14 January 2018

David Julian Elphick 1935-2018 - Recollections

Very early in 2018 an old climbing mate, Dave Elphick, from over 60 years ago, died in UK. His death set me musing about our past. I've cut and pasted it here as a tribute to him.

"Where to begin with you, Dave?  I've thought a bit about it and think it best to just start at the beginning.

After Pat Barcham mentioned that you, Jim Wilson and Mike White were looking for a climber to make a four – "Quartet" – you and I decided to do a familiarization trip together. The plan was to climb Rolleston and descend the Jellicoe Ridge as far as we could towards the Waimakariri River. We didn't quite make it to Mt Stewart (only Guinevere) and only just made our way down the bluffs into the lower Crow. In the dark we stumbled down the lower Waimak to Klondyke Corner and up to the Pass. It was a hell of a long day.

But we'd started before that. On the way to Arthurs Pass, at Springfield, while we waited for the train engine to shunt things about we went for a run – in our mountaineering boots. We both knew how to run and some 20 minutes later had the measure of each other. Back to the climb. 

Long Whisper
(for David Elphick)

We traverse the skyline
plunge down the last ridge

now cloud from the west
shuts down the stars

water from the last crossing
warms in our boots

brings a niggle of river gravel
even talk chafes at the edges

and the gravity of a long day
drags heavy on shutters of vision

we stumble moonless down valley
bump shoulders  again and again

feel the long whisper of water
the comfort of mountain talk.

Soon we were planning our first big trip into the Southern Alps. Preparing the gear and food we enthusiastically gave ourselves nicknames – after our heroes. There was Andre (.. Roche the French climber) – you, Dave; Jim was Willy after the German Himalayan climber, Willy Merkl; Mike became Heinrich after Heinrich Harrer – the Eiger climber; and I ended up as Herr Schmid after the Schmid brothers. The names have stuck for over sixty years!

Dave on Red Lion Traverse

Dave on Summit of Red Lion Peak

Our first long trip was into the Arrowsmiths and the Rakaia. There were many climbs but one with you stands out. You and I decided to climb Red Lion but, because of the big schrund below Red Lion Col decided to traverse to the col from Full Moon Saddle (ah, those place names) – we climbed both Red Lion peaks but the big memory is of that traverse – one of the steepest I remember – cutting steps all the way – even with crampons – and worst of all the flying rocks – the ones we heard and never saw. And then on the return was the schrund below Red Lion Col – we definitely didn't want to go back across the face beneath Pascoe's 'piece de resistance'. So we jumped the schrund! You went first and I followed onto the lower lip. It was quite a drop and you managed to get a chip of ice in the eye. I bandage you up and you managed to do the next few days – and eventually down the Evans Glacier with one eye – not easy.

Dave on the Crux of Hicks

Dave sussing the Crux on Hicks

Next year our big effort was up the La Perouse Glacier behind Mt Cook. We had some wonderful climbs there but the one that stands out for me was our first ascent of the North Face of Hicks (or David's Dome as it was called). You led the crux of the climb and, sharing the lead, we struggled on (in good weather) reaching the top in time to see the lights of the Hermitage down below in the evening gloom. All night we shivered side by side in the cold as a storm developed, and struck at dawn. It amazed me that we managed to get down. For days all of us had cursed your long length of rappelling line and then at the crux of the descent amid hail and wind you pulled it out of your pack and saved our lives. We just made it back to the snow cave before we expired! Our journey back over the main divide to the Hermitage and the waitress from Bondi Beach was an epic in itself.

Our next season was ambitious – we planned to pack our gear over Teichelmann and climb everything in the Balfour! It was not to be. We were chased out of the Linda by a frightening ice avalanche and then the weather closed in. Just as it was clearing many days later we were summoned to help rescue another climber from the bottom of a crevasse. You and I were lowered into it and there, on the bedrock of the glacier, you splinted his broken femur. It all ended well and you were mentioned in dispatches for the amazing job you'd done. We had even greater ambitions for the following year – everything was directed towards one climb – a traverse of Tasman to Cook. It was not to be – having traversed Lendenfeldt we were turned back by the huge schrund on the north shoulder of Tasman. There were other climbs Dave. We had a great climb with Jim and Ivan, climbing Aspiring in a two-day weekend from Christchurch – one of those crazy things we set ourselves.

Dave at Chancellor Hut

Terry and Dave in Christchurch - This Time Dave Was Stonkered
You really get to know people when you live with them. I got to know you in huts, in tents, shivering together on mountain-tops and glacial moraines – to say nothing of the ice faces, gorges, dry riverbeds and aspiring ridges. You were a great companion during all those formative times – organized - prepared - disciplined – safe – energetic – thorough – generous and always seeking and striving. I often thought it was your thoroughness and intensity that held you back in some ways – probably from a good career in medicine.  But these characteristics served you well in your distinguished career in male psychiatric nursing. Like the other members of our 'Quartet' I loved you like a brother – and then suddenly you had to leave your three brothers - and your sisters of course.  Great journey, Dave."

