The more rock I climb, the less I fear the distance between me and the ground. That’s not to say I don’t fear falling. I just don’t look down anymore. Or look out.
Which is a shame when climbing at Sebastopol Bluffs, because looking is an outrageously rewarding experience there. There are mountains in all directions. For little effort – 50 minutes walk down the Hooker valley or up the Red Tarns track – you get glorious views of Mt Cook and its friends Sefton, Tasman, La Perouse. In fact you don’t even have to walk: you can just drive a little way out of the village and look in the rear view, and be treated to 60 minutes of jaw-dropping views.
90% of the climbers at Sebastopol climb a route called Red Arete. Like the Great Walks, there’s a reason why it is so well frequented: it’s a stunning climb. It’s an easy* multi-pitch on solid rock, with nice moves that feel natural to the body, and a couple of more mentally difficult sections that make it feel like a real achievement to lead. So I decided to go with the crowd and take it on.
Knowing it would be busy, we got up before the sun and got to the base of the climb at 0730. Even then we were the second pair of climbers to the crag. I decided to lead both pitches. The first pitch got my head into gear, though I had a minor freak-out when the moves got more technical, and I almost resorted to taking a rest on the rope in desperation. But I knew this would ruin me, as it would make me want the security of the rope all the time. So I pushed on through. Halfway up I heard a call from my partner below to point out that the sun was about to hit the crag. I smiled as the rock turned from browny-grey to red under my hands. At the top of the pitch I set up an anchor and belayed my partner up to join me. The second pitch was a little easier, with one challenging section where I had to traverse the face for a metre or so. It felt like a few minutes had passed, but when we finally both reached the top we’d been climbing for 75 minutes. We traversed across to join the top pitch of another climb – Mako – which my partner led. Despite now seconding (i.e. effectively on top-rope) this pitch was more challenging for my mind. By the time we reached a ledge at the top we had all in climbed 110m vertical of rock. The wind was cruelly cold and strong at that exposed spot so we couldn’t stay long to enjoy the ludicrous surroundings. It took four or five pitches to abseil down, we were that high. All in all the route took almost four hours!
So my first multi-pitch climb is officially down and I want more!
But the winter is coming so that’s probably the end of my rock adventures for a while. The plan for the winter is a frugal diet of hard tramps in the Tararuas balanced with a side portion of training in the climbing gym. But I don’t expect for one minute I will stick to this. There are too many fun places to go.
*in climbing circles! It’s an easy grade, but I don’t want to do down my achievement too much: it’s still a rock climb after all.