26 February 2008

Bouldering — it's all in at the head

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.

Pete-the-gasfitter on Split Apple Rock

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.

Tomasz Swinarski sends the low traverse of Split Apple Rock

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


Anne-Marie said...

Baring Head is a spectacular place. I'm no climber, but the rock there is beautiful. I once saw seals there. And, of course, there is a lovely little lighthouse :-)

Your photos are great, Pete. I think you've captured so well the feeling of what it's like to climb. I wonder if a non-climber could have caught that aspect?

The article is excellent also.

butuki said...

People who don't rock climb may not realize just how intellectual and meditative a sport it is. So much is about overcoming your fear and knowing exactly where you are. It's been 25 years since I climbed in Oregon in the States. I often climbed with (but was no where near his level) a guy named Bill Ramsey who was one of the best rock climber in the world at the time. He used to climb in ten minutes, with his BACK to the wall, what used to take me 20 minutes to climb! Truly incredible.

I miss rock climbing, too. Recently I've started CrossFit training and getting back in shape, with lots of hard pull ups and core exercises and a lot of cross sport workouts. Maybe it will get me strong enough again to start rock climbing again.

Wonderful photographs that really give a feel for bouldering.

jacqueline b said...

another place/event to put on my Aotearoa wishlist. It also uncomfortably reactivates the climbing gene, long in remission, though i currently live surrounded by it...

Ruahines said...

Kia ora e hoa Pete,
Best wishes with the article. It certainly is more interesting than most of what passes for "news". I have always thought your photos and writing worthy of publishing, your post and photos of the Whio for instance address so many issues people are supposedly concerned with, the environment, conservation, water quality, endangered species, Aotearoa, to name a few. You have a powerful voice.
Enjoyed the photos of the rock climbs, my admiration for their efforts is complete. I just finished a book on Harry Ayres. I wonder how he would have got on in such a sport? He certainly had all the physical, and mental?, characteristics to do it. His climbing record was impeccable and his ice work amazing.
Anyway, good to see you back. Hope to see the article published soon. Have a great day.
Ka kite,

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Anne-Marie; nice to get the thumbs up from a professional journalist. You say you're no climber, but perhaps that should be qualified by "yet"? ;^P

Butuki/Miguel: Yes, spot on. The psychological aspects of climbing can hardly be overestimated; strength and technique do count, but the non-climber's perception that one must have fingers of steel and forearms like Popeye's is way off the mark. I'd be delighted to hear you've begun climbing again — and bouldering in particular really is a wonderfully social sport, so you might make some very good friends.

Jacq, you mean you're not taking advantage of those wonderful opportunities? Shame! I didn't know you climbed, but now you've confessed, a visit to Baring Head might be on the cards when you return...

Kia ora Robb, many thanks for your encouragement. I've heard nothing back from the DomPost (the ComPost, as one good friend calls it), so my pessimism was probably warranted. Still, nothing venture, as they say. Interesting about Harry Ayres — kiwis have generally been famous more for their ice climbing and all-round mountaineering skills than their rock climbing abilities.
Noho ora mai ra, e hoa.

butuki said...

I'm curious, Pete. Do you sea kayak at all? After mountain walking and bicycle travel, that is probably the sport I love most. I used to do a lot of it on the East Coast in the States, and when I lived south of Tokyo in Shizuoka. My folding Nautiraid sits out on my balcony gathering dust these days, though the ocean is only 10 kilometers away. That would be another activity that would be great to share with you.

Key West said...

Hi Pete, since we discovered your blog a few weeks back you have seven of us being distracted at work by your great pics of pecs. You go from heart-wrenching to eye-popping.
You're gonna get us fired! Keep it up!!!

pohanginapete said...

Miguel, I've sat in a kayak once, on the Connecticut River on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire. I don't recall any other kayaking occasions, although a good friend keeps threatening to take me out on the water. But I admit there's something greatly appealing about the idea of sea kayaking — coastlines, and the way water amplifies distance and remoteness, are in some way part of who I am (although I don't feel naturally at home in water). Perhaps it's part of being a kiwi; the coast is never far.

Key West: Seven! Yay! I'm delighted. Thanks — and be discreet with the browsing ;^) On the other hand, being gainfully unemployed (or self-employed ungainfully?!) has a lot going for it. I speak from experience.
Good to see you and your mates here :^)

isabelita said...

Nothing nicer than to sit in pre-spring Seattle, Washington and read about warm weather and great big chunks of rock on the beach upon which to clamber! What kind of rock is it?
We're still climbing indoors right now, although our son got out on real rock up at Index, WA.
Thanks for the look at NZ's bouldering possibilities.

pohanginapete said...

