Eyeing the next thin slot above, I jammed my fingers in deep and wedged them into the constriction. Far above my last piece of protection, I reached for the silver cam on my harness that would fit inside the crack, before suddenly noticing a rusted piton in the granite to my right. Hammered to the hilt and likely fifty years old. I tried to imagine myself in the footsteps of Fred Beckey, and Yvon Chouinard, questing up the 2000 foot west buttress of the South Howser tower, way back in 1961.
My legs hung over the edge. Daisy chains reined me in taught to the wall. I reeled myself back onto the ledge, shortening the tethers with my fifi hook. A bout of cramp surged through my dehydrated legs. I jerked stiff and straight, hamstrings tingling where the harness dug in, then slumped back over the edge and waited for dawn to arrive over Camp V. Only seven pitches remained between us and the summit plateau of El Capitan.
"Alastair! Come help me!"
I spun around and sprinted down a slope of broken granite, when a whiff of something toxic temporarily blinded me. Confused, rushing, I tripped down the scree to find Gemma doubled over, screaming, a quivering hand held up covered in orange oil. "What's happened to you!" Strolling down from the summit of Half Dome an hour earlier, our tallest big wall climb to date, we thought all the difficulties were over. Who would have known the last two hours to the valley floor would prove to be the crux.
What is the New Zealand Alpine Team?
The New Zealand Alpine Team is an initiative of the Expedition Climbers Club Inc. that represents a new concept for climbing in this country. It is born of a desire to support and encourage aspiring young Kiwi alpinists looking to improve their mountain skills. Some of New Zealand's best alpine climbers have volunteered their time to mentor a future generation of alpinists. In doing so, we are hoping to help a group of young climbers to learn valuable skills and knowledge that might have otherwise taken them many more years to acquire.
The Expedition Climbers Club (ECC) recently organised a rock climbing trip to Cloudy Peak in late February this year with the intention of encouraging alpine rock climbing on new and existing routes. With a reasonable but less than ideal weather forecast, Steve Fortune along with Arthur Lachat and Coco of the French Alpine team headed up to Erewhon late on the evening of the 23rd, armed with a rack, a savage looking machete and several rolls of pink tape.
Within our team, we want to standardise the calls we use, so you always know what to expect when you climb with someone from the NZAT. It is good to reduce the calls you use to a bare minimum and not say unnecessary things as these can add more confusion than clarity. A belayer/climber does not need a running commentary and you don't want a shouting match at the end of a pitch. It is also a good principle to acknowledge any calls heard, as often the caller does not know if they are heard. This is normally a simple 'OK' or 'Thank You'. This article describes the standard climbing calls and procedures used when climbing. Sticking to these and only these, will help reduce misunderstandings when climbing.
After two months of fantastic ice & mixed climbing in the Canadian Rockies, finally the seasons were beginning to signal a change, with warm temperatures melting off ice pillars and sending avalanche ratings up to extreme. Colours of Instagram were also transforming, from the white, blue and grey of the alpine to the rich orange and red of the desert. Canadians were flocking southwards to the sandstone splitters of Moab, and I felt compelled to join them.
There are many alpine rock routes including technical rock climbing, that you want to change into rock shoes for, that you need to carry the shoes you approach in. This is the category this shoe works brilliantly in, that I call approach shoes. Low weight is key here, you don't want to lug your old heavy leather tramping boots up a hard pitch, but they also need to be robust enough to handle a scrambling approach or scree descent that might rip a pair of light fabric trainers to shreds. The Firetail is my favourite shoe in this category. They were light enough to carry up a hard pitch of a new route at Cloudy Peak, robust enough to handle the long scree descent.
Man Spooning – Verb , two men locked in the spoon position during an alpine bivy. Depending on the participants, usually a function of age and or temperature, man spooning may take several seconds, minutes or even hours to begin. Once both parties have accepted the terms on their situation, man spooning usually continues until it’s time to start climbing. It is not common to hear the expression “Lets manspoon” this is usually a silent agreement.
Scroll to the bottom of this story for a video from this and other previous attempts on the Ragni Route
We are propagating accidents, injuries and deaths. In almost all commercial industries, when multiple near misses or similar accidents occur, they are analysed and methods are instigated to eliminate the causal factors. Even rats in a maze learn not to make the same mistakes multiple times. But it seems the climbing community hasn’t yet learned. All too often I hear of people either dying, being seriously injured, or narrowly avoiding catastrophe due to the same preventable errors.