Grand-Traverse-Hero-1.jpeg

The picture above is of me near the top of a mountain that I had spent most of a day climbing.
Or it’s how I imagine it would have been if drones had been invented, if bright wind-and-water resistant cloth had been invented, if we had not been in dense cloud up there.

The memoir below explains why this picture, the picture at the top of every other page of this website, and the 'One More Mountain Productions' on my YouTube videos,

You can skip the memoir below if you wish and go directly the bottom of the page to see my rationale, see an actual picture of me climbing that actual mountain in 1963, and find a home page link.

Click this sentence to skip the memoir and go to the bottom of the page.

From my memoirs

In my early life I led a number of expeditions, three of them in New Zealand:

  • One climbing up, and into the crater, of Mt Ruapehu (a live volcano);

  • One climbing the peaks of the Remarkables Range;

  • One traversing the Haast Track.

 

All three were successful by the metric of the day - no one died. A fourth planned expedition to climb Mt Cook was canceled because the day before we were to start two climbers, father and son, had died on the peak, and everything was focused on recovering the bodies.

In the whole country, the weather was unseasonal and poor because high volcanic activity that year had kept the whole country in winter. On Mt Ruapehu solid snow from the previous winter came down below 4,000 feet, and fresh snow below that. The rest of the 9,176 foot peak was buffeted with high winds which became fiercer the higher we climbed. This first turned the surface of the snow into a  layer of ice, then irregularly eroded this ice into clumps, which were eventually broken off by the wind and became missiles. These missiles went flying across the ice when we first encountered them, then with the fiercer wind up higher often flew through the air.

The first casualty of the day was the chap who had driven us to the mountain. Not very far into the climb up the iced-covered packed snow, he suddenly dropped, being held from dropping any further by his impressive girth. We went into crevasse rescue mode. Team members were secured to each other to make a ‘dead-man’, and then a climber secured by a rope approached the man, securing another rope around him. All this takes a bit of time, and the man kept saying ‘There is nothing under my feet!’, and we kept yelling ‘Don’t move’. Anyway, we finally dragged him clear and were able to look into the hole his body had made. His feet must have been no more than a few inches above solid rock! But the incident had unnerved him and he decided to stay and await our return.

 

As we got well up the mountain, perhaps around 7,000 feet, another pair of climbers chose to stay in a couloir sheltered from the wind. A thousand feet higher, three more found shelter from the increasingly fierce wind and its ice bullets. Four of us reached a shelter in the rocks just below the summit. Just fifteen or so minutes climbing to go. There, one climber was finding it harder to see because the fierce wind had ripped his snow goggles from his face and carried them off. He decided he had to stay, and another climber also chose to stay.

 

So, just two of us reached the summit, and climbed down through the thick, billowing, sulfurous steam into the crater to the edge of the boiling crater lake. Billowing steam from the lake blocked the sky and robbed everything of colour, and it seems like we had stepped into an unreal black and white world. White sky, white snow, black rocks. The only occasional patches of colour were the bright yellow patches of sulphur at the mouth of each steam vent.

 

We started down, picking up people as we descended. We had climbed up along the rocky ridge beside the Whakapapa Glacier. We decided to descend the icy glacier surface itself. All went well until one man fell slipping on his front down the glacier heading head-first towards its end an enormous distance below. Quick thinking, he slowly rolled over onto his back, twisted until he was feet-first, sat up, and finally stood up, ‘ski-ing’ in his boots until, some long time later, he piled into the fresh snow that had gathered at the bottom.

 

A few minutes of an exciting ride down versus a two or three hour climb down that part - no contest.

 

In ones and twos, we set off on this high speed adventure. But there was a thin part of the ice. One climber had one leg go down through the top ice and fell on his front, still hurtling down the mountain, but without the boot and sock from that foot. Coming last, I tried to steer myself in his path with my trusty ice-axe ready to brake thereabouts - but all was white. I could not see the hole or his boot.

 

We made him a temporary boot from someone’s backpack padded with a jumper or two. But it was not enough. He developed severe frostbite, and together with the guy who had become snow-blind, had to be treated in hospital. The snow-blindness resolved itself in a couple of days, and the other climber was up and about some three weeks later.

You can’t see the scene inside the crater quite as I saw it, because there have been several eruptions since then each blasting the crater away. That’s one of them in the photo.

Crater lake blasted away.png

And you also can’t hike the Haast Track either. It was rated by trampers as the best track in New Zealand. It took we two very fit, experienced, very strong, young men seven or eight days to complete.

 

It was not a track in the same way as the number two - the Milford Track - which is well marked, well worn, with warm cabins to stay in each of the three nights (with toilets and toilet paper supplied). The Haast Track was really just a short list of directions.

