While climbing in the Darrans, base camp is generally at the Homer Hut. Life at the hut is great. As a NZAC member it is either $15 a night to stay in the hut, or $10 a night to camp or in our case sleep in the van.
The hut has gas for cooking and solar lights, and is a great base for climbing adventures. We learnt a few downsides to our nomadic lifestyle here, and as they say bad things come in threes. First of all we (Em) got a puncture, so we had to sort that out back in Te Anau. Of course it was Sunday, and everything was shut. After getting everything sorted we were happy again, but that night learnt our second perk of life in a van – vermin. At Lake Gunn we had noticed a mouse run past and thought nothing of it. Unfortunately our food stores must have seemed attractive, as we learnt in the Darrans that pretty much everything not in a can had been taste tested. From our oats and pasta, to our chocolate, jellybeans and even candles! Luckily the hut has a mouse problem as well, so there were plenty of traps around and we borrowed one and caught our two friends in the first two nights. With our food rearranged into containers, hopefully we have no more problems.
Sleeping in the carpark bought our third bit of bad luck, we had unwittingly parked under the local possums favourite tree. In the middle of the night we heard a scratching noise, followed by a huge racket on the roof. A pair of possums weren’t getting along and the howling and hissing that ensued was heinous! We thought we had outsmarted them by reversing the van and slamming on the brakes, but apparently they were smarter than us and held onto the roof racks. We got out to find them staring down at our face, so gave them a whack with a nearby pole to send them scarpering.
The Mighty Bongo suffered a few scratches to her lovely complexion, but is still as beautiful as ever. With all our bad luck out of the way (we hope) we scoped out some lines for the rest of the trip, beginning with some sport climbing at the Chasm.
The Chasm is an area I had never heard of, and could totally change the perception a lot of people have of the Darrans. Many sportclimbers have already caught onto the epicness of the area, but it was all new to me. Alongside Babylon, the 100m high Chasm is a beautiful granite overhanging crag. With routes of all grades from 18 to insanely freaking hard, it is super accessible and is pretty much all climbable rain or shine. With a whopping 5 minute walk (compared to our 6 hour epic to Lucky Strike) there is no reason to stay away if you have any spare time at all. When the weather is bad a waterfall flows over the entire crag, leaving the tiny access pitch wet but the rest dry as a bone. Climbing with a waterfall flowing overhead is a surreal experience, and it’s awesome to forget it is even raining until you leave – or as I learnt the hard way swing out on an abseil straight into the water flow.
After long discussions with Paul Rogers (the main developer of The Chasm) we had a list of ‘must-dos’ big enough to fill the rest of our trip. The climbing was stunning, especially ‘Proximity Infactuation’ (21), ‘Groove Armada’ (23) and the crazy jugfest roof that is ‘Buster Gonad’ (25). It’s a genuine test of endurance, a 14 bolt solid 30m of overhanging jug pulling, following by an interesting abseil into nothingness where the belayer has to throw a retrieval line to get the climber back to the starting ledge, 60m up. We ended up spending 3 days at the Chasm, which was enough to fall in love and want to get on the myriad of great routes around the place. Paul plans to add rungs to the access line (hopefully today), which will make the crag perfect for an easy trip in bad weather.
After marvelling at the ease of access, quality and balls to the wall climbing through the roofs of the Chasm, it was time to plan another epic in the Darrans for the forecasted four days of good weather, before the week of bad weather about to roll in. We have set our sights on Labyrinth, a mixed, 6 pitch 23 on the North Face of Barrier Knob. Fingers crossed, we’ll finally tick off something big.