27 November 2016

Japanese Print Party

We had a free day in Tokyo, Japan recently.  On the basis of a recommendation from a Whangarei printmaker at a workshop I attended a month or so ago, I arranged for Catherine and me (and Margaret, her sister) to have a morning shot at Japanese printmaking. This happened at Mokuhankan a print making facility in the Asakusa district within a short walk of the Senso-ji Temple - the oldest temple in Tokyo. The print workshop is run by David Bull, an English-born Canadian, who has lived in Tokyo for over 25 years. The procedure for the event is to pay a fee of $20 and for that you have the opportunity and guidance to make your own prints from existing woodblocks.

I learned a lot from David Bull.  The design, woodblock production and printing are traditionally carried out by separate craftsmen in Japan . Unusually, David does both block cutting and printing. He also has a staff who also assist with both. I was interested in the differences between the Japanese and other printmaking methodologies that I'm used to. For instance the ink is water based, it is applied by brush rather than roller and a baren is used rather than a press. The effects are very pleasing.

Print Bench (red, blue, yellow, black colours) and blocks

Note brushes for applying ink and baren for pressure. (Photo: Margaret Prentice)

Catherine and I both did three prints each and Catherine produced the least flawed print! Margaret took photos!

Back home, I looked at David's videos of his production of his own woodblock and prints of the famous print by Hokusai, "The Great Wave" - a marvellous exposition of attention to detail and craftsmanship. Very well worth looking at the "Wave ..." production here and his work more generally here.

Catherine's Print

15 October 2016

UQBWC - Sixth Reunion of Ancient Australian Bushwalkers.

The University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) exists these days only in spirit. The new system of regularly prescribed course work, projects and examinations put the sword to many University interest groups - it seemed a pity to me as the regular intercourse of ideas between students from different disciplines added so much to university education.

But the UQBWC bushwalkers kept in touch and, over the years, had regular reunions in Queensland (even one in NZ) with people coming from afar as France for the event. This year the event was held (as often before) within walking range of the sacred Mt Barney (and in the event of bad weather, within car range of the coffee shops of Boonah!).

The Sacred Mt Barney (Photo: Catherine Smith)

The weather forecast for our reunion this time was somewhat dubious with the best weather forecast for the 20th September. This meant that the most ambitious walking was planned for that day. Accordingly a group of six took off for Mt Barney via the South Ridge. All reached Rum Jungle, an attractive bit of rain forest between the two main peaks of Barney, and three struggled on to the summit and back to the Mt Barney Lodge where wine, food and friends awaited their return. This blogger was one of these intrepid three but he suffered some sort of combination of old age, starvation, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and mental deterioration which resulted in very wobbly knees and general weakness. He was gently ushered off the mountain by RonC and RogerE after a 13h day. Worse happened. On his return to NZ he failed to declare the importation of plant material - a Mt Barney stick broken off inside his calf muscle. Fortunately he was not apprehended and fined but the resulting leg swelling caused suspicion of deep vein thrombosis. Eventually ultrasound scanning revealed the broken off stick which was subsequently removed (and incinerated to save the NZ economy). There were other sequelae but of a delicate nature! And of course there is a very good camera sitting somewhere up on Mt Barney.

The Stick - in situ - ultrasound image

Meanwhile others did sterling stuff - walking the main range and visiting the gastronomic fleshpots of Boonah.

Bronwyn Willmott, William Grey, Sybil Curtis, Eli Skoien, Gordon Grigg, Jim Lydon, Pat Conaghan, Barry and Jane Baker, Warwick Willmott, Judy Hines, Jenny Timmins, Alan Timmins (Photo: Catherine Smith)

The following day there was an attempt to reach the Mt Maroon waterfall. The first crossing seemed deep (for old folk) and, with the river seemingly rising, prudence dictated that the least hazardous option was lunch at Boonah.

Soggy UQBWC Old Folk at the Swollen Barney Creek (Photo: Gordon Grigg)

During all this driving about in cars the older UQBWC members could be overheard discussing such topics as the imminent plebiscite on same sex marriage (so that the Oz marriage industry does not loose too much business across the Tasman), assisted dying for the elderly, the merits of a burial plot at Barney View ($300 plus the use of the local farmer's tractor and front end bucket), and just how many wives Roger had endured (and his impending grandfather status). The story of Basil's underpants being used years ago as a filter for the drinking water at Malte Brun Hut was also retold.

