Trip Reports

'Darrans Story' Story by Pete Ramage

posted 12 May 2013, 20:42 by Chelsea Zgierski-Boreyko   [ updated 12 May 2013, 20:43 ]

A phone jangled in the pre-dawn darkness. It was our alarm: time to get up. I tried to think of an excuse to stay in bed, a reason why the alarm might not apply to me, but drew a blank. It was time to get up. Breakfast was plain porridge, and tasted like ash in my mouth.  I was filled with a deep feeling of foreboding.

We’d decided to try to do the Traverse Pass route, but backwards. It would mean heading up the Gertrude Valley to the Gertrude Saddle, then up the snow slopes to the North West Ridge of Mt Talbot. We’d head along this until we could drop down onto the snowfield on the other side, and scoot across to Mt McPherson. Then it would just be a matter of abseiling down Talbot’s Ladder to the Homer Saddle, and following the steep track back to the road and eventually the hut. We knew it would take a while, but by leaving at 5:00am, we hoped to have the bulk of the route done by lunchtime.

We tramped up the Gertrude valley in the dawn twilight; Tony Stephen and I.  None of us spoke, each preparing for the long day ahead. We made good time up the valley, following the cairns as the path criss-crossed through the long wet grass, and later through the boulder strewn riverbed. Getting from here up to the Gertrude saddle was a slow, hard plod. Tony and I pulled out our axes to cross the first snowfield, eager to put them to use, while Stephen followed behind, axe still on his pack.

Our first stop was at Black Lake. Here we filled up with water, Tony put on his boots and we all donned harnesses, shells and an extra layer. We followed the cables upward, through the slab and snow to the saddle. Here we stopped again. Our estimates of clothes had been way off, and it was time to take all the warm layers off again. We looked upwards at the Traverse Pass on Mt Talbot, the sunlight moving down the face towards us.

From the saddle up to the Traverse started as a scramble. It was precarious: slightly wet, covered in snowgrass, and exposed all the way to the Gulliver Valley, close to a thousand meters below. Despite this, Tony and Stephen made their way up happily, leaving me to scare myself a little way behind. The scrambling quickly gave way to snow though, and we donned crampons, took a sip of water, and headed up.

The Sun was baking hot on the snow. We’d left early to make sure the snow stayed hard while we were on it, but even after just an hour in the sun it was starting to soften. We Soldiered on though, and made it to the North-West Ridge of Talbot by about lunchtime. One look at the ridge though was enough to convince us to turn the other way, towards McPherson, and continue on our way.

We pitched our way slowly towards peak 2021m, our highpoint, at the other end of the ridge, with a yawning gulf below us and the safe side of a cornice above us. Crampons skittered off rocks as we weaved in and out of the ridgeline, trusting our belayer, some hastily driven snow stakes and a sling here and there to keep us from the abyss.

Here was the most amazing sight. From the ridge and Peak 2021m, we were about 500m above the Homer and Gertrude Saddles, and 1500m above the valley floor. We could peer down from our vantage point, and see the aeroplanes and helicopters taking tourists to Milford flying through these saddles far below. It felt like we were seeing the Darrans the honest way, with our own blood, sweat and tears.

 We dropped down onto the snowfield between McPherson and Talbot, after a brief lunch and some summit photos. After so long struggling up to the ridge and then along it, going down felt wonderful, and we made good time to the upper slopes of McPherson in about 20 minutes. Here we met an unexpected sight: one of our fellow guests in the Homer Hut glissading down to meet us from the summit, his girlfriend walking sensibly behind.  We exchanged pleasantries, but were quickly on our way, wary of late afternoon avalanches.

Tony and Stephen then made a quick detour to the summit of McPherson, while I stayed behind, to keep the packs warm: I’d had enough of going up.  Following the snowfield of McPherson brought us to the top of Talbot’s Ladder: a narrow ridge leading up from Homer Saddle. We rigged the ropes and abseiled the four pitches ‘till it flattened out.

At the saddle, feasting on chocolate and bananas in the evening sun, we saw a couple coming down behind us. They were quite happily walking down what we had just abseiled. We met them on the way down, and they were kind enough to return the tat we had left for abseil anchors.

The rest of the way down was a jarring and sore trudge for tired legs; a steep descent down rocky switchbacks. The ground was gravelly, so we had to take great care not to slip and slide all the way down. It was a relief to finally get back to the road. Then it was a short walk back to the hut. We got back at 7:00pm, 14 hours after we had set out, tired, sore and blistered, but with huge grins on our faces.

Whanganui Bay Expedition

posted 6 Oct 2010, 14:03 by Miles Mason

On 01/10/10, 9 intrepid AURACians attempted to leave Auckland for a weekend of climbing. This is their story.

Text by Lucas Hogan. Photos by Addis Lee, Ann-Kathrin Schlesselman and Miles Mason.

I had a tough decision to make. How was I going to spend my weekend? There were two options on the table, both equally enticing. There was a standing invitation to a house party at my neighbour’s, the theme...Oktoberfest. On the other hand our own Miles Mason had organized a trip to Whanganui Bay. The weather and the crag both promised to be phenomenal, however, I was torn between a fantastic few days getting back to nature and my love of
lederhosen and beer.

In the end, I chose nature.

