Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Review of New Zealand Rock Climbing

I have now had the privilege to have sampled a collection of some of New Zealand's finest rock. Michelle and I have climbed at Mt.Maunganui, Paynes Ford, Pohara, Castle Hill and Hospital Flats (Wanaka) which have all been a very unique but feature a common theme of technique, adventure and humility.

Most of the rock we have climbed on has been very technical and powerful. Being physically strong and thoughtless can leave one very frustrated. There has been lot's of technical footwork, mantles, smearing on rounded edges and delicate movement (the mantles are not limited to bouldering as well). After a good handful of climbing days throughout New Zealand I've only once had a sore upper body.

Cleaning draws off one of many awesome climbs at Mt.Maunganui.

The rock has been a combination of all three rock types igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. Mt.Maunganui featured a really nice igneous rock called rhyolite that was highly featured with pockets, jugs and ample texture for confident smearing. It was a pretty cool experience to be able to climb on the exterior of an extinct volcanic cone. This climbing area has ample atmosphere and with most the routes being between 10-15 meters it allows one to climb with more of a bouldering headspace.

At Paynes Ford, Pohara and Castle Hill it felt nice and familiar, limestone. Although, the erosion and weathering on the rock at Paynes and Pohara have created a series of really interesting ridges and horn features that were really interesting, but overall it had the same texture and confidence inspiring grip that I'm used to back in the Canadian Rockies. The only limestone choss we came across was at Pohara, which is likely due to the proximity to the Sea. I can only speculate that the salt water plays a huge roll in the exfoliation of the rock.

Stairway of the Gods, Pohara

The climbing in Wanaka is metamorphic and offered a totally different experience. The rock there is called Schist. It has a similar feel to quartzite but visually shares a similar graininess to that of wood. Unlike the rhyolite at Maunganui, and the limestone at Paynes the rock at Wanaka didn't have the same obvious holds and required a keen eye to find the right little incut holds or chunky edges. Also when in the blazing hot sun the rock became quite slick and extra tricky.
On the Tombstone at Hosptial Flat in Wanaka

Castle Hill's limestone was unlike any limestone I've ever climbed on. The boulders at Castle Hill are amazing, beautiful, and awesome but, most of the boulders are notoriously under featured and somewhat slick. The boulders are actually a very soft limestone and the exterior of the rocks feature a coating similar to that of stalactite in a cave. The slickness of the rock is partly due to the weathering and erosion of the limestone and the wear and tear of climbers.  A lot of the features in Castle Hill are sloppy huecos, scoops and blunt arretes (corners).  Positive features are rare at Castle Hill and problems that do have positive holds are mostly polished by the thousands of international climbers like ourselves who don't have the time or patience to learn how to climb highly technical featureless rock. As noted in the guide book most international climbers are shut down hard on what appear to be easy problems. The hardest problem I managed to climb was Quake V4, which I flashed. However, there were plenty of humbling problems that required much more effort to gain the topout.  

Super tricky footwork on Beautiful Edges V4

The yellow streak reveals the soft inner limestone

Sloppy Castle Hill scoops

The best route at Coronet Crag

The only climbing we managed to do around Queenstown is at the Coronet Crag. Although the rock was exactly the same type of rock in Wanaka it was surprisingly loose and sandy. It was well featured though and reminded me of climbing on soft sand stone. Overall itwas really good, well protected and enjoyable. In the 2 days we were there we climbed over 9 routes.

New Zealanders are also quite bold and adventurous in terms of climbing. Most routes are run out by Canadian Rockies standards. Run out is a term used to describe a route where there is large distances between points of protection (bolts or trad gear).  I've seen plenty of routes around 15-20 meters long with 2,3, or maybe 4 bolts (if you're lucky) and the first bolt being very high up. In other climbing areas 5-6 bolts would be pretty standard for this length of route.

 I've also noticed that some routes become much more run out between the last bolt and the anchor of routes as to say 'You have plenty of bolts below you and you probably won't hit the ground'. Most of the routes are 'safe' as in you won't smoke the ground but you will be going for a ride where your rope will be flossing the air for a little bit.

On one of the easier routes at Paynes. Note the height of the first bolt.

I distinctly remember freaking out climbing a route called Blockbuster rated 19 which in YDS is about 5.10a/b and was 20 meters tall with 3 bolts. On top rope or in a gym this difficulty would be a nice easy warm up, but with the risk of taking big gnarly falls it requires a certain level of calmness and precision that far surpasses the physical difficulty. The first attempt I made at the route I climbed up to the second bolt, took a good long breather and treaded slowly up to the crux and totally wimped out and needed to down climb and try it again. I went up to the crux again to try to find a different sequence but came to a realization that I would need to make a semi-dynamic move to a edge (that could be sloppy) right below the 3 bolt and risking a 12+meter fall. I down climbed to the second bolt and got lowered down. I chilled out and got back up and committed to the move and the edge was beautiful and after I stuck the move I gained enough confidence to blitz to the top. If this exact same route had 6-7 bolts this wouldn't have been even a noteworthy route, but due to the potential risk of flying through the air it made it much more engaging and rewarding.

First bolt on Blockbuster

New Zealand climbing is very humbling and I'm super stoked that I've had an opportunity to sample a good handful of classic routes and boulder problems. If I had to go home tomorrow I'd feel like I've had a great climbing experience. That being said though, I'd love to make another trip to Paynes Ford and Pohara again.