In the evenings there were many slides shown, early trips re-lived, old friends remembered and toasted and there was some show and tell apropo individual hobbies and activities. There were paintings, woodcuts and etchings, books (ranging from crocodylians to Antarctica) On the last day people drifted off towards Brisbane but there seemed to be a general reluctance to part company.

Helen Cox, Rosie and Jim Millar, Jane and Barry Baker, BarryS, Pat Conaghan, Ron Cox (Photo: Catherine Smith)

This blog cannot be signed off without grateful acknowledgement of the superb organisation of Sybil Curtis (helped by Gordon Grigg in the important matter of the wine).

17 September 2016

Out West in NSW, Australia - Conservation - AWC (Australian Wildlife Conservancy)

Last May Catherine and I were met at Sydney Airport by her sister, Rosemary and husband (Jim) and then headed west. We had lunch in the Blue Mountains at a lookout and spent the night at Dubbo (cattle territory).

Cuppa at the Blue Mountain lookout (Rosie, Catherine, Jim)

The next day we travelled further west, finally crossing the Darling River into Willcania - fuelled up again before heading to Menindee where its lake was dry but we observed the dead trees and the control works on the Darling River. The lake is now full again!

Sunset at dry Lake Menindee

Checking our GPS - are we there?

Old Shearing Shed - Kiwi Shearers Beware

Broken Hill - Each Rose a Mining Death

Blade Shearing Stand

Catching Pens

Western NSW Sunset

From Menindee we headed out to Broken Hill (which gets its water from Minindee) - a shadow of its former self. We visited the miners memorial, the hill of sculptures just outside the town and stayed at a grand old hotel - The Imperial. There was some confusion as Broken Hill exists on South Australian time as it does most of its business with Adelaide.

Next day we moved on to Scotia near the South Australia border, a 65 000 hectare wildlife reserve established by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, a privately funded organisation with 80% of its staff in the field. This reserve was partially (8000 hectares and more is planned) fenced off with a predator proof fence a bit like the the NZ Xcluder which surrounds Maungatautari near Hamilton, NZ. The Scotia one is designed to exclude foxes and cats, the latter a serious problem in outback Australia. At Scotia we were well looked after and managed to see bilbies, numbats (I saw one as we were waiting to leave on the last day! Little more than a fleeting glimpse as it ran across a road with its tail erect), malas, bettongs and several methods of controlling pests in the area. It rained while we were there and we had to be escorted out to the sealed road.

Convoyed Out from Scotia

Typical NSW Car (Photo: Jim Millar)
Emus along the way

Mala and Joey at Scotia (Photo: Jim Millar)
 At Wentworth we picnicked at the junction of the Darling and Murray, the two most important rivers of Australia's inland, before spending the night at Mildura, the heart of Oz's dried fruit industry.

Our next destination was Lake Mungo the site where Mungo Man (and his lady) was found, about 40 000 years after his death. The roads were muddy and more rain fell while we were there. This impeded our getting about in the area but we did manage to have a good long walk and saw lots of kangaroos, emus and some of the early station wool sheds and other buildings.
NSW wet enough for Mushrooms!

Tang Exhibition

Tang Exhibition

Our last day was big, 1000 km back to Sydney, passing on the way the Murrumbidgee River. In Sydney we visited the nieces, nephews and families and had our obligatory visit to the Art Gallery of NSW which was showing 'Tang', a collection of art from China. Good place, Australia. Better when they learn to play rugby!

22 August 2016

Navigator during WW2 and Midair Collision by Liberators over India

For years my family has been in possession of a photo of my father navigating during WW2. Beside him on the wall of the aircraft (he flew in Ansons, Wellingtons and Liberators) is an escape axe, and what seems to be a crank handle (starting the plane?). We always thought that he was smoking a cigarette (he did smoke) and that such things may not have been uncommon during wartime flying. However I looked at it more closely recently and wondered about the offending cigarette. My brother has blown it up and agrees that it is a bright bit of light shining on his left side collar. So we've  photoshopped it out and it makes a much better impression now.

