Castle Hill climbing trip
11 – 13 November 2005
A climb should always have an aesthetic quality. There is little point in climbing something just for the sake of it, merely because “it is there”. A good climb has interesting moves, it is psychologically challenging, and has an ambience that makes you want to come back and do it again.
In New Zealand we are lucky to have one of the best rock climbing areas in the world, in the Castle Hill basin, which is situated near Porters Pass, in the Canterbury high country. It seemed a perfect place for a follow up trip for TTC’s alpine instruction course.
Walking around Castle Hill is quite a surreal experience. You wander amongst thousands of rocks formed into an endless variety of curves, arches and overhangs. It is incredible how such old and hard stone can appear so fluid. Sometimes it seems like you are in a meadow full of Henry Moore statues. Surrounding the basin are the peaks of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, in late spring. Three of us began with one of the classic climbs, which is named “Tales from the Riverbank”. It looked easy, but the first move - a mantle up to a sloping ledge - showed that this was not a climb to be taken lightly.
Above the ledge rises a smooth vertical crack, and then a succession of pockets that get smaller and smaller the higher you climb. Finally you are left with only a wall of textured limestone that must be scaled in order to reach the top. We all made it up, but only after a struggle.
Saturday was a still day with a clear blue sky. On such a beautiful day, Castle Hill is a busy place. There were climbers there from all over the world, families picnicking on the grass, children playing hide and seek around the rocks, and photographers and painters trying to capture their own interpretation of the landscape.
We spent the day exploring, climbing and socialising. It was a perfect place to learn, with thousands of climbing problems to solve, or at least engage with. The limestone has an incredible texture which contains all sorts of subtleties. By feeling our way, moulding our hands and feet into the features of the rock, we gradually learnt to hold ourselves on. By balancing from one hold to another, we found paths up walls that had previously appeared to be blank. It was a process of discovery.
In the late afternoon we decided to have a change of scenery, and walk through Cave Stream. This is a stream that disappears underground until it re-emerges a kilometre down the valley. We started at the outlet, and waded upstream through white sculptured caverns and corridors, breathing the damp subterranean air, listening to the sounds of the water dripping, fl owing and falling, until eventually we reached daylight again at the cave entrance.
Sunday had a completely different mood. It was one of those days in which rain is imminent, but somehow manages to hold off. The mist gave the whole place an eerie feel.
Andrew tried his first lead climb, up a slab named “Jumped Up Country Boy”. As he was the first person on the rope, he was belayed from below. That means that for his safety, he needed to climb to bolts that were attached to the rock, and then attach the rope to those bolts, using carabiners, in order to safeguard himself in case he fell. He reached the top without falling, followed by the rest of us.
The remainder of the day was spent doing our own things. John completed some unfinished bouldering projects. Angela and Andrew found various ways to climb a rock that took their fancy. Julie walked up a hill above the climbing area, to experience the view of the whole basin. At three o’clock it was time to return to Wellington. Just then, the rain started.
To my knowledge, this was the first TTC trip to Castle Hill. The question arises whether we should go back, as it is certainly a long way to go in order to climb some rocks over a weekend. The cost to the participants, including transport, accommodation and food amounted to approximately $100.00 per day, which is cheaper than the daily cost of a weekend’s skiing from Tararua Lodge. For people who are interested in rock climbing, this isn’t an excessive amount for visiting what is clearly a world class destination. Therefore, I hope that this will not be the last time TTC visits this enchanting place.
- Julie Clifton, Andrew Corson, John Grace (leader/scribe), Angela Stobo.