Friday, September 3, 2010

Double Thumbs Up To Graham Zimmerman

I’m totally stoked, psychologically pumped, mentally amped. And it’s down, in no small part, to a young Kiwi-American by the name of Graham Zimmerman. I’ve climbed with ‘Zim’, both in New Zealand and overseas, so read with interest his article ‘The Stoke’ in the last issue of The Climber. And while some of it I didn’t necessarily agree with, there was no doubting that Zim had the best intentions in putting his views out there.


Zim is a peace, love and mung beans type of dude. We first met while he was studying at Otago University and I was managing Bivouac Outdoor in Dunedin. Zim and I managed to team up for a couple of fun ascents in the Hopkins and Temple Valleys, and then in 2008 with another mate Yewjin Tan, decided to try our luck in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Since then, Zim has based himself out of the States, while mixing it up in Alaska, Yosemite and Patagonia among other places. Trip after trip, climb after climb, Zim has slowly but surely been lifting his game.


But, for Zim, it’s not just about the bump and grind of the alpine world. He cares about stuff like the environment and the wellbeing of people, and would be the first to admit that a chunk of his heart pines for the snowy heights of Aotearoa as well as for our climbing community.

Maybe this was the catalyst for his article ‘The Stoke’, choosing to talk up the opportunities hidden within our alpine back yard along with the extended challenges to be found offshore. And, while choosing to shine a light at the ongoing furore over the so-called death of New Zealand alpinism, Zim made the call: ‘Talk minus action equals zero’; some might say worse than zero, especially in this tall poppy-lopping Antipodean corner of the globe. But Zim – it must be the American coming out in him – made the call.

If you don’t remember the article, it might be worth reading it before continuing here….

In articulating his views, Zim made a statement to the New Zealand alpine community that I don’t recall anyone making quite as strongly in recent seasons. And this is by a guy who hasn’t reached 25 yet.

Due to a sometimes negative outlook from certain factions within this country’s climbing fraternity, it can be a dicey business voicing too much of an opinion in open forum – especially if you don’t have the necessary street cred (ie. being a well established and long-respected alpinist). Maybe this has permeated into an attitude that stops climbers publicising their deeds, or even pursuing new ones. Patting themselves on the back is seen as self promotion. There are a couple of Kiwi alpinists I know of who actively choose not to talk much about their actions and motivations. Indeed the New Zealand Alpine Club seemed to cop a bit of flak for even having raised the question over the direction of mountaineering in this country.

Maybe this is supposed to fit within the stoic psyche of our climbing forefathers. Don’t talk about it – just get out there and do it. Personally, I think it’s made for great discussion. And then there is the argument that where’s the motivation for the new generation of climbers if ongoing, inspiring stuff isn’t being done or being shown to be done. It’s one thing to increase technical competency at the growing number of rock and ice crags around; it’s another to apply this new skill level to the uncertainty of the true alpine environment.

Yet Zim saw this as a challenge. He decided to take the bull by the horns, trying to motivate local climbers to push their own personal limits, and then to be open in telling other climbers about their actions so they too may be motivated. Again, maybe this was the American attitude coming out in him. But then Zim went and backed this up with an even bigger statement, one involving over 1500 metres of damn hard Alaskan alpine real estate.

Along with seasoned American climber and guide Mark Allen, Zim established a significant new route on the south east buttress of Mt Bradley. Vitalogy involved 29 pitches, 19 of which were M5, WI4 or harder. Overall, the route’s grade went at M6+ WI5 5.9 R A1, and required a 99 hour roundtrip camp to camp. This has got to be one of the harder things done by a Kiwi alpinist in recent times.

Talk minus action equals zero. Talk plus action makes quite a statement. I for one was impressed, and so it seems were a few others judging by the positive comments passing round the internet chat forums.


But Zim hasn’t just suddenly appeared on the hard alpine-sending radar. In 2008 he also climbed an impressive new line in Kyrgyzstan with Singaporean-Kiwi Tan. Their first ascent of the north face of Kyzyl-Muz (5100m) involved 1400 metres of climbing up to 5.10 AI4 M4, and three bivvies – a climb that deserved more kudos that it got, probably due to the fact that it didn’t receive much publicity back home or wasn’t done by ‘name’ climbers.

Zim’s personal statement on his blog site reads as follows: ‘I’m a lover of people, music, peace, harmony and our amazing mother earth. Climbing is what I do, I work hard to perpetuate the dreams of personal progression on the mountains and crags of the world. I am passionate about creating more sustainable communities around me based on peace and love’.


Climbing is a personal, and at times selfish, pursuit. Choosing to commit to it is choosing to take the high road, the one less travelled. With his talk and action, Zim has helped to show the way for other young guns coming along. And maybe even encouraged the odd never-was, such as myself, into staggering back out there. On ya Zim!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog I plan on taking the last paragraph and quoting you putting it on a poster to promote a talk by Zim here in Queenstown..... If thats ok?

    Dylan Thomas
    Queenstown Climbing Club

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