I was desperate to get out of Auckland and recharge the batteries. Arriving at Auckland Uni Friday afternoon I met the group who I would spend the next two days with. Some familiar faces, some new, but all kind and eager to get on the road. Using packing skills honed from years of playing Tetris, we packed into two cars and headed out. Classic small talk of music tastes and climbing accompany us out of the city until we crest a hill and meet a line of tail lights in front of us. Braking hard, Miles brings the car to a stop. I see him breath out a sigh and a look of relief passes over his face. In the next instant his eyes go wide and he jerks his head around to get a better view of what he just witnessed in the mirror. I follow suit and see Jörg’s SUV slightly cocked and beside a canary yellow sedan whose front end was about 30 cm shorter.

Accidents have a funny way of changing plans. We had planned to sleep like hobos on the side of the road eating muesli bars and wishing we had a fire. Instead I woke up in a bed in Hamilton and had scrambled eggs for breakfast. The car crash had caused no one any serious harm, however we did take a jaunt to the hospital for Lucy to get X-rayed. A quick note for those of you who like me have spent pleasantly little time in hospitals. When looking for your
friend who was just in a car crash remember that adults don’t tend to be examined in section labelled “Rainbow Corridor” no matter how sunny a disposition they have. Leaving the hospital, Jörg’s vehicle drove back to Auckland for the night and ours to Hamilton where Jan hosted us. Rendezvousing in the morning, we found that we had only lost two of the group due to stiffness from the accident.

Two hours later I’m bouncing down a dirt road. To my left a gushing waterfall, straight ahead the village of Whanganui Bay nestled on the shores of Lake Taupo. The water was as smooth as a mirror and there was a crisp breeze in the air. Dumping my gear I take a longing look at the lake. The inviting shores make it difficult to muster the energy to do more than lift a beer and stare blankly out onto the lake.

The first climb offers an even better view. Dangling from a length of nylon I stare for a good five minutes before I realize others want to witness this same vista. Coming down I dodge gorse and descend into the shade of the woods below. The whole atmosphere is relaxed. Jörg slumbers peacefully on the trail. Jan lounges against a tree while belaying. My only motivation to climb is to get another view of lake. I give in and walk back down to the shore letting the
evening sun warm my back and colour sky. The others return. Emma has joined the group. Dinner, fire, and music. Classic camping times. I haven’t felt so relaxed in months.

It’s Sunday morning and I find myself wedged between two pieces of rock. My harness is pulling down with the weight of a cooker, two water bottles and rope. “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” keeps playing in my head as I squirm and shuffle my way up past wedged rocks and onto a small ledge where Emma and Jan greet me. Jan disappears up the next pitch. I move past Emma and up a small slab where Miles waves from his position belaying
me. I sit on a cold rock and stare up at the third pitch we have to climb. Ben emerges next to Miles, then Ann, Addis and Jörg appear on the ledge followed by Emma. The eight of us sit shivering slightly wishing the sun would shine on the ledge. Emma begins to lead the last pitch placing gear in the crack. Things like “Oh damn.” and “Tough as nails...” bounce around our new home on the ledge. Then comes a voice from above, “Damn it, what an inopportune time to have to tie a shoe.” I look up and see Emma with half her body jammed in a crack tying her shoe with one hand a good four metres above her last gear placement. More “Oh damns.” Emma disappears over the edge. One by one the group ascends the crack. Hauling myself up, my harness clanks like an old prospector. My hand reaches the ledge and I ungracefully haul myself up. Sweat stinging my eyes and leg bleeding I look out to the lake.

I unhook the cooker and start the tea boiling. I think how I would describe this to my family and friends. Words make poor descriptions of such beauty so I won’t try. Photos do a slightly better job, however they can’t capture the feeling of being there. The view from atop Tibia was spectacular for more than the clear day and the beautiful lake below. There was the effort to get up there. There were the hours spent with friends squeezing between rocks and shivering in the cold. There was the good natured teasing and helpful coaching. And finally, there was a cup of tea waiting for you 50m above the ground. There are eight people who know what the top of Tibia looked like that day, and it would be a shame if I ruined that perception with a bumbling portrayal so I’ll leave it at that.

50 m down a rope and I’m back on the forest floor. I trounce back through the woods, climbing over rocks and scrambling up and down banks. The smell of soil fills my nostrils as I walk out to the sunshine and the lake shore. Snapping the final pictures to remember the weekend, we strike camp and pack back into cars, our headlights bouncing on the dirt road. As we pull out onto the asphalt I reflect upon the last two days. I realize that I haven’t had so much fun while being so relaxed in ages. There was climbing, adventures, camping, and best of all great people.

At the beginning of this report I mentioned that I needed to get out of Auckland for a few days recharge the batteries. Whanganui Bay was the perfect place to do this. See for yourself when the next trip goes down this coming Labour Weekend.

Ruapehu Solo

posted 12 Jul 2010, 22:19 by Miles Mason

Ruapehu Solo from Miles Mason on Vimeo.

A video taken over the weekend 10/07/2010 - 12/07/2010

Buck Rock

posted 19 Apr 2010, 15:29 by Miles Mason

Writing by Jörg Setzepfand, Photos by Michelle Ackron and Addis Lee. This was the first ever AURAC trip to Buck Rock, a very new crag that is still under developement. Hopefully there will be many more trip to this huge piece of rock in the Waikato.