17 December 2017

Visitor Heroes from the Past - Geoffrey Winthrop Young - Raymond Priestley - Heinrich Harrer

I have some very good memories of the mid to late-50s in Christchurch when, as a keen budding climber, I was a regular attendee at the meetings of the CMC (Canterbury Mountaineering Club) and a little later, the NZAC (New Zealand Alpine Club). These years were soon after WW2 and the club leaders were very aware of the times lost to those dreadful years of war. They seized on any visiting notables to talk to the membership. I'm not sure if this sort of activity still exists today but it certainly made an impression on me - meeting people of fame or with links to our heroes of the past - I believe that heroes are mistakenly underrated these days. There were others too but here are some memories of three fleeting visitors from those formative days.


Raymond Priestley

Raymond Priestley in Antarctica 1912

I have quite good memories of somewhat frantic activity among CMC elders. They heard that Raymond Priestley was coming to Christchurch as a guest of the American Deep Freeze Operation for a visit to Antarctica soon after they set up their base at McMurdo. He must have been about 70 at the time and had been the VC of both Melbourne and Birmingham Universities. I didn't know who he was but I was advised that here was a chance to make contact with the past. Priestley had been a member (one of the last surviving members) of Scotts last expedition south. He was introduced and without any notes or slides he just stood and gave a wonderful talk.

He wasn't part of the bid for the South Pole but part of what was called the six-man "Northern Party". They had explored the area about Cape Adare and areas south of there towards Scott Base. The "Terra Nova" had failed to pick them up at a place called "Inexpressible Island"because of pack ice. They were marooned there for the winter with limited supplies and managed to survive by eating seals and penguins they had slaughtered near their snow cave. As a treat every so often they would eat the brains of a slaughtered seal - yum yum. They survived a very bleak winter and rescued themselves in the spring, travelling over the sea ice to Scott's hut where they discovered that Scott and his companions had failed to return the previous autumn.

Prior to Scotts departure for the Pole, Priestley had traveled eastwards along the Ross Ice Shelf in the Terra Nova and, at the Bay of Whales, had discovered Amundsen preparing for his successful journey to the South Pole. Before going North to Cape Adare they returned to tell Scott of Amundsen's presence. I was enthralled and riveted listening to his story.

Notice at Cave Site on Inexpressible Island

Over one hundred years later - one of Priestley's dinner remains

In 2009, with Catherine, I was lucky to revisit Antarctica and, as part of this, we visited Inexpressible Island - there on the rocks next to where the Northern Party had survived their long winter we found the skulls of seals with their skull caps opened - the remains of several of Priestley's treats! They had been there for for over 100 years.


Heinrich Harrer

Heinrich Harrer and Friend

Heinrich Harrer was an Austrian mountaineer, famous for having been part of the first 1938 successful Austro-German first ascent of the the North Face of the Eiger - the last of the unclimbed north (cold) faces in the European Alps. Two parties of two, one German and one Austrian, met on the lower face and decided to join forces for the ascent, one of mountaineerings great feats. For this he was honoured and photographed with Adolf Hitler.

Later, during WW2, he escaped from a POW internment camp and travelled to Tibet where he became close adviser and confidant of the Dalai Lama - all recounted in his well known book 'Seven Years in Tibet'.

He came and spoke to the NZAC, mainly about the Eiger climb and I still vividly recall hearing him describe in his 'Germanic' accent how, on the Eiger, after doing the "... Hinterstoiser Traverse, I braced myself against a rock overhang while Heckmier, my climbing partner climbed onto my shoulders in his crampons to overcome the obstacle and continue our climb." I'm not so sure what the NZ climbing fraternity thought of this sort of self-sacrifice.

One of our leading climbers, Norman Hardie, introduced me to him after the talk - my main and embarrassing recollection was of being of so overcome as to be almost speechless.


Geoffrey Winthrop Young

Geoffrey Winthrop Young

Another interesting climber was the very proper Englishman, Geoffrey Winthrop Young who also visited NZ and talked at the NZAC in the mid 1950s. He was a conscientious objector during WW1 and lost a leg while serving in a field ambulance. He designed a prosthetic leg (or rather several, to cope with different mountain terrains) and ten years later climbed the Matterhorn - earlier he had done many remarkable climbs in the European Alps. He wrote what was regarded as 'the' textbook on climbing - 'Mountain Craft'. It even detailed the correct etiquette for overtaking another person on a mountain path. My main recollection was of his very dapper green silk cravat!

