Thursday, December 15, 2011


In my next life I want to come back as a kea; which is ironic really because I’m not that fond of flying. But every time I see these gregarious mountain parrots, they’re either up to no good, skiting to their mates about how easy it was to wreck the car with the kea-proof net over it, or cruising alpine thermals looking for more mischief. I guess it’s their innate ability to do whatever they want that appeals the most, of course along with the environment they get to call home. I’d have to shut my eyes for the flying bits.
So, in hindsight, I shouldn’t be that surprised that I got into climbing, despite being scared of heights. Going up was fine. The physical jigsaw of gripping unlikely holds on a rock face and linking contortionist movements was a natural progression. But, it’s not so easy abseiling with your eyes closed. For me, the mental transition proved to be long and complicated.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a strong desire for adventure. Maybe it was born out of associating too much with Huckleberry Finn or The Famous Five as a youngster, of looking up to Ed Hillary beating the English again or Graeme Dingle testing batteries for the first Energizer bunnies. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t long before my brothers grew to dread the words, ‘Let’s go back that way’. I wasn’t particularly brave or tough, I just needed to get off the beaten path and explore. In more than three decades not much has changed.

I reckon the best adventures are often hatched in moments of rashness, maybe fuelled by evenings of inebriated bravado. Some hair-brained idea is suggested between dinner and dessert. Tattered maps, old photos and well-thumbed guidebooks materialise from treasured cubbyholes, and are spread on the floor. Fingers trace unlikely routes, hovering over where the map’s contour lines steepen. Plans are jotted down on scraps of paper. Pacts are made with high fives and back slaps. The head-shaking and reality doesn’t sink in till late the following morning.
So it was with the ‘Backyard and Beyond’ project. My wife Shelley, good mate Jamie and I wanted to test the limits of what we thought we could do in one trip in the Southern Alps. Normally, our mountain climbing trips would be short in duration. We would select an objective, wait for a settled weather forecast and go for it. Everything would be over in a few days. While satisfying in their intensity, the trips tended to feel rushed.
One evening Shelley, Jamie and I talked about the desire for an outdoor experience that could prove to be more sustained and committing. We considered various unclimbed mountain faces and wondered how to manage a continuous trip between them. Could it be done? What would the logistics be? How long would it take? These were probably the questions we should have been asking ourselves that evening. Instead, the three of us became caught up in the pureness of the concept: Coast to coast, self powered, a couple of food drops on the way. No worries!
I’d like to point out that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s now a week and a bit until we leave. Three days biking across the Canterbury Plains, followed by three-four weeks tramping, climbing and exploring the Southern Alps under the banner of the SPARC funded ‘Backyard and Beyond’ project. Jamie, Shelley and I, along with another friend Troy Mattingley, will record our adventure in HD video. Given the remote terrain, challenging climbing goals and tight timeframe, something’s bound to happen!
I’m equally excited and nervous about the opportunity to tell a story in moving pictures, and also relieved that Troy has agreed to be principle cameraman. Troy has a fantastic eye for the arty, the intimate and the unusual. With two DSLRs, two lenses, one Go Pro, one tripod, a slider, various filters, 10 SD cards, 10 camera batteries, two LCD viewfinders, external microphone, time-lapse recorder, a separate stereo sound recorder and various other fandangle-pieces of paraphernalia, we’ve got enough kit to sink the Titanic. I’m not sure how we are going to carry it all for a month, and hope I don’t forget to pack anything essential.
Last month disappeared under a conglomerate of writing projects, video up-skilling, post-earthquake home remonstrations, BAB reccy trips and food drops. Somewhere within there, I’m sure, progress was made. A big thanks to Tony Rac and Hugh Barnard for their help and advice on the filming side of things, and to our other BAB sponsors – Bivouac Outdoor, The Roxx and Cactus Equipment – for providing essential gear and services. Without their help this project would have been a whole lot tougher.

Meanwhile on the personal writing front, touch ups were applied to articles for upcoming issues of ‘The Surfer’s Journal’ and ‘Alpinist’ magazines, along with postulating on the state of the New Zealand alpine climbing scene for the next ‘Climber’. I read and reviewed Paul Maxim’s biography on Bill Denz, and described the rarely-visited Onslow and Godley Huts for ‘Wilderness’. I’ve also just signed another contract with New Holland Publishers. This new book is in collaboration with wicked-styley photographer Mark Watson, and should be an exciting project to sink my teeth into after returning from our month of backcountry wandering.
As always, I’ve got my nose buried in various books. Robert Macfarlane’s ‘The Wild Places’ seems a timely read, while Alvarez’s ‘The Savage God’ and Daniel Quinn’s ‘Ishmael’ give my current bedside collection a rather eclectic feel. Working out how to save the world while considering how others choose to end their part in it is a rather disconcerting mix.
Yet, for all the hectic nature of the last month, things are about to get much simpler. The daily routine of packing, trekking and weather watching in the mountains brings with it a type of cleanness to life and to thinking about it. I hope I can do this clean simplicity justice in the storytelling that will follow.

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