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Trip Report – Dream, dare, try, come back and repeat

By: Raluca Ana

Source: Otago Climber Newsletter (Jan 2018)

Being new to the South Island, I too, like every newbie in Otago, came here with dreams. Two of them haunted me obsessively for a while: climbing Taniwha, a sports multi-pitch route in the Aspiring Valley, Wanaka, that sounds as daunting in climbers’ stories as the name itself, and the Grand Traverse in the Remarkables Range.

I knew Taniwha would be a real challenge for me, as I have been back and forth with my climbing abilities due to injuries that kept occurring when least expected. However, dreaming about a climbing route is more often than not a panacea that heals everything. It has this effect, like a switch that is flipped in the right position, and one morning, you just get up and go. Try the thing!

And so did I. And yes, Taniwha is a stunning 9 pitch route, overhanging from pitch 2, in a stunning location, with grades between 19 and 24 (hard 24, I would say), sustained, and with an exceptional rock quality almost everywhere. A very safe route, I enjoyed both leading and following every single pitch. Move after move, we unwound every crux, until our forearms decided that we haven’t actually trained our endurance enough. And thus, have slowly started to make friends with the dog-bones of our quickdraws. And at the end of pitch 6, a stunning grade 24 pitch, 40 m long, with beautiful pockets on the upper part, Clément wisely uttered the words: OK, maybe it is now time for us to abseil down. I was very surprised as I really wanted to finish the climb. And then realized that, as usual, he was right. We were not climbing anymore: we were aid climbing.

So, after a year of dreaming and preparing for this route, decided to come back home with an unfinished business. Slightly disappointed, but not disheartened, the experience only made me more driven to train harder and go back again next summer.

Last winter I really wanted to do the Remarkables Grand Traverse in winter conditions. And thanks to some really eager floor neighbours in the lodge, ended up doing a mixed climb instead, due to sleep deprivation. But the so familiar voice in the back of my mind kept pestering me about this GT. Such an iconic contour against the skyline, that follows you everywhere you go, when in the Wakatipu area. How could anyone not want to get up there?!, I kept wondering for a whole year.

And, as the brain always takes the path of less resistance (they call it neuroplasticity, I believe), I decided to do a summer attempt. Therefore, after resting in the sun for a few days after having confronted with the legendary spirit of Taniwha, Clément humoured me, and accepted my invitation to go to Alta Slabs, climb the well-known route: Fat Lady Sings at the Circus, and top out on the Traverse, continue and come down the usual way, from Single Cone.

The multi-pitch route is beautiful, even though, at times, as a good friend has just confessed recently: disheartening to see that you climb up a 35 m pitch only to find out that a mountain goat has soloed that bit at some stage and decided to leave a souvenir on the ledge where the belay station is.

Even so, the lovely flowers, grasshoppers, birds, colours of the lake, and the usual show that the New Zealand sky puts on every day with clouds running around in different shapes and shades, made up for any potential performance related egotistical thoughts.

The traverse is indeed a classic: we negotiated beautiful exposed sections, interlaced with easy bits where we could catch your breath, and then continue. Having the chance to climb with a Speedy Gonzales of the Northern Hemisphere, the French version, a sort of a machine bounding up the rocks like Bambi, the whole affair of multi-pitching and traversing the famous ridge took no more than 4 hours. Plenty of time for Mexican food, a well-deserved beer and an excellent (yet very short) swim in the lake.

Not an extreme summer expedition for sure, but most certainly a very beautiful experience, that brought enough good vibes to make me come back to good old Dunners with batteries fully charged, and want to train more, only to go back next season. I realized once more that being a climber is more often than not about trying, ‘failing’, and going back for more every time. And even if sometimes it’s amazingly beautiful, and sometimes incredibly painful, I’ll have both, thanks!

Posted: 22/03/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland