Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mount Percy Smith

I first caught a glimpse of Percy Smith at dusk in the winter of 2004. Kynan Bazley and I had just topped out on nearby Ward, in the Hopkins Valley, after snaking up a dozen pitches of virgin ice on its south east face. Greeted by one of those glorious winter alpenglow sunsets that never fails to mesmerise, we were still driven by a need to lose considerable height before nightfall.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Above The Snowline - A reminder about winter climbing

The forecast was solid. The temperature had dipped well below freezing. Kynan and I were in search of ice, fat runnels of the stuff that flowed tantalisingly down steep narrow gullies. Winter is the time to go forth, with ice crampons sharpened and ice axes held to attention.
We picked a valley of promise, wading waist deep through snow drifts that had somehow predicted which way we wanted to travel. Doing this for hours on end should be promoted as the next big Jenny Craig’s weight loss phenomena. By the time we had found a place to bivvy I was (a) completely poked, (b) frozen at my extremities yet overheating at my core, and (c) over it. I threw my pack down, kicked half-heartedly at a patch of snow before unfurling my sleeping mat, bivvy bag and sleeping bag. Later on came the hours of snow melting to rehydrate, and then a poor attempt at sleeping. My water bottle froze inside my sleeping bag, as did I. Spindrift blew in the small opening in my bivvy bag, thawing, dripping and then refreezing. I lay in the dark and imagined warm tropical beaches with palm trees and bikinis and pina coladas. Are we having fun yet?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Time Between Tides - article in White Horses

Light lifts night's veil from the sea like a parting of the fog. There's a decent north swell still rolling in, the remnants of Cyclone Lucy which gave the country a good slapping earlier in the week. Waves radiate towards land – the ocean's pulse, which is also my lifeblood on many a glass-sculpted, windless dawn such as this.

Monday, June 30, 2014

MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent - gear review

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX (the NX stands for Next Generation) is marketed as offering a number of significant improvements over the previous model of Hubba Hubba. As someone familiar with the old version, and with its strengths and weaknesses, I was intrigued to see how MSR had tweaked the design.
The main faults I found with the old version were its lack of structural integrity – due to the pole design, the bulk of the tent's stability was based on the two side peg placements – and the chance of the fly touching the inner at each end when wet or windy. These concerns have been either fixed or, at the very least, improved.
First up improvement is the weight. With a minimum weight of 1.54kg – including tent, rainfly and poles only – this is around 10% lighter than the older model. This is pretty light for a two person, non single skin, three season tent.
While a weight reduction can sometimes mean the tent is less durable or waterproof, this doesn't seem to be the case here. Fabric specifications indicate that the tent is reasonably waterproof and, if an extra groundsheet is used, quite durable, especially for the weight.
The NX also has several new features and design tweaks that make it more comfortable and more weather resistant – benefits that, together with the weight savings, combine for a vastly improved tent.
The waterproof portion of the inner sidewalls are now higher and have a short solid nylon panel that helps to block dirt and wind. The distance from the inner tent to the outer tent has also been increased at the ends, enhancing ventilation while reducing the probability that the outer tent will touch the inner tent wall when wet. There is a guypoint here for extra tensioning if required in strong winds.
I like that the vestibule doors have been redesigned for easier entry, and a new guypoint increases overall tent stability and weather resistance. The tent also now has a vent at each end, and has slightly more space inside. There are some other smaller design details, like the grommets and pole clips, that have been redesigned to save weight seemingly without reducing strength. All in all, the NX appears to offer quite an improvement over the older Hubba Hubba.
My only concern, however, remains. The double star, single pole set up is quite complicated. I would hate for the bungy cord inside to break – trying to work out how or where to fix it will not be easy. Complicated pole structures are more likely to fail than simple pole structures. The pole of the Hubba Hubba is like a huge TV aerial that takes some wrestling to get into position, and I wonder about its integrity in a storm.
Other than that, this is a pretty good tent.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Friends And Surfboards - article in White Horses

I've just bought a new surfboard and lost a best mate. The board is a 6' 4'' c-wing quad from a friend and master shaper, Roger Hall at Surfline. Roger was one of the surfing mentors of my now very dusty youth, a visionary of shapes and techniques that has taken me more than 35 years immersion in the watery arts to fully realise. This is my second custom from him, to go with a super fun, old school, twin keel that keeps me company on smaller days.