Dad - WW2 - Where's the cigarette?
So after all that and with the aid of Google I've managed to also solve another mystery about the end of my Dad's WW2 service.

We had understood that he had always (while based in eastern India and Rangoon with RAF 358 Squadron) had Ray Bullen from Christchurch as his pilot and was upset at the loss of Bullen in an air accident. It wasn't until very recently that I stumbled upon a report of the accident. The crew had been split up towards the end of their service and Bullen was flying another Liberator in a 'formation flying' exercise when two of the planes collided after they suddenly flew into monsoon cloud. Both  Liberators came down and all fourteen crew died. Luckily Dad was not part of the exercise. The whole tragedy was recorded recently including communications with the families and some acrimony about the causes. It makes interesting reading and at one stage there is reference to my father and his other former crew members - all very interesting to discover about 73 years after the incident. The report can be read here.

Liberator in RAF colours
Interestingly, the accident occurred less than three weeks before the end of WW2. Dad ended up staying on in the Rangoon area for five months (flying out POWs from SE Asia etc) and arrived back in NZ to find all the housing gone and we ended up living in a couple of small army huts for two winters.

BLS and Chum: Army Hut, Hastings 1946

08 August 2016

Getting Knocked Up in Antarctica.

Several nights ago I attended a very interesting talk about how we humans have managed, over the millenia, to measure and record time. I discovered that at one stage after the industrial revolution workers were required to be at work on time and they could be docked half a days pay for being late. Because the poor could not afford timepieces, people were employed to wake them in the morning. This was done by knocking on their windows - or in the case of those who slept upstairs, shooting dried peas at their upstairs bedroom windows - the term used for this practise was "knocking up" and later it came to be used for just waking someone up. I learned the expression from my father who would often refer to being "knocked up" at a certain time in the morning.

I'm not sure how it came about, but the term also came to be used for making a woman pregnant. My mind boggles about how the term came to have this other meaning and I did wonder that, if the "knocker up" 'knocked' too early, the double entendre, "early rise", could have resulted in the impregnation in those days preceding birth control.

A ?Knocked Up Lady 'Knocker Up' Takes Aim at an Upper Window

Back in 1960 near the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica I became stranded at a primitive weather station with a few Americans manning the outpost. One night I left the comfort of their Nissen hut  for my polar tent and asked a RNZAF person there to 'knock me up ' at six the next morning because I had a radio call the next morning. The following morning I was interrogated by the Americans who only knew of the impregnation definition of the phrase. They were a bit sceptical of my explanation of the term!

Crew at Beardmore Depot

In the photo above, from left, Peter Rule(one of the rescued RNZAF airmen), 'Carp' USA (whose father was killed in the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbour), Athol Boag (RNZAF who was asked to 'knock me up), two from USA, 'Con' who had the interest in the differences between American and English phrases.

There is a very interesting discussion of the phrase in the linked discussion here. And the interesting story of the RNZAF rescue is recorded here and here. It also is in one of my previous blogs - and presently featured above - about the antarctic rescue.

11 July 2016

The Cat Problem - New Zealand, Australia - Pukawa Too

Cats! Love them and loathe them. Let's face it, as ferals they have become a real problem in the environment. Here are a few of their sins. And I'm not even going to address the massive feral cat problem in Australia.

One single cat was responsible for wiping out an entire species of bird. The lighthouse keepers cat on Stevens Island almost singlehandedly wiped out the entire species population of Stevens Island wrens. Used to bring them in each day as a present for the keeper!

On Stewart Island (Rakiura) cats have gone out of control. A Trust set up to protect the Yellow-Eyed Penguin employed a person to attempt to control the cats, the penguins' chief predator.

One dead cat picked up on a Central Otago roadside had seven dead skinks in its stomach - and even worse, a shot feral cat had 14 undigested skinks in its stomach, one mornings catch!

Many other species are recorded as having been eliminated or at least severely predated by cats. These include the Saddleback, the Little Barrier Snipe, several petrel species, dotterels, Kakariki, Brown Teal and Robins.