I came across him in a book I was reading recently, "Into the Silence", where I discovered he was involved in the early planning for the 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions and was a mentor and climbing friend of Mallory - also his best man and godfather to one of his children. He had a great reputation as a speaker.


I mention these occasional 'heroes' because of the great inspiration they provided and the equally great memories they still provide in the written word. I am certain that exposure to people such as these can do nothing but good. Most kids these days seem to have have famous sports people to look up to. And I wonder if these heroes realise how important is their behaviour and demeanour and how influential it can be to so many of the younger generation. And biographies and autobiographies can be so important. And so too is the ability to read!

14 November 2017

A Child's Grace - Bruce Mason

Granddad and Hannah

I once came across a poem by Bruce Mason, one of New Zealand's well known playwrights. He wrote, among many other plays, "The End of the Golden Weather" and "The Pohutukawa Tree" in the late 1950s, both quintessential New Zealand plays.  The poem was published in Kapiti Poems in 1994 - after Bruce Mason's death.

I like the idea of a grace now and then to acknowledge the production of a fine meal and remind us that it doesn't 'just happen'. But not necessarily with the religious connotations.

This fits the bill so I memorised it and trot it out now and again.

A quintessential New Zealand grace, perhaps.

Here it is as it was in Kapiti Poems.


When our daughter was eight years, she visited friends who said grace, and she asked why we as a family did not. We explained. She then asked her father if he would write one just for her. Here it is.

Diana Mason

A Child’s Grace

From air and soil,
From bees and sun,
From others’ toil,
My bread is won.

And when I bite,
The soil, the air,
The bees and light
Are still all there.

So I must think
Each day afresh,
How food and drink
Became my flesh.

And then I’ll see
The great big sun
The earth, the bee
And me, all one.

Bruce Mason

10 October 2017

Frugality 2

My blog on frugality produced some interesting replies - so, with permission, I'm including the replies of two of my cousins, both about the same age as me. Seems like those frugal habits were extended throughout the WW2 and several years thereafter - even until now. And one cousin makes the good point that some of these stories are more about necessity than frugality. And it wasn't just inherited from the Smith ancestors. I'm sure everyone will have stories like these.

Depression Times

From my Father's side cousin

"Really enjoyed your last two blogs, especially the recent one regarding frugal times. I can very much relate to just about everything you touched on.  Then I began to think well we are much the same age, I think you can give me only a few weeks, as I reached the big eight zero today, so you must also have done a few weeks ago.   Haven't really thought about it much until today, and yes that's a lota years.  Don't feel any different, but I guess it is a gradual process.

I can really remember the whare etc that you spoke of on the outskirts of Hastings, and both your Father and Mother.  Dad used to speak of his childhood, when they all had to put the cardboard in their shoes, each day to attend school. Granny Smith having to visit the greengrocer each day at closing time to retrieve what was being thrown out, to feed her family. Rhubarb quite wilted, that she would strip to make the most delicious rhubarb pies etc etc. Times were certainly tough.

Yes I also recall, like Catherine, the sheets being rejoined down the middle, (how I used to hate that ridge across  the middle, when lying on it) never complained though. Then Mum used to make pillowcases out of the very outside edges, when the middle was finally worn out. Not to mention the grey army blankets, with the brass eyelets in the ends, as children we had on our beds, although yes they were warm blankets.

Yes, I remember Uncle R and Aunty I doing exactly the same thing with the hessian, and dyeing it a burgundy colour, resewing it, and then laying it through most of the house, though it was the hallway, that I recall most, as it had this habit of stretching, as children we thought by always walking on the bumps, would flatten it out.  Of course it never did !! [The story I remember about Aunty I was that she had to hand milk 15 dairy cows on the morning of her wedding day. BLS]

Then the veggie gardens they all had to have, homemade biscuits, jam and preserves.  What was a chocolate biscuit...as a treat we would have a few sultanas on a plate. No such thing as sweets.  Those horrible ration books, that they had to live by. As children we knew nothing else eh, so just accepted it, guess our parents had to as well, though children of today, I really don't think they could cope, only having known the good life.  Just hope they will never have to.

Your other blog showing much younger photos of yourself, I could relate to very well, as that is how I remembered you.  Although even younger than that, but you still had the same features, of the school boy, in his catholic school uniform, dark navy jersey, with a stripe around the V neck and navy shorts, always very serious, I do not recall you smiling all that much as a child. [Just thinking about things. BLS]

Oh dear, have rambled on here a bit, still I won't edit it, as you may enjoy reading it.  I guess there would be so many more memories, if we all were to sit and think for a bit eh...

Anyway for now, thanks for the memories Barry."

