Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rock Climbing

The turn-off to Hanging Rock is on that boring bit of road between Geraldine and Fairlie. You are yearning for the McKenzie Basin, but there is this interminable and messy jumble of hills and valleys as you head inland. Leaving the main road the surface quickly turns to gravel and limestone outcrops peer out from amongst the mohawks of scrub on the ridge crests. We have been in this area orienteering, its well known for its "dolines", giant limestone plateaus covered with circular depressions.

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A google map of the doline formations in the south canterbury hinterland

The crag is easy to find with the guide "Rock Deluxe" and the routes close to the carpark. We sign in, not much action here recently, and go looking for the easy routes. Speed King a highly recommended 15, about my limit if previous performance is anything to go by. They make it sound easy in the book:

A wandering line of pockets that kicks off with big moves under the arete. Meander up the slab and eventually move left at the last bolt to a rounded top-out

Its been a while. Not enough kayaking or work. I am like T-Rex going up the rock. Big fat legs hanging off piddly arms. The start is steep. I swing round into good hand holds and stretch off them to put in the second draw. I try to reach up, too far, to make the clip, burnt arms. Penny has never belayed a lead climber before, my arms are so weak, the rest of my body is hanging off them like a big lump of jelly, elvis has entered the building, I am arched away from the rock like a stretching cat. I slither down hastily and take the fall. Penny is wedgied into the air before the stretch in the rope smoothes things. Haha, this is why we have taken this sport up, a bit of teamwork, a bit of trust, some skill development?

Problem is my goose is cooked now and that second draw is laughing at us from up on the face. I try briefly but it ain't going to happen. Penny has a go to, but not having led before she lacks confidence. We retire to plums and museli bars, out of sight of that smirking draw, looking out over the river and the mottled play of light on the rolling hills.

Right! This is going to happen. I bite the bullet and make the most ungamely of moves. A giant anteater imitating the tribe of monkeys. But the clip happens and the pockets get bigger. I work my way up, not exactly gaining in confidence or agility but determined to succeed. The last section is a rounded arete with a lovely view and belay perch, awesome! This is the story. I engage in safety overkill, not confident in my skills; a safety on the chain, then the rope, clove hitched to the chain and back to my harness and back to the chain and back to my harness. On belay!! And minutes later Penny is up there too, smiling after the final slab is overcome. I haven't taught her to abseil yet so I lower her and rap off, again with caution, a prussik to supplement the double rope, although I suspect the greater risk is jamming the prussik. We wander back to the car satisfied and head for the McKenzie Basin.

Mt Cook glistens behind the climbers memorial in the Hooker Valley

After an overnight camp at Whitehorse Hill, chocka with campas and campers. We head for Sebastopol Bluffs and Red Arete. It's easier, thankfully, a low angled 13 on enjoyable rock. Penny cruises up behind me and I continue up the second pitch. Its an adventure for us novices this caper, great fun. The wind starts howling at the top, buffeting me as I look for the safety chain. But what a spot! A flat ledge looking out over the Hooker and Tasman valleys, the sun is rising over the mountains to the north east and down below us on the first pitch a mountain guide is nonchantly instructing a bunch of tyros on some sort of anchor instruction. He looks so at ease in this vertical environment. Strolling up the rock face. Penny follows and we sit for a while taking in the view.

Sebastopol Bluffs, Red Arete at right

The descent reinforces the need for rope management, four abseils and the rope gets more and more twisted. I start putting Penny on the rope above me, but she expresses confidence to lace herself in, so I abseil and belay her from below. We can do this safely but painfully slowly at the moment. Its a relief to hit the bottom and take off the climbing shoes, second hand several years ago and not getting any bigger! We rest in the shade of the scrub at the foot of the bluffs as the sun starts to hot up, its only a quick waddle over to the car out at the main road, in the middle of that vast landscape.

Penny approaching the top of the second pitch

Down to Wanaka and we give Sam Kane a ring, cousin of Pennys and now accomplice in outdoor adventures. He is available to show us the ropes of Wanaka sport climbing. Penny and I, and another cousin Leo pick him and girlfriend Kate up the next morning and we head up towards the Matukituki, scene of many previous adventures, but this time we stop where the road crosses the Motatapu. The "riverside crag" is the one they tell us, for beginners like us. We look in our book and the easiest route is like 24, but fortunately the book is out of date. Its a great little crag a complete sprectrum from 12 to 16. Kate is better than us and she leads the latter, leaving the top rope set up for us to muck around. All the climbs have a blank section in the middle and we focus on getting the feet up first and maintaining balance. A good learning experience. Sam leads one of the other climbs and hesitates before making the final clip...

Sam thinking about making the final clip

Great fun and now we are in Wellington we can't wait to hone our skills on the Freyburg Wall, Fergs, Titaki Bay and then the Central North Island Rock.

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