After we (Michelle, Emily, Patrik, Addis and Joerg) left Auckland almost on time not long after we were pretty confident in our plan of arriving at Buck Rock early, to do a short walk in and then get to the crag and start climbing well before lunch. Traffic wasn't bad at all and we kept chatting until we found ourselves having a conversation about K gorge and how nice that area is as we drove through it. And then ... wait a minute, is K gorge supposed to be on the way?... The big L&P bottle at Paeroa must have distracted us. Our plans compromising the advertising by repainting the bottle with the Lift logo had sent us a few k's off the right track. After that scenic detour, we were finally at the carpark at the bottom of the Buck Rock area at about 11 and we quickly packed our stuff and shot off up the hill to get to the crag as soon as possible. Patrick took the lead at a brisk pace which sent me to the tail pretty soon, panting like an old steam ship and swearing about the person responsible for all that sh ... . Nevermind, it will ease soon and all will be good, the track is not too bad and we should be there soon. Or so I thought...

I am not the greatest navigator due to a sense of direction like a turtle, but with the others guiding I foresaw myself already putting on my harness and starting the first climb any minute. Might have been the lack of oxygen that left me in that imagination but after 50 minutes walking even I had to accept that we might have missed the side trail off the main track. Clambering up the top section of 'Buck Rock track' ("warning steep trail leading to the top of sheer cliffs") we passed an old mining shaft, which was mentioned in the guide, and finally reached the rock and started cheering. Pretty proud to get there after just one minor back track. Only one fact was a bit concerning, not the lack of blue and orange tape marking the path, not the gorse bushes scratching our legs (boo for wearing short trousers ...), but the total lack of any bolts. Might be the wrong spot then. After Emily's reconnaissance/bush-crashing and several side trips into the bush and sprained ankles, we had to turn back to the main track and headed back until 'eagle eye' Emily spotted the faded orange tag leading to the climbers track.


At the crag (by about 1:30) we were rewarded with an amazing view over the farmland and to the forest and ranges on the opposite side and a lovely tall sheer rock face, this time with heaps of bolts for us to play with which made us skip the lunch and getting ready for climbing. Starting with "Buckle" a nice 12 metre grade 16 for warm up, we all got a nice taste of what Buck Rock is like. Sketchy slab climbing with some good holds in between and even some runouts - good one to start with. Only the missing second bolt for the top anchor was a bit annoying but being up there was a nice exposed feeling. It felt much more than 12metres... While having some lunch we studied the guide and picked a nice 18 round to the right (the shortest 10m I've ever seen) called "Bring Back Buck" as the next mission to accomplish. Another route (a 17) further to the right was taken in consideration but due to the fact that getting to the base was sketchier than anything at K Bay and that even once you got there the belay point was really not secure we skipped it. A fall of the leader would have sent both belayer and climber another 5 plus meters down the hill hopefully towards nasty looking big branches, cos if not it would be a long way down through the bush. After an easy first bolt, a lot of swearing during the bridging part and a couple of fairly long runouts you arrive the anchor spot (with two draws more than you thought you'd have... apparently 6 and 8 are pretty much the same), which is quite large and has two bolted chains and a very large drill. This is also the start for the second pitch which we skipped because it was getting late and the weather was turning. Everybody had a go on this one and Patrik cleaned it in light rain and with sunset already starting.

As you can see we couldn't get much climbing in and you could say that compared to other locations like Froggatt it's much more hassle to get there. However, exploring this crag was definitely worth it and the knowledge we gained is a good starting point for next time. It guarantees some epic multi pitching that's for sure, and also the single pitches are already quite long and challenging. It's worth remembering that  considering that according to the guide some of the routes (i.e. the ones we been on) were just set a couple of month ago that area has heaps of potential and as far as we could see (from the bolting gear at the base and rather large drill at the top of the 18) the development is still ongoing.  Another big big plus is the greek pizza place in Paeroa - just AUSTIN !!! Well the toilet access is kind of strange because you have to go through the kitchen but the Tzatziki (Yoghurt -  Garlic - Cucumber - and other secret ingredients - dressing) is the best i had outside Europe so far.


estimates ...

- 1.5 to 2 hour drive to the place
- 45 minute walk in
- weather forecast: fine with cloudy periods

reality ...

- 3 hour drive in (if you come to K-gorge you went too far)
- 2.5 hour walk in (if you see a sign saying 'Buck Rock track' you went too far)
- weather: wind, cloud cover and occasional rain

besides that ...

- awesome view
- challenging routes
- good bunch of people
- great finish in Paeroa

Mangaokewa – bunga!

posted 25 Mar 2010, 22:51 by Miles Mason   [ updated 26 Mar 2010, 03:43 ]

Last Sunday (21/03/2010), Patrick, Jörg, Brian, Dan, Whitney and Chris went for a one day trip to Mangaokewa, near Te Kuiti.

Here's Whitney Baillie's take on what went on:

I have to say that I was a little hesitant to respond to Patrick’s email about the day trip to Mangaokewa, not only because he said that he was planning to leave at 7am on Sunday, but also because he said he was looking for some experienced climbers.  I would not call myself experienced by any means, but I responded to the email anyway and I’m really glad that I did. 