And from my Mother's side cousin

"Meant to reply earlier....frugality was on both sides of your family. I too had cardboard in my shoes to 'see the season out, my shoes that became too small went to the bootmaker and came back as 'peeptoes'! My undies were made out of flour bags that had been boiled to fade the coloured brand marks. The boys shirts were made from dad's old shirts after the whiskers on his double chin had worn his collars out and had already been turned and the second side worn out too. Worn sheets were cut down the middle and turned outside to inside and flat seamed down the middle. Socks were darned until the soles comprised of one big darn. Mum did all the haircuts with the dreaded hand clippers. No car, fridge or washing machine until I was about 10- 12 yrs.
Even now I am not past rubbing a bit of doubtful meat with vinegar before cooking it, an observation from those early years. Mum made her own soap with fat she got from farmers and rendered down on the stovetop and used it for the dishes and hand washing. They were not frugal, it was the way it had to be and they got a lot of satisfaction from managing. I think we, like you, learned from them and used it our advantage in later years even though times were not so tough.  Your blogs are enjoyed but not acknowledged.   Love and best wishes to you both."

"K and his sisters had an old bike. When the tube in the tyre had too many 'patches' it was eventually discarded and replaced with rolled up newspapers. My brothers never had a bike until they got paper runs at the age of nine. Dad paid the deposit on a bike so they could get the job and they had to pay their wages to the bike shop each week.
Also remember mum unravelling dad's old hand knitted jerseys that had shrunk or worn thin and using it to knit our jerseys."

A few more stories like this and we could start a book! Now there is an idea.

And here is the story, from an earlier blog, about how we used to make our own outrigger canoes back in the Kaponga days.

"One adventurous undertaking was to make outrigger canoes out of used sheets of corrugated iron.  The front of the canoe was made out of the sheet of iron bent up over a short plank and nailed to it and the back section was the other end of the sheet bent and nailed about a rectangular piece of wood (about 400 x 250mm).  The whole thing was waterproofed by melting tar off the road over a fire and pouring it into the seams of the 'boat'.  The 'outrigger' part was a plank nailed across the canoe and extended out to a kerosene tin on one side.  These canoes worked well on a dam just up from Kaponga on the Kaupokunui Stream." The edges of the tin were a bit sharp!

Any more stories anyone?

10 September 2017

Diana, Princess of Wales: Learning of her Death when in Tonga.

Recently there has been quite a bit about Diana, Princess of Wales, because it has been the 20th anniversary of her tragic death in France. Several people have proffered the information that they can remember the exact when and where of learning about her death - as many people can about
the deaths of people like US President, John F Kennedy. Me too, so here is my story about learning of her death.

Approaching Ata Island
Catherine, the prisoner, on Ata Island

Catherine and I joined Jim and Ann Wilson in Tonga for a bit of cruising about the islands in the southern group aboard "Karoro", their yacht. On a particular day we made our way towards an island where we anticipated spending the night anchored just offshore. Jim and Ann were cooking that night and suggested that we go ashore for a walk. This we did, landing on a nice beach and walked towards the other end of the beach where we could see a jetty and a motor boat. One of the men saw us coming and started walking towards us. He was a huge Tongan and although he was speaking good English his voice was so thick that we couldn't understand what he was saying. So he indicated that we should follow him and started walking back to their boat. When he turned away from us we began to get some idea of where we were. On the back of his blue overalls was stencilled "His Majesty's Prison, Tonga". When we arrived at the motor boat another Tongan was sorting supplies. He explained that we were indeed on a Tongan penitentiary island and that we would have to leave. But he quickly changed the subject and asked if we had TV on our yacht. No, we laughed, Karoro was a small yacht, comfortable, but for economical cruising. Jim would be appalled at the idea of TV on his yacht. "Why?" we asked. The superintendent explained that he had just heard that Princess Diana had been seriously injured in a car crash and that he was interested in any news.

We asked, as it was getting late in the day and we were surrounded by coral heads where we were anchored, if we could leave the following morning. He agreed but warned us not to allow anyone aboard the yacht. That night it was the ladies turn to sleep on deck. We gave them each a heavy spanner with which to repel any invaders.

21 August 2017

Fiordland (NZ) in Winter with Real Adventures - New Zealand - without sandflies!

Well, the title is not quite true - I think I was bitten by two sandflies in the eight days we were in Fiordland. The secret is to go in winter when the namu are frozen, stunned by hail or have been drowned. Anyway in response to an invitation from my little (big) brother, John, we extended the invite on to Rosemary, Catherines sister, and her husband Jim. Together with several of John and Chris's friends we formed a happy group. The other passengers were great - you always meet like-minded people on these Real Adventures type trips.