 

The directions we got from someone in Greymouth

Go south from Fox Glacier 120 kilometres until you reach a huge river - the best part of a two kilometres wide. Go west up the river for 150 kilometres.

From someone in Fox who had been many years before

Go south from Fox Glacier a few kilometres until the road runs out. Ignore the sign that warns that no one should go past it. Keep going south-ish until you reach a large river (the Haast River). Head inland, fording the river when necessary. When the river splits into two streams, follow the one going south climbing higher until the mountains on either side form a pass at its head. Over the pass, go down the stream that flows down the Eastern side, traveling on its eastern bank, until you reach Lake Wanaka.

After our first few hundred metres, there was no more sign of any ‘Track’, but the steep cliffs that formed the edge of the mountain range provided direction, and sometime deer tracks, along the base.

And rain. The western coast of New Zealand can get more than 9,000 mm of rain annually. It rained or drizzled almost continuously as we edged along these coastal ranges. The rain that collected on the mountains above us tumbled over the escarpment in sometimes wonderful waterfalls. So, for several days we walked under a new waterfall every few minutes, then forded another stream every hour or so. Each night we slept under an overhang, with millions of mosquitos for company.

We hugged the western edge of these mountain ranges - Navigator Range, Bare Rocky Range, Bannock Brae Range, Strachan Range, and the Mataketake Range.

At one stage a deer track led us slowly higher up the cliff face. Rounding a sharp bend, me leading, we came literally face-to-face with a huge twenty-pointer deer blocking our path. He had one foot in front of another, necessary because the path was only the width of his hoof - just a few inches. Obviously, the only way he could move was forward, and I clearly saw that this was how my short, but adventurous, life would end. After a few minutes eyeing each other, one of the most amazing sights of my life - on that tiny path he slowly moved one leg at a time, turned his huge body around, and sauntered away!

As we reached the end of the Mataketake Range, civilisation! A rough bush track led us to the (for us, unexpected) village of Haast. From there a road of sorts wandered by the Haast River, and crossed the Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana) through Haast Pass. Breasting the pass through the deep snow, we had a magnificent view of Mt Cook and its glaciers, anticipating a later spectacular climb.

 

On the seventh or eighth day we reached Lake Wanaka, and finally the township of Wanaka. A magnificent tramp - from coastal temperate rain forests, up into snowy alps, then down to the near-desert of the central plains.

The reason you can no longer experience this as we did is that just three years later the NZ government starting building a road the whole way from Fox to Wanaka, and named this new highway the Haast highway. You can travel the whole distance in two and a half hours - but may miss some of the magic.

While the missing crater and the new highway spoil your chances of duplicating the expeditions to Mt Ruapehu and the Haast Track, the Remarkables are still there in their 7,608 foot glory, across the lake from Queenstown.

Queenstown._Lake_Wakatipu. remarkables t

I can give you short instructions

In the photo above: Go up the left end until you reach the narrow jagged bit then follow it along from peak to peak as it gets higher.

I had been preparing for this climb (or at least for my first serious climb) for a year - my first year at college.


I had been expecting the climb would be in the peaks of South-Western Tasmania, because I had been inspired by a talk given by an earlier 2nd Toowoomba Queen’s Scout, Bevan Stansbie, about his adventures there. Bevan was so taken by my enthusiasm that he gave me the things he had brought to illustrate the talk - his climbing books, ice-axe, carabiners, and crampons. He kept his hemp rope because in those days if a rope had held someone in a dead-weight fall it was not used for climbing again, and his rope had had such a fall.

 

No mountaineering or similar stores in Brisbane in those days, so I had to make do. I had only seen a backpack with a frame in books I got from Bevan or from the library. I drew up a plan for the H-frame and had a blacksmith weld it for me. I had a canvas repairer make the actual pack to fit. I bought a piece of parachute silk and had a sailmaker stitch nylon rope around the edge for a tent. I had a raincoat manufacturer (Drizabone perhaps?) produce a cut-down version of their raincoat for my jacket. The sleeping bag I had from the Scout Shop was plain canvas with a thin padding of cotton wadding, and no hood, so I bought a bed eiderdown and cut and stitched it to make a liner and hood. The climbing rope came from a ships chandler on the bay. I chose lightweight nylon, guessing the climbing safety rating. The nearest thing I could get to climbing boots was a pair of kangaroo leather, rubber-soled work boots. The greater challenges of New Zealand were substituted for Tasmania. At first I planned to travel to New Zealand by tramp steamer, but ended up flying (£150).

 

This all cost a pretty penny. Of my £7 weekly wage I spent £5 per week for board, and the £2 a week I had left was more than taken up with the like of transport, food, clothing, haircuts, uni fees, entertainment and so on. You may wonder how come I was flush with cash. I’d tell you, but I am not sure if there is a statute of limitations on running neighbourhood games of chance. What I can advise you from my experience is that it is much better to be the banker in these situations and, hypothetically, that’s what I would have been if such events had occurred.

