It seems strange to be back in Sheffield already. I’m sure many experience this (and I’m sure I have when returning from previous trips in the past): the sense of an odd time warp having taken place. We looked forward to this trip for so long, it’s the furthest either of us have travelled for climbing (or anything for that matter) and in our minds it was this huge event on the horizon. We trained hard for it, planned it meticulously (I’ll be honest the planning was mostly Dave) and looked forward to it immensely. It didn’t feel like it would ever be time to actually GO on the trip…..let alone come home from it!
Having said that, I also love coming home. We had an amazing time but I think it is a sign of how much we like where we live and our friends here that, when the time comes, travelling home is almost as exciting as going away. Plus, nothing beats sleeping in your own bed!
Our last two weeks of climbing were spent in New Zealand; both the landscapes and the climbing were extremely different to that in Australia and it was perfect for the end of the trip to have new sights and new challenges. The views were totally stunning; the only way I can think to describe it is the Lake District on steroids. Just like in Australia, the local climbing community met us in New Zealand with incredible hospitality. This special trait of our sport never ceases to amaze me. Castle Hill has a guidebook but Flock Hill, where we were hoping to climb the most, hasn’t and it was only thanks to the generosity of the local climbers that we got many an in-depth tour!
We were also living out of a camper van at this point (it seemed everyone was, there are sooooo many campers on the road in NZ!) and so a particular thanks to local climber Joe who was a legend, keeping our hygiene to an acceptable level by letting us use his shower! Moving into the camper van initially felt a bit of a challenge but we soon settled back into the swing of van life and both realised how much we had missed the simplicity, the basic way of living. There was a beautiful detachment to those two weeks. No wifi and intermittent signal created a peaceful, slow and more present reality. We ended up as a little band of climbers: me and David, Adam Watson and Abbie, and Cliff. All in vans, with Pearson Lake as our home away from home, we found a rhythm to life in the hills.
We spent most of our time climbing at Flock Hill and it was really like no other place. Like Joe one day said: “It’s a little piece of heaven”. It really is that. The crag is relatively high effort to climb at lots of days in a row due to the steep 45min walk in but the sense of exposure, isolation and views are fully worth it. The climbing itself is demanding in a very unique way – lots of slopers, mantles, footwork, compression, highballs and body awareness. I thoroughly enjoyed the climbing; it was nice to do some high stuff again. Having said that, I did take a pretty bad fall on our first day at Flock Hill….. I unexpectedly spun off Sunset Arete (a beautiful V8), missed the pads and initially felt terrified that I had broken my leg! Luckily my ankle rolled and took the hit (along with some mega whiplash) and I was grateful to hobble around for a day or two before being able to climb again. Those of you that know me won’t be surprised to hear that I went back and finished the boulder (after doing the scary top on a top rope to avoid further danger). Always good to get back on the metaphorical horse.
So after a shaky start to our Flock Hill adventure, it was all fun and frolics from there on in. A ridiculous amount of sending from Adam and David was great to bear witness to! I loved the climbing but also found it somewhat challenging in the reach department. I hate calling reach but I think this is an area where it does make quite a difference. Most things are totally doable if you have a shorter reach (although there were some where I actually couldn’t physically span) but the style definitely made it harder. I realised how often I use intermediates or unusual sequences to climb harder boulders (and I’m not even that small); here the smooth limestone offers only the main event holds. At this point in the trip though I was totally happy to lower my grade and enjoy the classics; it was all about day sends and scenic picnics!