I showed up on Sunday morning on about four hours of sleep (I was so nervous that I was going to sleep through my alarm that I had trouble even falling asleep!) and we piled into two cars for the 2.5 hour journey to Te Kuiti where we, of course, stopped at a bakery to get our food for the day.  A short drive later I found myself looking up the beautiful (and fairly tall) hill that we had to hike up to get to the crag.  I felt like our hike was steeper than 45 degrees, but once we got up there I realized that it was worth it. 

Patrick and Jörg set up some top ropes and we got to climbing.  I was the only girl (and the only one with hardly any outdoor experience) so I had some trouble climbing on the limestone (which I think is also particularly difficult to climb, but maybe that’s just me), but everyone was very patient with me.  Everyone did their best to give me tips and not try and rush me to the top.  Even though I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped at our first spot, I did learn a lot of new things including how to climb a crack.  When we had climbed to what I had thought was everyone’s exhaustion, Patrick announced that we were moving to a new spot.

We climbed a somewhat dodgy ladder to make it to the second tier of the crag.  Although the trip to the top did make me fear for my life, the view was breathtaking. On the top tier there is a climb called Angry American (18) which Patrick thought was necessary for us to try since some of us on the trip were Americans.  The guys did a great job on a really challenging climb (there was a portion where they had to climb up a stalactite AND at the very end the overhand is about a 45 degree angle!) and they were even able to stop and take pictures along the way. Needless to say, I was impressed.

Once we had conquered Angry American, we were all exhausted and hungry, so we decided to head back.  We stopped in a small town for dinner where I had the most interesting (but very delicious) veggie burger of my life, and then we were on the road.   We made it home around 10:30 PM (alive thanks to my constant talking so that Chris wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel) and I was exhausted, but the good kind.  I really enjoyed the atmosphere of climbing in a small group and I hope this was my first trip of many!

O-TRIP 2010

posted 16 Mar 2010, 19:22 by Miles Mason   [ updated 16 Mar 2010, 21:22 ]

The idea behind this trip report was to collaborate some first timer's views on what orientation trip is all about. You can find Sami's report here and Paco's here. It was an amazing weekend, 70 club members, 1 crag, 1 BBQ, 150 Sausages and a whole lot of beer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us guys!

Photos by Tony Tse

Here's what Sami Vance thought:

O-Week: The ‘O’ stands for ‘Owesome’


I’m not the kind of person who gets excited about big organized social events, but I figured an exception could be made for a climbing event as praised as O-Week. I stuffed some food and blankets into my pack, slung my (mildly used) climbing shoes over one shoulder and marched myself to the library hoping I didn’t look as nervous as I felt. I don’t know why, but I was worried that I wouldn’t make many friends because I’m not a very good climber. What a silly thing to think!

The club officers sorted us into our proper cars and we set off. The drive was notably beautiful because of the perfect

rainbow we drove under. I secretly wished that it marked the end of the rain for the weekend. I can’t say much for the first night of camping because as we pulled in to the site, we were congratulated for being the last car to arrive. (Yay for us!) Everyone was milling around the twenty-some-odd tents visiting anonymously with each other in the dark. Most of us had never seen so many stars in all our lives and opted to keep our torches off as to enjoy them more. One by one we went to our tents for a cold restless sleep: all of us wondering what sort of climbs tomorrow would bring.


Bright and early we packed out and made the short drive to Froggart’s Edge (If I had known that bakery was on the way I would have packed less food. Yummy!) We were briefed on safety then set loose. There must have been 10 different lines set to climb on. So many flavors! Every skill level had a chance to be challenged. All of our worries about not enough gear or the possibility of rain were forgotten as the day carried on. I climbed around on the easier ones then opted to rest and do some yoga (oh, my aching arms!) The rock was full of pockets to stick fingers and toes into, but was sharper than what many of us were used to and the skin on our fingers wore thin (what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger). We climbed for hours before remembering we had to go set up camp again… oh yeah, and party!


Our new camp was even better than the last. Post card views of New Zealand country side surrounded our new little lake. In the lake was a little island. On the island was a little rope swing. That ratty rope must have flung over fifty squealing people into the sunset. I had unfortunately left my bathing suit at home but wasn’t bothered because the social climate around the grill was super chill. There must have been almost as many sausages as there were stars and I don’t know how many ears of corn! We all drank and ate until well after sundown. Then suddenly, the phrase “glow worms” spread from person to person like a wild fire. We wondered into the woods and found, as if the sky and fallen into forest floor, glow worms all over the ground. I had never seen such a thing.


The next morning, people wandered back into the lake in an effort to wash off a long night of drinking. We were willing to have a late start, but not too late! Most of us had climbing problems we needed to re-attack or whole new ones to start. Back at Foggart’s, all new climbs were set up. I managed to get in another climb before my arms starting hurting again. I decided that I shouldn’t wear myself out too much or I would start to avoid the sport again, and I simply can’t let that happen. I have so many new people to go climb with now!


By the time I got home, I had seen and done things I didn’t think were possible. I did a line above my skill level with little to no direction from my cheer leaders below, I saw hundreds of sausages, thousands of glow worms, millions of stars, a person climb with a broken leg in a boot and two people climb half a wall with no hands. NO HANDS! I also got to eat the worst Chinese food ever… but that’s beside the point. I had a great time, I made some great friends and I can’t wait to go back. When can we go back!?

