The Nose of El Capitan

The Nose of El Capitan

For climbers who want info and beta on the route skip to Part 4 – it’s at the end.

Part 4 – Route Beta and Info for interested Nose climbers

  • Party of 3 system
  • Equipment tips
  • Pitch by pitch useful info
  • Hauling with a 2:1
  • Crowds, queues and traffic
  • Sources of info, super high res photo link, topo sources

Featured image above – Heading up to the Great Roof. Photo by Wolf Friedmann

The Climb – Part 1

The Days After – Part 2

Greg’s Poem – Part 3

Greg cleaning the Great Roof

The Climb – Part 1

It was dark. 8.00 pm ish. Three sets of feet on the 2 inch wide sliver of a ledge. Three good bolts on a sheerness of vertical granite that disappeared 2000 feet below into the gloom. Shifting from foot to foot, trying to relieve the pressure of harnesses and sore toes. “So we either hang the portaledge right here and the 3 of us sit up through the night … look plenty of people before us have done much worse in the past … or we push on to Camp V?”. This was a critical point. Together we had decided to keep going late in the afternoon. I had just led The Great Roof. Sensational. Cait and Greg had been on belay way below.

Peter heading up to the Great Roof

The best pitch I had ever led in my life, tricky, wildly exposed, thin small gear, each aid move tenuous but workable, through the Valley sunset into a blaze of glory.

The hardest section


In my head I was thinking “This is it, this is what The Nose and big walling is all about. This encapsulates what makes The Nose the best rock climb in the world.”


I had hooted and danced high among the sky full of stars across the final moves onto the foot ledge.

Just before dark

Cait jugged up, we hugged then we hauled. Greg cleaned the pitch by torchlight. 2/3 of the way up The Nose.

Day 4, had started at 4.00 am. We had packed up our bivvy on the comfy El Cap Tower ledge and started jugging up the fixed line to the top of Texas Flake at 5.00, a prearranged hour ahead of the German team we had been held up by 2 days prior. Greg had led the notorious unprotected chimney up behind the Flake in the afternoon of Day 3 – a gutsy brave effort, lonely and completely isolated, hidden in the chimney while Cait and I willed him on in silent trepidation from below – until he poked his head thankfully mischievously over the lip. I’d offered to take the risk of the chimney fall from him but months before we had divided up the key pitches and this was one of his, and he was determined. We jugged and hauled again to the top of Boot Flake. That had been one of mine and the last pitch from the day before – a bolt ladder then a cam hook and micro nuts that led into a good crack up the edge of the Boot – brilliant aid climbing. The latest research shows that only 7% of the boot is in contact with the cliff, but reassuringly (?!) it needs another 4% to give way to send the whole thing plunging. I had contemplated this as we fixed our anchor system to the bolts on the actual cliff above the top of the Boot on which we had stood.

At the top of the Boot the crack system and climbable features end in blank smooth granite. This necessitates switching to a crack system about 20 m to the left. I lowered Greg down vertically to a point at which his feet were level with the third from top bolt in the bolt ladder I had climbed to reach the Boot – invaluable detailed intel/beta like this we had been collecting over previous months through research and talking with people. This King Swing was a deal breaker and a legendary pitch. We had met a group retreating from the climb who had spent hours on it and then one of their climbers had become injured attempting the swinging pendulum. Feeling totally amped and confident, hanging by his thread Greg strode back across the face then while he hung horizontally he jogged with large paces towards the protruding edge. First warm up shot he nearly made it. On his return swing he sprinted to build up momentum and as he swung back wildly he took giant athletic slow motion strides thru space, hit the ground running, launched with arms outstretched and grabbed the rib. We cheered, not quite believing he had done it so fast, and the crowd of spectators 1500 feet below in the Meadow cheered as well, along with other climbers on the mountain. It was as if time had slowed right down. Like all his youth of developing diverse sporting prowess and 25 years of PE teaching had led him to that brief moment of athletic mastery in the most hostile and dramatic arena.

For a full screen view search   Youtube King Swing Greg Fisher

It was exhilarating for our team as a whole. “He’s our secret weapon”, Cait said with great confidence. She knew him better than me. I was just grinning, shaking my head and thankful to be in his team. It blew his mind. He had found it easier than expected. He balanced carefully across and up to a safe anchor then started up a difficult section after we had lowered him down all the gear. The hardest moves were just above Eagle Ledge which is where he was pretty much on a top rope from the side. He climbed slowly up the crack system but as Cait and I had to lower down from about 20 m to the side he had to place protection then climb up a little before going back down to retrieve the lowest gear. It was like yoyoing bit by bit upwards balancing the risk of a long sideways fall with having enough protection in and minimising rope drag. We cheered and whooped again when he reached the belay bolts at almost the same level as us.

Cait lowering out across the King Swing


Cait lowered out and rope wrangled her way efficiently down then up.





The Germans on the boot hauling. Peter lowering out across the King Swing. Photo Tom Evans

I thought I had it figured out but managed to tie myself up from both anchors at the mid-point spread eagled in deep space and somehow extricated myself in what would be the first of two key skills that I should have practised more thoroughly back at home.

A good pitch of aiding up cracks took me to a belay at the edge of a steep grey wall. A few well spaced bolts led out left across this almost blank wall while the crack system continued up. If we could climb across the rising traverse we would save at least an hour. Cait was our gun free crimpy face climber and was keen to give it a try. Failure would mean significant wasted time. Below the Germans were across the Swing and looking upwards. Tentatively at first Cait delicately placed her feet on tiny sloping footers and pinched even smaller finger holds and side pulls outwards away from safety. This Lynn Hill Traverse wasn’t sport climbing with bolts every meter. Rather it was bold and hard. She clipped through a couple of bolts at full stretch then the wall blanked out to a subtle arête further up. Climbing wise this was Cait’s forte, her world. Hard, fine, balancy moves. Technique. Smooth. Bold. Control. Strength. But here, so far up that the thousands of feet just turn to huge sucking exposure, she was being tested. Just like the boulderer, Kevin Jorgenson, up on his Dawn Wall. Run out. In the space where “real climbers” do their dance. I held my breath as time once more seemed to bend around us, to focus our inner worlds and our skill into an intense relationship with this stone.

Cait leading the Lynn Hill Traverse, Peter belaying. Photo Tom Evans

A small nest of microcams protected her final choreography to the end of the pitch. Following her long battle with cancer Cait had determined “not to waste another moment ….. I could be dead or taken into hospital at any time”. As I belayed and she shimmered across the wall the moment was etched into our hearts and into the spirit of the granite that seemed to shine in grey and brilliant yellow bands of colour. Her relentless positivity was infectious.

Cait Horan high on The Nose

(Haul bag quote)         Cait, you have always been my role model, my biggest inspiration and the person I still hope to grow up to be like. There is not a haul bag big enough to write all the ways you motivated, inspired and shaped the person I have become.                                                                                                                           Emma Horan

Into the Grey Bands. Cait was on a roll. The day was going well. We were making steady progress. In the ebb and flow of my confidence and feeling that we should consider bailing I felt optimistic. We left Greg with “Kevin” the haul bag, and the now catching up Germans. Cait led a long traversing weird pitch across the Grey and up to Camp IV. She then wove her way, gracefully free climbing, following seams up a huge concave hanging wall below the Great Roof. When all three of us considered our position we made that first decision to keep going, knowing that whenever we needed to stop we could pull out the portaledge if need be. Without a nearby rock ledge for one of us it would be a challenging, uncomfortable and long night. But it would be ok. It would be safe. We were 2/3 of the way up. Still a long way to go. 10 more pitches. None of them easy. Some of them difficult, more difficult than we knew.

Everywhere the outlook was stupendous. The Valley. Half Dome. The forest way below. The Nose of El Capitan, we were there, we were doing it. So amazing and hard and spectacular and fun and stonkingly huge in all dimensions. In our 90 years of shared climbing experience no other climb ranked or loomed larger, more grand, more beautiful, more full of history, more daunting. More wonderful in its surrounding landscape.

And so to the top of the Great Roof pitch. We discussed our options. The promise of a good ledge at Camp V offered some comfort and the possibility of laying down sleep. “As long as you’re ok to lead we are happy to keep going”. With a big rack of gear and under head torch light I set off up Pancake Flake. This would have been classical in daylight. It passed through the narrow beam slowly bit by bit. I was switched on. Didn’t feel tired. Not conscious of time. Just going step by step – place a piece, test it, walk up the aider as high as possible, repeat. A long pitch. Occasional call to the others met with encouragement. Belay anchors, 3rd person jugs, lower out the haul bag, haul, cleaner does their job, eat, drink never enough.

I set off again for the next and last pitch of the day/night. The pitch had no name known to us. Nondescript. The topo just said “awk” and listed the gear needed. “Awk” it proved to be. After midnight. And strenuous. And painful. It was a deep flaring groove. I had to reach far in to place each piece then struggle to fit the aider and detangle then step up with toes squeezed deeply into the narrow fissure with all my weight on them then struggle to place a piece just a little higher. It became a horror. Not unsafe. Just low down awful and strenuous and more painful and more and more “awk”.

(Haul bag quote)         “You have to want it more than it hurts.” Tommy Caldwell

Like a too big worm with too short arms I had to struggle in between the walls of the flare. It took an age. The others could hear my struggle and never once exorted me to move faster or try to do other than I was doing. For a too short time there was a blessed crack on the left wall that eased my passage. Then more struggle. I held it together. Just. They must have been drifting in a cold haze of discomfort below. A nightmare awake. In the end I reached a slab and exhausted hauled my way to its top and a couple of bolts. Totally smashed.

Cait on the way up the Butt Crack pitch.

The easy 15 feet of 5.6 unprotected slabby wall I just could not face so I called up Cait who flew up the fixed rope then waltzed across to Camp V.

At last. The ledge. Relief 4.00am. Between Greg below, with the haul bag, and me on the ledge and a miscommunication we nearly had a problem hauling into which Cait switched into safety mode and brought us all back into line and onto the Camp V ledge. Hot chocolate and food never tasted so good. Portaledge erected. We drifted off to sleep at about 6.00 am in the first glow of dawn. 26 hours. 10 pitches. Our teamwork had been pushed into another zone – patience, support and assistance for each other, generosity, giving our all and trusting that each of us were doing the best we possibly could do, for each other.


The lead up

 Alpine rock. Endless “thousands of feet” of climber’s granite spired, walled and domed skywards across the spine of the “Range of Light”. Over four weeks Ian and I had threaded our way from peak to peak through the High Sierra and brought to fabulous fruition our dream of forty years. Perfect weather, warm rock – Tuolumne, Fairview Dome and Cathedral Peak, Mts Whitney and Russell, Temple Crag and Charlotte Dome. Stunningly beautiful. The routes made up our own “Classic Climbs of North America” list. Then for a final week we pilgrimaged to Yosemite. Like an addendum to the main game. The Valley. Legendary. Even chanced a spot in Camp 4. I’d spent a lifetime reading about the big walls and climbs which over the years had settled back into a nice comfortable place of reverie, like a favourite book lying dusty on the bottom shelf. On another perfect day we climbed the easy “Snake Dike” up the side of Half Dome – a wonderful romp up runout slabs to the glorious summit where we soaked up the grand scenery as the sun set over Yosemite. Then it rained. For four days. We hiked trails through forest and beside streams.

One evening high up at Glacier Point at minutes before  sundown shafts of blazing light finally broke through a gap in clouds and lit the summit of Half Dome gold then pink.

Next day we walked down to El Cap Meadow in drizzle and mist. Again the sunlight streamed up through the valley in the last of the day and lit the top section of El Capitan. I hardly dared breathe for wanting not to break the spell and wonder of the scene. I had fallen in love with the place. Our last day slowly cleared. With binoculars I traced the line the setting sunlight had taken the evening before as it had risen up the wall. The bottom section was less than vertical. There were crack systems that linked nearly all the way. The Stovelegs and the Great Roof – names etched in memory. Totally unexpectedly it looked even possibly climbable. For me. On a maybe good day. The realm of possibility arose from a long buried precious place within. The Nose. Of El Capitan.

Back at home a plan hatched. Two years, two trips, two routes, The Nose and the Regular Route on Half Dome. And the Tip of Lost Arrow Spire. Heart and psyche set a course for the big adventure – the outcome unknown. A new lightweight portaledge arrived eventually.

My partner from the Sierras, Ian, wasn’t interested and another dropped out. From a solo mountain summit in New Zealand I messaged a climber back home, strong and skilled and tough, a teacher friend – Greg. During my pitch to him about the concept a few weeks later at the climbing gym he mentioned another person who would possibly be interested. Cait joined our discussion outside. She jumped head first straight in while Greg needed more time to let the idea percolate.

(Haul bag quote)         Aim and dream big you guys.                      John Fantini

We did some practice and made a plan to climb Australia’s biggest aid climb (Ozymandias at Mt Buffalo) to see if we were ready and willing to commit. Snowy storms got in the way so in the Blue Mountains we did Australia’s longest sport climb (Hotel California) with two of us doing a bunch of jumaring. Then at Piddington and Mt York some technical aid climbing and hauling, a night on the portaledge for two of us and a day of crack climbing (Eternity led by Greg with a few concerned grunts as he had not trad climbed for a fair while) at Piddington. Over the three days we shared some successes and a few rude awakenings. A lot to learn and practice and research. Results were inconclusive on our readiness. There and then Cait was in. I was happy to go with the two trips over two years process. Greg was keen but only wanted to give it one shot with a high probability of success. We could spend 18 months slowly preparing or throw ourselves in with five months intensive work. With something of a casting vote I plunged us right in. Later, in the darkness, on the journey home, after chatter of climbing eventually subsided I listened from the back seat to their close sharing of deep personal traumas and life struggles. I hoped the undertaking might give them some respite and renewal. And that we could meld ourselves into a cracker team.

