once upon a time a great bunch of people went for the “Payne’s Ford 1000”, a strenuous rock-climbing challenge in Golden Bay, New Zealand. The rules were easy: (1) finish all climbs clean ie no take policy, (2) add up their grades until you reach 1000 points and (3) do it within 24 hours. If you fall, you jump on another climb… In any case, it will be the biggest sending day of your life !

We were sitting at the dinner table on Friday evening and spontaneously decided to give it a go on the next day – “Now you said it Joe”. After a couple of hours sleep, the alarm rang at 11pm and it was time to wake up my team – there was Joe Zonneveld, Pete Hall, Nick Davies, Veronica Gib and Frank Heller – all more than just good friends from the Hangdog camp ground. It was our pack’s anniversary, as we have met three years to the day when Pete asked around camp with his lovely yorkshire accent “do youu guys neeed a klimbn budday ?” It was also a clear night with the full moon shining on the walls – ideal conditions for night climbing and all that was left to do was to have oates as usual (and to get Pete out of bed).

Our midnight snack was as simple as our strategy, start with the first climb in the guidebook and see how we go. Keen as a bean we head out into the night to Creese Wall. Until I realized the full extent of our undertaking, we have sent almost every climb at this crag and Joe’s smile started radiating – “We’ve got this !”

The first milestone, however, to appear in the dead of the night. “Temples of Stone (18)”, a long slab climb leading to delicate crimps up on the main face of Stone Symposium Wall. With my forearms already pumped from an over-motivated start, the climb turned out to be a bit harder than I remembered – as my head-torch unexpectedly turned dark during the run-out towards the last bolt. I found myself in a moment of peace, the full moon was shining on the holds in front of me and the sound of the Takaka river cutting through the silence of the night. I waited for my eyes to get the night-vision going and skipped the bolt – there must be an anchor somewhere up that climb.. Hectic !

We ventured onwards to the Lower Tenuite Wall. Only a few moderate climbs had to be sent here, but the lack of sleep and creeping cold in the early morning hours made the night seem endless. Staying awake while belaying became a real struggle and made me pass out while pulling off our rope. We agreed to a little nap as soon as the first ray of sunlight would warm our numb extremities up and went to Upper Tenuite Wall where we happily anticipated the sunrise… I don’t remember a lot from that morning, except that I fell asleep on a poncho while spooning Joe. All other friends bailed sometime during the night and left us to our destiny. “And then there were two…”

We woke up a bit disorientated as a group of (surprised) climbers banished us from the the belay ledge. “The early bird gets the worm but the worm that sleeps in doesn’t get eaten.” With approximately 400 points into the 1000, there was still a lot of sending to do and we continued to Slave Wall. Here, members of the UC Climbing Club were already on the two climbs on our list. Their fearless leader Joe “A Man in Tights” Baxter immediately recognized the urgency of our situation and helped with beta, muesli bars and even belaying. What a bro !

Joe and I were passing track 4 and with it we skipped the Globe Wall for the moment, where only hard climbs can be found. On the way to the Fortress we ran again into Frank, Veronica and Nick who supported us with more food, water and good vibes. The climbs here were a lot steeper and more natural protection had to be used – but the good holds were a more than welcome variation to the rough ledges earlier. As the rain came in and prevented us from climbing slabs, we continued at the juggy Little Lost Wall and the over-hanging routes around 1080 gully. A great atmosphere and the only moment were all our several dozens of quick draws were hanging on the wall at the same time.

After another round of coffee and a short anti-rain dance, the clouds were finally clearing – as we suddenly listened up to the sounds of breaking branches. There was Pete, bush-bashing in best Westcoast style towards the Red Wall ! Our pack was complete again and the hunt for points was on. We pushed forward to the Rhinoceros and Happy Hour Walls, where a couple of harder climbs were sent in order to avoid sliding around on the wet Passion slab or even driving to Pohara to reach 1000 points. In the end it was Frank who tallied up and made the call… “Globewall here we come !” Two more friends found us between the rocks, Chris “Far Out” Brownless and Karina “Cowabunga Dude” Brennan, and shared their precious chocolate fudge cookies with us – “Sharing is caring”

The sun was setting in a wonderful kumara-orange light as we were on the finishing straight up track 4. Only a few more climbs had to be done, but our arms felt worn out like Pete’s hair bobble and our tender fingertips were pulsating rhythmically to Michael Jackson’s song “They don’t care about us”. Joe, however, kept our spirits high as it was a pleasure to see him flashing “Dirty Harry (19)”, an exciting lay-back crack which must have been even more exciting for him as he climbed past the anchor and traversed into a 25 at the top – Hec…tic… !! We also crushed “Effervescing Elephants (19)” and “Voice of the Beehive (21)” before we finished our challenge simul-climbing at “Super Blond (20)” and “Feisty Red (19)”. Only a few people can empathize with the relief that it was to clip that last anchor ! We repelled down to the team and called it an epic day (and total madness). Overall we sent 59 routes in 22 hours of climbing, used a bag of chalk and ate quite a lot of oates.

Thanks to y’all who contributed to the biggest sending day of my life – Teamwork makes the dream work. Especially to Joe “Hailstorm” Zonneveld, whose hippie-go-lucky attitude always kept up the good vibes on that day – what a larrikin ! Pete “Thunderstrike” Hall for always setting the bar high, Nick “Flashlight” Davies and fallzonephotography.com for taking epic pictures, Veronica “Gibbon” Gib for a never-ending chocolate supply and Frank “Faithful” Heller for so many buddy checks and belays and for catching Joe tying the wrong knot multiple times and maybe saving his life. Knots… always tie a knot at…

…The End

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The Acid Test, V5

Is there deep-water-soloing in New Zealand ? Yes ! The Acid Test is an awesome roof boulder over the Takaka river and normally a great way to cool off after a hard days climbing. Last weekend, however, the Acid Test became our warm-up climb for our Easter trip to Golden Bay. It is an absolute maze and every time you climb it you will find a new sequence through the roof. The key move is a mantle over the lip – most comfortably done as a muscle up on your elbows, as your forearms will be completely pumped after the roof. Legend has it that, once upon a time, the first ascent was done by a dude on acid listening to his walkman… no chalk, no shoes allowed !

 

A huge thanks to Pete “Thunderstrike” Hall for working on the sequence and Joe “Hailstorm” Zonneveld for his enthusiasm. Feet on the roof and send it boyz !

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Time-travelling in Antarctica

 

Time flies when you are having fun… but who cares about time when you are time-travelling ?!Find out yourself how 4 days can fly by when you experience 24 hours of sunlight every day. There were no birds in Windless Bight, but clouds, the real acrobats of the air.

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