From Paco Galván:

The Deep Pockets of Froggart's


Bloody knuckles, sore shoulders, bruised knees and high spirits jog our memory of a weekend that won’t easily be forgotten. It was daunting weather forecast for our group, but not enough to discourage us from pursuing the one thing that fuels our fire and powers our machine, climbing. We were here for one thing and one thing only…to get our hands on some natural stone.

Any passing bystander would have witnessed peculiar a scene on Friday evening in front of the University library. An uncharacteristic group: a bunch of rock hugging, rope wrapping craggers, eagerly waiting in the gloomy weather to be shuffled into cars packed with gear and potential new friends. Slowly but surely we dissipated, frantically packing the cars with ropes, bedrolls, food, beer and gear. We were ready for an epic weekend. One by one each carpool made their way out of the urban confines of Auckland and hit the highway to the rural farmlands of the Waikato.

Taking our time and filling our bellies along the way with some delicious Ostrich burgers, our carpool (Tony, Jacob, Jugo, and myself) was among the last to arrive at Lake Ngaroto, which looked more like a music festival I once went to in Southern California. As our cars' headlamps illuminated the darkness of the lakeside campsite, we were astonished at the sheer amount of tents and cars. We immediately knew we where in the right place. After much debacle and a few laughs, we finally managed to erect Jacob’s vintage, over sized tent. We settled in for a quite evening under the stars and fought the bitter cold in anticipation of a full day of some quality New Zealand ignimbrite.

As the sun peered over the horizon, the fog began to rise off lake and the craggers slowly made their way, one by one, out of the warmth of their sleeping bags. After a brief morning meeting and a quick pack-up, we headed off to our main destination…only after making a stop for some delicious baked goods in Te Awamatu. Making our way past Bryce’s Climbing Café in South Wharepapa, we began to see glimpses of what was to come. Scattered in the rolling green hillsides were clusters of boulders and cliffs, so tempting that they made our palms sweat and our mouths dry. It was the rock that we came to climb. Eventually, we pulled off the narrow farm road just outside the entrance to the crag and made or way up the dirt road to the hidden wonders of Froggart Edge. It was absolutely mind blowing. Huge vertical outcroppings of high-friction, pocket filled ignimbrite. For a moment, climbing evaded our thought process. We were blown away at the sheer majestic nature of the landscape, but immediately remembered what we were here to do, climb. The rest of the day was history.

That night the group settled in at the new campsite at Jones Landing with the sun still in the sky. Everyone was still buzzing from the excellent first day, and was ready for some swimming and food. As the sausages and corn heated over the barbeque and tents were erected, people shared stories of their experiences on the rock. Beginners and experienced climbers alike; everyone was in high spirits and oblivious to fact that they had exerted more energy in one day than most would in a week. As the night sky invaded, our group relentlessly continued revelry and socialized under the bright stars. After a few beers, some sausages, a glowworm hike, and a brief chocolate binge, the craggers slowly made their way back to their tents eager for another day on the rock.

The next and final day began with a bit of a later start than before, due to some mild hangovers, but unremittingly everyone made their way back up the narrow road to Froggarts Edge. Not before long, the entire group was back at the crag, fingers deep in the pockets of Froggart. As the afternoon carried on, and as the flesh disappeared from our fingertips, we approached the end of what was to be a weekend we would never forget.

Froggart Edge February

posted 14 Mar 2010, 14:40 by Miles Mason   [ updated 26 Mar 2010, 03:56 ]

It seemed like too good weather to stay in Auckland, so word went round that a bunch of us wanted to go climbing for the weekend. What wonderful spontaneity! You say you’d like to do something on Wednesday, and sure enough by Saturday the Chinese whispers have passed around the club (preferably without the gobbledegook-ifying of the message) and before you know it half of the club are arriving at the crag on Sunday morning rubbing their eyes blearily from having to have set off from Auckland at 7am.

Jörg, Addis, Drew and myself left in Jörg’s van of awesomeness (seriously, when the world has ended due to nuclear war and plagues of locusts are roaming the land, you want to be in this car) on Saturday night and had a fun drive on back roads, scrumping corn out of electric-fence protected corn fields, and eventually bumbling across a beautiful lakeside campsite where we spent a jolly evening of eating more carbs than is humanely possible.

The next day, the weather was incredible and the lead climbers in the group put top ropes up on a variety of grade 14-18 climbs on the hot hot main wall, whilst Max, Diana, Edwin and Chelsea had some fun on the slug wall in the shade. Jörg lead the scarily high and pumpy 18 ‘Terra Incognito’ which Addis seconded, Max and Edwin worked on the 27 ‘Automatic Dour’, Patrick and Joe lead an 18 and 19 to the right of the top ropes. The rest of us (Chloe, Kat, Emily, Drew, Andy and myself) had some fun on the top ropes put up. Actually those guys probably did a whole lot more than that, but I wasn’t always watching. I’m sure they did lots of cool stuff. Then it got burn-all-of-your-skin-off hot and we retired to the shade to eat more corn and enjoy the beautiful scenery and listen to the terrible unearthly noises that the cows in the neighbouring paddock were making. We trundled back to Auckland via Te Awamutu for dinner feeling like a good day was had by all, with that ‘nice and tired’ feeling.

So, a fine day’s climbing with a fine group of people – camping, eating, having a go at some climbs, being in a beautiful area with some cool people; another great AURAC weekend.

