Saturday, December 14, 2013

Striving For Status - article in White Horses Magazine



The road is long and winding, twisting back on it's gravelly self like it can't make up its god-damned mind. Dust leaps in sepia clouds as a vehicle ploughs onwards. Dave – think clumsy giant cut from the same mold as a youthful Liam Neeson, but still not measuring up to his old man – is angry. He doesn't really know why. He thinks he does, but that's not the same. Young, naive, brutishly strong, he's always been determined to carpe the crap out of every diem he can, drawn to each coming dawn like a lizard to the sun's warmth, or a moth to the naked flame. Why is it that life conspires to squeeze the juice out of this? The coming of age, of responsibility, the need for a real job smoulders like a wreck of burning tyres in his mind.
The road heads mostly east. Dave's thick hands flex around the steering wheel of his father's aging land rover. The vehicle is more beat up, more weathered, than his old man but the grumpy sod still only lends it begrudgingly.
'Ding it you'll be in the shit,' younger brother Stewart had warned.
'Screw 'im,' Dave replied in nervous defiance, double-clutching but still grinding the gears as he left home.
His father hadn't been there to ask, unusually hadn't returned home from the night before. Dave's mother shrugged her shoulders when asked. 'Guess he needs time to himself...,' she started to explain, but then looked into the half-space in front of her, as if further explanation had somehow evaporated there.
Dave's old man was a hard task master, always criticising, pointing out 'the little things that can turn into big things if you don't pay them enough heed'. He somehow managed to twist any potential lesson, as if picking up on Dave's insecurities and taking to them with the kitchen knife. Walking on broken glass was nothing compared to this.
The wood pile was a good place for revenge. Sinking the splitting axe into the skull of a log, the force of each strike reverberated up through Dave's arms, a jolt of satisfaction. But last evening the axe had winged off a knot and nicked his shin. Blood oozed from the gash, dripping on to the concrete. Dave dabbed at it with a cloth, his hands shaking slightly, knowing he'd get a bollocking for not paying more attention.
The cut still throbs this morning. Dave flexes his calf gingerly before clutching and grabbing for the gearstick, his father's four-wheel-drive bucking over ruts on the road.

A few years back, his old man had reluctantly lent him one of the old surfboards that were stored in the garage rafters, a tanker that wouldn't turn a dime. Yet it glided over the smallest ripple, inert, somehow detached from the ocean while still allowing Dave to see what he wanted.
He'd worked hard then, after school and weekends till he had squirreled enough cash. His father drove him down another dead-end gravel road to someone he knew, a sour-faced old timer who squinted as he looked Dave up and down. 'Big bastard ain't ye? Just like him,' the old guy wheezed, pointing a notched finger at his father. Dave figured it wasn't meant as a compliment, but he couldn't be sure. He started to reply, but a sideways glance from his old man stopped him.
The old salt continued, motioning Dave to follow him back to his shed as he spoke. 'Well ye may have a big shell, but nothing but a pipsqueak inside. If I'm going to be making you a board, it's only because he's asking.'
The board is in the passenger seat, nestled under the seat belt. He hasn't ridden it for over two weeks. First his end-of-year exams – the last exams of his school life – and then this cursed flat spell. But Dave has an inkling about this morning, or maybe it's just a premonition of what waits for him in the real world. His father's expectations: 'You'll be looking for work then!' Not a question about whether he wanted to travel, or maybe just cruise for a bit.
They'd had a real bust up yesterday morning, the first time that Dave really stood up to his old man. When he had suggested travelling up country to chase waves, all his father talked about was work. 'Can't get by without money, son. You think it grows on trees?'
Dave had shouted at him then, striking back with anything to cause pain, venting all of his misguided youthful angst. Tears had welled, but there was no bloody way he would let his father see him cry. He turned away, not hearing the final, softer words spoken to him.

The pull of the ocean is like a doppelgänger to what he wants his life to be about. Its moods dwarf his own feelings in the power of a single rising swell. Like that, he is lifted. See it unfurl under the pale light of dawn, soft hues somehow imbibing the clashing of water with an almost inviting serenity. Almost.
This is as big as Dave has ever seen Caverns unleashing, the reef's rocky teeth camouflaged with boiling, turbulent ocean. Each wave erupts with the sound of...what? Uncertainty of the future? For the first time, Dave's anger subsumes with doubt.
And then, through the hazy offshore, he catches glimpse of someone way out the back sitting on their board. Their head is turned to the horizon, eyeing warily for the next set. But it's the board that focusses Dave's attention, an old tanker that he thinks he recognises.
He hasn't seen his father surf for years, hasn't seen anyone surf a wave like this on a board like that. The physics of it all seems wrong. No flashiness. No exuberant arm waving to gather enough speed. Just a methodical necessity of surfer, surfboard and wave.
His father stands there in the eye, shoulders square, legs braced, no adjustments necessary for trim. The wave spirals and spirals, allowing Dave to watch the most amazing, inspiring thing he's yet seen in his young life.


He doesn't for a moment consider paddling out.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NZ 2014 Anidesha Chuli Expedition (White Wave 6815m)



Anidesha Chuli is a stunning, and unclimbed, Himalayan mountain in the Kangchendzonga region of eastern Nepal, bordering both India and China.
In April/May 2014, New Zealand climbers Shelley and Paul Hersey and honorary Kiwi (Australian) John Price will attempt to ascend this technical peak, also known as White Wave, via the remote Ramtang Glacier and a combination of the mountain's North East Face and East Ridge. After a period of acclimatising and route finding, the actual ascent from base camp and return (around 2000 vertical metres) will likely take 6-8 days.
If successful, this will be the highest unclimbed mountain ascended by a New Zealand led team for a number of years, and possibly the highest unclimbed mountain ever by a Kiwi woman. At 27, John could also possibly be the youngest Australian to be successful on an unclimbed mountain of this altitude.
A strong New Zealand team, led by Rob Frost, attempted Anidesha Chuli in 2013. Initially part of that team, Paul and Shelley were forced to withdraw after losing their home during the Canterbury earthquakes. During the 2013 attempt, one team member fell and was injured while on lead just below the East Ridge. He was evacuated from the mountain, and the rest of the team abandoned the climb. Rob and the other team members have been very supportive of Shelley, Paul and John's upcoming attempt, offering invaluable information and advice to help increase the chance of success this time.
The 2014 New Zealand Anidesha Chuli Expedition will be part of the ongoing Backyard And Beyond project started by Shelley and Paul, along with Jamie Vinton-Boot and Troy Mattingley, in 2010. The success of the team's 2012 Southern Alps transalpine expedition, and the documentary One Fine Day On A Mountain, encouraged the team to consider a new challenge. One Fine Day On A Mountain won a Special Jury Award at the 2013 New Zealand Mountain Film Festival, and has been warmly received by audiences around the country. After Jamie's recent tragic death, Shelley and Paul feel a heightened responsibility towards continuing the BAB project.
Paul sees an attempt on Anidesha Chuli offering considerable logistical challenges. 'We're really appreciative of the support from Rob and the other guys,' he explains. 'Their efforts this year, while not successful, have provided a lot of vital information that, hopefully, we can take advantage of.'
The 2014 team will film the expedition to attempt Anidesha Chuli, with the plan of producing another documentary. 'After the success of our first film, this seems like a great way to communicate what adventure is all about, and hopefully we can inspire others to get out there,' Paul explains.
This will be the first time that any of the team members have climbed in Nepal. Paul, a full time writer, has previously been on successful expeditions to Pakistan, India and Kyrgyzstan and has completed numerous first ascents overseas and in New Zealand's Southern Alps. Shelley has mountain climbed in India and rock climbed in Thailand and Australia. She is considered one of this country's stronger all round female climbers, and has completed a number of challenging first ascents. John is part of the new generation of strong, young climbers. He is currently living and climbing in Banff, Canada, where he has recently accumulated over 70 days winter climbing on various Canadian Rockies test pieces up to grade WI6 and M8.





Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Surface Of Rocks - article in Alpinist 44


He stands there on a dilapidated wooden lookout, looking south toward the coast. A low-slung, grass-covered hill fades in and out of ashen cloud. He stares past the hill, above dark andesitic columns and walls of conglomerate that plunge, unseen, into space where the earth ends abruptly. The ocean is beyond, slated and churned by winds that blur directly from the great southern ice. Dirtied-white horses froth at the peaks of swells, slugging away at coastal stacks hundreds of meters beneath him. Even at the lookout, the salt spray films his face, damp and caustic.
His chest constricts against the vortex of wind. He struggles to focus. This isn't love. Driving out along the convoluted gravel road, he hadn't decided, or didn't know that he'd decided. But the sway of the grasses back and forth, the sweep of the thick clouds with the wind, the sound of the surf's last throes – the abyss that lies within each of us, sometimes so close to the surface.
He cups his hands and rubs them. The cold makes him feel better, more in the headspace he wants to be. The edginess is now a familiar feeling: a tightness in his neck and shoulders, a way that certain objects appear glass-clear while others fade toward insignificance. “I just need time to myself, see where I'm at,” she'd explained a month ago, in a cafe boisterous with lunchtime excess. He'd caught his breath, holding back the sudden words he wanted to shout. The voices at the next table formed a dull white noise that seemed to compress against him; her face blurred out of focus. He scraped back his chair and stood without replying. He'd already known.
A faint, narrow path leads down a spiny ridge on the far side of the lookout. Muddy and slippery, it jags steeply through scrub and rotten sheep droppings. He grabs a fistful of grass and grovels his torso over a short bluff. Here, the track is undercut with erosion, and part has collapsed entirely. The air is heavy with spray and the sounds of the waves. Through the vapor, a spire of rock breathes in to view, a dark finger against the grey.
Months earlier, they'd been at a pub, enjoying drunken banter with the locals. As always, she was articulate and engaging. He sat and listened, watching the two of her – her reflection just as captivating against the surface of the pub's dark windows. Her smile encouraged an old fisherman to join them in another round of drinks.
You climbing types would love it,” the fisherman had said, mostly to her. “We call her The Maiden, but you can only see her properly from the water, standing there, still waiting after all these years.”
How high?” she'd asked. She leaned forward.
What?” The old guy scratched at his scabby, balding head.
How high is the stack? How big?”
Big enough.”
We should find it,” she'd said to him later, raising her hand, palm up above the table. “Bet it's never been climbed.”
For good reason no doubt,” he'd replied. He spiraled his glass of beer. “Probably a crumbly pile of weetbix, if it even exists.”
Of course it bloody exists!”
He wondered now whether his pessimism was another factor.
Come climbing with us,” his friends had coaxed. “It'll take your mind off things.”
But it hadn't. At the belay he recalled climbing with her, how he'd poured so much energy into their relationship, working at what he thought she wanted. That wasted effort still haunts him. He thinks of her – blonde, tanned and strong. As usual, he realized, he'd become infatuated with the physical, understanding nothing of what was important, what could last. After she left, the texture of rock, something he'd once relied upon, began to feel foreign. His fingers struggled to find the right way to grip; his body always seemed slightly off balance. As a young boy, he'd imagined a kind of insulating layer in his mind, a shield. Whenever something troubled him at school, he could sit under a lone tree at the edge of the playing fields and the shield would descend over the branches like an invisible, protective dome. In other relationships, he'd been able to project an image behind that shield, a belief almost, of strength and confidence. Only this time, that image made his insecurity more apparent, at least to him. Train harder, be stronger, climb better used to be his mantra. Yet it isn't physical ability he lacks.
Don't worry, it's just a climber thing,” a friend had said. “We become so focused, so intent on completing the task that some of us can't deal with failure, whatever it is. We say we can, but that's not the same.”
But he feels as if his very fabric has ruptured, barely meshing what's left. There are no more crossroads in his mind, only a constricting corridor that surely ends.
There's a dip in the coast, a cove sheltering from the heaving sea and force of the wind. This is where she waits, he thinks, slipping into an old habit. To personify his climbs, he knows, is to place his own hopes and imperfections onto their curves and within their cracks. He doesn't care. Anymore. Elongated, freestanding and almost fragile in appearance, her edges rise nearly parallel towards the clouds. Beautiful. Enticing. Like an ill-timed voiceover, his thinking distances from his movement. With more purpose than he has felt for so long, he scratches the last few meters over the water-worn boulders, looks up at the conglomerate base and the toned andesite above. When they find my body, they'll know what I was trying to do.
He starts tenderly, testing and weighting each hold before reaching for another. The stone feels chilled and sleek, yet reassuring. The surface of rocks is deceitful. In a way he has always known this. The elements have polished the minerals, dulled reds and greens within the fawn of the breccia. The wall is slick with salt spray. Yet even though he's climbing in running shoes, he starts to move efficiently. The commotion of the sea recedes. This feels different...better. Then his wet hands start slipping from the dimpled incuts. His shoes scrape against pocked slabs. He panics, but remembers: I just need to get high enough.
Seagulls squawk from their pedestals, and before long he joins them on a jut in the rock. Breathing heavily and shaking slightly, he laughs at the irony of having come this far, almost ten meters off the ground already. Slowly, the breathing eases, and he looks up. A thin, sharp-edged crack points through the start of the andesite. Steep and damp, the crack looks too shallow and the faces on either side too smooth. Normally, this is where he'd baulk, even with a rope and climbing shoes. Now he reaches up and forces the fingers of one hand and then the other into the crack. He twists them sideways, and pulls. I want this. I want them to see how good I can be.
The first moves are the hardest, his fingertips barely fitting and his shoes smearing across folds on the rock. Both feet slip off, and he's hanging by two knuckles. The seagulls hold their breath. Instead of cringing, he pulls in and reaches up with his other hand. So strong. So free. The crack widens, and now he can securely twist both hands and feet into it. He pauses.
For the first time, he looks down at the choppy surge of the sea, and then across at grey, broken cliffs along the main coast – the walls of a fortress. The cloud lifts for a while, allowing sunlight to sponge across their ramparts and catch in the wings of seabirds as they glide between the freestanding spire he is clinging to and the mainland. The light allows him to judge how much height he has gained, and how far he has to go. He rests his head against a scoop of rock. This is ludicrous. I can't even pick the right bloody way to end it! He struggles to move again. Why didn't I just jump? At least it would have been quick. But now I'm here. Now I have to do this.
His fingers run across the rock's surface, searching for memories that its texture might inspire. Mental images begin to unveil, half shrouded but enough to remind him of the essence of what really might have brought him here.
Finally, he inches upward – the only thing he can do – following the crack that keeps broadening. Armbar, shuffle, twist, thrutch. He focuses on the moves themselves, defining each body position in his mind, and then the one after it, searching for a way back to his shield, for some means of forgetting where and who he is. Everything other than the right thing fades away to blurred peripheries.
The crack ends abruptly at a precarious crumbling ledge. Only a few meters away, a nightmarish jumble of stacked flakes separates him from the top of the pillar. He can see gannets circling over it, rising and dipping with the wind, so close now. It's too steep. I can't do it. He squeezes his eyes shut and hugs the rock. Eventually, a measured breath comes. She owes me this.
The first two holds disintegrate in his hands. He fights the suck of space, recovers and starts hyperventilating. His ledge begins to disintegrate. He lunges for the most solid chunk of rock he can see, wrapping both hands around it as the last of the ledge peels away, crumbling and falling, slowly at first, then accelerating, bouncing once, twice, before slapping into the sea.
NnnggggFFaaarrrrkkk! The gannets scatter at his sudden arrival at the top of the pillar. He stays on his hands and knees for a time, pulling deep breaths into his lungs and pushing his hands into the heavy soil. Slowly he stands, and then calls into the clouds for help, his voice echoing between the cliffs. He shuffles cautiously to the edge and peers over, wondering for a moment but then shaking his head.
Shadows stretch over the land. He starts to shiver, and curls with his hands between his legs. The wind has eased and the sea begins to calm. The last of the light flickers across smoothing ocean swells, broken mirrors reflecting back towards him. He keeps his eyes open. He prays for the slow draw toward the dark not to finish. At nightfall, the temperature drops, holding him conscious for a time. He hopes someone might come in the morning. He thinks he has the right to hope because, if nothing else, she has finally accepted him. Of course, he dreams of her again, languid, floating, the two of them climbing as one. Then, when he looks back, he doesn't see her any more. There is simply more rock, another climb.
He wakes quickly, as if someone has kicked him. He lies there in the frigid dark, wondering whether this, any of this, is worth it. Not long before the cold finally takes him, he realizes the worth of a thing doesn't really come in to it. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wicked, Wicked Sea - article in White Horses Magazine




