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?