Good things take time...but can also be lost in seconds. The mate was Jamie, a climbing god/surfing apprentice whose minor slip on the side of a mountain has had sickening, final consequences. A small wave of snow – no larger than the floorspace of a bedroom – carried him over the edge and down a gully that no one could recover from. Another good friend was with him at the time, and he watched helplessly as Jamie slipped from sight. The weight of this is still sinking in, and no doubt will be for longer than I care to think about.
The board turns up in the post. Clearly a work of art, I wonder momentarily whether it's more appropriate on the wall in our home rather than soon-to-be under my clumsy feet. Glueing a deck grip on seems sacrilege. The wax creates its own random and affecting patterns across the polished surface.
I took a phone call from Jamie's mother last night. It's been just over a month, and she's having trouble sleeping. 'I believe he's still here, in a place I can't quite reach but I feel his presence,' she said. I knew this was my time to be strong, but the tears felt so, so close. I tried to find the right words when there aren't any, to be able to soften the free fall she is experiencing; that we are all experiencing. Life just fucking sucks some times.

It's a Monday morning. Dark clouds are gathering inland, on the foothills, a precursor to rain according to the forecast. The wind is from the southwest, brisk through the trees in our garden. These days it seems my wife Shelley and I take a moment longer to hug before parting. She completed the hardest climb of her life with Jamie; I'd watched from below as they spidered up an unclimbed monstrosity of a mountain face, the rock like scales on the mountain's armor and loathe to allow passage. At a small snow shelf just below the summit, Jamie decided that they should descend.
Shelley can be prone to summit fever and, despite a storm approaching from the coast, she would have continued climbing. The rain hit that night – a nightmarish jumble of what if's shrouding my mind as they managed to get off the mountain just as thick cloud swallowed the last of dusk's warbled sheen. We were at least two days walk from the nearest road. I quietly thanked Jamie for making the right call.
The three of us often surfed together near our old Christchurch home in the days before the earthquakes, before sewerage flooded into the sea and turned it to a cesspool. Jamie took pleasure in telling me that his younger brother Sam was gifted in the ocean. He wanted to keep practicing, so he could get good enough to be able to share waves with his bro.

At first, Jamie and Shelley were similarly skilled at learning to surf. The shore break was not their friend. But Jamie's long arms hauled him out the back more often, and his athletic ability slowly adjusted. His ratio of successful takeoffs to wipeouts improved, and his 'poo stance' narrowed. But the wicked side to me enjoyed watching him occasionally cop a beating from set waves. I savored the irony of the situation, comparing it to being in the mountains when it would be Jamie cajoling me onto steeper faces despite me whinging that I was out of my depth.
Climbing was Jamie's passion but surfing was his release, he once told me. He liked that it didn't come easily, that he had to learn the way of the ocean just like he had learned the mountain path. That he was one of the country's best climbers didn't come into it, at least not to him.
With my new board and a heavy heart, I go in search of waves. The main southern coast has crosswinds, but there's just enough swell to bend into a secluded sandy beach brushed with steady offshores. The beach is empty, the way I wish my mind would be. I think about the other weekend when I returned to the mountains, to a place I had last climbed with Jamie. It was a similar time of year, and familiar fangs of ice squeezed between otherwise blank rock walls, steep frozen staircases that had let us climb that little bit closer to whatever it was we were seeking.
Now, I'm trying to distance my own perception of risk from the grief in my heart. Of course, I wonder at the worth of chasing dreams, especially when the cost can be so goddamned high. And how does it make me feel about my own climbing, about surfing, about life?
Any imagined symbolism between a new surfboard and a dead friend is tenuous at best. The new board and my ice axes are simply tools, taking me to places I couldn't otherwise reach. And the mountains? The sea? These are my dynamic, inspiring, and sometimes frightening pathways. I don't always get them, but I get needing to be among them. The quality of the wave or pureness of the climbing line doesn't matter, at least not always. Just knowing I have the opportunity....
First immersion always has a bite to it in these parts, but the wetsuit does what it's supposed to and I ease into the line-up. Only shoulder high, the waves hold a gentle, forgiving ambience that fits perfectly. I glide into an A-frame on my new board and slide to my feet. The sun reflects off the water around me, tiny slivers of intimate light. The carpet rides beautifully, without thought.

I guess my feelings have been compounded by recently losing another friend Marty to the mountains. Marty was considered a world class high altitude climber and guide. He died, with his only son Denali, high on the slopes of K2, the world's second highest mountain. Jamie and I had caught up for lunch not long after Marty and Denali's death, when I was up working in Christchurch. We talked about how it made us feel about our own climbing. Shelley and I had been busy planning a trip to Nepal to attempt an unclimbed mountain but, after Marty and Denali's death, we 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. You understand your limits.'
Jamie was killed a week after that conversation.
The waves do what they need to. I sit between sets and watch the water, the denim-blue of the sky and the effortless sweep of an albatross further out to sea. Ocean current carries me down the coast, towards another point. There, on the shore, a lone yellow-eyed-penguin stands and watches. No doubt he wants me to piss off so he can safely enter the water. I figure it's perhaps time to head in.
At Jamie's service, before a sea of light-shrouded faces, I spoke of my treasured friendship with him, how he inspired me to strive for things, even if I didn't think I'd reach them. Jamie always liked to challenge my ideas or way of thinking. I can see him prodding me now to come up with something positive. 'Come on Paul, all that thinking and writing you do. 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 valued so highly. 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 – on cold, windswept mountainsides – but that's not quite the same.
Maybe it is, as Jamie so often illustrated to me, the case that actions are always stronger than words.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Basis For A Great Therapeutic Massage

Mmmm...a decent deep tissue massage. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. Over the years of my various athletic and sporting endeavors I’ve learnt the value of massage therapy, and have experienced a range of different sport massages – some good and some not so memorable. For me, the best massage therapists are like the best coffee – strong, reliable and available whenever you feel the need.
So with an upcoming expedition to climb Anidesha Chuli (6815) in the Eastern Himalaya of Nepal this April/May, and the physical and mental demands of training and planning for it, I figured it was a good idea to source a decent therapist in Dunedin.
Fortunately, my friend Theo Wallis and his brother Matthew have recently started up The Muscle Mechanics, a sports massage business opposite Les Mills Gym in Dowling Street. I gave Theo a call and was stoked when he offered me a deal on 3 months of weekly deep pressure massages aimed specifically at supporting my training for the expedition. Having weekly sessions with Theo, through his athletic support package, would certainly help greatly in my training regime.
I have had 6 weekly sessions with Theo now and am pleasantly surprised to see that the program is actually making a noticeable difference to my health and fitness. Recovery has been quicker after strenuous exercise, which means I am able to train more intensely and more frequently. I have had no niggles or injuries to hinder my training, and really look forward to my Tuesday morning massages – perfect timing after a weekend of training!

While Theo and Matthew also offer a much lighter relaxation massage, it is the deep tissue/ deep pressure massage where Theo sees the most benefits for his clients.
'Our goal here is to release as much tension as possible during each session,' he says. 'Working towards a desired level of intensity, there will be a noticed improved muscle recovery and development.'
Theo and Matthew have put together a very sharp little business. They are both big and strong which seems to help them hit the right err spots, and they also have created their own intimate studio, including an insulated internal room which they heat to 25ยบ. During my massages, I have found the warmer temperature to be very relaxing and comfortable, especially when coming in from a chilly day outside or if my muscles have been quite sore from my last training session.
The quality of Theo and Matthews' business and massage skills doesn't come as much of a surprise – adventure sports with a health and fitness focus have been an integral part of both of their lives.
I’ve known Theo since 2005, when we worked and surfed together in Otago.
A rangy teenager with a big grin, back then Theo and his mates chased southern waves, before wanderlust took hold. Theo spent the summer of 2006 teaching at a surf camp in San Diego, then ski instructed in Whistler and surfed round Vancouver. He returned home for a year, and in 2008 joined a volunteer LEAP (Local Empowerment Assistance Project) programme in Sumatra. When the LEAP programme ended, Theo headed to Perth, where he worked on Rottenest Island and looked a luxury yacht before sailing it up to Indonesia. ‘I did a lot of strength and endurance training, pushing my body, starting to become aware of how it works and recovers’ he says. It was there that Theo focused on yoga, and after 2 years of setting up and running an impressive holistic center called Power of Now Oasis in Bali (I had the pleasure of visiting there in 2010), he has returned to New Zealand to spend more time with his family and friends especially his brother Matthew.
Matthew is also sport and health focused. His travels have included North America, South East Asia, Bali and Europe where he snowboarded, surfed, kite-boarded, mountain biked, dived, and did meditation retreats, as well as working with youth, building and pursuing adventure sports here in Dunedin.

In preparation for setting up their health and fitness based massage business together, the brothers have both spent 18 months doing a Practical Apprenticeship with their Uncle David Baillie before studying with The Lotus College last year.
'I guess this is just another step along a path to helping people lead healthy lives,' Theo tells me. 'My own life is very focused towards a balance of health, fitness and fun, and I see massage therapy as a vital element of an optimal lifestyle.’
Theo explains that they personally receive massage therapy every week and find it very effective in releasing tension as well as assisting to repair and rebuild a more efficient, higher performing body that stays more resistant to injury.
Theo is excited about the current success of The Muscle Mechanics studio, and for the prospects ahead. 'Dunedin is a great place to live, and we are stoked to be able to offer this service as a complimentary part of the ultimate life style,' he says. 'There is a young, sports-orientated population here and plenty of outdoor pursuits to get immersed in. Health and personal fitness is an important part of life.' Theo also studying Sports Nutrition and Matthew Personal Training, so they are looking forward to continuing to expand their business and become a cornerstone for their clients health and fitness based lifestyle.
As for me, weekly massages with Theo is allowing me to train harder, which in turn increases my chance for success in the Himalaya. Being around someone as fit and focused as Theo, helps with my motivation in the short term, so that my long term goals may come to fruition.

For more information go to Theo and Matthew's website: www.themusclemechanics.co.nz