Of course cats alone are not responsible for the destruction of so many NZ species (but they have been estimated to kill between 19 and 44 million animals per year). Rats and mustelids too are in on the act. To their credit cats kill rats and even a few mustelids. But the whole ecological story of predator and prey is very complex and needs to be addressed as such; by humans.

In my view the worst crimes are committed by humans - abandoning cats or litters of cats on the roadside to survive on their own - how else but by taking easy meals from the local fauna. And then there is the catch, neuter and release policy of the SPCA for stray cats. My view is that once a stray cat is given general anaesthetic for neutering it will 'know nothing' if it doesn't wake up! Maybe better not to wake up.

But as far as Stewart Island is concerned if all the pet moggies in urban Stewart Island are given back to their owners after neutering, the few animals they catch would be insignificant compared with the elimination of cats and other predators throughout the rest of the island. Then everyone is happy.

At Pukawa we regularly find cats within our PWMT control area - and have anecdotal evidence of their release into our area - maybe just telling the kids that they'd be picked up on the way back home from the holiday - ha, ha!

Victim (not that I care too much about sparrows) and Predator

17 June 2016

Northland NZ - Herekino Again - with Aussie Wives

For many years now (~ 40) six of us - three kiwis and our Aussie wives have been having regular get-togethers in Australia and New Zealand. Regrettably one of us (Warren) has died. We still meet and this year we met at Kerikeri where Warren's wife, Sue, still spends much of each year.

We did a lot of talking, walking, going out to dinner and some local touring about. One of our days was up to Kaitaia and I insisted on having lunch at Herekino Inlet, a place I'd discovered about 15 years ago when Jim Wilson and I sussed out the west coast harbours of the North Island prior to circumnavigating it in Jim's yacht. This time I had Boris my old (second best friend, 300,000km 1995 Nissan 4WD) so decided to brave the rugged rutted track in to the lunch spot. I became 'Boris bogged' but inserting a few bits of wood under the wheels to save the ladies from the mud! What a peaceful spot - a graceful harbour with sandbars emerging or submerging, wading birds calling and the occasional fish plopping about in the water. The godwits had left for the Northern Hemisphere. Lunch was very pleasant as was the rest of the day. Retirement is great.

The Peaceful Herekino Inlet

Boris and Friends Collapsed in Kikuyu at Herekino
Northland was Very Green.

 Over the other days we walked down the   Kerikeri River to the Stone Store, visited the  local  marina, went out shopping (for some) and to the movies, dinner and discovered  more fungi - of course.

Orange Poreconch (Favolaschia calocera)

A Bolete?

04 June 2016

ANZAC Day - 2016

ANZAC day coincided with a trip for us to Pukawa with Hannah and Tasman, two of our granddaughters. It also coincided with Hannah's need to attend an ANZAC parade in order to get one of her Girl Guide badges. What to do?

We occasionally go to ANZAC services but this was a must. So we found out what was on at the south end of Taupo Moana. There was a dawn service at Waihi, a special remembrance at the Tokaanu Anglican Church and a civic parade in Turangi. Believe it or not we did the lot!

Granny Smith and Hannah 0430 hrs

Waihi Marae at Dawn

Guard at the Cenotaph
Speeches During Morning Tea at Waihi Marae
 An early rise saw us at Waihi. In the first greying of the dawn we assembled and the rank and file marched onto the Marae and halted before the wharenui - the moon shone down - the lone bugler's sound arose from the darkness. There was just enough light to see your knees. The local ladies looked after us with morning tea in the wharekai and we watched the sun come up over Taupo.

We called at the Waihi church for the remembrance service to one of the local Maori slain in WW1. Then it was time to return to the 'hut' for breakfast. It was here that granddad decided that actually marching in the civic parade at 10am was what Hannah really had to do for her guide badge. And so we returned to the east and Hannah, accompanied by granddad and wearing her great-granddad's WW2 medals, marched with the troops. At the RSA where the order to halt was given we listened to the speeches and at the end Hannah, Tasman, Granny and Granddad placed their poppies on the cenotaph. Then it was ice cream time - as granddad couldn't find any rum.

Windows at Tokaanu Church
For Hannah especially it was quite an intense experience.