Of course it starts at dawn. Well, it should do, but gentleman's hours have a way of sneaking in to the southern routine this time of year. At least the snow has melted. Earlier in the week Dunedin was in blizzard lockdown, a white blanket shutting schools and shops and stopping anyone from getting in or out of the city. Winter tends to come early in these parts.
A few cars had slipped and pranged into various obstacles – idiot drivers trying to maneuver through the impossible. Hardy souls wandered the snowy streets once the wind eased, hoods and scarves pulled snug so only the slits of their eyes showed, and easy targets for warmongering school kids. No one was safe from assault with a hefty snowball.
A few white dollops still cling to shady slopes in the hill suburbs, and the odd forlorn-looking snow-person quietly melts away. Those inclined head for the coast. A typical wintery blast like this brings deep, clean southern swells. Ice-cream headachy the water may be, but nothing a decent rubber fetish can't rally the enthusiasm against.
The combination of a full moon, low pressure system and large surf is the local council's nightmare. Already there's been trouble with the recently constructed esplanade at St Clair Beach – a nicely cobbled walkway complete with half-moon lookouts, concrete balls and wheelchair access to the beach. Now the guts has dropped out of it. Huge areas of the esplanade have collapsed into a void, waves undermining the reclaimed land.
Council and contractors argue over whose fault it is and who's going to pay for the damage, and then settle on blaming the wicked, wicked sea. Must be one of those fifty-year tidal surges, they claim in the press, the type that tends to come at least once every winter.
Rubberneckers gape at the earthly wounds, tut-tutting as surfers clamber over the newly-erected safety barriers to get to the waves. Contractors scramble round in the shore break, chugging diggers through the sand to try and save what's left. The swells keep coming.
I've arranged to pick up a mate Paul around 10am, but a mini-emergency in his sparky business means his gentleman's hours fly out the window. He heads into town at sparrow's fart, while I sip a late-morning coffee at St Clair and watch the other rubberneckers, contractors and surfers.
Insipid sunlight does little to warm the day, the sky, land and ocean oozing together through a smudge-grey haze. The car park is filled with keen souls suiting and de-suiting, bare butts exposed to the chilled air as little as possible. Some old biddy next to me is having a fair ogle – nothing like cheap thrills at the beach.
The swell's dropped on yesterday, but still well overhead on the sets. And despite the tide being a bit fat, there's plenty of interest in the water. The crew spreads itself between the main beach and the point, and a few in the know saunter surreptitiously round past the saltwater pool, making out they're going nowhere special with a board under their arms.
I flick the hardworking Paul a text. He reckons he'll be ready by two, but I add an hour and figure he'll be lucky to make that. I guess owning your own business means it's hard to say no to another job. To his credit, he fudges some excuse about needing more electrical supplies, and joins me up the coast just as the tide sorts itself.
Yeah, surfing down south in winter can be a pain in the proverbial. Memories of board short freedom from my now distant youth, in the winterless north of this elongated country, has been replaced by a struggle in struggle out wetsuit rigmarole. Often you don't recognise mates in the water because they've got less showing than Mother Theresa. And yeah it gets cold, real bloody cold.
But, that's what makes this place. Paul and I share an otherwise empty A-frame, calling each other into set waves and hooting as we watch the drop. Every other day there are waves like this. If the water was subtropical, then line-ups here would be more chocker than Auckland's traffic gridlock. I'll take this just fine.
On the first day of winter, as I blow into cupped hands between sets and watch my mate paddle back out with a huge grin, I give thanks – yet again – to our wicked, wicked sea.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Interview With Cory Richards



Watch the movie Cold and you'll quickly realise two things about American climber Cory Richards: He's apt to both swear and cry on camera. In Cold it only takes three words for him to drop an F-bomb, and his crying scene is the most intimately powerful moment in the movie.
For those who haven't seen Cold, it is a riveting watch. Cory filmed a very difficult yet successful first winter ascent, with Italian Simone Moro and Denis Urubko from Kazakhstan, of Gasherbrum II. Over the past 26 years 16 expeditions had tried and failed to climb a Pakistan 8000 metre peak in winter. The 2011 climb on Gasherbrum II nearly killed the trio. After summitting in the intense cold, they were hit by a storm – and then a huge avalanche – during the descent.
The success of Cold propelled Cory's photography and climbing career onto the world stage. He won the 2012 National Geographic Adventurer's Award, and now spends up to nine months each year away from home filming and climbing.
Cory was a guest speaker at this year's New Zealand Mountain Film Festival. After being entertained by his extremely funny presentation – he does great impersonations of Simone and Denis – I got to share a couple of beers with him and fire a few questions his way.

PH: Welcome to New Zealand. Is this your first time here?

CR: Yeah it is, and I've got to say I'm instantly blown away by two things. First is the landscape. We were flying into Queenstown and had an aborted landing, which was like holy shit what's happening. We were literally a few feet from the ground, but then powered off again. But I got to see a bunch more scenery as we flew around the second time. And the second thing is how nice everyone is. You can't walk anywhere without someone saying hi and being friendly. I was in New York last week and pretty much everyone there wants to kill you.

PH: So how is life being famous?

CR: Wow, I don't know that I am. I think maybe in a microcosm, but it all comes with a little bit of bullshit anyway. I was really lucky with Gasherbrum II, I guess the climb I've become known for. But it's also scary because I can never really top what I've done. I figure I will, or hope to, technically but will anyone appreciate that in the same way. Fame in the climbing world doesn't have much meaning attached. It's pretty shallow and fleeting. The hard thing is navigating the pitfalls of buying into your self image, drinking your own coolaide, too much. I'm still trying to figure out what it all means, how to stay true to my own goals. All this other stuff can be really detrimental. At times, I struggle with that a lot.

PH: I guess it must be pretty difficult trying to meet all your sponsorship and media commitments, but not let it get in the way of good decision-making in the mountains.

CR: Yeah it is something that takes a lot of consideration. I try to make a decision on an external factor, think about it and then in a way disregard it. I understand what a sponsor wants, I understand the notoriety this climb might get me, but is it the right decision for me to do this? Is it the right thing for my trajectory as a climber? I think we have to look at the big picture always.
Climbing is an interesting paradigm. It's only recently that money has come into personal climbing. Before, it was all about nationalism and how money and sponsorship brought teams together. It's only in the past decade or so that we see the influence of money towards individuals. They've become branded, and there are examples where decisions have been based around that. That can be a really dangerous influence. It can kill you.

PH: Did the success of Cold surprise you? And how does it feel being the most famous crying climber on TV?