Milford Wanderer in Fiordland

Cruising in Breaksea Sound
The first day had us cruising down the Doubtful Sound, out to sea for three hours and finally anchoring in Breaksea Sound near the northern entrance to Dusky Sound. Catherine and I were delighted to find John as the cook - he had been cook on our journey to Antarctica several years ago - this boded well for our inner needs and he didn't let us down. I found common ground too (through our climbing experiences) with Richard, our nature guide. That night Catherine and I slept in our warm cabins with not a movement from the ship.

The next morning we landed in Wet Jacket Arm where the first moose had been released in NZ. We inspected the campsite of hunters and had a short wander in the bush - no moose were to be seen - no wonder with all the happy chatter - mainly the women of course who know nothing about the silence needed for successful hunting! After lunch we cruised down the Acheron Passage (Cook's exit passage from Dusky nearly 250 years ago) and into Dusky Sound. Our next call was into Sportsman Cove a delightful narrow entranced area where we shut the engines to enjoy the total peace of the place. That night we slumbered in Duck Cove.

At Richard Henry's Punga Kiwi Enclosure - created ~130 yrs ago

On a Beach on Pigeon Island

Over the next day or so we visited Pickersgill Harbour where Cook moored the 'Resolution' while he and the crew rested after their 123 day journey from the Cape of Good Hope. It was with some emotion that we observed the moss and fern covered 244 year-old stumps of trees cleared by Cook's men as they prepared the site for Wales's astronomical observations - he accurately placed NZ on the global map for the first time. The whole of Dusky is redolent with names and stories of Cook's visit. One such name is that of a student of Linnaeus, Sparrman a young Swedish botanist, who made the first non-Maori ascent of a peak in NZ. A group of us repeated it in 2005. More about our climb here.

Mood of Dusky

We visited the site of Richard Henry's efforts on Pigeon Island (worthy of an entire book) and walked across Anchor Island to Luncheon Cove where the first NZ sealing gang had been placed in 1792. Less than 20 years after Cook! They had also built a house and the first ship built in NZ.  At Facile Harbour we also observed the site of NZ's first shipwreck in 1795 - the 'Endeavour' with 244 people on board - they completed the ship in Luncheon Cove and many of them rescued themselves in it - they named her the 'Providence'. The ballast stones of the 'Endeavour', made of Sydney sandstone, are still visible in the shallow water of Facile Harbour.

Catherine examining dinner - Rosie's not so sure.

JohnS capturing Albatross en route to Chalky Inlet

Lighthouse at Puysegur Point

Ambling on a Beach near Spit Island
We cruised down to Chalky Inlet where we visited North and South Ports and the wreck of the 'Stella'. At the head of Long Sound those who wished had a good kayak about the coast in perfect conditions. At the seaward end of the sound we walked to Puysegur Point and the historic Spit Island both on calm sunny days - the latter, one of the highlights of the trip. Here Ngai Tahu and the so-called 'Lost Tribe' of Ngati Mamoe had their final showdown.

Finally we all helicoptered out to the power station at Lake Manapouri - an absolutely fabulous flight with the ground below covered in snow and ice.

What a trip. I'd recommend it to anyone - the exposure to open seas is minimal but one can never be guaranteed good weather. We had some rainy days but rain is not the problem - it is mainly the wind and swell. But the crew amend the program to suit the conditions - what more can you do. Another part of our paradise called Aotearoa. And full of amazing history.

04 August 2017

Frugality - and other stories.

Some of us are of an age where we can quote from the days soon after the 'great depression' and the effects hard living had on the attitudes of our parents  and onwards to ourselves.

From my own perspective I recall my mother when she went shopping inserting  cardboard cutouts into the bottom of her shoes to cover the holes in her soles. After WW2 I remember my father salvaging wood from old farm houses to build extra rooms onto a two roomed "whare" on the outskirts of Hastings, so that we would not have to spend another winter in a couple of army huts. My job was to extract and straighten nails from his boards. That was in 1947 and the house improvements are still standing. I still keep old nails and screws and it is amazing how often they rescue some repair.

And my sister, Katie, recently reminded me of the new 'carpets' our parents laid in our house in Hornby, Christchurch. There was a proper carpet in the lounge for visitors but for the rest of the house another carpet was manufactured. My father obtained a supply of empty hessian sugar bags. These were carefully unpicked and resewed into a floor covering and then dyed a burgundy colour. After drying they were tacked down onto either underfelt or layered paper.  The 'carpet' didn't last too long and Katie remembers my mother trying to darn the carpet tears like socks!

This all sounds a bit rugged so long into my past but not so long ago I remember coming across a woman in Northern Australia living in a 'daub and wattle' (wattle sticks and clay daubed hessian walls) shack with a clay floor. No, she wasn't Aboriginal or from English stock but, from her accent, of German origin.

