Man smiles happily on top of rock.

Oskar Wolff climbs Chuck Yeagar (V13)

A few weeks back young Kapiti Coast climber Oskar Wolff made the first ascent of the well-known 'Chuck Yeagar' project at Wellington's new-school bouldering hotspot, Turakirae Head. Oskar proposed a grade of V13 for the problem, which would make it one of the hardest in the country and certainly the hardest outside of the Castle Hill Basin area. We caught up with Oskar for a report on the history of the project and for more information about his ascent:

All climbers know the long, pain-staking process of projecting and the countless hours we put in. The nights that we spend pondering whether maybe putting your foot in this position or maybe using a different pair of shoes would make it more efficient, or sometimes if the damn thing is possible for you at all! This process was no different for me on the infamous Chuck Yeager boulder, located on the south coast of Wellington. With the boulder only being one move, the process does differ slightly. Once you have practiced the move and perfected it, there is not much more you can do. You quickly realise that this kind of project needs some element of luck to it and that even if you feel you can perfectly execute the move, you need all other factors to fall into place at the same time. Some of these factors are genetic, some are predictable, and others are completely out of your control. Luckily enough, I had everything going for me with Chuck Yeager. Its style favoured shorter climbers because of the tension required between the feet and the deceptively good undercling. It also favoured explosive climbers, mostly because it is only one move but also because of it being such a big move off of good holds. Even with all of these things going for me, I still struggled to get off the ground at times. So the procedure went: hopefully get out to Turakirae Head on the weekend, try the boulder for an hour to two, fail miserably, try something else and go home. This approach went on for quite a few months and eventually I abandoned putting that much time and effort into it. It felt like I was going insane, trying the same thing over and over and somehow expecting different results, waiting for the attempt where all of the factors fell into place and I would stick the move. I was waiting until I got that one day where I would get lucky enough to send it and finally lift this mental burden I had put on myself. It seemed that luck was on my side on that cold autumn afternoon, the same scenario had played out many times before and I thought it was just gonna be another unsuccessful day. But fortunately enough, fate decided that that day was different somehow and all of those factors fell into place. 

Oskar Wolff on Chuck Yeagar
Oskar Wolff on the crux move of Chuck Yeagar (V13), at Turakirae Head. Photo: George Sanders

This boulder was found by John Palmer in 2006. This was around the same time he started putting up other hard first ascents in the area such as Tyrant (V9) and Deadline (V10). He also put up Faux Jet (V7) which is the higher start to Chuck Yeager—which he did very quickly. After doing Faux Jet, he saw the potential for an even harder one-mover, starting only on the good undercling quite far down on the overhang. After a couple years of doing other hard first ascents in the quickly developing area, he was drawn back to the boulder to give it some more serious projecting. He tried it off and on for a couple of months just before the summer came in 2009 and the conditions were too poor to give any serious burns. Unfortunately, in 2010 he had an accident which stopped him from being able to try it at all that year. But in 2011 and 2012 he was back into climbing at 'The Rak', and would get on Chuck Yeager from time to time to see if he had magically got strong enough to do it. But he couldn’t quite get the factors to fall into place, as sometimes his hand would stick the move only for his foot to pop and impact the boulder mat or surrounding rocks. Since John’s efforts, many other New Zealand climbers have tried their luck, such as Isaac Buckley and more recently Lans Hansen and Rob Gajland. Unfortunately, they all found that some of the factors didn’t lean in their favour and so the attempts were unsuccessful.

It’s funny how some days play out differently than others for reasons you did not expect. I hadn’t thought about the Chuck Yeager project in months when I headed out to the Rak that day, and wasn’t even thinking about trying anything hard. But when I arrived there it just so happened that others wanted to go to the Kish Kash boulder so I thought, 'Why not give it a try?' I believe this kind of thinking was a key component to being successful on this move as it has been for many other hard projects I have done throughout the years. There were no expectations, nothing that made me overthink the boulder and nothing that made me want to stop trying it. I was just psyched to be outdoor climbing that day and I thought, 'Whatever happens, happens' and luckily enough, it happened. I could’ve easily stayed in the cave that day and tried some weird new link up or tried my other old project, an extension to Fatal Discharge. But I decided otherwise, for reasons I can’t explain, and boy am I glad I did.

Oskar is supported by Scarpa and Black Diamond.