CR: The success was completely unanticipated. It was a movie made on a whim. I mean we were lucky on so many levels. Lucky it was that year. Lucky that Simone was leading the expedition, and that we had Denis as the muscle. And we were lucky that I had the camera. Photography has always been my vehicle, whether it's photos of me or by me. I find something that needs to be documented. And yeah, when I filmed the crying scene, it seemed like the right thing to do. What I realised at that moment was that I needed to be that subject. I felt an intense release from the stress and exhaustion. It was like fuck I'm going to cry. So I turned the camera on myself. And it was the crying footage that made Cold what it was.
My Dad's a crier. He cries at films all the time. I learnt it from him. Yeah, I certainly cry when things affect me. I think tears are an incredible expression.There are times for them and then there are times to hold them back too.

PH: It seems that the Cory Richards brand has become pretty mainstream. You've got a polished routine going, especially up on stage. But you're a bit of an F-bomb hog eh? What's with that?

CR: I use swearing as a tool. It's part of my vocabulary. I use it with my regular conversations. In a way it's the parlance of our time. It's the way we speak. When I'm not using it on stage I feel that I'm being dishonest. The person I am swears. Why would I change that? I've had a few complaints, but I think ultimately it helps me connect with people. They realise the person in front of them isn't someone different but is very much the same. Some people get offended but most end up enjoying my talks more.

PH: You come across as being pretty honest, both on stage and in your movies, like you're putting it all out there?

CR: The irony here is that, whether it's swearing or crying, by exposing yourself with that emotional vulnerability, it can mean that people put you on a pedestal even more. What we've been taught is to not show our vulnerability, especially as men. We have this idea as a strong man, but no I fucken cry, I get scared and it hurts, and I bleed. All of these things mean that people start to connect. They get it, you know. I'm going to show you everything, all of my weaknesses, and yet they think I'm strong because of it.

PH: So where to now? What new opportunities have been opened up?

CR: Oh a lot of doors have opened for sure. But I think perspective is one of the things that I've recognised the most. Success grants you possibilities. But it also grants you a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility. How do I want to live up to those expectations? Do I care? Opportunities and pressure come into play equally. Things are expected when you go on trips now. And to be honest we were just really fucken lucky with that climb.
Things have drastically changed since then. Im married and have a house and all those grown up things, but it also means I'm away nine months of the year with my commitments. There are a lot of different things to manage and try to keep together.
I guess ultimately I'm so grateful to have walked away from that experience on Gasherbrum, grateful to have had a camera, but much more, what makes me so fucken happy is people celebrating the humanity of it. I don't give a shit that I was involved in it or not, rather that it's an opportunity to celebrate being human. I get a kick out of seeing this. People are saying 'I'm going to go out and I'm going to try, just fucken try'. As climbers especially we're so lucky that we can have the opportunities to do this.




Sunday, September 22, 2013

Marty Schmidt – Walking Your Own Path




Ahh Marty...reading that email that Kester sent to me felt like a knife being jammed between my shoulder blades. You and Denali had been killed on K2, swept away by an avalanche which blasted through Camp 3 where you were resting, waiting for your chance to finally summit that mountain which had been gnawing away on your thoughts. You had big plans for it you said last time we were in contact, soon after your climb on Everest. And you were relishing climbing with Denali, opening your son's mind to the high world you had known for decades.
Emotions and memories threatened to overwhelm me as I read the short report of your loss. A long walk on a beach near home gave me time to reflect – to try and gather a faint sense of perspective through the initial shock.
In a climbing community that has had its share of larger than life characters, you stood taller than most. So many years ago now when I first met you: back in 1993 while we were both living in Christchurch. I was pretending to study at Lincoln University, and my classmate Glenn boarded with you and your family. He said you were a hard task master at home, with another new project still to be completed. He reckoned he came to varsity to rest.
I remember going for runs and cragging on the Port Hills, having to share the babysitting of Denali and Sequoia while others took their turn to climb. At five, Denali was already competent enough to clamber around safely on his own, but you would tie knots in the end of the rope around the younger Sequoia, hoping that you could complete a route before she managed to undo them and crawl away.
You offered to take us on an expedition, but Glenn reckoned you'd load our packs too much, expecting us to carry the same as the Sherpas. The tales you told of climbing overseas reminded me of the great expedition books I had read as a youngster Your life seemed like one long, epic adventure.
Since then our paths have crossed a number of times over the years, including during the terrible challenges of the Christchurch earthquakes. We both had our stories of near misses, and shared them over coffee in your broken kitchen, and wine in our sharply-leaning lounge, listening and offering support where we could. At a potluck dinner, you accidentally threw a glass of wine everywhere while retelling another expansive adventure. I was reminded again of your intense enthusiasm for everything, along with your bottomless tank of endurance and obvious talent as a climber and guide. I felt incredibly privileged to consider you both a friend and a mentor.
Since moving to New Zealand from the United States in 1988, you always thought of here as your home. ‘Everyone has a calling inside,’ you told me once. ‘For me it was to live here in this beautiful land.’ And you explored it piece by spectacular piece, living in various locations – sometimes out of your van – as you climbed our mountains and rocks.
One of the many things that I admired about you was the philosophy you had developed over the years for your guiding. In the big money game of high altitude guiding, the large commercial companies chase increasing numbers of clients. Ropes are fixed and piles of oxygen cylinders cached by high altitude Sherpas. You chose to follow a different, more difficult path. Rather than reducing the mountain to the standard of the client, you tried to raise the client’s skills to match the mountain.
No Sherpas (above base camp), no oxygen and no drugs was your guiding motto when possible. 'It’s how we grow, how we understand more about ourselves and about the environment around us,’ you explained. At times, this meant 'piggybacking' on the infrastructure already set up by the big companies for their many clients, but you accepted that as part of the challenge.
‘I’m flexible with it,’ you said. ‘Maybe on summit day, I might suggest my client uses O2. But it’s a style I like to stick to if I can.'
This approach saw many of your clients stick with you for 20 years, an ongoing relationship that most high altitude guides would be jealous of. But, recently, you had begun to use oxygen for your clients more frequently – a safety concession you explained to me.
It's fair to say that you ruffled a few feathers over the years. Your individualistic approach didn't always fit within the more regimented systems of the mountain guiding fraternity. And this was exacerbated further on the world's highest mountains.
During my research on the recent punch up on Mount Everest, I was stunned to realise that some chose to try and taint your actions of bravery. (For those who have been in an Everest news vacuum, three European climbers had an altercation with a team of Nepalese Sherpas on the Lhotse Face, and were then assaulted by a large group of Sherpas back down at Camp 2. The three westerners involved were high profile climbers Ueli Steck from Switzerland and Simone Moro from Italy, along with Briton Jon Griffith. Some foreign climbers and Sherpas intervened, trying to calm the situation at Camp 2 enough so that the three could escape through the Khumbu icefall to the base camp further down the mountain. From firsthand accounts – people who actually witnessed the altercation at Camp 2 – Marty was among the first to try to stop the aggrieved Sherpas from attacking the three Westerners.)
Rushing up to that group of angry men, you gestured at them to stop, and tried to knock the rocks from their hands. They attacked you also, but onlookers hailed you a hero for trying to halt what could only be described as an attempted lynching. And yet, you had a finger pointed at you as an instigator by some, as if your actions could be used as a scapegoat for the wider issues of unrest that were threatening to undermine western guiding on Everest. From all of my own experiences with you over the years, and from those who I had contact with in regards to Everest, you can categorically be called a hero, and certainly not an aggressor.
And this wasn't the first time you acted heroically in the mountains. In 2010 you singlehandedly rescued three Ukranian climbers from high on Makalu, before going on to complete a successful solo ascent. This was an amazing feat of strength and bravery, and yet another example of your endless drive and energy.
But K2 proved one climb too many. As always, the loss seems pointless. I sometimes wonder at the worth of chasing our dreams, especially when the cost can be so goddamned high. But then I remember one thing you said to me: ‘If you know who you are at any given moment, you’re more likely able to cope with whatever situation is thrown at you.’
Thinking of you Marty makes me want to strive to be a better person, to step forward more often, be less afraid, or if I am afraid to still be able to act with that knowledge.
Ahh Marty...the world is a far lesser place without your energy and enthusiasm and drive to squeeze every last fulfilling drop out of life. Rest easy mate.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A New Wetsuit For Shelley (or A Visit To The Seventhwave)




Sourcing a perfectly fitting wetsuit can be tedious business. And if your shape is anything other than what's considered middle of the road, it can be downright disheartening. In the past I've always bought my new wetsuits off the rack at a surf shop. But, especially living in Dunedin where the need for good insulation is paramount to a good surf, I haven't always been satisfied with the options.
A correctly fitting wetsuit is integral to enjoying my surf session, especially in colder temperatures. The suit needs to insulate and protect me from cold water, wind and rubbing. And in winter especially, an ill-fitting wetsuit is risky: it can lower my core body temperature, or at the very least be uncomfortable to wear for very long. If it's too big or loose around the arms, neck, torso or legs, water flushes through the suit. And chaffing can occur around the areas where there is too much rubber. Or if it is too tight, especially in torso length, I can get pressure points and extra stress areas on the suit's seams and panels. The wetsuit will not be as flexible as it can be, which may make it harder to surf.
My wife Shelley has been surfing for the past couple of years, but has struggled to find a decent suit. This discourages her from getting out in the waves, especially during winter. Shelley is of slight build, and the suit she owns is baggy in a number of areas. But there have been very limited options for finding her a new, and warm, suit.


Two friends recently had new wetsuits tailor-made by Christchurch company Seventhwave, and they both raved about how comfortably fitting and warm their news suits were. Finally I convince Shelley that maybe we should pay Seventhwave Wetsuits a visit.
100% Kiwi owned and operated, Seventhwave Wetsuits has been providing topnotch wetsuits for the surfing public since 1987. Its manufacturing plant and headquarters are based in Bromley, Christchurch, and the cold water temperatures of the South Island are its proving ground.
Wandering into the shop, the first thing I notice is a friendly face. A few Autumns back, I went on a surf trip to the Catlins with the perpetually smiling Tom Owens and a few other keen souls. Tom bears a striking resemblance to Australian icon Wayne Lynch in his younger days, complete with the hefty dark mop of hair. I'd forgotten that Tom worked at Seventhwave, and relax when I recognise him. I know Shelley will be in good hands.
Tom starts taking Shelley through the Seventhwave custom-fit process – a unique 22 measurement record used to providing the most comfortable and warmest wetsuit Shelley is likely to ever own.
Seventhwave boss Paul Zarifeh turns up, and Tom introduces us. Discussion drifts to recent swells hitting the East Coast, before switching back to which model of wetsuit might be best for Shelley.
Then the brains trust is called out. Janet and Charyn are 'the custom team', and start assessing Shelley's body shape, taking particular note of the fit of a suit Shelley has tried on for size. Their educated eye for cut and form is quickly apparent. Even Shelley is starting to think that maybe she might enjoy surfing in winter again.
Eventually measurements are recorded, photos taken, second handshakes completed. We hand over a decent chunk of cash, but given the service and quality of the product, not to mention supporting New Zealand made, this is certainly value for money.
A week or so later, a box from Sevethwave turns up in the post. She tears into the cardboard box and quickly tries on her new suit. She is very impressed with its fit and cut.
And finally a field test – the next north swell Shelley and I head to our local break. The smile on my wife's face confirms what our friends in the know had told us. A toasty suit = fun times in the waves. And I know where I'll be getting my next suit from.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jamie Vinton-Boot 1983-2013




I've been wanting to write something memorable about Jamie, but my thoughts and emotions towards him are still far from stable enough to commit to words. It's only today that I'm baking my first loaf of bread since he died.
In the meantime, I'd like to record here the gist of what I said at Jamie's service:

I was lucky enough to share time with Jamie, and to be influenced by his energy, attitude and friendship. Jamie had a profound impact on my life, not just with climbing but in many different aspects. And I'd only known him for four years. It amazes me how strong a connection I developed with him, and how much love I felt for him, in that short time. I've never met another person who had the same focus towards getting as much out of every minute of life as Jamie had.
I first met Jamie at a talk I was giving at a New Zealand Alpine Club section meeting in Christchurch. I have a strong recollection of his Superman arms and intense questions. Afterwards he came up to me – shy, slightly awkward with that big smile – and introduced himself. I recognised his name, and knew he climbed about 500 grades higher than I did. So I was surprised when he asked to go climbing in the mountains with me.


The start of our climbing together involved a lot of surfing. Jamie was not quite as talented on a surfboard as he was climbing, and the irony that someone who did impossible feats on overhanging rock or ice could also flounder like a guppy in the shore break at Southshore was not lost on me.
Eventually we got our groove on in the mountains – this young punk who breezed up hill without sweating, who would reply to my enquiries about whether we were on a track with 'I am the track!', partnered with an old has been who was always pointing out scenic locations to stop and rest. We got some pretty cool climbs done, nothing hard like what Jamie climbed with Jono or Daniel or Steve, but more aesthetic lines in forgotten corners of our mountains, the kind of stuff that I get passionate about. And Jamie seemed to share that passion for exploration.


Tent time gives you plenty of time to reflect and talk on various ideas, things like the direction of New Zealand alpinism, and how risk is perceived in wider society. For Jamie and I, this talk eventually developed into the idea for the Backyard And Beyond project, which we later developed with Troy and Shelley – the idea being to seek and share adventures in our own backyard. We were surprised at how well received the concept was, along with the documentary that we produced, and I think then Jamie realised that he could make a positive and lasting influence on other climbers.
There were times that we cursed the film-making aspect during our month-long journey across the Southern Alps. But now, I am so thankful that we have a strong visual reminder of such a great trip together.


Jamie and my last alpine trip was last winter in the North Temple Valley. It was very cold, and I managed to spill my entire water bottle over Jamie's sleeping bag. In typical Jamie fashion, he laughed it off. I recall Jamie being so excited about his upcoming fatherhood. He had that glint in his eyes that I had seen so many times before, the same glint he would get climbing or surfing or making kick ass pizza and bread for his family and friends.
Recently I lost another friend Marty Schmidt to the mountains. Jamie and I caught up for lunch just the other week when I was in Christchurch, and we talked about how Marty's death made us feel. Shelley and I had been planning a trip to Nepal to climb, but wondered whether our hearts were still in it. I remember Jamie saying that we 'just had to go', that we 'would regret it if we didn't'. 'Just be careful, Paul,' he added, 'you're good at that.'


Finally, Jamie always liked to challenge me and my ideas or way of thinking. I can see him prodding me now to come up with something positive. 'Come on Paul, what's your intuition on this. Give us some insight.'
I don't really have any insight, but maybe an observation: When we lose someone close like this, we fully realise what it was about them that we treasured so much. Yet in society we don't tend to do it so much, or express it, when they're alive. I never told Jamie how much I appreciated his company and friendship, how much I cared for his views and attitude to life. I mean, we had some pretty snuggly bivvies together, but that's not quite the same. But maybe it is, as Jamie so often illustrated to me: Actions are always stronger than words.


Thanks Jamie. I'll miss you mate. It's been a hell of a climb.    

