Last year was a mixed bag, some great climbing trips, a very enjoyable solo cycle ride around Ireland, but much of it was tempered by niggling health issues. Two crashes on the bike, one during a sportive and the other in Ireland, didn’t seem to either improve or worsen the pain that sciatica gives. So it was with a degree of trepidation that I signed up to climb Mr Aspiring in South Island New Zealand. Anne and I had planned some fairly full on hiking, or as they call it, Tramping and we also planned to meet up with Lucy and Tim, our American friends from way back in the Aconcagua days. The four of us did a highly enjoyable hike called the Routeburn Track which runs from near Milford Sound to near Glenorchy. We can thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. We also met up with Jeff and Jill. Friends for some thirty years. Jeff and I first met whilst we were Emergency Planning officer’s for our respective Fire Brigades. They now run a highly successful bed and breakfast business near Seahouses, south of Berwick-upon-Tweed in the UK. All attempts at getting together over recent years had failed, however we managed to coincidently both plan trips to New Zealand and met for two very enjoyable evening meals both in Queenstown and Te Anau.
After Tim and Lucy and Anne and I had completed the Routeburn, Anne went to stay with relatives and Tim and Lucy took off to see more of NZ and I met up with Jamie Robertson, a guide for Alpine Guides to climb Mount Aspiring. We had not met before, but both knew that the weather forecast was not favourable. With high winds and considerable snow fall it was unlikely we would see the summit. The alternative options were limited. The same weather front was affecting Mount Cook to the North East, as it was most of the higher ground.
Having climbed mountains with close friends, unknown groups from which you make close friends during a trip and solidary trips where it’s just you and a guide, I can say that there needs to be more understanding between a single climber and a guide than say a group of climbers. In short you need to get on well with your guide. I had struck lucky, what a great person Jamie is. Obviously I was disappointed at not being able to climb Aspiring, but have long since realised that in this game the weather dictates and you amend your plans accordingly. If you don’t, then chances are you will never become an old climber.
As I said, Jamie, who knows the area around Wanaka so well, offered the alternative of rock climbing at a place called Hospital Flats, no pressure there! Over recent years I have preferred to climb in the Higher Ranges and ice climbing and haven’t been on rock with climbing shoes for a few years. This was apparent for the first day, although I was pleased and a little surprised to hear that I improved considerable during the week. Yes, you have guessed, we never got on to Aspiring.
We first climbed on Bake House and Riverside, climbs graded around 10 to 14. On the second day we did “Do I Have to” a grade 15 and then retreated to the indoor climbing wall as the rain and wind arrived at the lower levels. Next day we were on the main cliff and The Big Wall and managed a grade 16 on The Little Big Wall and another route called Tune in, Turn On, Drop Out and finished with Strawberry, graded 15.
On the fourth day we headed off early down to Queenstown to climb The Remarkables ridge. This impressive high ridge looks down on the town and is in part responsible for the turbulent aircraft landings when the winds are up. It took us four hours from leaving the car at the base of the ski lift to the highest point of the ridge. With relatively clear skies around us we could look NE and see that the right decision had been made to leave Aspiring alone. The Remarkables was highly enjoyable, longer and more technical than the Scottish Black Cuillin hills. With strengthening winds we returned from the ridge to one of the numerous cafes to reflect on a near perfect day’s climbing.
So my thanks to Jamie. I had come to climb Aspiring, but the alternative was very worthy and it has rekindled my interest in Trad climbing. The dilemma between cycling or climbing will have to be resolved by cycling in wet weather and climbing when it is drier, (that is a Yorkshire ‘drier’ of course).
I have put a variety of photos into the gallery section. For those of you thinking about heading out to New Zealand, firstly never think of the country as an add on to a visit, say to Australia. New Zealand has so much to offer and is rightfully the mecca for outdoor sports. We hiked, climbed, kayaked, flew bi-planes and visited some wonderful places. Go and enjoy yourselves. You never know you may see me either on Mount Cook or Aspiring. It really is a ‘Remarkable’ country.