(Haul bag quote)         Greg, you’ve been an incredible, selfless role model. I’m so glad to see you making time to pursue your own dreams after helping so many others achieve theirs.       Emma Horan

Cait used her myriad of contacts in the climbing industry, derived through many years of being SuperCoach to up and coming youth climbing teams, to order a stack of gear. The hugest haul bag we could find arrived. We practiced on Greg’s school climbing wall. Hauling 70 kg. That was the weight we had calculated that we needed to start up El Cap with. 7 ten litre water jerry cans just fitted in the bag, could NOT be carried by one person and made up just the right haul weight to practice with. Early on we settled on a strategy for 3 people that involved 2 climbing ropes, a static haul rope and a skinny tag line. It was complicated and several times we ended up badly tangled up and cluster f…ed with all the ropes and the very heavy bag. The big green haul bag became “Kevin”, through an iteration of the common term for such bags by big wall climbers being “The Pig”, which led to bacon, then Kevin Bacon and then just to Kevin. Cait’s “people” had been in touch with Tommy Caldwell’s people who were trying to get us together with him and “Kevin” Jorgenson who would be presenting in our home town Canberra about their epic Dawn Wall climb (just to the right of our Nose route) before our trip. So it was with fondness that the bag became “Kevin”.

Offset nuts and the latest and best Totem cams were obtained. A microtraxion was upgraded to a protraxion for the haul device. I was soon convinced we needed a 2:1 haul system to enable us to more easily haul the big load with the aid of some mechanical advantage. Endless research, “homework”, led to improved pulleys and a workable system. Cait, the gun sport climber, taught me how to correctly use a grigri. Our main concerns were hauling the big load, efficiency in a group of three and the queue for the world’s best rockclimb. There were lots of other things to find out about in amongst watching YouTube videos of big wall skills and climbing the Nose films.

The haul bag started doing the rounds. Our friends and some renowned climbers wrote messages of support on it for us. We had a sense of taking these others along with us to give us strength and inspiration.

(Haul bag quote)         Thanks to all 3 of you for teaching and inspiring multiple generations of outdoor enthusiasts. I would have had a completely different path in life without the encouragement and the opportunities you guys offered me. May your protection be bomber and your hauling system be efficient. Stay safe.                  Matt Cools

Cait went to USA for a climbing trip in her school holidays, she’s Deputy Principal of a Canberra secondary school. She cut her high end sport climbing short and did a few days climbing and familiarising at Yosemite. She returned scared and extremely highly motivated to train, learn, practice and research harder. About this time we started emailing and messaging each other regularly. It didn’t seem to me that Yosemite was the ONLY thing I was thinking about – at least every week or two I thought about something, or someone!, else. Greg was in the zone as well having put his other climbing goals on hold. To augment her amazing climbing training walls in her garage Cait and her Dad built an adjustable crack system to work out on while she watched more YouTube videos.

(Haul bag quote)         Climb hard. Stay safe.             Brandon Maggs

Early on the time arrived for camping bookings in The Valley. At the stroke of midnight (which was 10.00 am USA time 5 months in advance) on the appropriate day the three of us feverishly typed our requests into the website that contains hundreds of campsites. For our planned three weeks the best we could manage was bookings for about 80% of our nights but pretty much every night in a different site in a different campground. Trying to manage this would have been an absolute nightmare. I’d envisaged this from previous experience and don’t know what the solution is. Camping arrangements for Camp 4 are changing but may still be almost impossible for international travellers. So I booked us in to a permanent tented glamping place “Housekeeping Camp” which had vacancies for all our nights! Except the weekends! This situation is an indicator of the popularity and crowding on the Valley floor. The previous year Ian and I had found that once you are on the trails and up near the crags the crowds melted away. Stories of queuing for 2 – 3 days to get on The Nose and clusters of climbers higher up the climb were daunting. Hopefully patience, a positive approach and solid skills would see us through. I did wonder on the flight over the Pacific how many others were flying or driving a similar path, with similar objectives, to Yosemite.

The day before Tommy and Kevin arrived in town Cait’s people arranged for the local newspaper to do an inspirational full front page story about her near death experience with cancer, her incredible recovery and dedication through a slow build up back to her former climbing performance levels. During her illness the Dawn Wall saga had played out on El Cap and in her psyche. Climbing El Cap went onto her bucket list. She was now inspired herself by Kevin Jorgensen’s own exploits and dedication in transitioning from sports climbing to completing one of the most amazing trad climbs in the world today. With Tommy and Kevin she also did radio and TV slots on the day. And two of us did meet them later before their show. They signed and wrote messages on our haul bag and posed with Cait in CAC (Climbers Against Cancer) tshirts.

Cait Tommy and Kevin

Cait also had them sign a special CAC shirt which she had already got Chris Sharma, another world leading climber, to sign and which she was going to auction for the charity at a later date. Next day, unsolicited, Tommy sent her a photo of himself and Kevin climbing in the Blue Mountains wearing their CAC shirts. The photo was great publicity for the charity.

Greg and I did several training days on local granite crags. We aided popular free climbs where we had to be single minded and resist climbing free. We practised with cam hooks and peckers. Surprisingly the cam hooks worked very well and felt secure. On a solo day, while backed up on a top rope, I levered out a block which grazed my helmet, took a chunk out of the stiff brim of my cap and shaved my cheek bone. It seems that aid climbing puts different forces on rocks in free climbing areas. I immediately thought of Tommy’s comment on our haul bag. I went straight up and finished the climb before I went home to clean myself up. Later Greg did a great lead across under a tricky roof then up an overhanging crack line.

Greg aiding Sipple at Booroomba Rocks

(Haul bag quote)         Enjoy the process.                   Kale

It may have been a case of overtraining that led to Cait getting the flu.

Greg and Cait flew up to Frog Buttress near Brisbane for a long weekend to hone and consolidate their crack climbing skills.

(Haul bag quote)         You’ve worked hard for this. Enjoy the type 2 fun. Rob H

At another Canberra school we used their climbing wall for simulated multi pitch climbing, hauling and anchoring training. We all had strong connections to Lake Ginninderra College. I had been Outdoor Education teacher there for 14 years and had taken Cait and her brother and sister on numerous climbing, and countless other, trips as part of their year 11 and 12 studies. Both Cait and Joe later became teachers themselves. As a student in year 12 Joe became probably one of the youngest qualified climbing guides in the country.  Greg’s five sons had all spent two years at the college with several of them being outstanding Outdoor Ed students and elite level climbers. Greg led one of the best high school Outdoor Education courses in the city at one of the feeder high schools. He has organised and run the state school climbing competition for decades. He accompanied several college trips to Arapiles on which his son Ben led Kachoong 21 and later Daniel led India 28 – amazing. Together the two families have been the throbbing heart of a vibrant youth climbing scene in Canberra. I felt privileged to be teamed up and connected, literally, with the two key players of local climbing royalty.

“Yosemite Erik” Sloan, who authored the Yosemite Big Walls guidebook, talked to us for over an hour. He introduced us to a much simplified strategy for our group of three. Two people is the most common team size and can be very efficient. Efficiency is a major aspect of success. The retreat/failure rate is about 50% on The Nose. If you are inefficient then you take much longer, have to carry more water and food, overflow your poop container, run out of water etc and so you are likely to bail out. Three can be good because there are more people to spread the load – physically, socially, psychologically – and you have more fun. We were committed to our team of three which would automatically take longer and require carrying more food, water and gear. We could hopefully haul well with the 2:1 early on when our bag would be heavy. Erik gave us a simplified system with only two ropes – less chance of getting things tangled up. We still brought over all our ropes so that if we changed back to our earlier system we would have that option. Many groups also do not take a portaledge and camp on the available ledges where possible. With our lightweight double portaledge we intended to sleep two on that and only one on a ledge nearby. Hopefully this would provide some good flexibility, but it would be another substantial extra bit of kit to cart up.