Friday, August 30, 2013

OUR MOUNTAINS by Paul Hersey and Mark Watson



'Three-quarters of New Zealand lies more than 200 metres above sea level, making us one of the more mountainous countries in the world, so it’s no surprise that many of us have a great affinity for the rugged backdrop against which we live.
Two men with a particular respect for our high places, writer Paul Hersey and photographer Mark Watson, both experienced climbers, embarked on a year-long journey across the length of the country to visit, climb and tell the stories surrounding 15 of its most significant summits.
The narrative that emerges has an overarching environmental theme, as Hersey questions the value New Zealanders place on our ecological heritage and discusses local issues with the people living on and near the mountains. In addition to accounts of tramping and climbing experiences, there are references to local history, Maoritanga, geology, farming and conservation, alongside entertaining and engaging personal comment.
Stunning photographs captured by Watson show some of our best known peaks in a fresh way, completing a moving evocation of the New Zealand landscape and its mountain-related culture.' 
- Press Release

I'm looking forward to this book hitting the shelves in October. Mark has captured some evocative images of our most significant mountains around Aotearoa, and the underlying environmental questions raised are very close to my heart.
I would like to thank, not just all of those who helped Mark and I during our year-long quest to capture these mountains in words and images, but everyone who shares the same values and ethics towards our precious land and our measured footprint upon it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival 2013




Another year passes, which means it's time again for the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival. I'm about as poorly prepared as I was last year, with work commitments limiting recent climbing to occasional rock forays, drytool bouldering at a nearby coastal outcrop and attacking the tall poplar trees in our back section. But, like last year, I'm hoping the festival will kick-start me into action for what remains of winter.
This is the festival's second year running. And if it was anything like last year, August 15-18 promises about as much amp and action as you're likely to ever see in the New Zealand alpine scene. Getting the country's top alpinists together in one place is no easy feat. But that's what Queenstown climber Daniel Joll intended to do with the creation of the festival.
Over the past few seasons, Queenstown has been turning into the Chamonix of the Southern Hemisphere; or, at the very least, a winter version of Auckland’s Quarry. Sustained and technical mixed climbing is taking off. And Joll has been in the thick of the action, establishing difficult mixed lines on what he reckons is this country's most accessible alpine climbing playground.
With a strong sense of climbing ethics, not to mention a keen competitive streak and healthy dose of overseas experience, Joll is pushing for mixed grades to keep increasing here. He reckons New Zealand has heaps of suitable terrain, both on the lower and higher mountains.
By bringing together the top winter alpine climbers in New Zealand, Joll sees the festival as a means of advancing and promoting modern mixed climbing.
'I'm keen to showcase the new and existing route potential on the Remarks. It's New Zealand's most accessible multi-pitch winter training area, and a great place to build skills for the higher mountains.'
The festival concept has a European feel to it, with prizes for hardest first ascent and hardest repeat, along with a race along the Remarkables grand traverse. Joll doesn't shy away from the competitive slant. 'What's wrong with some healthy competition?' he says. 'If it helps people Improve their grades or inspires them further, then surely that's a good thing.'
But, for Joll, it's not just about bringing together the top climbers, promoting modern mixed climbing, and highlighting climbs on the Remarkables.
'An important roll of the festival is to share local knowledge and form new climbing partnerships,' he explains. 'I want to create an environment that encourages new climbers also.'


For me, seeing so many alpinists in one place was a huge plus to last year's event. Up to 115 alpine climbers gathered in the ski field car park at first light each morning, before setting out towards various frozen nooks and crannies on Double Cone, Single Cone, Telecom Tower, Lake Alta and Wye Creek. 18 new winter routes were climbed, ranging from M3-M8. Three ropes were cut in ground falls or large whippers. Courses ran for ice climbing and dry-tooling wannabes. Many of the participants turned up before the festival officially began, so they could get in more climbing. Such was the enthusiasm.
This year promises to be just as full on. All of the courses are fully booked, and those with a competitive streak have been secretly training for the traverse race.

Below is a rundown of this year's event:
Thursday 15th August
Registration & social drinks & buffet dinner 5pm – 8pm. Queenstown Events Centre, Joe O'Connell Drive, off State Highway 6, Frankton.
All attendees must register on Thursday night to be part of the festival.
Attendees will select routes and or areas they wish to climb in on each day of the festival. Once a particular crag or sector has its allocated amount of climbers, attendees will have to choose from a different crag or sector. First in first served. All multi pitch routes will be climbed with teams of three. Where possible a local climber will join a team of two out of town visitors.
Along with selecting your climbs for the weekend you will also register for the dinners and festival talks that you wish to attend. At registration all participants will receive the festival goody bag including special bonus products from our sponsors and some participants bags will also contain spot prizes.
Registration cost covers your entry to all guest speaker talks, slide shows and gear auctions. You will also receive discounts for gear from local climbing shops and FREE BEER vouchers from our official festival beer sponsor Export 33

Friday 16th August
General Climbing Meeting Time : As arranged with your climbing partners
Chicks N Picks Meeting Time : 8am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location Wye Creek ice climbing area.
Ice Climbing Clinic Meeting Time : 7am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location Touch Down area South Face of Single Cone
Snow Craft Clinic Meeting Time : 8am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location top of the Shadow Basin Chair Lift
Mixed Climbing Clinic Meeting Time : 8am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location Telecom Towers West Face just past the Shadow Basin chair lift.

Friday Night 16th August
Dinner from 5pm – 9pm at Queenstown Events Centre Joe O'Connell Drive, off State Highway 6, Frankton.
Slide shows from NZ’s top Alpine Climbers promoting their most classic first ascent.
Learn and hear from our iconic Kiwi mountain climbers about just what it took to climb the first ascent of some of NZ’s most popular alpine faces.
Reminder of times to meet in the morning. Return lost gear to registration. Ask for new route info.


Saturday 17th August
General Climbing Meeting Time : As arranged with your climbing partners
Chicks N Picks Meeting Time : 8am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark. Clinic location Wye Creek ice climbing area.
Ice Climbing Clinic Meeting Time : 7am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location Touch Down area South Face of Single Cone
Snow Craft Clinic Meeting Time : 8am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location top of the Shadow Basin Chair Lift
Mixed Climbing Clinic Meeting Time : 8am at the top of the Remarkables ski field carpark.
Clinic location Telecom Towers West Face just past the Shadow Basin chair lift.

Saturday Night 17th August
Dinner from 5pm – 9pm at Queenstown Events Centre, Joe O'Connell Drive, off State Highway 6, Frankton.
Awards Dinner, Festival Party,
Guest Speaker and Fundraising Auction. Dinner from 5pm – 8pm. This will be followed up by a feature talk from our guest speaker. Prior to the talk beginning we will be having a fund raising auction with excellent climbing gear, clothing and associated products available from our sponsors.
Awards are allocated for :
The Macpac Hardest New Route of the Festival (male and female team award)
The Cactus Hardest Repeated Route (clean redpoint or onsight male and female award)
The Black Diamond New Zealand Alpinist of the Year 2013
Major prizes will be awarded for each of these categories.
Brief for the traverse race.

Sunday 18th August
Osprey Packs Double to Single Cone Traverse Race. All those involved in the race meet at the top Remarkables ski field car park at 8.15am. The race starts from the first aid room at the base building for the Remarkables ski field.
Start time for the race is 8.30am sharp.
No one will think you're cool if you fall off and die during the Osprey Packs Double to Single Cone Traverse Race. Use your own judgement and act accordingly. We take no safety precautions, make no weather/traverse condition assessments and expect those that take part to use their own judgement and common sense.