In those immediate post-WW2 times there were few refrigerators and my father, who was an electrician, constructed a food preserving cupboard with an ozone generator (I can still remember the seaside smell of it) - I think he obtained the plan from and American magazine popular at the time - "Popular Mechanics'. I see that they are still to be purchased today.

I remember him also making a crystal set and eventually a one valve radio - before the days of transistors! And then there was a battery operated 'shocking machine' he made with a couple of coils and an iron core and vibrator. You held onto metal rods and tried to see how much shocking you could stand (the trick was to turn it up so high with the core insertion that you couldn't let go) - how we didn't turn into little sadists escapes me but maybe we did!

Someone I am very fond of often quotes her childhood experiences of being taught how to refurbish worn sheets by cutting them longitudinally down the middle and re-sewing the edges together with a  French seam to reverse the wear. She does not relate later bisecting the sheets midway down and reversing them, top and tail! She still turns my shirt collars when they become worn.

At her home there was a debate about the lighting. Her father, an electrical engineer, insisted on all unused lights being turned off all the time to save power - whereas in the home of their friends, whose father was a mechanical engineer, the lights were left on to conserve the mechanics of the switching mechanism. She keeps up the family battle cry about controlling lighting in our house to this day; good conservationist that she is.

She also recalls, that along with her siblings, having to repaint old second hand netting that was used to surround the tennis court her father had made out of crushed ant bed which was commonly used in Brisbane at the time.

It is all very much in the past. It had its influence on our lives and attitudes. More often for the better, I think.

18 July 2017

Youthful beginnings - mountains - influences

Looking through an old NZ Geographic magazine recently I came across a short article called "Alpine Start" - someone's musings about the beginnings of his mountain climbing. I'd been thinking along similar lines myself of recent years so his article has prodded me into writing some of my own musings.

My main question seemed to be the eternal one about which was more important - nature or nurture - or some combination of the two - of course. After my father was away for almost four years during WW2 he returned to a well-mothered boy who was eager to break out. To his eternal credit he insisted that my mother "let him run free" - I was given a dog and together Chum and I roamed the paddocks, hunting and murdering rabbits about Hastings. When we moved to Kaponga, Taranaki, the prey became possums in the bush about the local mountain, then Egmont.

Mt Egmont (now Taranaki) from our house, Kaponga

One day when I was about 12 I biked from Kaponga up to Dawson Falls and started up the track towards the top of the mountain. Of course I didn't get to the top (about as far as the snow line in the photo above) but was amazed to discover that just by planting one foot after another you could get  above the bush and scrub line and into the tussock. I loved the changes in vegetation and in retrospect I think this was where it all started.

First Mountain Top 1952 - Torlesse (my father, centre)
When we shifted to Christchurch in 1950 the adventuring continued about Banks Peninsula. My father included me in his trips into the hills with some of his work mates. There were hunting trips after deer in the Canterbury foothills - mainly about Lake Sumner and Mt Thomas and several tramping and climbing trips up Mts Torlesse, Hutt, Cloudsley and Enys. Torlesse was an epic with us descending into the wrong valley (Staircase Gully) and having to climb up and out in rain.

I became quite driven about  my climbing ambitions and was soon under the wing of the CMC; going to their Easter Climbing camps up the Waimakariri.  Soon the peaks about Arthur's Pass were being climbed. From there it was just a matter of progression on longer and longer trips towards the peaks about Mt Cook and southwards. I also joined the New Zealand Alpine Club. My mother just kept herself back and worried about me until she heard my footsteps on the drive most Sunday nights. She always managed to find a train fare for me from the stressed family budget she operated.

Tasman Arete
Happy Climber - early 1950s

Along the way there were sprains and cuts and bruises but they all healed and from them and experience the skills of climbing developed. The mind seems to have a propensity for eliminating the unpleasant experiences of life and so my main memories are of glorious dawns and dusks, mists clearing to reveal snow and ice covered ridges and faces, moonlit valleys and mountains and happy laughing companions. Short or long doesn't matter; the important thing is the quality of your life. Life is so much better for having loved the mountains.  

Upper Waimakariri River - Mt Carrington
Old Mates Resting and Reminiscing

There were sacrifices of course. One was getting kicked out of the school choir for chosing to go climbing rather than attend the final rehearsal for the combined Christchurch schools' performance of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus arranged in many parts by Vernon Griffiths. My mother insisted that I went to the performance with her and, regretfully, I wished I was part of it.

Now, at 80, I'm still planning trips with the 'old climbing mates'. The peaks are lower. The jury is still out on how much nature and how much nurture was involved in those early alpine beginnings. Other views?