At a dinner with partners and family within the first couple of minutes the two wives shared perspectives on how we had been extremely focussed on our climbing and research and training. In retrospect now I would probably agree but feel also that all the time spent had been necessary. Even with our combined extensive climbing experience we all had tons to learn and sort out and practice. In the end we still might have been underdone and alternatively if we were successful then maybe our level of prep was just right. All three of us had become swept away with it all. Just as I had been captivated by The Valley and the possibility of tangling with the Capitan. Intellectually our wives supported us but they struggled with our unavailability and preoccupation at times. The support of loved ones was an enabler for each of us. I hoped we could return refreshed emotionally with a deep sense of gratitude. Our best selves.

In the lead up I had wavered in my assessment of our chances. From strong confidence to doubt. Sometimes it was related to how our skills practices had gone – Cait and I did some smooth hauling of a bag full of stones and each other, a breakthrough in our systems – or how my puny muscles and ageing joints had stiffened up after a session at the gym.

“I think I understand and can work the systems now and concentrate on being faster”. Cait at our final practice the week before leaving. “In the nick of time”, I replied as we high fived.

Friends were full of the generic questions. “How do you go to the toilet up there? What do you eat? Where do you sleep? What happens if you roll over at night? What do you do if it rains? Have you updated your will?”

(Haul bag quote)         The bigger the dream, the more important the team. You have done the work now enjoy the success. Stay safe, look after each other and enjoy the view from the top.       Cait’s Mum and Dad

During the first part of the flight from Sydney to LA I listened for the hundredth time to some tracks from our Yosemite playlist. And I reflected that it was similar to the start of a marathon. You have to be thrilled that you have reached that starting point – completed enough training to be in the ballpark to finish in reasonable shape, to be healthy. And different to a marathon – to be part of a cracker team.


Day 1

Our efforts telescoped right up to the point where we stood at the bottom of Pine Line. The initial access pitch. 6 months of training, planning, research at home. Long haul flight to SFO Saturday. Food shopped then drove to Yosemite Sunday and checked out El Cap. Monday we multi pitch free climbed. Tuesday and Wednesday we worked with a guide, Greg Coit, to tune our systems and obtain last minute beta on the route. Greg suggested we start the next day and get straight into action. The weather forecast was excellent and our Greg had an important commitment a week later. An evening packing. Early morning start.

(Haul bag quote)         Peter, I will never forget the confidence and trust you gave me on Danielle. Now it’s time for me to return that confidence and trust. I have no doubt you will achieve your dreams.     Mike Law-Smith

Pine Line went well. I led, we hauled, Cait cleaned. As the most experienced aid climber I led the first two main pitches which were fabulous. To get us going as smoothly as we could. It was a fantastic feeling to be actually climbing on the big stone. Tried to just focus on the pitch, the placement at hand, the systems, being careful and efficient. Not on the huge distance and steepenings in the corners far above. Just the job at hand. I dropped an offset alien. Bugger. Pin scars, totems, offset cams, micro cams, micro nuts. Bolted belays. Quad anchors. 2:1 haul system. Everything went pretty much to plan.

(Haul bag quote)         All three of you, Pete, Greg and Cait, are people who have touched my life in only positive ways! Enjoy the climb up that wall.                Chris Webb-Parsons

That left Greg with the two hardest pitches. Two of the hardest of the climb. Thin aid. Pin scars. Slippery smooth rock.

Greg leading

One fall when his gear pulled out unexpectedly. A big pecker the only thing he could find to get through one section of pin scars. Lower outs. He did well. The practice back on home crags paid big. Then a big complex lower out and traverse right and he was on Sickle Ledge.



Greg on the way to Sickle Ledge with the Great Roof looming 1500 feet higher







 A smooth day. In anticipation we enjoyed spying out the route ahead up high.

On Sickle in high spirits

We met up with a German pair who we had spied during the day jugging their fixed ropes up to Sickle and hauling quite slowly. We secured our haul bag and portaledge onto the ledge then fixed and repelled our own ropes 150m down to the ground in the late afternoon.

The lost alien was replaced at the mountain shop. We packed up our stuff and sorted all our food.

Day 2

4.00am start. At that stage we didn’t know this would become the norm. Everything in the car. All the leftover food and other scented stuff went into a bear box at the Meadow.  By 5.00am we were jugging the fixed lines with our sleeping bags, some snacks for the day and extra water. Hard work. The third rope we dropped to join others at the base (we had arranged for it to be picked up).

Getting stuck in amongst other groups on the Nose is a major problem and almost inevitable. We had spent time on previous days scoping out the traffic on the route. There seemed to be a pretty good gap ahead of us, maybe due to some cold weather that had just passed. And miraculously no one else had climbed up to Sickle on the same day as us. Things looked good until we arrived at Sickle 5 minutes after the German pair, who had bivvied there overnight, were ready to go. They seemed to have a lot of stuff. We waited. And waited. While one of them led the next pitch and then tried to haul their large load.

Waiting on Sickle

A pair of Nose In A Day (NIAD) speed climbers passed through quickly. An American pair jugged up with their haul bag. And another pair who were doing a run to Dolt Tower. Eventually Cait led off, only to have to wait while the Germans struggled first with a pendulum across to the Stoveleg Crack system then with their big load and inefficient hauling system. This was really frustrating and required all our reserves of patience.

Us and the Americans still waiting on Sickle. Photo Tom Evans

Getting gridlocked with other groups is one of the primary reasons for the high bail rate on the Nose. Greg Coit, Erik Sloan and Tommy and Kevin had told us that early on we would be looking for excuses to go down, that the secret to success is just to never give up. We were a group of three which is slower than a regular group of two. And we weren’t experts, but we had practised and for a group of three were travelling light. We had proved the previous day that we were in the ballpark to be successful. Our water supply was calculated to last a little short of 4 full days, now we were getting behind schedule, maybe critically. The Dolt runners bailed and rapped back down.

Cait waiting, hanging in the middle of the Germans and Americans

The Americans looked fast and needed to get high up as they had no portaledge and only 3 days water. We let them take a higher route through the Dolt Hole but then they caught themselves out by running the pitch too far. They lost communication with each other and got tangled trying to make sure they didn’t lower out their haul bag onto us to the side and below them. Clusterfuck. More hold up for us. The wind picked up.

Cait eventually pendulumed across and we got set up in the bottom of the Stoveleg Cracks mid afternoon. She had been training and practicing trad crack climbing intensively for 6 months – building a crack machine in her home climbing garage, spending multiple weekends at local crack climbing venues and flying up to Frog Buttress for a 4 day weekend. She set off with a big rack. Made slow progress. The hours of “hanging around” had taken their toll. She fought the wind. Communication was difficult. I gave out slack and held the belay tight at the wrong times. She inched upwards then stopped for a time. Alone. Strung out.

