As I mentioned in a recent response to Miguel, things seem ridiculously busy for me as someone with a supposedly relaxed way of life—hence the long hiatus between posts. I've been collecting ideas, but last weekend I drove South to stay with my older brother on Friday evening, spend Saturday photographing and catching up with friends at the Baring Head Rock Hop, enjoy another evening with J, and catch up with another couple of great friends on Sunday on my way back to the Pohangina Valley. If the wicked get no rest, I must be truly evil—but if so, long live being bad!
I've posted a selection of photos on another blog, and have been prodded to submit something to one of the major newspapers. So here, rather hastily written (and in what I assume is roughly newspaper style) is a submission. I hold out no hopes—others have tried for years to get the paper interested in this particular national event, without success—but a least you'll get an idea of what I enjoyed. Do check out the photos though—they're pretty much straight from the camera (no photoshop) with a little tweaking and cropping in Lightroom—as they give a reasonable impression of my perspective.
Baring Head, the eastern tip of Wellington Harbour, is frequented mostly by gulls and gales, but on Saturday visitors from throughout New Zealand—and some from overseas—converged on the massive boulders crouched on Baring Head’s shingle beach. They’d come to test their climbing abilities in the second of four events comprising the National Bouldering Series.
Bouldering, internationally a hugely popular and fast-growing sport, is to climbing what sprinting is to track and field athletics—the sport pared down to the essential aspects of strength, technique, and intense concentration. Because boulder “problems” are usually short climbs, ropes are not used and falling off is expected—an adage says if you succeed on your first attempt the problem was too easy. Instead, go and find something where you struggle to get off the ground.
Many of Saturday’s visitors clearly took the saying to heart, and from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. the thump of bodies falling onto crash pads—small, portable, mattress-like mats used to cushion falls—punctuated the roar and hiss of breaking surf just a few metres away. Other climbers scorned mats and relied on Baring Head’s distinctive asset among New Zealand bouldering sites—the natural cushioning of the sand and fine shingle.
It’s New Zealand’s oldest bouldering location and has been a training ground where many of our finest climbers developed their technical skills. Some of the climbs have become legendary, as have some of the people—on Saturday, local climber Neil Parker, the first person to ascend some of Baring Head’s famous routes 25 years ago, was still able to show many of the visitors how it’s done.
It’s a highly sociable, egalitarian, and non-discriminatory sport, too. The age range of competitors spanned those barely in their teens to those with more than a wisp of silver hair; women and men were well represented; and although nominally a competition, the event was characterised by enthusiastic encouragement and advice.
While the warm weather meant sweaty fingers were less secure on tiny holds, making bouldering less than ideal, organisers were well satisfied with the standard of climbing and the number of registrations. The series continues in Otago on 8 March and concludes near Castle Hill in Canterbury on15 March. The Baring Head event was won by Amie Jones in the Expert Female category and John Palmer in the Expert Male category.
I'll conclude by saying this event frustrated me enormously. I haven't climbed for a long time; my upper body strength (what little I had) has vanished and I seem to have more than my share of niggling aches and pains. But out there at Baring Head, I kept looking at the climbs—some of them far harder than anything I've actually climbed—and thinking, "I'm sure I could get up that." Wishful thinking, I'm sure—but I fully intend trying. I miss climbing. Very much.
1. Pete-the-gasfitter (Pete Bartholomew) traverses Split Apple Rock (V4).
2. Dave Kopp on Love Bite (V6).
3. After several attempts, Tomasz Swinarski finally gets the finishing hold on the low traverse of Split Apple Rock.
Photos and words © 2007 Pete McGregor