Girl Guide

19 May 2016

The Waitress - After Mt Hicks - the longest day

We'd had a long climb on Hicks (previous post, we spent the night on top) and a rather frightening descent in the midst of a storm the next morning. After getting back to our snowcave and recovering we woke the next morning to discover just how lucky we'd been - the face was plastered with snow.

It was time to go home. We rose at 2am the following morning, packed as fast as possible and headed up onto Clark Saddle. So began the longest and most strenuous 24 hours I can remember. I wrote the story below for a short story competition (- it didn't get anywhere!). With allowance for some creative writing, it is pretty much what happened. I hope none of my old mates are offended by the story we are still great friends sixty years on.
Polly (from Faulty Towers)

The Waitress

All day they battled downhill against time and the pull of gravity on heavy packs, edging about schrunds and crevasses on belays and slogging down the mountain through knee-deep snow. They had started early in the half-light of dawn from their snow cave high on the La Perouse Glacier and struggled over Clarke Saddle. Now the burn of the sun and the sweat of their exertions contrasted with their cold feet. In the mid-afternoon they passed over Glacier Dome and soon after, on the upper Haast Ridge, saw their first plants in over two weeks, some gentians and daisies. After so long snow caving at over nine thousand feet the close-up green of the vegetation looked great and they marvelled at its freshness. Barry was taken with their restful effect on the eyes. It had been a great trip, he reflected, enjoyable but tough – his first among the ten thousand footers. They had managed some first ascents in the area. Far below, on the main glacier, the four of them noticed a trail of tiny figures, tourists, making their way off the ice and onto the lateral moraine. “We’re going to be lucky to catch the bus”, Barry mused to himself as he started picking his way down the ridge after the others.

They travelled down the last of the Tasman Glacier as the shadows of ridges climbed up the mountain faces across the valley. It wasn’t by accident that Jim and Dave managed to pick separate routes through the glacial moraine. Things had been strained for a few days. Now in the last of the daylight they pulled themselves exhausted up over the lip of the moraine wall – just in time to watch the dust of the last tourist bus disappearing down the road to the Hermitage. The place was deserted and they knew there would be no other bus. They sagged onto the rocks and thought about how far they were from anywhere. About them the mountain daisies were at their best, bathed in the reflected light from nearby peaks, but they were in no mood to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounded them. A distant kea’s call failed to register. One way or another they'd been on the go for about eighteen hours, their shoulders and knees ached and their backs were raw in places from the constant rubbing of packs.

The bus for Christchurch would depart from the Mt Cook Village at nine the next morning and for the past few days they’d looked forward to that last luxurious breakfast in the restaurant in the Hermitage. They had planned it from the start of their trip. They listened carefully – perhaps the sound of a last tourist car. There was nothing, only the distant whisper of mountain streams. No option but to walk the extra distance - an extra twenty kilometres on screaming feet. That was when Dave decided how it should be done.

“A ten-minute rest every hour.” he offered. Jim disagreed. “Let’s just keep going till we get there,” he suggested. It was all on. All the tensions and resentments of the trip boiled over. Jim suddenly had had enough of Dave’s extras, the huge first aid kit, his extra pitons and their weight, the extra abseiling line – even if it had saved them once. And he remembered the row over the preparations for the first big climb. They all knew about Dave and his idiosyncrasies. He had this obsession with detail. When it came to planning the trips there was no one more thorough. Everything was thought through, but there had been problems with what they described as his “belt and braces” approach to mountaineering. Dave's insistence on getting everything right had been his undoing during his first year at University, despite his disciplined hard work. When finals came he’d only revised half the course. And in the exams he spent so much time on only half the questions that he managed to get ninety percent for those he answered – forty five percent. So the story went.