19 June 2017

Harper Avoca Days

Back in 1956, as a first year university student, I found a summer holiday job (with two other students, Tony Hooper and Alan Depree) with the NZ Forest Service. The job was made in heaven for me; constructing a boundary fence between a high country station (Glenthorne) and the Avoca River (to reduce sheep incursion onto the NZFS research area) and then building deer exclosure plots for a research project in the NZFS area. Peter Logan was the boss and he supervised our activity from the NZFS base at the Harper Avoca river junction in behind Lake Coleridge. Apart from the fencing we also had to pack in our fencing and food supplies with pack horses (some fencing materials were also airdropped and the posts ended up as match sticks!). We had occasional contact with the deer cullers in the area who were part of the project.

Loading a Pack Horse in1956 - Russel Toose, centre.

Tony Hooper, Alan Depree and BLS - Triangle Hut 1956

For the first part of the project we were based at Triangle Hut and worked daily from there on the fence line. It started at the river near our hut, went up a steep scarp across some downs area and then up to some bluffs above the true right side of Triangle Creek. It was constructed of #8 fencing wire, droppers, steel standards and waratahs. Even if I say so myself it was quite well constructed. Some years later (about 1990) I tramped down the Avoca Valley and found our fence on the Avoca flats - boulders from a flood had banked up against the fence on one side and formed a waterfall! And, as you do these days, I 'Google Earthed' the area and could faintly discern our fence - so I could even say it was visible from space - just like the Great Wall of China. Yes, well.

Our fence in 1990
Triangle Hut in 1956

We had a few days off at Christmas. Some of my pay was spent on a BSA single shot open v-sighted 22 rifle. Peter had said we could shoot for food. So when we returned to the job I'd often take off after work and manage to bring home a few rabbits, hares and even venison. Some hunts were not so successful. After a few days we finished the boundary fence and moved on to the next phase; constructing deer exclosure plots. These involved more pack horses and camping in tents. From memory we constructed about four plots. These were about 20 x 20m and about 2.5m high. We did hear later that one of our plots was so good that over winter a snow bank formed on the uphill side of it. A deer had used the snow ramp to jump into the plot for a feed. But it couldn't get out and was still there in the summer when the botanist came to record the plant growth. Maybe it starved to death?

Our work had been very enjoyable. I left at the end with enough time to do our first climbing trip in the Mt Cook region. My climbing mates had to put up with their insufferable mate storming through the valleys bellowing his battle cry of "they breed 'em tough in the Harper Avoca" - it had been a great summer. I'm not so sure if opportunities like this exist for young people these days.

I recently talked to Alan Depree and two main memories of our time there coincided. One was of a forestry shingle gang coming in to maintain the roads and how they used one of their trucks to bring in a keg of beer at the end of the job. All the cullers and students came in from the hills and the antics of the evening are best left unsaid, The other memory is of one of the cullers (an Aussie) who was said to have shot 17 deer in one glorious fusillade from the bottom of a shingle slide. After that his nickname became "Machine Gunner Toose". The deer were thick on the ground in those days.

In 2014, I visited Triangle Hut with my brother. The fence was still there but the hut had been destroyed in the 1996 earthquake. Glad we weren't in it at the time.
BLS and JohnS 2014 - earthquake wrecked Triangle Hut

16 May 2017

Vo Nguyen Giap - Vietnam - UNDP

Back in 1990 I travelled to Hanoi in Vietnam to give a course for UNDP on biochemistry and toxicology. This was in response to MAFTech, my then employer, asking its staff to put themselves out 'there' with the view to making money for the organisation. I was snapped up immediately :-), but I have to say I felt somewhat stretched and had to work harder than I'd ever worked before, preparing the next days work each night and  each dawn running through Hanoi and its surroundings. I occasionally ran over the French Bridge and out into the countryside. It was quite moving running through these hardworking people as they made their way towards the city markets with their goods.

When I flew in to Hanoi over the rice fields I soon realised that the circular patterns about the airfield were in fact bomb pocks and I began wondering if I'd had much conscience about the war, what the hell I was doing there and how I'd be treated. After an amusing processing at immigration I was greeted by Tam Nguyen Duc, a friendly Vietnam veterinarian who was to be my efficient interpreter and helper for the month I was in Hanoi. That afternoon I was taken to a decorated hall where I was introduced and asked to give my (unexpected) introductory lecture. I managed to conjure up an introduction to the subject matter, a background to toxicology, myself and Ruakura. The course itself began in earnest the next morning.

Sitting in the front row during that induction were several administrators for the Vietnam organisation hosting the course. I didn't know it at the time but one of them may have been Vo Nguyen Giap who, at that stage was in charge of science and technology in Vietnam - this was then about 15 years after the end of what they called "The American War".

The course proceeded and I was very well looked after by both UNDP and the Vietnamese, especially Tam who had a difficult job interpreting for me and looking after my day to day needs for the course. He taught me a lot. One of the women on the course had been an anti-aircraft gunner during the American raids on Hanoi.

