Loyal readers will recall that my previous outdoor climbing trip ended triumphantly, helped along by a spot of Otis Reading. But secretly I was also celebrating because I was never going to climb outdoors again, no siree. What a shame, I said, unconvincingly, that I wouldn’t be able to make the second weekend of the climbing course. I had already concluded that my future climbing feats would only take place only in the gym.
But I didn’t bank on the dates of the weekend away changing, so suddenly I found myself faced with the prospect of returning to the rock after all. Panic stations! To take the pressure off I decided that I would not do any lead climbing but instead just do top-roping. (In lead climbing you take the rope up with you as opposed to hanging from a rope attached at the top of the route. In lead climbing you really do have to climb the whole way; the only escape route involves jumping or falling back a metre or two or three or four or more, depending on how much rope you have out at the time. In top-roping you can just let go of the wall and you will be happily suspended on a springy rope).
This decision – and a few panicky sessions in the gym – made me feel a whole heap better about our trip to Wharepapa South, south of Auckland. We left Wellington by car at 4pm on Friday and arrived at our accommodation at 11.45pm.
Arriving at the climbing area on Saturday morning, two more things made me feel better. Firstly, the beautiful scenery – unlike anything I’ve seen in New Zealand – rolling bright green hills with strange lumpy boulders dotted about the land. Secondly, I discovered that the rock face was full of tiny pockets.
Pockets don’t necessarily mean lovely juggy handholds, but the fact there were little spots for one or two or three fingers meant there was always something at least a digit into. This helped me to focus on my technique – looking for a route for my feet and letting my hands follow. I was prouder than ever when I completed a couple of 16s (5c in French grades) and even a short 18/6a. The end of the weekend meant the end of my climbing course which was sad as I love the group and I love the feeling of having been through the course together. This group of lovely people have seen me at my highest and lowest over the past few months!
On my return to Wellington, I was keen as anything to get back to the climbing gym. After the rock the climbing wall is a doddle! It made my week to realise that I am finally showing some improvement at this climbing lark, and I made a decent effort on a 17 and an 18 for the first time.
A week later, after a weekend of pleasant pottering and sorting, I started to get the Monday blues, which I decided to cure by getting out of town again. So I got myself on to the Wellington Tramping & Mountaineering Club trip to Takaka near Nelson on the South Island. I flew to Nelson on Sounds Air – 12 seater planes where everyone gets a window seat. Since then I found out that they only have one engine. So I might not fly with them again. But it was a pretty special way to travel on this fine sunny day.
Takaka has plenty of nice options for climbing. The rock is quite varied – some interesting shapes and good pockety juggy areas for newbies like me, and some sloopy smooth technically challenging long routes for the experienced folk (20 metres). We spent two days working our way through three walls. I stuck to my plan to top-rope only, but soon realised that if I want to be invited on climbing trips I need to learn to ‘clean’ the routes. This will mean that my way better climbing friends can lead the climbs, set up a rope for me to climb, then I will go to the top and take the rope down, so that we can move route, and repeat the sequence. This avoids them having to reclimb the route and generally makes me more attractive as a climbing partner…
Cleaning the routes involves getting to the top of the route (not always feasible), making yourself safe by clipping into the bolts on the wall using a dubiously thin-looking loop of material, untying your rope from your harness, rethreading it though the bolts, dropping the loose end to the ground, fitting a device to connect the rope to your harness through a friction device, tying another tiny rope round it for reasons unknown but that somehow acts as a back-up, checking it all, testing it, checking it again, then abseilling down. Simple! All while your full weight is suspended via this dubious loop of material. This was a pretty intense experience first time round but got easier as I did it again.
The photos will attest that I did do a teeny tiny bit of lead climbing, though on a route so ladder-like it doesn’t really count. But maybe one day in the future.
By the end of the weekend I was shattered but felt great physically and mentally and looking forward to getting back outdoors. How things change!