(Haul bag quote)         Very important – DON’T FALL! Stay strong. Will be thinking of you crushing!!             Peta

Then she moved on again. Not much free. Eventually reached the belay. We made our way up and joined her. Her face was tear stained, her jaw set rock solid. Silent.

She gave me the rack and I aided up as the light faded. A piece pulled and I took a long fall scraping my shin in the darkness. Set my own jaw and continued up two pitches. Three of the most famous pitches we’d got smashed on due to the traffic, out of our control – the Stovelegs.

At 2.00 am on Dolt Tower the Germans were in bed. While we set up our ‘ledge and had some dinner. Tried to regather ourselves. Respect. Mutual support. Dig deep. We decided to negotiate with the Germans to go first in the morning. This was one of those critical points where it would have been so easy to bail but almost without speaking our plan was hatched through this very low point – Cait had really lost it for a bit, I’d led for hours through the dark, Greg was psyching out from spending the day hanging, hauling and cleaning but isolated from the leading. We started a nightly round of ibuprofen with the best hot chocolate on the planet. The wind had dropped. 20 years earlier Cait had been a student in my outdoor ed. class. I had introduced her to climbing and then she passed that on to her brother and sister. At my retirement they had given me a small clock with an engraved quote from Ed. Hillary, “It’s not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves”.  The night was velvet and star studded – I did notice this for a second as I zipped my sleeping bag shut. Up was the plan. Bed at 4.00 am.

Day 3

We were woken early by a NIAD (Nose In A Day) group climbing past. Up at 6.00 am.

Air B n B at Dolt

We then chatted with the Germans, Wolf and Herbert, “Your climbing is great but your hauling takes a long time. Could we leave first today and see if we can stay in front?” They agreed. We were off by 7.00 am. I led down into a bottomless gap then up a steep crack system. Great to be in front. The Americans were a long way ahead. Our combined teams strategy was working. Maybe we were settling into our groove with a team above and another below.

Cait leading, Greg and Peter on belay between Dolt and El Cap Tower. Photo Tom Evans

Cait took over the lead and really enjoyed two mixed free and aid pitches. We cracked along nicely.

On one of the belay ledges Greg confided to me that although this type of climbing was not really his thing he had wanted to be part of the undertaking to assist Cait and I who were so deeply passionate about it and that we were two people who he respected so much. We hugged and cried.

In the early afternoon we reached the palatial El Cap Tower ledge – “a good bivvy for 4”.

On El Cap Tower ledge.
Photo Tom Evans

After a short rest and food and precious water Greg led into the Texas Flake Chimney. He was super psyched, extremely well informed, very nervous and his heart was pumping. When we had first met local big wall guide, Greg Coit, he had straight away asked who was going to lead the Texas Flake Chimney – unprotectable, dangerous and scarey. A hard part was actually getting in to the bottom of the chimney. There were some gear placements there and a bolt higher up but if Greg clipped these he would not be able to swing the rope out of the chimney to make the going easier for the second climber. Also the bolt in the chimney was where the harder climbing was. Further to the west in the chimney there were more flake holds on the wall. Greg had set off into the chimney but had to retreat to the bottom to reset his shirt and the gear on his harness.  It was digging into his back as he chimneyed up so he went back down and switched it to the front of his harness. He had also left the rack at the front of the Flake for me to collect as I jugged up.

Greg at the top of Texas Flake, Peter jumaring up. Photo Tom Evans

When I joined Greg at the top of the Flake we considered the time of day and the shortage of good bivvy sites ahead (and the strong pull of the fabulous El Cap Tower ledge) and decided to fix the Boot then rap down and stay the night on El Cap Tower.

Peter leading the Boot Flake pitch in the last of the daylight.

Cait set up camp and had the dinner ready as we arrived back down. The Germans had arrived. We shared chocolate, yarns and good times together. Respect. Patience. Support.


Cooked dinner!!!

Just before dark a wacky, fun motormouth, Pass The Pitons Pete, and his mate passed through our camp on their way to set up a camp higher up and out right on their New Dawn route. In a party atmosphere they regaled us with tales of haul bags full of beer and margaritas. Total wall rats completely at home up there.

Pass The Pitons Pete dropped by.

(Haul bag quote)        

Shut up and climb!                        Pass the Pitons Pete






The ledge was like a small horizontal oasis in an ocean of verticality. We savoured the delightful evening, the shadows, changing colours – John Muir’s Range of Light. Warm sleeping bag, harness still on, tethered to the wall.

Greg’s spot on the ledge was a little too close to the German waste case, we would get to retaliate later.

Day 4

We jumared through the dawn to the top of the Boot. Then the King Swing, Lynn Hill Traverse, Great Roof, Pancake Flake and on to Camp V. Each of us digging deep, being our very best selves with each other and in our own private journeys across and up the mountain. Endurance. Support. Care. Trust.

“Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you”        Rachel Platten

Through the longest and hardest day that any of us had maybe ever encountered. Time stretched to allow us to fit it all into one exquisite day of struggle and joy and awe in the grandest place and quest of our lives.

At some stage Cait said, “I’ve never done anything as gruelling as The Nose.” I could only agree.

Day 5

Camp V

The sun opened up across the wall. Heat pulled us out of slumber at 8.00. “I’m starting to poop my pants,” Greg. It was his way of telling us he was getting scared, struggling. We needed to get going. Breakfast and packed up.

Camp V. In the lower right the top of the Butt Crack is visible. Above right the thin crack and the big corner lead to the Glowering Spot. Photo Tom Evans

Big walling is an intimate pastime. The portaledge is small. On belay you hang off the same anchor bolts for long periods of time together. Your daily issues are closely shared. Space anywhere is limited. One of our waste cases was full. A wag bag is a clever invention that mostly does the job. You poop into the large plastic bag which contains some crystals that absorb moisture and some of the smell. Then you squeeze the air out and tie a knot to seal it up. This is stowed in a heavy duty zip lock bag which again you squeeze the air out of to reduce the storage volume. The wag bag also comes with a small supply of toilet paper and hand sanitiser. And in the logistics of cramped space you often have one person that pushes them down into the waste case that hangs below the haul bag. In a moment of brilliance back home I had bought a second waste case. “Look the other way guys”. I shuffled round the not quite corner of the Camp V ledge. While Greg and Cait busied themselves. Every morning was the same, for each of us. “There’s something not right with my system”, Cait said as we stowed her wag bag in the waste case. Change of diet, lack of food, not enough water, too many Cliff Bars, dehydrated dinners, physical and psychological stress, too much of the energy drink additive. Any of the above. Life on the wall? Concerned I asked her if we needed to go down. This would have been a dreaded prospect of 20 abseils. But we would do it if necessary. “Absolutely No Way”. Fierce determination.

I led through a section of thin aid above small ledges that would not have been nice to fall onto. Then up to cool shade in the Glowering Spot, a comfy but slightly sloping ledge big enough for two people to sit down on. While Cait belayed Greg into the next pitch I dozed as the sun arrived in the alcove. I rested while Greg pushed thru an awkward wide section then up the higher part of the long and taxing pitch. I’d suggested he just take it slow and carefully, one small step at a time.