Every argument was now proposed - the distance - the time - the weariness - the need to stop to eat or drink - to ease the feet. The need to keep the party together. No use; it was pigheaded stuff. The moon rose up over the ridge across the valley and still they continued arguing. Angry voices destroyed the peace of the valley. Jim was the one of the quartet with the greatest natural physical ability. He had the strength and agility of a gymnast. He’d excelled at rugby at school and it was said that if he'd put as much time into rugby as he had into mountaineering he could have played representative rugby at high levels. Now he punctuated his arguments by poking his ice axe at a nearby rock. Metallic clanks and sparks punctured the night. The white snow-cream, matted in his stubble together with his blazing eyes, all quite visible in the moonlit dusk, gave him a surreal appearance. It wasn’t that he wasn’t prepared to rest every hour – it was just - now that it didn’t matter about the unity of the group - he was going to settle some old scores from earlier in the trip. Their weariness seemed to have departed and neither of them was prepared to budge. Mike and Barry just sat and gaped. For a while they had tried to resolve their conflict. Does it matter? Let’s split the difference? Does it really matter? Why argue? It was hopeless. They gave up. Finally they shouldered their packs and just walked off down the road, leaving the other two arguing. They would just rest when we felt like it!

So the night passed. Jim and Dave followed eventually, everyone, just doing their own thing. Occasionally a stone worked its way down within a sock, chafing away at some part, already sore, adding to the discontent. All of them suffered aching feet from the hard shingled road
 The issue of how to get there was still unresolved. Finally, in the small hours of the morning, four disgruntled sleepwalkers dragged themselves to a halt and threw down their packs. They pulled their sleeping bags out and fell asleep under shrubs just below the Hermitage. After dawn one of them hobbled up to reception and retrieved the clean clothes sent up by bus three weeks ago. No one argued as they washed and dressed at the nearby creek. The previous night preyed on the silence. They stuffed smelly old clothes from the trip into a large plastic bag, dropped their packs off at the bus depot and made their way across the road to the Hermitage dining room. They sat about the table for breakfast in silence. Plenty of time now to look glumly at each another; snow burned faces peeling, unshaven, unruly hair. A miserable shamefaced lot. What an ending to their great adventure.

The waitress arrived at their table. She was young, slim and blue-eyed – a blond Australian girl from Bondi beach, having her first OE in New Zealand. Everyone ordered bacon and eggs. As she departed with the orders, four pairs of eyes followed the flare of her uniform and the neat white bow of her apron - her narrow waist. The sigh was audible. Jim observed that she was the first woman he’d seen in three weeks and a pleasant change from the usual breakfast view of someone’s stubble. When she returned with the food they were all smiles. Where was she from? Where was she going? Where had they been? What had they done? They sparkled. Coffee? They were beside themselves with excitement. There was hardly anyone else in the dining room so she could lavish them with service. Would they like more bacon and eggs? Coffee? “No extra charge,” she said. While she was out of the room they raved about her. Shamelessly, Barry raced outside and, with no regard for the management or conservation, picked flowers for her. Dave wrote her Sydney address on the table napkin. Mike found out which hotel she was moving to next. Not too far from where he was going to do his engineering practical stint in May. He didn’t tell the others. And Barry again….. As she passed a plate, managed to brush his cheek against her arm. It was so soft and warm. A third helping of bacon and eggs arrived, then toast and marmalade. The coffee percolator couldn’t keep up. And she was so pretty. Girlfriends back in Christchurch were forgotten. So, nearly, was the bus.

They hardly had time to say goodbye as they staggered, bloated, from the dining room and fell into the near-empty bus. Jim and Dave collapsed together onto the back seat. They smiled at each another and spent the rest of the trip discussing a route on the unclimbed Caroline face of Cook. The one everyone said was impossible – too dangerous.

From the panoramic window of the dining room the waitress watched the bus depart and wondered if she would see any of them again. She had taken a liking to a couple of them but it was always the same. They would leave on the next bus. She sighed as she picked up the flowers from the table. Already they were wilting.



12 May 2016

Early Climbing Days - Eight - Mt Hicks (North Face) 1957

North Face of Hicks - route marked (Photo DJE)

Mt Hicks proved to be a bit of an epic. Time was running out for our climbing season based in the snow cave we'd inherited and enlarged on the upper neve of the La Perouse Glacier, to the west of Aorangi/Mt Cook in the summer of 1956/7. We did some great climbs from this base so we decided at the end on an attempt on the, then unclimbed, north face of Mt Hicks. The weather was fine as we dropped from our snow cave and sidled south towards the base of the face. We'd intended to climb as far up as possible using the snow but a threat of ice- and rockfall from above had us scampering over towards the the base of the first rib on the face. We arrived on the rib about two or three rope lengths above its base and roped up.

