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NZAC National Youth Climbing Camp – 2015 Instructor Report

By John Entwisle


Chaos reigned in Bryce’s climbing cave. So much for my there’s six days to go. So much for Nathan’s attempts to restore order to prevent bodies crashing into one another. And what was Bryce’s briefing about? He’d cunningly disappeared into his house. Most of the eleven students clung, swung and plummeted from the roof like… I’d better not say. Gradually the cooped up energy of several hours in cars, and a rained off visit to Frogatt, subsided, to end with Kirsten’s meal call. Bryce appeared to lock up which allowed me to invite him to be our guest breakfast speaker to introduce the area to our students and parent helpers and so start the third NZAC Youth Climbing Camp.

The idea came from Tony Burnell and thanks to John Hammond’s hospitality and help from Aspiring College we ‘d ran the first one in Wanaka in 2013 and then the second on home ground in the Port Hills. This year we gave the North Island a go to sample the ignimbrite crags of the Waikato while based at Bryce’s place. No we didn’t burn it down! Due to a strange quirk in the NZAC accounting system there were no funds to fly Tony to the North Island, so as the only available NZOIA Rock 2 I was dispatched to take care of the course with help from Nathan Kelly, a soon to be Rock 1, and Erica Gatland, a budding competition climbing coach and four parent helpers.

In the morning, fortified by a strong coffee, I gathered the group, first to hear Bryce tell them to forget about grades and just go out and climb, wise advice, and then to put them into cars with gear ready for the journey to Waitomo. Nathan had suggested a shady crag there that had a selection of easy climbs, and then once we had an idea of their capabilities, a steeper, harder and longer wall. A short walk, a quick tour of the main wall and then into harnesses(all modern with self locking buckles), on with helmets, calls established, climbers, belayers and back-ups all ready – for action. For a couple of hours we checked belaying, made sure that all lowering was carefully done and even nipped up a couple of climbs ourselves as did the parent helpers, Liam, Lance and Ray. Lunch and then a deep breath before we moved to the main wall. Nathan and I stitched a few routes with quick draws and left some with ropes for those who didn’t yet want to lead. A touch of consternation with cries of: “where do I go” and “how much further” and “hold” as they began to come to grips, literally, with being on a limestone crag. Alex and Lucas B with Tam as a belayer threw themselves at a harder route while the rest slowed down as the sun reached the crag. I let young Kerry – watched by his dad – belay me on top rope so I could start to clean the longer routes as it was nearly time to go. Back at camp Kirsten put her rostered cooking team to work, while the rest cooled off in the school pool and the parents and instructors relaxed with a beer. And Erica arrived as did a promise of 30+ heat for tomorrow. Where to go?

Photo: Liam Pawson

Photo: Liam Pawson

Nathan’s answer was Kinloch. It’s not hard enough for the selected guide, but Nathan was prepared with a topo, so off our convoy of cars went. I let Nathan run the day as training for his Rock 1 and as Joe, Judith and Leah were keen to lead he let them festoon the crag with draws and ropes for those who weren’t quite ready to lead – mainly the parents. Erica settled into coaching some movement skills to Tam while I patrolled the bottom of the crag looking for errant belayers. There were none so it was time to climb. “Who is going to belay granddad,” I called. Leah stepped forward, as she was to do many times during the week, allowing me to scuttle up a climb or two. Over lunch time Nathan practiced his anchor building skills at ground level for my inspection and then Joe” stole” the rack to lead “Where to From Here” a 16 crack. While Erica used the last of the day’s shade to glide up “Electric Wizard” the crag’s classic 20, leaving the draws and long sling to eliminate a high first clip for others to follow. I soon sneaked a go before the heat drove the students along with Nathan, Liam and Lance to the lake leaving the rest of us to gather the gear. 

Next day at Bayley Road was going to be equally hot, but its nearby location allowed an early start. Judith, Leah, Carly and Sarah were all quickly into action getting used to the pocketed rock with no sticking out holds and the rest soon followed. For Kerry, the youngest of the party, reach was a problem, so I went searching for a well pocketed climb for him, but was soon repelled by a wasp’s nest along with a couple of stings. Time for testing belaying skills by falling off. I picked the smoothest route done so far, selected my belayer, Lucas B and a back up, Alex, and then proceeded to jump off a couple of times to check that the fall was safe before asking the students to do the same. If one is going to teach lead climbing and push standards then the belayer needs to be alert to the physics of  falling forces. All of the leaders had a go although Cam was reluctant to launch himself. Not that I blame him as I learned to climb when the leader wasn’t supposed to fall. By now it was too hot to climb forcing us to hide under trees or as did some of the more intrepid students wade up the river. As parts of the crag came into the shade Nathan took a group to try a character building off width chimney climb while Erica put draws on 20/20 and then climbed Lydia’s 23, which is rumored to be thinner than the air on Everest, with elegant poise. Joe made it in less than elegant style but with great determination. While several of us gave the 20 a go. It was about 18 once over the desperate start. Next door the father and son teams of Lucas D, Alex and Lance and Cam and Liam worked on the misnamed “Won’t BE Long” an old fashioned crack. Nearer the car we found a tiered buttress which we could use as a two pitch climb. And just before I could escape Nathan invited me to climb the off width thing to retrieve his anchor. What a struggle! Did I really used to climb routes like this? A good job it was a short journey back to Bryce’s and the beer. After tea the cricket started, nothing formal, just hit and run with a random batting order, bowling to be hit, puzzlement from Leah at such a strange game and flying catches by the lanky Sarah.

