Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Climbing All Around

Part of why I came to Wanaka was because of the proximity of the town to the local climbing crag. I knew it was a popular ski town, and thought I would try to get a job at a ski field, but aimed to arrive in time for some climbing before the winter rolled in. I got here in March, in time to catch the tail end of summer and enjoy autumn in its entirety!

One of my first missions when I arrived in town was to find some climbing buddies. A large concern when I left Florida was finding climbing partners that would measure up to the ones I had there. As my Belay On post discussed, belaying is an important role that requires a lot of trust from the climber, and I learned a long time ago that I’m pretty picky about who belays me. I prefer to watch someone’s belay technique before I get on the other end of the rope and trust them with my life, but it’s not always possible to do this – especially when climbing in pairs. For this reason, you learn other ways of judging someone’s trustworthiness as a belayer from various cues about their personality (attentiveness, tidiness around the climbing area, how they care for their gear, and how they tie their knots to name a few). I often offer to belay someone first because it gives me more time to read the signals they may be sending me while I watch them climb. Those signals, however, are a bit hard to read if you don’t have anyone to climb with in the first place!

Probably belaying somewhere in Hospital Flat

My first outdoor climbing partner I met randomly at the climbing gym and managed to get out for a great day of climbing with, however she and her partner left town soon after we met. This left me searching for more people to climb with. I found a post on an online message board from a guy looking for a climbing buddy. Now, normally I wouldn't respond to such a request (putting my life in the hands of a random stranger?) but something caught my attention about the post. Doug was very specific about wanting a confident belayer and it sounded like we were climbing around the same grades. I contacted him and after a few attempts, we finally got out to the crag together.

Doug and I on an awesome adventure.

Doug and I became fast friends and started climbing together regularly (1-2 times outdoors on his ‘weekends’ and at least one night in the gym each week!) Being unemployed, lightly employed and/or between jobs for a few months made my schedule fairly flexible to pop out to the crag whenever someone I knew was headed there. Sometimes I would even work for Wanaka Paragliding in the morning and get dropped off at the crag on the way back to town so I could meet up with friends who were climbing. It was a good life!

Just one of my autumn drives around the lake!

I met a few other climbing buddies through Basecamp (the local climbing gym) and found myself on various excursions with Sarah (who works there) as well as several others. Suddenly I was meeting people in all aspects of my social world who climbed, and they were all somehow woven together. The girl I met grape picking, Lena, was a climber. My flatmate, Silvia, went out once in a while (and I met her climber friends through Basecamp). Doug’s new flatmates were climbers. The couple, Be and Dan, I went out for a climb with happened to be friends with my Nelson climbing buddies. It took some time but soon I had heaps of friends to get out and climb with, and somehow they were all connected through work or significant others or various other means!

Believe it or not, they got even more yellow than this!

Now that I had people to climb with, I was able to get out climbing on a fairly regular basis. The drive out to Treble Cone, the ski mountain where we fly from for Wanaka Paragliding, passes through Hospital Flat, the main climbing spot in the area. It also winds around the lake and provides excellent views of Mt. Aspiring, one of the highest peaks in the area. I have made the drive many times over the course of my time in Wanaka and throughout the autumn I felt like the colors became more and more vivid each day.

Lake Wanaka = mirror

The reflections in the lake on a still day are awe inspiring and several times I asked my various drivers to pull over to take in the views! 

Doug and I stopped to check out Mt. Aspiring.

In case you are wondering, Hospital Flat does not get its name due to anything related to climbing. Its history includes hosting the veterinary location where sick or injured farm animals were cared for. It also has some pretty great views.

Climbing with a view back up the road towards town (and the lake).

From the Hospital Flat car park you can see dozens of crags spotted along the hill. Some are a flat easy walk around paddock, while others are quite a mission to get to. 

Doug on one of the approaches at Hospital Flat.

The approach varies from scrambling up steep tracks (over rocks and up slippery slopes), to cutting across a sheep paddock (then climbing over some fencing, jumping a couple soggy streams, and winding through tight vegetation ) to get to the different walls. Occasionally (or often, when you’re still learning the area) you get turned around or have to spend some time figuring out the correct route to take to the bottom of the wall.

I may have gotten lost... and attacked by brush... during an approach.

Once you find the climbs, however, the routes are great! The rock in the area is mostly shist, which I have learned is aptly named (or, almost so) because of the tendency for it to break down in places. It’s not a fun feeling for bits of rock to crumble when you touch it, but luckily there are usually warnings in the guidebooks, or you can plainly see the rock is no good from the ground! There have been a couple easy routes I refused to climb simply because the rock was of poor quality, but there have been MANY other wonderful climbs! It took me a while to learn to push myself and start climbing at the next level, but my time in Wanaka has made great improvements on my climbing strength and technique.

Luggate Boulder

Most of the climbing I had done in the six months prior to coming to NZ was in the Gunks, where it is mostly trad (traditional) climbing. For those of you curious, that’s where you bring your protection along and put it in the rock as you go before connecting your rope to it. Most of the climbing in Hospital Flat is sport climbing, however, which is a totally different ballgame. Sport climbs already have stainless steel bolts in the rock to serve as a more permanent form of protection and are therefore assumed to be a bit safer. In reality, there are similar dangers in both types, but sport climbing allows a bit more room to push yourself without being afraid to fall (since the protection is generally more reliable). 

The sport climbing aspect of things was a good way to challenge myself, and I love how accessible the climbing is (about a half an hour's drive from town!) On top of all that, I just love the simple pleasures of being outside. The views have still not even begun to get old!

I did continue to climb indoors at least once a week, usually with, or after helping with, the youth climbing club. This has helped maintain my strength and endurance, because when climbing outdoors you often only get to do a few climbs in a day. 

My favorite "outdoorsy" route at Basecamp.

As a volunteer I try to help the kids with their climbing, while also serving as a bit of a role model. The truth is, I think watching them climb - and climbing with them - has helped me more than I could have ever expected.

The youth club climbing crew: Wanaka Cliffhangers

Not only does it make me focus more on what I do in an attempt to explain it (especially with the younger ones), but seeing some of the teenagers and what they are able to climb definitely inspires me to push myself a little harder! All of that, plus being able to practice my patience with them has made it a memorable experience. It's definitely a fun group of kids I've gotten to know during my time at Basecamp!

Late night bouldering? Why not!?

In addition to climbing at Basecamp and Hospital Flat, there have been some random bouldering excursions from time to time, though I still prefer being on a rope! I've had a great time climbing in Wanaka so far, and still plan to get outside on some nice sunny wintry days if I find anyone keen!


  1. Bring your little climbing shoes to Colorado. There's lots of climbing here!

  2. Definitely getting a sense of being there with all these great pictures!


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