At first there was nothing too difficult about the rock, but after a few hundred feet the big nose on the rib appeared more ominous. Jim Wilson and Mike White were ahead when we reached it and were investigating a shallow gully immediately to the left of the 'nose'. When Dave Elphick and I caught up they were scratching about on what seemed to be a steep smooth ice-worn part of a gully – and voicing doubts about its feasibility.

BLS on Lower Rib (Photo DJE)

We elected to investigate the rock further away from the ridge crest and soon found ourselves in a chimney, which offered a good belay point. Dave climbed on above me in the chimney and, discovering a route, backed down and traversed horizontally out onto a little face where he put in another belay – a good lead, given our ‘all purpose’ footwear of the time. I climbed through and extended our progress until we were above Jim and Mike. It was now getting late and via a lot of shouting into the cloudless sky we decided to separate, Jim and Mike electing to descend while Dave and I were lured on by our position above the crux and the clear weather.

We climbed onto the crest of the rib and continued, sharing the lead and leapfrogging belays up what was a superb rock arĂȘte, at times narrow, at others offering airy ledges and diagonally slanting open chimneys. Towards the top we sidled left and the afternoon was over when we finally reached the Dampier-Hicks ridge. A short scamper on crampons along the ridge took us to the summit soon after the sun set. The lights of the Hermitage shone up through the gloom of the Hooker Valley. It was 8pm and we were in for a night out. Despite the clear sky, a cool breeze had sprung up and we settled down behind a little rock sangre, rapidly built in the last of the light. We had no warm gear other than our jerseys and parkas; we tucked our feet and lower legs into our roomy Mountain Mule packs. The night was spent shivering, turning every few minutes to give relief to our outer sides and checking the time.

Our equanimity was disturbed about four in the morning as the moon rose beyond Dampier and we could see hog’s backs starting to form nearby over Mt Cook. The wind was steadily rising. At four we switched on our torches and nervously made our way back down the ridge to the top of our rib. Here we awaited dawn and enough light to climb. Right on the cue of dawn the storm struck. We had no choice but to go down and from the very start the rocks iced up. Every foot placement was deliberate and the wind, rocketing up the face, had the rope between us arching up into the sky. The ice and rock made short work of my woollen gloves. We continued for hours, each of us encased in our little sphere of concentration, all sense of exposure lost in the storm. All along we wondered how we’d manage at the 'nose' on the rib.

DJE in Chimney (Photo BLS)

Crux of Climb (Photo BLS)

For several of our trips Dave had argued, one against the three of us, for the inclusion of a 200 ft thin rappelling line in the party gear. Now in the icy gully beside the 'nose' Dave, bless him, unpacked his ‘bloody rope’ (as we called it) and arranged a good sling on one of our two precious pitons. In sleet we abseiled down our crux of the previous day. At the bottom of the abseil I was going up and down like a yo-yo on the thin line. Luckily I had just enough rope to make it to a stance. Dave joined me and we down-climbed and abseiled once again, now in torrential rain and hail, before heading off onto the snow. We were moving very slowly now, not because of deliberation, but because we were bloody cold. Speech was difficult; slow and blurred. We wasted no time, packed the ropes away, and moved out onto the snowfield and the La Perouse Glacier with as much vigour as we could muster. We managed to warm up a little and just kept moving on up the neve hoping we wouldn’t miss the cave. At about 1pm we heard a shout and there in the sleet were Jim and Mike, starting to move away from the snow cave entrance. They had decided to go looking as far as the bottom of the face. We all dived back into the cave and they helped us out of our sodden gear and into dry clothes and sleeping bags. Ah, that hot brew. We'd been out from the snow cave for over 29 hours.

BLS Above Crux (Photo DJE)
BLS on Upper Rib (Photo DJE)

We emerged from the snow cave the next morning. The face of Hicks was plastered with snow and we contemplated our narrow escape. The following morning we went out over Clarke Saddle to the Hermitage in one day, a 21h epic. And I could write a book about that last day - my next blog post.