Henry Booker Repeats Dreamliner (28)
New Zealand Alpine Team mentee Henry Booker (18) has made the second free ascent of the 11-pitch Airport Wall route Dreamliner (28, 275m). The route was first freed by Daniel Joll and James Hobson in April, 2021.
Looking at The Airport Wall from the ground, it's hard to get a perspective on just how steep and tall the wall really is. One can be fooled into thinking it's actually a vegetated slab, but it's only once you get up there for yourself that you realise you’re climbing one of the best routes in the country, on some of the best rock in the country. The easier middle pitches are some of the best climbing I’ve done, on smooth yellow granite hanging high above Milford Sound. It's a spectacular position to be in.
I first had an attempt with Daniel Joll, thinking there was a chance to bang it out in a day—but after trying the first pitch I very quickly got the idea that there was no chance of that happening. Dan had an absolute field day watching me quickly get shut down on the harder pitches and listening to the nervous grunting as I was peaking high above my last gear placement.
The next week, I came back with Mason Gardener with more experience from the previous attempt and even more borrowed gear from Dan, to hopefully make the attempt more successful. We left our haul bag up at the second pitch the night before and also left a fixed line on the first pitch so I could warm up on it in the morning. After pulling all the moves on the fixed line, I gave it a lead go and sent it (I find this pitch has the hardest moves on the climb) and climbed through to the overhangs. Every pitch gets steeper and steeper, so being able to do these first go is vital to save enough energy for the crux pitch. It took me three attempts to send Pitch 7, it's short but has a punchy hand-to-finger crack where you have to place a blind nut and hope for the best as you climb above it. I used a crack to the right, which turns the crux into a hard compression sequence. I was too tired to send the 8th pitch (with it being the hardest grade on the climb), so we spent the night at the 'Sky Couch' bivvy. We woke up to smash out the last three pitches and give Pitch 8 a final burn. I tried the moves on second and managed to climb back up to the belay from the start of the crux, so I then gave it a lead attempt and pulled it off. We got back to Homer just after dark to find out the crag rats had drunk all my send beers.
I’m very fortunate to have had Mason belaying and jugging up after me as that is no easy feat in itself, requiring balls of steel as some of the pitches are way scarier on second than on lead. And cheers to Daniel Joll for spending so much time developing the route and spraying me with all the beta.
If any of that sounds even remotely appealing, give the routes on The Airport Wall some love, as it's one of the most unique climbing experiences you can get, big walling but no portaledges required!