Photos and Text by Lucy McGee

Sea, surf, seal! - Wellington bouldering

posted 8 Mar 2010, 12:49 by Miles Mason   [ updated 26 Mar 2010, 03:58 ]

We flew down to Wellington
for the weekend to compete in the 2
nd leg of the National Bouldering Series. There was a great mix of friendly people, sharing beta and the sending vibe.

About 40mins from Wellington, around to the south east, past Wainuiomata. This is followed by a 40 minute walk along the beach with an easy stream crossing. The Baring Head boulders are on a rugged, desolate coastline. It’s a pretty scenic location to climb at with the sea and surf but keep an eye out for angry toothsome seals masquerading as boulders when you are daydreaming. The cook straight is notoriously windy and we needed a spotters just to hold the mat down, although the deep sand is soft enough that a boulder mat was not always needed.

The climbs are predominantly eliminates and the permitted holds had been chalked up by local experts the previous day. Although the Wellington rock guide describes the problems I would recommend getting a local to show you the moves or just to go during the NBS comp. There are lots of low traverses for those adverse to heights as well as scary highball problems with nice sand landings. The comp was very laid back with the focus on collaboration and fun. We never threatened to take out the title but learned heaps and met some cool climbers. The crazy add-ons games in the rec center seemed to pay off, Ben and I making quick work of a supposed V8 that strong men struggled on but went easily with tricky thumb beta.


The following morning we returned 
to visit Turakirae Heads, just down the road. Well, you park your car 100m further away but then walk for a further 45mins. Follow the DOC path and take the sideroad right when you get to a fenced-in section and a sheet of orange corrugated iron. Alternatively you can keep going and the bush bash over bouldery terrain getting constantly lost. Eventually we did find the sector known as The Bronx, named after the steeply roofed cave filled with the hardest lines in the region. The problems were so cool with slopers, pinches and blobby gym-like edges and incuts. The rock texture was cool too, with some Castle Hill-ish friction slopers and some Quarry-like flat slippery edges and pinches. The steep problems generally finished at a lip that you had to mantle so bring boulder pads as the landings can sometimes be other boulders. I had so much fun at Turakirae Heads and can’t wait to go back. We managed to send a cool V4 called Slaprobatics and I got my first flash of a V5 on Rotund for Success.

Text by Garry Williams, Photos by Lucy McGee.

Mt. Aspiring Expedition, Nov '09

posted 15 Feb 2010, 15:27 by Miles Mason   [ updated 1 Mar 2010, 01:36 ]

'Wash your mouth out!' Clearly I had said something wrong; my innocent question of the extent of the climbing possibilities in Mt. Aspiring National Park had raised the ire of the usually quiet spoken and outstandingly polite legend, Allan Uren. At least now I knew there was more to be climbed in the National Park than Mt. Aspiring itself. This conversation took place in July, during the magical time that was the Darrans Winter Meet 2009. It was the seed of an idea which would grow to become a very successful trip to the region in November.

Saturday November 14th, 2009. Myself and Edwin Sheppard are struggling up French Ridge in the
midst of a storm, lugging our 30+kg packs towards the glorious shelter of French Ridge hut. Ed is getting colder by the minute in the biting wind-driven snow so we opt to stop and shelter under a rock while we re-fuel and warm up. 10 minutes, a whole lot of shivering and an entire bar of chocolate later, we're moving again. Unfortunately not for long. As I start up the next steep section, my legs refuse to keep moving and I yell out in pain as cramps work their way over my quads. I'm now cursing the lack of pre-trip training; maybe going on a major adventure two days after my last exam wasn't such a great idea. We slowly continue on until I realise that I can't get to the hut if we continue in the same manner. So we find a handy place and dump the technical equipment - ropes, stakes, screws, harness, draws, biners, everything. With that load off, I manage to continue on for the half hour it takes to get to the hut.

The next day its still blowing a gale and the weather isn't really expected to ease at all until Tuesday. We take this as a sign and take a rest day, well spent sipping hot cups of various delicious sweet liquids. We're surprised to find a couple of climbers arrive at the hut in the evening and even more surprised to learn that they're fellow Aucklanders, bound for the same objective (SW ridge) as us!

We still have daybags filled with food to pick up down at the roadend so on the Monday, with one semi-full pack between us, we start on back down the hill, moving quickly,delighted to arrive at the valley floor in beautiful sunshine. Far too hot for thick overtrou, we both strip off - Ed is intelligent enough to have thermals under his, but I have none, so as we trot down the valley, I feel quite liberated. There's nothing like the feeling of sun on bare legs! After shocking a few foreign daywalkers with more than they wanted to see, we make it back to the road-end and recover our daybags - only to discover that mine has been eaten into by rats. Those little blighters! No harm done though, just the loss of half a loaf of bread. We're soon on our way again, stopping briefly for a speedy lunch at Aspiring Hut. After that, I feel light-headed and not totally lucid as we continue on up-valley. I'm not even sure if I'll make it up to the hut. Again. But we continue pushing on and arrive home at 9pm to news of improving weather the next day and a perfect day on Wednesday! Sweet!