(Haul bag quote)         As long as you’re going up you’re sending.                Kevin Jorgenson

In the heat of the day Greg made it up to Camp VI. A nice triangular gently sloping ledge, big enough for us to spread out and arrange our stuff, all clipped in to safety ropes. It had been a short day. Welcome relief from the day before. Occasionally we caught faint noises from the Germans down below. One more pitch to fix and that would set us up for the summit next day. Changing Corners. Another game breaker and the higher crux for us. Famous for aid and the few free climbers able to give it a shot. Another key pitch for Greg. He was psyched for it but fatigued. I really hoped he could push himself into it. I was wasted. I made him a sun shelter so he could cool down a little and some lunch wraps. There was a 1 foot wide crack at the rear of the ledge that dropped down about 15 m and then into the bowels of the mountain. Cait handed Greg the stove bag with the instruction, “Don’t drop this down the crack”. Immediate tinkling sounded our disappointment as it fell down out of sight. Greg! Oh No! Hot dinner gone, hot chocolate, coffee gone. Oh No. He wanted to abseil down in a forlorn hope of finding it. I pretty much vetoed that idea as I wanted him to have every last bit of energy for the pitch above.

In the cool of later afternoon Greg geared up bravely and headed up. Things got steadily harder. Another long pitch. At some bolts he had to move right from one corner system to another. It was all very steep. These were the corners way up high in the top, over vertical section of the route we had tried to avoid looking at from the Meadow. He reached a lower set of bolts but then headed up to a higher set that were strung with old climbing tape and cord. He clipped a couple then teetered round into the next corner, placed an offset alien and a micro cam, moved up slowly. “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!” Both pieces popped up there and he took a decent fall, slamming back into the corner. He had just missed reaching a fixed wire.

(Haul bag quote)         We tend not to remember the easy days out adventuring. Make this trip one to remember. It’s going to bring with it suffering and anxiety. But for some reason it will all be worth it. Savour both the moments when one is riding the metaphorical suffer bus, and when you are filled with wonder, joy and happiness, because it’s a mixture of these two that drive us up the walls, across the continents and has us training tirelessly for months on end. Enjoy the good and bad moments because there will be plenty of both.                                              Daniel Fisher

Straight back up, delicately round the edge, cam hook, micro gear then the wire. Slowly upwards. Cait and I held our breaths, again. The rope stopped inching upwards. He was out of sight. Up there alone. 2,500 feet up. Time stood still. He’d been studying this for months. Visualising. We willed him on. “Safe. Yeah!” Met by whoops from us. We were going to the top for sure now. Four pitches to go. Tomorrow. Nothing could stop us now. Cait and I hugged. Golden light. Greg fixed the rope and abseiled back down, cleaning the protection as he descended. In the highest spirits we hi fived and chattered. Jubilation. Tension relieved. (Apparently if the leader top steps on the third bolt and tensions right it may be possible to reach the fixed wire at a stretch.)

Greg. At the end of Day 5 after success on Changing Corners.

Just before dark we hung the portaledge just over the lip and had muesli for dinner which we ate with our nut tools from our now one shared remaining cup. Our sporks had gone down with the stove. Herbert, one of the Germans, appeared below and called up. We tried to convince him to make his camp at a nice small ledge about 10 m below ours. He preferred to come up and check out any spare space on ours. Cait and Greg collapsed into their sleeping bags. I rearranged all our gear and our anchor system to make space for Wolf and Herbert. My climbing ethics demanded that we share whatever space we could with another party in need. Herbert ascended through our waste cases then anchored his ropes carefully underneath ours to limit tangles the following morning. By then we were good friends with them and this was more a meeting up than a cluster. We had been clustered and held up by them low down on the route but had been clear of each other since then and worked together so that both of our parties could move at their own pace. He then descended to the smaller ledge below where they set up in comfort. Cait, Greg and I had traded hours of sleep for a clear run. (In the following week, from the Meadow, we had noticed a major cluster of parties high on the route. This would have been much more problematic as climbers would have been strung out, dehydrated and fatigued and slowed up within sight of the summit.)

(Haul bag quote)         Have the best adventure sufferfest ever.       Tracey

Greg and I slept on the ledge, Greg with his shoulders over the crack, and me, at regular intervals through the night shuffling back inwards, at the edge.

“I’ve battled demons that won’t let me sleep
Called to the sea but she abandoned me

But I won’t never give up, no, never give up, no, no
No, I won’t never give up, no, never give up, no, no”                        Sia

Cait on the portaledge

Cait slept fitfully on the portaledge – alternating gazing up at the stars and peering over the edge to watch tiny car lights snaking down the valley way below.


A plane passed high overhead – its flashing red light reminded her of her flashing monitor lights during her year in hospital.

Day 6

No tea or coffee. “What peanut dropped the stove?” It would take a lifetime to live that one down. I took the haul rope and the huge rack and I began jumaring up the fixed rope. For about 25m the rope hung out away from the wall, which showed that Greg’s Changing Corners pitch had overhung, and made my ascent of the rope exhausting. Maybe my arms were already tired from all the jugging and climbing and hauling. I had to break it down into small sections, each with its own end point objective, just like marathon running when you’ve hit the wall.

(Haul bag quote)               “Swing on some jugs for me Pete. I’ll be willing you on”.                Ian Brown.

Ian’s message echoed in my head. Eventually I was able to reach the wall with my feet and the going got a bit easier. Greg came up and we got ready to haul the bag. By this time we had drunk most of the water and eaten a fair amount of our food so we could body haul instead of using the 2 to 1 system with pulleys. We took the weight of the bag. Cait then lowered it out of the anchor below. Greg and I pulled it up a little so she could get started ascending the fixed rope. Unbeknown to us this meant that our two waste cases, which hung below our haul bag and were by now pretty full and ripe, hung right next to Wolf’s head. He had re ascended to our Camp VI ledge and lashed himself to the anchor. In her sensitive and interpersonally aware way Cait noticed his discomfort and yelled up to ask us if we could haul up the bag some more. As the bag ascended slowly Herbert thanked Cait for asking the question.

From the belay at the top of Changing Corners the action picked up. I led up a nice pitch of easy aid, shuffling red cams up a curving cracked corner.

Cait jugging up Changing Corners in the early morning of Day 6. The toe of The Nose is lit up way below.

The view back down the pitch funnelled down the Corners, past Camp VI, then down past the Great Roof, the Grey Bands, eventually to the sloping section of white stone glistening in the morning sun around Sickle, eventually to the base, the Meadow and then to the forest of tiny trees. Over a lip of rock above a rope snaked down followed by an abseiler. “Hi. I’m Brad” “Yeah Hi. I’m Peter.”

Brad Gobright working on the Changing Corners.