Isabelita, you'd have a great time at the Head. The rock is greywacke, which I think is a kind of metamorphosed sandstone: it's very hard and fine grained (I'm no geologist, however). The other sites in the National Bouldering Series are wonderful, too, although my experience is limited to Spittle Hill, a rather misleading name for an almost other-worldly location — the Dalai Lama called it "the spiritual centre of the universe" or something similarly extraordinary. It's in the Castle Hill Basin, and the area has attracted many of the world's top boulderers.

Gustav said...

The "news"

Pete your blog is a part of my news each day.

In a way getting "published" in traditional media is becoming less important.

Each year I watch less and less tv and read less and less hard print "news".

Your blog is very special and in a way I wonder if it would be the same if millions visited it each day?

Pics of the rock climbers rock but I am a bit surprised there was not a photo of any women rock climbers. Only a couple of days ago I stopped in my tracks when I ran across a picture of one of the top women rock climbers in the world. There was something magic about her....

Rock climbing is about living in the now....everything else becomes superfluous...

pohanginapete said...

Gustav, I'm very pleased my blog's part of your day. I'd like to post more often, but I prefer having something worthwhile to say — hence the sometimes-long gaps between posts. I really don't know how it would change if it became hugely popular, although I'd certainly be unable to respond to each comment. That alone would be something I'd miss. But it's hypothetical.

As for photos of women climbers, have you looked at Baring Head Bouldering , where I posted a much larger selection? If you're on dial-up, you might have to reload the page once or twice to get all the photos to load, but you'll see a few shots of Terezka and Emma there. I've fixed — I trust — the strange Blogger bug that changed the font colour on both blogs, so you can now read the text at Baring Head Bouldering. Black text on a black background isn't the easiest to read.

I will resist the urge to gripe about Blogger fixing things that aren't broken.

Avus said...

Each to their own - my pet nightmare would be mountain climbing - especially traversing overhangs!

Jacqueline said...

hi Pete, ah yes, a long prosaic story as to why I'm not climbing. Maybe it's best summed up in: excuses excuses. I AM in training... As for bouldering, I must admit I'm very attached to being attached to a rope, with the ground far away. Though maybe those big fat mats would help - I've only ever had pointy fingers to break my fall.
More climbing posts please!

Bob McKerrow said...

Hi Pete

I am back from India and have a day to catch up on writing, blogging etc.

I enjoyed your last two posts, such contrasts. From bouldering to a Tui. The Tuis and Kereru's were my best friends when I lived for five years at Anakiwa in the Malborough Sounds.

Keep up the great work keep smiling. Did you ever know what happened to Maurice Field who lived in the old Pohangina school house ?


pohanginapete said...

Avus: overhangs are fun, particularly when you work out the technique. It's spectacular to watch a good climber surmount a difficult overhang — rather like a slow-motion dance, or (less romantically) like Gollum... to whom I bear some resemblance, given my build ;^P

Jacq: Aha! The latent climber stirs. Actually, if the ground's far away I wouldn't be caught dead without being attached to a rope (perhaps because of the high probability of being caught dead if I weren't attached to one?)
I'll see what I can do about more climbing posts, but first I'll have to start climbing again.

Bob: Welcome back, and thanks :^) I've just arrived back too, after more time in the Ruahine — 3 nights in the Pourangaki, out for two nights, then back in for 4 nights, this time over the Ngamoko Range to Leon Kinvig and Ngamoko huts in the Pohangina, and out via the Ngamoko tops. Magic, but I'm pretty tired. Saw and photographed whio in the Pohangina, though.
Don't know about Maurice, but I'll remember to ask Bob Passey next time I see him. What Bob doesn't know about valley history isn't worth knowing.

Peregrina said...

I guess the piece you wrote didn't make the Dom/Post or you'd have said by now. A pity. Great photos and a good account of the event. But how can people bear(!) to do it with bare torsos? Don't they get scratches and grazes?

I did see a photograph and article about the Castle Hill event in our paper (if I remember rightly, by a staff reporter and photographer), but hadn't realised it was part of a series. Baring Head and Castle Hill must offer very different challenges, due to the differences in rock types.

Ironically, in middish-February I drove a friend to Castle Hill for a two-night stay so we could do some photography in optimum light at the limestone outcrops. I was at least half-way there when I realised that perhaps going hadn't been a good idea after all, and two days later, when she drove me home, all I had seen was the sky and tops of larch trees from my bedroom window. Whenever I've been there, there always seems to be someone bouldering, but I hadn't appreciated the skill involved until a few months ago when C. told me about it. It's beyond me now, as my upper body strength is anything but. I think I'd have enjoyed it if it had been around when I was younger. I was always good at climbing trees!


pohanginapete said...

Peregrina, yes, you're right. I heard nothing from the DominionPost. The editors seem to have no interest in climbing (unless it's someone getting killed). You're right, too, about Castle Hill and Baring Head offering such different styles of bouldering. Among other things, Castle Hill climbs usually finish with an awkward, sloping "mantle" ("mantleshelf") manoeuvre, which is why I probably climb better at Baring Head!

Glad to know you're on the mend :^)