'C'mon Dorkland! Get up!' Nick Cradock was nice enough to wake us as he prepared to leave with his client for the Bonar Glacier. It was far earlier than we were planning to wake. We get up and prepare for our departure, we'll follow them a bit later in the day to to camp overnight on the Bonar. After sorting out the gear, we start cooking up a huge lunch - carb loading with pasta. As we do, who should walk through the door, but our friend from AURAC, Asher! Ed and Asher had climbed Aoraki together the previous season and they'll now be making an attempt on Tititea at the same time also. We add some more pasta into the pot and then all sit down together for a hot meal. Ed and myself leave not long afterward to set up camp, leaving Asher and his partner Stu in the hut. They'll be leaving direct from there for their ascent.

We arrive on the glacier via the Quarterdeck at 2pm and after a wee chat with the ever-colourful Cradock we're off to set up the tent. After dinner and some hot drinks, we lay everything out for the morning and get in our sleeping bags at 7pm. Its still light outside and it takes 2 hours of tossing and turning before we manage to get to sleep. I'm apprehensive to say the least, my first big mountain and my first proper alpine start. The alarm goes at 2am and we tumble out of the tent into the oppressively frigid night air. The stunningly clear night allows us our first view of Mt. Aspiring, its bulk looming inky, wraithe-like from the night sky. A struggle to get the stove going and then breakfast, super duper hot choccies and we're away at 3:30am. Asher and Stu are already past us and we're grateful as we follow pre-plugged steps through the powder. After some time, we decide that the steps are continuing in the wrong direction and after a short discussion, we veer off uphill, taking turns to lead through the soft material. The slope steepens and all of a sudden Ed puts his leg into a crevasse. Probably a good idea to put the rope on about now.

By now, we know for sure we're going in the right direction and arrive without further incident at the bottom of the steep slope which we plan to use to gain access to the ridge proper. We stop to take the rope off and have a drink, we can see the headlamps of the other teams behind us. Its added encouragement and we start on up, flat-footing at first, but changing to front-points as the angle increases. The climbing is easy but, as always tiring on the calves. A short steepish section is quickly dispatched and we're established on the ridge proper. We take a rest while the sun comes
up, watching the others taking a break down the bottom of the slope. We take a video then continue on , flat-footing out way up the elegant curving summit ridge. Steadily, bit by bit, we make our way toward the crux couloir, a steep wall blocking access to the upper mountain. By the time I've arrived, Ed's kicked out a belay ledge and he's racking up for the climb. I give him the lead and whack in a knifeblade for a belay. Ed places an early ice screw and then starts onto the 80° ice. Two more screws and he's done with the really steep stuff, the rope feeds out faster as Ed moves over the easier ground. He runs out of rope and I start preparing to leave as he constructs the anchor. Soon I'm climbing, as the second, making sure I move quickly, over the steep ice and then daggering up to the belay. The crux is done! We put the rope away on 55° hard snow, feeling slightly insecure about waiting around for so long on steep ground. Then we're away, moving again, pushing against the wind whipping across the upper mountain. The surface is icy and the angle is sustained; we take frequent short rests, trying to keep our calves going. It seems like the longest part of the climb, its steep, scary and sustained; we're relieved when we finally reach the NW ridge, its great to be on flatter ground again. From here its just the short easy ridge to the summit. The wind is roaring up the south face, taking a plume of spindrift with it. I shoot a video as Ed approaches the summit and then follow to join him on top. The summit is as I imagined, satisfying, beautiful, talk about dramatic! We take a pile of photos and then go down about 15m down to have our 'lunch' (its 8:30 at this stage). Part way through our luxurious 30 minute lunch, Asher and Stu also reach the summit.

We descend down the NW ridge as a four. The ground is easy and even with the wind still whipping around, its pleasant going. A half hour later, we're at the top of 'The Ramp', site of half the deaths in the National Park. I'm definitely nervous as we descend but all goes to plan and we arrive back down at the glacier safely. Soon we're back across to the campsite and the four of us have a post-match chat, collective whine etc. That night we're back in the hut, resting and feeling relaxed - primary objective complete!

The next day is beautiful too, we're too pooped to get out and do anything so we just hang around in the sun, dry gear and generally enjoy the weather. With Friday and Saturday both looking awful weather-wise, we bunk down for a couple of days in the hut, reading, getting beaten by Ed at chess. Saturday night brings a positive forecast for Sunday, so we prepare to go out the next day. Our plan to is to attempt the second ascent of the Summit Ridge Traverse of Mt. Avalanche, first climbed in '69 and apparently not since. We know the freezing level is falling overnight, so to ensure we get the good freeze, we set the alarm for 3am.

We're out the door and onto beautiful crunchy snow by 4am. We make good time up the Quarterdeck and then around to the base of the West ridge of Mt. Avalanche. We start soloing up pleasant rock slabs, enjoying the relatively solid rock and interesting climbing. We pitch a more compact looking section and before we know it, we're on the summit. This is where the fun really starts - ahead of us lies a kilometre of the most complex ridgeline either of us have ever seen. We both know this won't be easy. I start down the near-vertical soft snow off the summit, sling a large rock and then frontpoint out across the top of a large snowfield - not realising that my gentle tugging is translating into attempts to pull Ed off the mountain at his end of the rope. Some antics to make up for a lack of snowstakes get us across the snowfield. From here on its smooth sailing for a while, alternating between soloing and simulclimbing.