He continued down some more then started doing free practice on the hardest section of the Corners, falling and grunting. “Hey that’s Brad Gobright”, whispered Cait to Greg, “He’s the Alex Honnold you’ve never heard of.” So he had hiked up and ascended fixed ropes from the base of El Cap to the top (1000m+), abseiled down 150m, to do 30 minutes practice on the Corners then reversed the whole approach – very impressive motivation and effort. Since Lynn Hill’s first free ascent of The Nose only about 5 – 6 other people had managed the feat. The Changing Corners pitch is the hardest free pitch on the climb. Perhaps Brad was working on trying to be the next. Two groups are also competing with each other for the fastest ascent of The Nose. Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold currently have the fastest time of 1 hour and 58 minutes. Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds hold the second fastest time of 2 hours 2 minutes. As impressive as these speed ascents are they are also incredibly dangerous. Many of the recent accidents on El Cap have been on the faster ascents where aspects of safety are compromised while climbers are simul climbing. Tommy, Alex and Brad, the elite of world rockclimbing with athletic capabilities equivalent to Olympic gold medal level are pushing the envelope of possibility. To witness Brad training on the hardest pitch on The Nose between us and the Germans was almost as good as his offer that we could jug his rope that was anchored nearby.

Greg jumaring Pitch 25

All’s fair in aid climbing and he totally unexpectedly sped us up a pitch to The Wild Stance before he jugged out and pulled his rope up.



We found the megadeath loose spike beside the Wild Stance that we had been warned about. The thought of anything falling off the climb was horrendous. Even a dropped water bottle or carabiner could cause a major injury 1000’s of feet below.

We could see the summit overhangs but not the well known pine tree. 2 pitches to go. Cait showed off her latest and best aid climbing skills lacing up a curving crack that led to a bolt ladder. High stepping, back cleaning like a big wall pro she was taking us to the top in style.

Meanwhile Greg and I guffawed and laughed as we likened the sound of our regular farts to various makes and models of motor bikes. Must have been the change of diet or too many cliff bars.

Cait with that “nothings gonna stop us now” look at the final, and worst, belay stance below pitch 28.

The bolts led Cait, with her trusty extender draw, through an overhanging section to a very uncomfortable stance. Greg lowered out on the haul rope and swung out over 3000 feet of space on the single 10.4 mm of nylon life line. I know that if I did what Brad had done and gone to the top and abseiled over the edge I would have found it terrifying. When I start at the bottom however and slowly ascend step by step increasing the height I get used to it and as long as I am connected to the rope and cliff correctly the exposure doesn’t really concern me. It certainly focuses the attention and adds massively to the experience and perception of the landscape but it’s not like when I stand unroped near a cliff edge and feel the fearful sucking pull of vertigo. After Greg left I had an alone overcome with emotion weeping moment – deep dreams only occasionally reach fruition in life.

“Don’t stop believin’

Hold on to that feeling”          Journey

I found following the bolt ladder really strenuous. I tangled, thrashed and graunched ungainly up to the stance completely devoid of style or finesse. The others were in a state of uncomfortable distress on the very poor stance. For some reason our toes were squashed into the wall. (Cait and I have ongoing big wall nerve damaged big toes that should heal eventually) Cait then free walzed off across a wall then up and round out of sight and then to the top where we heard a very faint “Safe” call. Greg once again floated in wild space up and out of sight. “Oh My Gosh,” Greg. I was out of sorts, out of style, totally blown emotionally and deeply satisfied. Following the bolts up I made a mistake and found myself stuck in tight on a quickdraw. In haste I took out my knife and sliced it free of the rope. This climb never broke down or got easy even to the final moves. Greg was at the final bolted anchor. He had jugged and then hauled. And was now hot and dry and wrecked.

We struggled up to the famous pine tree with a bit of the gear and collapsed. Sipped some of our little remaining water, sat or lay down, let the focus and being switched on drain away. We smiled and cried and hugged. One of the best experiences of our lives. 6 days. Massive in every way. Together. It was like everything had fallen into place. Sipped some more precious liquid. After a while we carried the rest of our gear from the bolts up to the tree. Called home, reported in safely to our supporters. Then we took summit photos in soft golden light in our Climbers Against Cancer t shirts.

Deeply fatigued as we were we couldn’t face the daunting task of switching on again and carting our heavy load down the unknown East Ledges abseil descent. So we stashed all our climbing gear under a rock then packed up all the stuff that bears might tear to bits – left over food, rubbish, flattened drink bottles, full waste cases and other essentials. Just prior to leaving we discovered a stash of water under a rock and took some glorious big gulps like nectar from the gods. “Light and Fast” we set off on the long hike down the back at about 6.00 pm. Tired, sore, slow. But elated. We would make it down that night. In the darkness with head torches we trudged. Greg muscled the haul bag. I carried both waste cases in a smaller backpack. Every time I stopped the smell enveloped me. The others always walked in front. Through the forest. Across rock slabs. Up and down. For hours. Then to the steep descent which went on forever. 12 km never seemed so far. In a quiet moment of rest, “I feel like a real climber now,” Cait. Down. Switchbacks. Down. At about 9.15 we realised the last transit bus that could return one of us to the car would be at 10.00 pm. From somewhere deeper than I knew existed I summoned the ability to run downhill. For 45 minutes then I saw the bus disappear. In desperation I flagged down a passing car after I had ditched the stinking waste case backpack into the scrub beside the road.

(Haul bag quote)         Get after it and take the whip! I always thought you were a bit on the nose.  Joe Horan

An English couple who never mentioned my smell and showed great interest in the climb thankfully gave me a lift. In my fatigue I walked up and down the road looking for our car. After an age I located the car and picked up the others. We collected our stashed food and stuff from a bear box.

Shower. Hot chocolate. Bed. Horizontal. Sleep.


The Days After – Part 2

Rest day. Bruised legs. Swollen hands. Greg had sausage fingers. Numb big toes – nerve damage. (Tommy’s haul bag message kept repeating)

“We climbed The Nose”. Greg said about every 10 minutes. Coffee. Deep satisfaction. We felt surprisingly ok. Walked round just smiling. Savouring. Pizza for lunch.

In The Meadow later in the afternoon we spent a long time just drinking in the scene. Tracing the route on the mountain. Checking out the other climbers. Beautiful. Grand. Powerful. “Yes I know Greg. We climbed The Nose.” Smiled a lot more. Cait – “You know. Up there. Here. This is the happiest I have ever been.”

Tom Evans

A fellow in a red shirt with a big camera. Tom Evans! The legend. Turned out he had started his daily photo record of El Cap climbs for the season the day we started from Sickle!!!!! And he could give us copies of photos of our climb later that night!!!! When he asked how we found it I mentioned the pitch above Pancake Flake that I had led in the depths of the night and found so hard. “Oh that pitch is notorious. Lots of people have had accidents on that pitch. It’s called the ButtCrack.” I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand.

Erik was there too. “I’ve only got one thing to say to you Erik”. And I just gave him a big hug. His info and encouragement had been instrumental. He offered to help us retrieve our gear from the top the next day, especially as he was going up anyway.

Cait, Brad and Greg – legends!

Later that evening we met up with Tom and picked up a USB full of his great photos. Brad just happened to be there as well.



Even though Cait had climbed across the world for 20 years and coached the Australian team it wasn’t until she had completed The Nose that she felt “like a real climber”. It struck me that being in the spiritual home of rockclimbing and mixing it with the world’s best was perhaps a fitting place to come to that realisation.

