Em and I are certainly not the breed for bouldering. Being staunch trad climbers who climb sport when there’s no gear around, bouldering doesn’t have much appeal to either of us. As we travelled along the Forgotten World highway from Oamaru to Mount Cook, we took in the funky limestone features scattered along the road sides. The highway drives straight past Hulk Hogan – a popular short roof for boulderers, as well as Elephant Rocks. We decided to do the tourist thing at Elephant rocks and have a quick look around.
The area reminds me of a snippet of Castle Hill only with a few more features around the place, and slightly less smoothness in general. Having no guide or mat we decided to stop for a quick boulder and play on a few of the more obvious lines. Scoping out remnants of chalk and rubberised footholds, we jumped on a handful of lines ranging from ‘cake’ to ‘insano hard’ on my own personal bouldering grading system. Definitely a mini Castle Hill. Most of the problems had top-out cruxes, with smooth mantles and minimal handholds.
After a couple of hours of playing (because that is all boulderers do after all) we decided to carry on through Duntroon to Mount Cook. The highway is beautiful, following a collection of amazingly bright blue-green lakes and the small detour to check out a couple of hydro-dams is really worthwhile.
We then pulled in to check out the sights and sounds of Twizel and coincidentally a stop in the information center that was open for the last day ever, then carried on through to Mount Cook. Unsure what our accommodation options were we ventured to town to investigate. On the main road into town is the New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC) run Unwin Hut. For $15 per night for NZAC or overseas equivalent members ($30 for non-members) you get all you could want (GREAT showers!) otherwise the DOC campground is $6 per night with only toilets and water. Unfortunately there is no freedom camping in this area due to the popularity. Camping is allowed at least 200m away from any roads or tracks, which is an option if you are keen on going bush. We later found a free campground with a long drop just north of Twizel on the Tekapo-Twizel rd, just past the canal for the hydro dams.
Sebastopol Bluffs is a great introduction to alpine crags, located about 3km down the road from the Unwin Hut. The 100m+ lines are visible from the main highway and only about a 10 minute walk to the base of the climbs. As we parked up another camper pulled up and a pair of disorganised poms introduced themselves. The guy explained they only had a single stich plate between the two of them and he was about to learn an italian hitch to belay with, while he taught his sister to multi-pitch. They sounded like trouble as it was so I gave them a spare ATC we had. We set off fully kitted out, before they stumbled up after us with about half a dozen quick draws, a rope, a couple of harnesses and no helmets or anything.
Most of the stuff at Sebastopol is pretty run out, but comfortable climbing. My first pitch was a 40m line with 6 bolts. The three pitches above however were all super comfortably bolted, as we had crossed onto a popular 90m line that had been retro-bolted for beginners. I was belaying Em up the first pitch while the English guy was climbing up a few lines over from me. He was nearly at the anchors and I was paying no attention to him when Em reached my anchors, then traversed to a different set to begin the next pitch. Just as she anchored in I saw a worrisome scene out of the corner of my eye and glanced over to the other side just in time to watch him plummet about 15 meters, hitting the rock and tumbling barely past his belayer into the bushes below. Instant panic hit, and in my mind we were about to be mounting a very serious rescue effort. I told (or possibly frantically yelled) to Em what had happened, and that we needed to abseil down immediately. As I yelled down to the guy and his belayer, unbelievably after a minute or so he yelled back “I’m fine!”.
Luck had definitely been on his side – he was unscathed! After lots of yelling we learnt that he had absent-mindedly instructed his inexperienced sister to lower him down off the 40m climb on a 60m rope. She had lowered him straight off the end of the rope, to a 20 meter (minus rope stretch) ground fall. With the impending rescue cancelled we continued up the top three pitches of our line before calling it a day. We decided we’d seen enough carnage and were scared away by the other couple, but as we started the walk out we heard the unmistakable sound of gear rolling down a cliff. The girl had dropped her ATC (just past my head, unannounced of course) so the guy had to lower her the rest of the way. These were the sort of people that get climbers in the media for all the wrong reasons, and are a good reminder of why some people should very much NOT be climbers.
We headed back to Mount Cook village, with our sights set on the Ball Pass walk for the afternoon.