Thursday, May 21, 2015

New Zealand

Annie Oakley
It had been a long time between visits, not since 2008 had I been back to Castle Hill. I was well psyched to get back there. Previously, I had visited a bunch of times, always with a big crew of mates, partying hard and egging each other onward and upward on the invariably high and mostly tricky problems that grace this incredibly beautiful area on New Zealand's South Island. This was going to be a slightly different trip, just my girlfriend and I, heading away for a well-earned break after a hectic summer in the restaurant. Obviously a climbing trip still, but with a pretty healthy focus on chilling out and enjoying ourselves.


It didn't start well. Flying in from two different cities, we had coordinated our flights to within 15 mins of each other. Sadly, with the 50 year storm pounding Sydney, Amy's flight was delayed by more than 3 hours, leaving me with some pretty serious silver tongued work to do in Christchurch. Convincing a rental car company to hand over a car in someone else's name is quite a task, not to mention purchasing 10 days worth of food and drink and squeezing it all, along with two pads into a Mazda 2, the Aussie equivalent of the classic fiat punto rental, ie. minuscule and as powerful as an aging gritstone climber... (Apologies to Adam Long for that dig)...
Anyway, by the time she arrived, the poor lass was exhausted, apologetic and mildly aggrieved. Castle hill village is about an hour and change from the airport and in daylight is a spectacular drive into the southern alps, a very European vista enticing you the entire way. However, at night, in heavy fog, it is dangerous, slow and about as exciting as a speed climbing contest. Thankfully our accommodation was amazing, a cool little two bedroom house with an incredible view of the mountains and all of a 3 minute drive from the crag.
We awoke to glorious sunshine, vivid colors and psyched out of our tiny minds to lay our hands on some rock. This lasted for about half an hour, enough time to walk into the crag and warm up. I chose to visit one of the classic areas at the back of spittle hill, one of the two main areas that make up castle hill. For those not in the know, the rock is limestone, and limestone gets quite polished over time, especially as the effect is compounded on boulders. We started on a classic highball called beautiful edges, a stunning face climb with a crucial pinch for your right hand near the top. As I transferred my weight across on to my left foot to squeeze the pinch, I heard a noise that I had never heard from a hand hold before, a loud squeaking, almost like fingernails on a chalkboard. The hold was so polished that my hand actually created the sound. Slightly unnerving to say the least. It didn't get much better as we toured around, most of the problems that I had done before felt a couple of grades harder and some of them felt unclimbable. I might be a bit spoilt by the amazing rock that the grampians has to offer, but it was ridiculous. I don't mind getting my arse kicked by the rock (not entirely true), but when it's because there is no friction I get pretty disheartened pretty quickly.
We decided that we would be better off venturing a little further afield. We had been told of an area called wuthering heights, situated high up on a hill about 15 minutes further on from quantum and spittle. After enduring the calf busting walk, we were greeted by towering blocs, grassy landings and not another soul in sight. But, best of all, the blocs still had friction and some lovely grainy texture. We spent the next three days throwing ourselves at some of the classic problems that this area offers, including Ronin, the Thin White Line, Johnny Mo and Annie Oakley. As with the rest of castle hill, none of these problems are easy pickings, most are technical, tall and contain some form of trickery that will confound any would be ascensionist. Most notably of these was Annie Oakley, a tall v7 with a stand start. It looked pretty obvious and was a striking feature that I was eager to crush. Anywhere else in the world and I would consider this easy pickings, but nope, not NZ. I threw myself repeatedly at it, falling off the same move over and over. I was becoming increasingly frustrated, Amy had suggested using one of the obvious crimps as an under cling about 10 attempts before, which I had dismissed, almost scornfully. As usual, I was forced to eat humble pie, a quick transition with high footer and I slapped the top sloper comfortably. Lesson learned, do as suggested...
As was inevitable on any trip, after five cracking days, we were greeted by torrential rain on the sixth. To be honest, I was pretty grateful. Five days on, trying really physical problems, was more than enough for me. I could barely raise myself from bed. So we did a couple of days sightseeing, including driving over to the west coast and also checking out Christchurch. Sadly, Christchurch is still struggling to rebuild four years after the massive quake that reduced much of the city to rubble. Though, there are lots of plans afoot and some pretty cool improvised areas, including a cafe and bar district constructed from shipping containers. Hopefully, it will one days be as beautiful as it once was.
Anyways, it was back to the blocs after that, a day of dodging showers at spittle, a great day at quantum field and a long walk day up to flock hill. Flock is probably the most impressive crag of all, perched on a hill a little ways from the rest of the castle hill, flock is full of towering lines and majestic views. Sadly, it too is somewhat polished, which was a bit surprising, considering the 45 min walk in, but was still an enjoyable day out. Sans guidebook, we wandered around and just climbed a bunch of great lines, in a stunning locale.
All in all, a great trip, a little sad to see the rock so damaged, but still a beautiful place for a visit. Plus, it's always nice get a bit of an arse kicking to inspire you to train harder. Anyways, I've got to hit up the fingerboard and get strong for rocklands...

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