How did I train to climb mountains higher than I had ever seen? Mt Coot-tha’s 900 feet isn’t much, I filled the new backpack with rocks and went up and down it several times each day. For the technical climbing, local volcanic plugs provided some steep, if short, cliffs. We used the south face of Mt Barney for fitness, and the north face for climbing skills.

 

Not always so technical, this is an entry from my journal showing how we reached the top of the first obstacle at the base of that south side::

Can't find that bit again in the diary at the moment, so here's a pic of the Lower Portals where we started, for now.

Lower portals Mt Barney.jpeg

Scoping our Remarkables climb the day before, we were delivered to the base of the range just before dawn. The climb up the ‘left end’ was arduous, but no great challenge. It became trickier as we worked our way southward along the ‘narrow jagged bits’ where the fall on either side became scarier. Then came the first incident of the day.

Serious climbing is mostly done in pairs. Only those with years of experience and great skill ever go solo. So, imagine our surprise to meet a man by himself. And that he was lost. He had climbed up the ski fields on the eastern slopes, but did not remember which way he had come. Could he come with us? He had no climbing gear, and obviously no experience. Too risky for us! Instead, we retraced our journey with him over the ‘narrow jagged bits’ until we got to the ‘left end’ and told him to just go downwards carefully until he reached a road or a farm.

 

I have returned to Queenstown a number of times, and a lovely thing that can happen at any time of year, even in midsummer, is that you can see the Remarkables range at night with just its few patches of standing snow, then wake in the morning to the beautiful sight of a complete snow coverage. And that happened to us that day. We set out on a summer climb up, but higher up snow started - firstly gently - quite romantic - then as a roaring blizzard.

 

We found slight shelter under an overhanging rock, and I began my physics experiment. I knew water boiled at a lower temperature at height, so I wanted to see if you could make OK tea up there and had carried a small metho stove and billy to do the experiment. But packing has to be parsimonious to climb mountains, and I forgot our mountaineering food - a mixture of dried fruit, nuts, salt etc - was in the billy. As I carelessly swung the billy around the snow was peppered with black dots - quite pretty, until we saw that they were all disappearing quickly below the surface. We scrambled to recover as many as we could, looking, I guess, much like those snow-monkeys in Japan being fed nuts on the snow by tourists. Never found out about brewing tea at height!

 

When the storm abated we continued our ascent with just one further incident.

 

We decided to cross an ice face. It seemed quite solid and easy-going, so we went across chopping footholds for each step. Choosing not to use a rope, trouble should have been expected. And it came. I know you are supposed to remember such moments clearly in slow motion decades later, but I can’t recall exactly how it happened. But I was suddenly heading down the slope desperately trying to stop my fall with my crampons, my ice-axe having hurtled to oblivion below. I did come to a precarious stop, just one or two crampon spikes holding me. No way to safely move. It took some time for my companion to hack new steps until he was above me. He attempted to pass me his ice-axe so I could start making my own foothold, but the only result was blood on the snow, and I still have the scar on my left hand as a souvenir. So he had to go sideways, then down, then start making a foothold for me.

 

Obviously, as I lived to tell the tale, that worked. We were more cautious after that.

Did we reach the peak? After the storm visibility was limited by thick and misty cloud, with only a few breaks. Looking later, we convinced ourselves we had topped the north peak of the “double cone”.

And reaching the peaks yourself? Just 20 minutes return will get you by helicopter way up the mountain to a brilliant photo op both on Mt Ruapehu and on the Remarkables. And since 1963, ski lifts now reach almost to almost the top of each - the face we climbed on Mt Ruapehu, the gentler back face of the Remarkables. On a good day, each peak is just a few minutes' walk upwards from the top of the ski lifts.

But if you want to climb yourself, do it with a guide. The photo at the top of the page is from Queenstown Mountain Guides who will help you stay alive, but only if you are well prepared. Just one month before I began these memoirs, two Australians lost their lives climbing the Remarkables.

One more mountain

And "one more mountain"? In most of my adventures over the years, each time you reached a milestone, there was always one more challenge ahead.

When I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, I saw my journey in these terms.

 

On expeditions my job as leader had been to encourage others to take the next step "Lets just ... cross that valley ... see what is over that ridge ... top this first peak ...".

When I saw I could help others in their own prostate cancer journey, and that this journey would present them difficult patches from time to time, I naturally saw it in terms of my experience, with my task to help them over "one more mountain".

Finally, here is a pic of me in 1963 part-way up the Remarkables, before the blizzard.

 
Jim on Remarkables PNG trim.png