Female climber on steep rock.

How I Climbed ... Ladies First

By Christina Rivett

Back in March 2019 extreme flooding from a storm had washed away 120 metres of the Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park and damaged the second swing bridge. More significantly to some of us, it turned over the Green Monster boulder. One of the biggest boulders with established hard boulder problems on it, turned upside down, forced by the outrageously swollen river and lying stranded with the magnificent lines now completely irrelevant. Forces of nature are very apparent and a lot faster working than we often think of for geological time frames and bouldering. 

Fast forward a year to March 2020, and after a few days on established boulder projects Erin Stewart and I go exploring for potential new bouldering, around where the river, a year earlier, had done so much damage. The river outlet into Mueller Lake is all a fresh setting. The steep banks have been eaten away and left a much wider flat riverside with new boulders left behind. From the wrong side of the river our scouting narrows in on a promising pebble. A twenty minute navigation scramble brings us close up and in awe.

Before unlocking all the beta and recovering enough power between trying, our long weekend trip is over, and as we drive back north we are unaware of the looming Covid-19 lockdown which will impede climbing for many months to come.    

When it comes to first ascents of moderate difficulty boulders, particularly at Aoraki / Mt Cook, where the input effort in terms of preparation is minimal cleaning, it really comes down to getting there first. Or being gifted a first ascent by some stronger/better climber, that has grander projects in mind. This one is such a stunning line however, I doubt anyone would be able to hold back trying to climb it, once found. Getting there first is easier with the seasonal resetting after major storms and the majority of climbing adventures in the park having far less-steep and much longer and colder lines as objectives.  

We were finally able to escape for a weekend out of Christchurch in December 2020, right before Christmas, some nine months later, and were giddy with expectations. We had photos from our first encounter to support our memories of it being of epic size and quality. We also remembered it being too hard for us to climb on our last visit. 

Erin, as usual, brought far more 'game' than me. She suggested we bring a rope to try the top section. It is a great strategy. The actual top-out has no welcome-home jugs ... or holds, it’s a flat mantle, fairly high off the deck and trying that move securely on a top-rope was definitely the key to my commitment and success.

There is not one single nasty hold on it. I am aware that I have a pretty high tolerance for nasty, when it comes to rock and holds, but this climb is only beautiful, perfectly smooth but not slippery, solid, water-worn grips all the way. It is steep, trending 13 moves (for my shorty match-a-lot beta) right-to-left diagonal up is the easiest line. In all day shade with river air conditioning—it's a perfect summer outing. In 25 years of climbing, I can’t recall having climbed a better boulder. Quality of experience is probably linked to the difficulty of the challenge. Finding that perfect difficulty, where you are trying your very hardest and succeed, gets a big proportion of the credit. I have yet to hear any second opinion on the Ladies First (V6). 

Top Image: Erin Stewart on Ladies First (V6). Photo by Christina Rivett


'How I Climbed …' is set to be a regular feature here on the NZAC website, where we are attempting to provide content that would once have appeared in The Climber magazine. If you have a story to share about making the first ascent of a climb of any kind, no matter how long ago, be the story long or short, please get in touch by email to: [email protected].