Sunday Night 18th August
Farewell drinks and dinner starting from 5pm at the Frankton Ale House.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket Review


Rab is an English outdoor clothing and equipment company. Started in 1981 by climber Rab Carrington to design and manufacture down clothing and sleeping bags, the brand has never had a huge share of the outdoor market, especially in this part of the world. But those in the know, including a few climbing friends of mine, swear by the product. And while Rab's range has been expanded over recent years, the core down products are still probably the company's best features.
I have never owned any Rab clothing, so was stoked to receive a Microlight Alpine Down Jacket to review. And I have to say that, if I didn't own too many down jackets already, I would certainly be buying one.
Described as a layering, or ultralight, packable insulating piece, the jacket ticks all the right boxes. Filled with 140 grams of 750 loft goose down, it's warm for the 350 grams weight. The cut is snug, meaning there is no dead air space and the jacket won't move around during exercise. The mini stitch-through baffles – designed to keep the down from shifting around – seem to work, although this will only become apparent after a number of wears. The hem and cuffs are elasticated, and the down hood has a wired peak to it, meaning it doesn't collapse over your face like some jacket hoods. The pockets are where they need to be, one acting as a stuff sack, and the front zip is easy to operate with gloves on. The outer is Pertex Microlight, a very lightweight and supposedly durable fabric with some windproof and water resistant properties. Again, time will tell whether these features stack up.
So what lifts it above the competition? For me, the jacket has clearly been designed by those who understand the nature of outdoor adventure. The jacket's cut, the warmth for weight, and ease of use means this is a jacket well worth considering. Any, err, down sides? Personally, I like my hood's a bit roomier so they can go either outside or inside a climbing helmet. The hood on this jacket is pretty snug so wouldn't fit over a helmet. And, if I was being pedantic, lightly fleece-lined pockets are a nice to have which this jacket doesn't.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Born Again Bolting - A Discussion On Ethics (article in Climber)



My wife Shelley and I recently headed up to my hometown of Whangarei, to visit my father and chase a few waves in the winterless north. While there, we decided on a climb at Ngahere Drive, a local crag of oversized limestone boulders that I helped develop many moons ago.
Walking down the driveway to Top Rocks, I noticed some new bolts high up on the first prominent face, just left of Creaky Tree – a tricky-start 21 I had established way back in 1992. 'Sweet,' I said to Shelley. 'Must be a new route. Great to see there's still interest here.'
I walked a little further, and then noticed all the other shiny new bolts added. Someone had almost grid-mapped the crag with them. Most of my old routes' bolts had been replaced (a good idea as many are 20 years old), but then further bolts were added at the beginning and end of the routes. The easy access scramble had been bolted. A decent crack line had been bolted. I felt sick! It was like looking at vandalism.
Now I'm no Dave Fearnley, and none of these climbs were even remotely approaching death clip-ups. Sure, some had a wee way to the first bolt, but given they were a grade 22 or 23 climb and the first three metres of climbing were grade 15 moves to a good stance to clip from, I figured that was prudent bolting. And then there were other, even older climbs than mine which had also been overly retro-bolted. Previously I had replaced the bolts on these climbs, but only after approaching the person who put them up, and being careful not to alter the nature of the climb. In my mind they were part of the crag's history, and I just wanted to continue that.
I tried to tell myself that all the shiny new metal didn't matter, but after a few moments of bouldering past them I gave up and left, angry. I didn't risk having a look at the Main Crag to see what might have been retro-bolted there.
I later found out who did the bolting and asked them why. I won't mention the person's real name, but let's call him Matt. Matt said that, sorry, he didn't really think about it and was only trying to encourage climbing in Whangarei by making the routes more user-friendly. It seemed he wasn't particularly interested in the area's climbing history – he just wanted an outdoor gym. But then the last thing that really got me was, while Matt had consumer-ised my and others' routes, his own new route still had a highball start. There was no shiny first clip almost within reach from the ground.


You're right for thinking I'm sounding bitter. This guy's actions really annoyed me. I'd always thought that the dos and don'ts of re-bolting were pretty clear cut. So should I be getting over myself and my oversensitive, ego-driven thoughts on routes put up two decades ago? Hell, maybe I am related to Fearnley after all.
Take a glance at the forum section of The Climber website, or the NZAC Facebook page, and you're likely to see this scenario being played at at various crags around the country. Recent examples include Christchurch where earthquake damage to crags has seen a number of old routes being retro-bolted, and Dunedin where there is also pressure to add bolts to runout classics. Discussion about bolting and re-bolting ethics may be, as The Climber editor Kester Brown puts it, 'like flogging a dead horse', but it seems the discussion is never-ending and clearly still relevant.

Another example that caught my eye was the recent surge of development on the Sebastapol Bluffs, not far from Unwin Hut at Mount Cook. I remember thinking that this was a great idea. I'd always felt that, apart from Red Arete area, the rock climbing potential was underutilised. Many of the old routes had been forgotten and hence overgrown. A spruce up was certainly needed.
But then it was reported that one route, Paul Aubrey's 45 metre 22 - Drug Abuse, was extensively retro-bolted. What used to have five bolts, some sketchy natural pro and apparently a 10 metre runout now has 16 bolts. I'd never attempted the climb due to its minimal protection and high scare factor, but certainly appreciated the 'ballsiness' of it. To my thinking it was one of the crag test-pieces.
The pros and cons of whether the nature of Drug Abuse should have been altered so much have since raged over forums on the internet. Reasons given in support of the retro-bolt include that the route was never going to be climbed in its current condition, it was 'dangerous' with so few bolts, and by making the climb safer not only would it get more traffic, but more quality pitches further up the rock face could also be accessed.


As I'm writing this piece, the arguments continue on Facebook. And what one protagonist rightly points out as a 'storm in a teacup' has highlighted the extremely varied views of this. A lot of the discussion is pseudo aggressive, finger-pointing talk that quickly deteriorates into vitriolic personality bashing rather than dealing with the issues themselves. There's more than a whiff of excessive testosterone, climbing politics and even old scores being reignited. This, or course, helps no one and clarifies nothing.
So – despite the obvious risk of entering the fray – what are the issues, not just for Drug Abuse but for bolting and re-bolting our crags and mountains? Is a one shoe fits all approach even possible?
The NZAC Bolting Position seems a good place to start. Created in 2010 by a working group comprising Pete Barnes, Ross Cullen, Phil Doole and Sam Bosshard (as part of the NZAC Recreational Advocacy committee), a document was released after consultation with NZAC members and the wider climbing community. What this consultation involved I'm not sure, but after reading the document (which is available online) I feel the NZAC Bolting Position is middle of the road in terms of guidelines.
The Bolting Position document states, and rightly so, that the NZAC seeks to preserve the adventurous nature of climbing and mountaineering where possible. The uncertainty of the outcome is considered a key part of the overall climbing experience. I think many serious climbers would agree that their most memorable experiences tend to occur at the sharp end of a rope when things get spicy. What I may have hated at the time (who likes being scared?) has been character building. My sense of achievement felt stronger afterwards. Those testing moments taught me a lot about myself and about my climbing, whether high up in the mountains or at a local crag. That's not to say there aren't plenty of days when I'm happy clipping pleasantly spaced, stress free bolts – this broad spectrum is something I love about climbing.