Photo: Liam Pawson

Photo: Liam Pawson

Had we migrated to Australia? Surely this wasn’t the climate of lush dairy country. Erica suggested that Froggatt had enough aspects to allow us to escape the sun for most of the day. Almost before we’d parked the cars Joe was off running, putting the draws on “Climatic Exit” 19 while the rest consolidated their grades. By now we were letting those who knew double bowlines use them to tie on. Time to test their observational powers with my sports climbing knot. Sarah and Carly had draws on a twisting groove so I wandered over to ask for a belay. “What’s that knot, John, I’ve never seen it before,” said Sarah. What a great approach to something new. “Can you show me how to tie it?” I did and they tried it before returning to their figure of eights. A little later they were swinging off a 27  Erica had challenged them with. Next I found Kerry and his dad Ray trying to master sloping pockets and indeterminate footholds on “Al Fresco” a 14 –  more than Kerry’s age. Time for my limited my coaching skills. Further on Cam had overcome his inhibitions about falling off, in the process gave Judith’s belaying a good thrashing and somewhere in the shade Erica was also thrashing a few on “Bete Noire” 23. Then on Bryce’s test piece “Hungover” a 20 crack which Joe did showing a diversity of technique for a mainly indoor climber. By now Nathan had found shade in Animal Biscuit Valley and after collecting the remaining draws off “Terror Incognito” I joined him somewhat fried by the sun. All I could do was lie in the shade keeping an eye on Tam who was leaning over the top. Erica and Nathan ran the session which ended with Kerry leading his dad up an unnamed 11. And so to the pool, beer, tea and cricket and sleep. 

Time for a sleep in and a change of pace with some instruction about how to clean an anchor and abseil to clean the climb. Bryce’s cave was both shady and had a variety of top anchors so we invited those that knew how to, to show us and their peers their methods backed by our mantras of: add before you subtract, check as you subtract and load the abseil rope before you take your safety off. Several already had good sequences, some were part way there and a few wisely opted out until they had more experience. The keener climbers want to know out to escape from a climb they couldn’t do. There are ways, but for eager youthful beginners(not by grade!) they are fraught with risk so my grandfatherly advice was to leave a biner or mallion behind. Later when the sun was lower I went with Nathan to reconnoitre Sheridan Hills for suitable climbs. The 30m ones had anchors too far back for our ropes and Bryce’s idea of belaying from the top would literally tie an instructor up. We did find two longer routes which would work and “Flying Cow Buttress” had more routes than in the guide at suitable grades for our students. Meanwhile Erica entertained the few energetic ones with techniques on how to hang upside down while the rest “chilled out.” After tea enough energy returned for cricket on the camp ground. And so to bed.

Last day and it felt like it as our procession wound across sun browned paddocks and into the shade. A few were keen for Erica to put the clips on “Hannah Louise”18 while I went with Nathan and the rest to “Flying Cow Buttress” where we rigged several of the easier climbs. Nathan had his eye on a nostalgia(if one can use that word for one so young) trip on”Pigs in Space” which was his first 20. Once warmed up Judith, Leah, Carly and Sarah did it along with Joe and Cam leaving Nathan no alternative but to prove that he still had his youthful skills. Round the corner Lucas D and Lance had scampered up “Burning Rain” 15 and Liam was giving it a go in his trainers. He really would have to buy some rock shoes. But he did produce Tony’s fruit cake, made by Pam for him and kindly donated to the trip, well mainly for me to eat, Yorkshire style, with cheese. It gave me enough drive to use to collect the clips from “Hannah Louise” and from near the top watch Cam do “Curly Mop” 22 and then clean it as instructed by Erica. That was the students last climb of the trip, but not for Nathan and myself. We sat slumped to let the sun go off Chunderosa Buttress and then climbed Bryce’s “Ball and Chain” 20 as a farewell to the area to a great camp. 

Photo: Liam Pawson

Photo: Liam Pawson

Next morning we said our goodbyes. The students gave us cards expressing their thanks for the course. If I ever have to produce another cv I’ll include it as a testimonial. They’d been great company and fun to be with. I asked Joe how many climbs he’d done. “Don’t know, I lost count,” he answered. Clearly he’d followed Bryce’s advice, so thanks Bryce for your hospitality and I hope that your establishment rises from the ashes. My thanks too to Nathan and Erica for your instruction skills and rapport with the students, to the parent crag and belay helpers and drivers, to Kirsten for managing the food and the kitchen. Well that’s it from granddad until 2016 at Takaka when I’ll be back again.

Participants: Alex Dowell, Lucas Dowell, Cam Pawson, Lukas Blenkinsop, Leah Ilic, Judith Jewell, Carly McIlroy, Sarah van der Hurk, Joe Dravtzi, Tam Curtis and Kerry Long.

Parent Helpers: Kirsten Thomforde, Liam Pawson, Lance Dowell and Ray Long.

Instructors: John Entwisle, Nathan Kelly and Erica Gatland.

Organiser: Tony Burnell. 

John Entwisle October 2015

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Posted: 27/01/16

Posted By: Kester Brown