The Course Group and Ho Chi Min

Part of Course Group

Study Group
Repaired War Damaged French Bridge on Red River

I was very impressed with the Vietnamese, their friendly hospitality and especially their pragmatism.
One story I remember is of an attempt to do a deal with America. "No, this couldn't happen", the American contingent explained, "The American people could never accept this so soon after our war". "Why not?"the Vietnamese explained, "We have been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years. We were only fighting you for ten years - you are our friends!" It said a lot about their attitude of getting on with things.

Anyway, when I returned to New Zealand, someone drew my attention to a General Giap; and hadn't I met him as he was in charge of science at the time. To my shame I said "Who is Giap?"

General Vo Nguyen Giap

Well, I had it explained to me that he was regarded by some as one of the greatest military generals ever. He had been in charge during the defeats of both the French (famously at Dien Bien Phu) in 1954 and the Americans and South Vietnam in 1975. Interestingly one of his last duties after his stellar military career and a post war period of being Deputy Prime-Minister was to be in charge of birth control in Vietnam. What else would you do with one of your great strategic thinkers? He died in 2014 at the age of 102. One morning I was taken to visit Ho Chi Minh in his mausoleum but I don't think I was important enough to meet Giap.

27 April 2017

Southern Islands about Tasmania

Catherine and I had visited Tasmania a couple of times before (and liked it) so decided to do one more trip with a difference; Flinders Island, Cradle Mountain and Maria Island. We went with a variable group - the mainstays were Jim and Rosemary (C's sister) Millar, Doug and Ruth Arcus (NZ friends) and us. Other friends of J and R joined and left us at different stages. The island stages were guided. Rosemary organised it.

Our first stage was a flight to Flinders, a large island in Bass Straight. We arrived in a 60 knot wind and were glad when the aircraft came to the end of the runway and didn't soar back into the sky. C had to struggle to avoid being blown away when she emerged from the aircraft. Anne and Ash, our guides took us to our camp spot on the north end of the island, a delightful spot at the mouth of the NE River. Over the next four days we hiked along pleasant and colourful beaches and climbed granite mountains. Unfortunately I managed to stumble into a rock on the first day and caused a large haematoma on my lower right leg which caused me to hobble for the rest of the trip and miss a bit of the climbing - but I did manage to climb Mt Strezlecki at the other end of the island. The weather apart from the wind on the first day and the rain on the last day was excellent, the food was good and the guides excellent. The camps were good too - the tents perhaps a little strenuous for pensioners. But I'd still recommend this trip to younger folk - our average age was 73. More permanent camps with 'glamping style' cabins are planned.

Coast Near NE River Mouth (Flinders Island)

Boulders Near Castle Rock (Flinders Island)

Mt Strezlecki from Coast (Flinders Island)

We visited Wybalenna, the remains of an Aboriginal community set up of about 160 Aboriginal from mainland Tasmania.  Here, we learned about an attempt to 'Christianize' them. It failed and 47 of them were transported back to Oyster Cove on the Tasmanian mainland where most died. The remaining few were assimilated into the white population. The last full blooded Aboriginal died in1876. The whole story of the Tasmanian aboriginals is very sad and moving - reflecting attitudes of the time. In all a very good trip with pleasant companions.

We moved back to the mainland and up to Cradle Mountain. We had perfect weather and a wonderful day walking around Lake Dove and up to Boulder Lake. We saw several echidna, wombats and different wallabies - great photo opportunities. The National Park was very well managed, the wildlife abundant and the area must be one of Australia's most attractive places.

Cradle Mountain Area (Photo: CHS)


Start of Walk About Lake Dove (Cradle Mountain)

We travelled on to Hobart and then, Maria Island. This visit, organized by Maria Island Walks had everything; excellent guides, superb food and accommodation, beach walks and climbs and lots of fascinating history. We started the trip with scallops, wine all the way, and oysters and champagne for lunch on the last day. Midway on the trip we learned about the interaction of the French, of Baudin in 1802, with the local Aborigines. The interaction was quite successful and resulted in one of the best ever descriptions of Tasmanian Aborigines.

Wallabies Observe Our Lunch Stop
Glamping (Maria Island Style)

Beach Headland Travel (Maria Island)

Lonely Cottage at Darlington (Maria Island)

The last day had its poignancy when we discovered the grave of a Maori chief banished to Maria Island from NZ for "open rebellion against the Queen". He had died of tuberculosis before he could be rehabilitated to NZ with his three Maori companions. His bones were repatriated in 1988 amid much open grieving. Tasmanian did not have a good record with indigenous peoples - although it has to be said - Maori on Maria Island had considerable sympathy at the time from the people of Hobart.