Climbing requires a certain level of risk assessment and management. This is when we learn what our limits are, and how we perform when we're testing them. There's self responsibility when standing at the bottom of the route and deciding whether to try it or not. The decision over whether it is too hard or too risky is ours.
Obviously, this is a particularly subjective measurement which depends on a climber's ability, drive and propensity to risk exposure. For me, this is where the different types of climbing begin to diverge. Intrinsic to mountaineering and traditional crag climbing are adventure, constant risk assessment and management. Nature and the climbing objective are experienced on its terms, without any permanent, artificial protection. Whereas sport climbing is more the pursuit of athleticism in an environment where risk often greatly reduced.
These different climbing values are influenced by what Kester Brown refers to as the 'style' of a route. Brown has climbed at a high level right across the climbing spectrum, from bouldering to Himalayan expeditions, and I think his approach to this topic is both well considered and low key.
Brown points out that style depends on who did the first ascent, and can differ route to route, crag to crag. 'If Dave Fearnley was around now putting up necky crag routes, he’d probably receive some very pointed criticism these days,' Brown says. 'Things have certainly become more safety conscious. But then trigger-happy developers still get a hard time for routes with a bolt every metre. Is there a happy medium? I don’t know. I think diversity is good, but I also think rock is actually a valuable resource, especially at popular areas.'
Brown reckons it's a good thing that this topic is being discussed by climbers. 'Retro-bolting and the impacts are of little interest to anyone but climbers, and it’s important that we’re able to debate, discuss and try to resolve conflicting points of view amongst ourselves, without inviting anyone else (like DOC) on board,' he says.
Brown understands why some people want to retro-bolt so-called dangerous routes on good quality rock that rarely gets climbed. 'If the routes were more agreeably protected, more people would climb them, he says. 'But I also think climbing history is important. I value a bold style of climbing, so while I might curse Dave Fearnley when I’m shaking and whimpering on one of his awful run-outs, I also value that experience, even if it is usually well afterwards.'


According to the NZAC Bolting Position, bolts are appropriate in sport climbing areas and on alpine rock climbing crags where no natural protection is available. 'In some mountain situations, the advantages that bolt anchors can provide to safety, reduced congestion and/or aesthetics will outweigh their disadvantages. NZAC believes that the weight of opinion in local and national climbing communities must be considered before deciding if bolting is acceptable. Each situation is unique, and the issues outlined above will have differing degrees of importance. It is not possible to satisfy every user group at every site or on every route.'
Trying to satisfy every user group is a crux issue, especially if the Facebook thread is anything to go by. For Brown, it comes down to the quality of both the route and the crag. 'Some areas just suit run-outs and boldness, some don’t.'
In an effort to provide guidelines, NZAC suggests the following bolting principles:
  1. Bolts should not be placed on climbing routes where good natural protection is available and the rock is sound.
  2. Bolts and retro-bolting are only justified if they provide significantly greater benefits than costs to the climbing community.
  3. Bolts on frequently used mountain access routes may be justified if they provide significant safety benefits and ease of access.
  4. Representative views of the relevant climbing community and other stakeholders must be sought to determine if bolts are in harmony with the values of an area.
  5. Prior consultation with the first ascentionist is advocated before any route is retro-bolted.
  6. Bolting on private land must only occur with the approval of landowners or their agents.
  7. Bolting on the conservation estate and other public land must be in accordance with the relevant management strategy and/or plan.
  8. If bolts are used, they must meet NZAC bolting technical guidelines of the time.
  9. Climbers assume personal responsibility for the safety of any bolts that they use.
Longtime climbing activist, and NZAC member, Richard Thomson accepts that this policy has its limits, and is probably in need of looking at again. 'It was initially developed in relation to mountains,' Thomson admits. 'The crag and sport climbing stuff was added afterwards.'
Thomson highlights guidelines number 2 and 5 as needing particular attention. 'Personally, I'd remove retro-bolting from the second principle, and beef up the need for consultation with the first ascentionist and the local climbing community in number 5.'
Judging by the comments on the internet forums, it's pretty obvious some climbers resent any form of guidance. Part of the climbing attraction to some people is its anti-establishment attitude. But this shouldn't detract from the NZAC focus on attempting to steer climbing culture in what its members see as the right direction.
So, generally speaking, bolting or not bolting a route is up to whoever is doing the first ascent, whether natural protection is available and the style of other climbs around. When I ask Murray Judge – an absolute legend in New Zealand climbing circles – to comment on this issue, he is rather reluctant. He does mention that other climbers have approached him after the Drug Abuse saga, asking that their routes nearby also be made more safety conscious. 'In one instance, this was following a fall last year resulting in serious injury from a bolted pitch,' Judge says. 'I think there is a more recent approach that putting in bolts does involve responsibility to those who later do the climb.'
Brown agrees that there is a trend towards making climbs safer, and stresses the importance of diversity and quality in this approach. But the real sticking points seem to be how, or if, to upgrade old routes. As a young South Island climber who doesn't want to be named points out: 'At the end of the day these historical routes are affecting developments which I think are in the interests of the climbing community. There needs to be a balance of preserving the past, but also looking to the future. What is the problem with putting more bolts on a route if it is actually going to be climbed. These old, dangerous routes just don't see any traffic. It's a waste of good rock.'
This climber is referring to ethics, an age-old climbing chestnut that has invigorated and continues to invigorate many a campfire discussion. Take Queenstown climber Daniel Joll. One of the strongest alpinists in this country, Joll is focussed towards pushing his own climbing boundaries, but has also been busy lately encouraging other climbers of all abilities. He has been instrumental in setting up the very popular Queenstown Ice and Mixed Festival, and recently helped establish a mentoring programme for young climbers.
Joll is very clear about his own climbing ethic, an ethic he thinks should be widespread. 'What we're talking about is pretty simply really,' he explains. 'This is about two seperate issues. Firstly is it okay to re bolt old or replace a bad bolt? The answer I think everyone agrees on is yes. Replace them with another bolt in a similar position. There is no need to consult over this. The other issue that has everyone wound up is whether someone should change a route just because they find the prospect of leading it too scary. No, it's not. Leave it in the style of the first ascent.'


But not all climbers take as quite as strong a stance as Joll. Ed Nepia is an old(er) climber who, in the past, has been active in putting up new routes. He believes that, in certain situations, there is a place for retro-bolting. 'But I strongly believe it's worth thinking very hard about the merits of each route on a case by case basis,' he says. 'Yes, in some places retro-bolting may be required, but it should be a measured approach. I just find it bizarre to be part of a climbing community which on one hand gets endless milage out of recycling old climbing history, retelling old stories and admiring top end achievement. Yet on the other hand there are folks banging on about elitist attitudes, and altering historic lines to meet the new safety-first ethic. Does history count any more? Do people see a benefit in pushing themselves mentally any more?'
So where to from here? What do we value about climbing, and what direction do we want it to head in? There is certainly room for a variety of routes and a divergence of views. But it's clear from the more than 250 comments on the Drug Abuse post that consultation with the wider community might have been a good idea before all the extra bolts were placed. How this consultation should be facilitated and measured is another issue, and I guess something that the NZAC needs to consider how or whether to be involved in. My feeling is that it certainly should be.
And what about Drug Abuse? Nepia climbed the route before it was retro-bolted. 'It was certainly an exciting and runout line, bold but not lethal,' he recalls. 'I would like to have seen the route cleaned and just the old bolts replaced to start with. Then it should have been climbed. This seems like a sensible way to assess the character of a route rather then just assuming it was a death route. It could have been a route to aspire to, not just another sport route to tick.'


I can't say I'm unbiased in this topic. For me it's about the pursuit of good style and an aspirational ethic that, while we as climbers might not be able to match all the time, we at least recognise and understand what it is. Surely this is the direction we should be encouraging the next generation of climbers towards.
So, I'll leave the final words to yet another aging rock jock (who occasionally also ventured into the mountains) Mike Rockell: 'Different climbs will always have different levels of risk associated with them. This is one of the things that makes rock climbing great. Having been climbing for 35 plus years and coming from an era when bolts were to be minimised, and danger was a real factor, it is interesting to see that there seems to be a recent trend to think that every rock climb should be made safe. I think this is a reflection of our risk averse society. Managed risk taking is an important facet of life, and we are in danger of taking this away. Sure it's good to have a number of climbs that are safe. They are fun and pleasant and good for skill development. But, when I think back, the climbs that I remember best are the ones that had some spice. The ones that required mental strength, self control, careful assessment of what I was getting into. It would be a tragedy if this element of climbing was lost, and that is why we need to defend this aspect carefully and not let the creeping proliferation of additional bolts on routes continue unchallenged.'