But as I lead down the back of a gendarme, a handhold pulls and I find myself launching backwards into space, thoughts of impending serious injury fill my mind as I plummet toward the waiting ice and rock. The rope stops me ever-so-gently and I graze against some rocks. Adrenaline now pumping, amazed that my only injury is what feels like a graze on the back of my thigh, I call out. 'ED! ...EDDD! I'M OKAY!'. No reply. We're out of earshot. I carefully climb up and sit on the crest of the ridge, unsure of what to do. I don't want to try and climb back up the section I just fell off but I can't find anything decent to use for an anchor. I sit and pant for a while. Meanwhile, Ed is using his Reverso3, attached to his harness as an autoblock to belay himself across to me. By the time he's halfway to me, I've managed to find an anchor and I'm belaying him in too. Finally, we're within earshot and we then both abseil down to a snowfield below. I'm shaken, but happy to continue on for the moment. Another few hundred metres of traversing brings us to the crux of the route. Probably a good time to have some lunch. While unpacking the sammiches, Ed discovers that his platypus has leaked and turned his down jacket into a raro-soaked ball of stickiness. This is bad news, we're not even halfway through the day and we'll have to survive the rest of the time on 1.5L of liquid... not good.

After lunch, we set up a bomber anchor and ab down into the infamous notch, traversing across a series of snowy ledges brings us to a rock prow. We're not yet in the notch. We set another anchor and Ed abseils down a snowslope and then off the vertical edge of the notch proper. I wait at the anchors... and wait, then wait some more. Eventually I hear the off rope call and start my abseil, willing the anchor to stay where its supposed to. As I reach near the end of the ropes, I discover they don't quite get to the bottom of the notch - this is what caused all the waiting around. After a bit of tomfoolery, we're both down in the notch, looking up at a blank wall running with snowmelt. Its intimidating. As the better rock-climber, Ed takes the lead. A short knifeblade pin is the only gear on the blank wall, Ed climbs above it, bearing down on small crimps and crampons on tiny crumbling edges. Its a horribly tenuous position to be in; there are hardly any footholds, his hands are rapidly numbing from the chilling water soaking the wall and a fall would mean ripping the piton and a Factor 2 onto the belay. Its not gonna happen, he carefully reverses the moves back to the belay and spends the next five minutes dealing with the hot aches as his hands warm up. At this stage I'm still feeling shaken after my fall and I suggest the idea of abseiling off the ridge down to the safety of the glacier. But Ed's having none of it - down and to the left we can see what looks like a ledge leading up and around, a way to bypass the wall. He's happy to take the lead and reluctantly I agree to the plan, Ed's enthusiasm overcoming my negative mindset.

He starts off down the steep loose gully and when he reaches the point at which he can step over to the ledge, places a substantial nut. He then takes the large step over to the ledge, taking the time to smash an icicle out of the way before placing a second big nut and disappearing around the corner. The ropes continue to feed out steadily, occasional instructions yelled back before I hear a whoop and a call of on belay - he's done it! I dismantle the belay and with trepidation follow the ropes down the steep gully, chimneying carefully off the sides before I reach the first nut placement. I wrap my hand around the sling, aiding off the nut as I stretch my foot across the expanse - making sure I ignore the hundreds of metres of air beneath me. I reach the ledge and call for a tight rope as I fiddle around removing the nut. After its out, I establish and see that the ledge is a perfect ramp, leading back up to the crest of the ridge. I make my way up, pleased to have the tight rope above me, crampon points smearing on rock slab. I arrive at the belay without any further fuss, we're both ecstatic, the crux is behind us! I don't waste any time in moving off on the lead but its not long until I reach a section we need to abseil, a wave of rock with a huge overhang on one side. There's an ancient piton here - where the first ascentionists rapped down. We discuss options while straddled on the crest of the wave and the only plan we have is to wrap the rope around a knob on the top and make our way down from that. Unfortunately, this plan involves lowering ourself off the crest by our arms to commit to the abseil. I set up my device on the ropes, backed up with an autoblock prussick and then lower myself off the edge, gingerly committing my weight to the rope. It holds and I abseil down, finding somewhere to wait while Ed abs down. When he lowers himself off the edge, the rope partially slips off the knob. Hanging from his hands over a massive void, he reaches up and sets the rope back onto the anchor. Phew! With that out of the way, we continue simulclimbing along the ridge, wary of the approaching night. Just as we think we're home free, we come to another abseil. We wrap the rope around a big block, the tension holding it on and each of us carefully makes our way down to a snowfield which leads the way to the finish of the traverse, middle peak. Putting away the rope, we solo up snow and then loose rock to the summit. Completely tired out, thirsty and elated, we contemplate the prospect of a quick run out to low peak but the fading light makes the decision for us.

The relative safety of the glacier is reached at 9:30, the last of the light rapidly disappearing. We trudge down along the Maud Francis glacier toward the Flightdeck, regularly stopping to suck on chunks of snow. We talk about the events of the day and how we're pleased its a warm and windless night. A quick climb up the Flightdeck brings us to the Bonar glacier and we're quickly on top of the Quarterdeck, eager to be down the ridge and back to the hut. We finally walk in at midnight, have a brew and attack our sleeping bags with exhaustion.

The next couple of days pass with consistent bad weather so we decide to walk out early. We attempt to eat as much of our food as possible before we leave and then trudge out in the rain, pleased to be heading back to the dry and warm.

We'd like to thank the Auckland Uni climbing and tramping clubs for the gear hire, NZAC for the guidebooks and huts and everyone we met for being awesome.

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