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.