Next day Cait dropped me off at 5.00 am on her way to take Greg towards San Francisco to catch a bus to the airport for an engagement in Canada. I hiked back up the 1000 m and 12 km to the top of The Nose. True to his word Erik was there assembling our gear. He took the haul bag  and I a large rucksack. A program to clean up Yosemite, The Facelift, was on and Erik had set himself the task to update the abseil ropes on the East Ledges descent route. We donated our static rope. We spent the rest of the day replacing the ropes that were worn and abseiling down with our gear. Erik was a trooper. I was very fatigued. We paid him well. At the bottom I met Kevin Jorgensen and reminded him of our meeting in Canberra and the message he had written on our haul bag. He said he wanted to catch up with Cait and congratulate her.

Tommy just happened to be in the Valley



She met up with Tommy Caldwell and Kevin that evening in one of the many circularities and synchronicities associated with our climb.

Kevin – boulderer to big wall climber, Cait – sport climber to big wall climber!









We arranged to meet up with Greg Coit. We had heard his prearranged stuttered horn honking encouragement each morning as he drove past El Cap on his way to guiding work in The Valley. He was generously interested in our climb. He told us that when he saw our slow early progress he doubted we would make it up. I also sensed that Erik might have doubted we would be successful. We were an unusual team for The Nose. A group of 3. Two males and a female. An old trad climber with some aid climbing experience in Australia from decades previous, an experienced traddy who was now a committed sport climber (also an all round strong athlete) and a younger gun sport climber. Different ages with at least 12 years between each person. And we each had our fears. Greg was worried about dropping stuff and the height and exposure during his down time. Cait became very anxious during the lead up – failure, not being able to do it, fear of dying, worried about the media hype, what if something goes wrong, anchor failure, ropes getting cut, falling rock, falling on trad gear. She had a major crisis of confidence in her own climbing ability and got sick three weeks before we departed Australia. I was mainly concerned about my body breaking down. We were all scared of being the weakest link. The bail out rate was high – over 50%. Greg Coit told us he had bailed on his first two attempts though I wasn’t sure whether he was just telling us this to soften us up for our own possible failure. We had met teams from UK and Australia who were going home without making it. The Germans too had failed on The Nose and Half Dome in previous years.

In the aftermath we considered at length what may have been critical factors in our success. We had an unusual combination of experience and skills. 90 years of combined climbing experience. 75 years of combined outdoor education leadership. Being in a team of 3 where there is always someone to share things with on the wall and more fun to be had. Very serious research “homework” in the 6 months prior. Substantial training in the lead up. Good gear. Diverse and complimentary skills. The depth of our shared dream. The public nature of our climb, encapsulated by the messages we carried up on our haul bag, added a sense of wider support. Cait wanted to make her family and Greg’s wife proud. We had the ability to cover for each other. Our life experiences that gave us the endurance, the will and and the wherewithal to be able to dig very, very deep. Our emotional commitment to each other borne of appreciation of each other’s struggles. Friendship.

(Haul bag quote)         To the team. The fellowship of the rope is one of the most powerful bonds. Climb hard, climb strong, live life and come back as mates.                  Zac Zaharias

Our journey up the mountain together was a massive test of each of these. Throughout, our underlying respect for each other and mutual support prevailed. What more could I have asked for when I shared a dream and an interpersonal hunch.

“All fired up (now I believe there comes a time)
All fired up (when everything just falls in line)”                    Pat Benatar

Sometimes things do fall into line. Sometimes things go your way. And sometimes when you do good things in the world with good intentions things around you conspire to make things happen. Fate and karma intertwined.

On our last night in The Valley we went down to the Meadow. A string of twinkling lights hung down the Nose and marked the bivvys of climbers on other routes across the Cap. And possibly of others like us climbing into the night. Stars blanketed the deep blue sky above. Huge black pine silhouettes framed the whole magical scene. Once again I was overcome with emotion – the surreal beauty of the place, we had been those starry lights up there, everything had fallen into line for us. The three of us together had climbed the most famous and beautiful route on the best cliff in the world.

Text msg 3 weeks later “Hey. We climbed The Nose.”


Especially to our partners and families for their support and forbearance.

Erik Sloan and Greg Coit

Tom Evans for your brilliant photos

Tommy and Kevin for inspiration and generous encouragement

Ian and Dan for loaned gear

Canberra Indoor Rockclimbing, Mont, Climbing Anchors


Greg’s Poem – Part 3

Slack Pete, Cross Cait and Safety 5th vs the Nose             Greg Fisher

It was early in 2019 that Peter made his emotional plea,

Let’s have an awesome adventure, by going over to Yosemite.

The goal was to conquer The Nose on El Cap,

A wall climb, 28 pitches, 1000metrs high, ooh..crap!


This would take much more than some training in the gym,

What was needed, was the Spirit of Adventure, just to follow him.

Increased fitness, new gear, different techniques and a little sacrifice,

Pete’s little adventure was going to change us for the rest of our life.


Three friends, comrades, colleagues and mates,

Would form team awesome combining their special traits.

Peter, Cait and Greg were the three who dared,

They trained, practiced, studied and constantly prepared.


Greg was the comedy relief, grunt and crash dummy,

Caitlin organised everything and her pro deals saved money.

She was the chauffer and all round booking queen,

But it was her free climbing skills that cemented our team.


Pete was our wise leader, full of passion and desire,

With him on our team, he did nothing but inspire.

From YouTube, Erik, Tommy, Kevin and Greg our guide, we drew,

On the wealth of their experience and knowledge to make this dream come true.


We were pumped and excited as Peter led the way,

This was the start of our inspiring first day.

Greg pulled out the Pecker, early on the Sickle Pitch,

But with the haul bag up, the day went without a hitch.


We jugged up early the next morning, and ran into a road block,

The Germans were in front, and so we fell way behind the clock.

Americans too decided to thwart our ascent to Dolt Tower,

Pete was undeterred, head torch on, he forged forward on will power.


Cait found Stovelegs hard, but it only fuelled her fire,

To make certain this achievement on her bucket list, would transpire.

Going down was never an option in the words of Cait,

She was going to drag us all to the top and strive to keep Greg awake.


Who needs sleep? was to be the slogan for this epic wall,

After only 2 hours of sleep, Pete kept climbing to give it his all,

Onto El Cap Tower which is the goal we would reach,

Smashing Texas Flake, The Boot Leg and fixing ropes from each.


Things were working smooth in our team, hauling and ropework understood,

Cait cooked up a storm that night, the hot chocolate and dinner, sooo… good.

At last we got some sleep and our bodies were so thankful and glad,

Greg fell unconscious after laying his head directly under, the Germans poo bag!


We were up again early and jugging to the Boot,

Greg did the King Swing and found it a hoot.

The Lynn Hill Traverse Caitlin left in her wake,

She led us to the roof with skill, make no mistake.


An ominous roof, lay directly in the path of this little group,

Most people would look at it, and it would make them poop!

Pete smashed The Great Roof and enjoyed the challenge and thrill,

He climbed like a demon, and so continued up, on desire and will.


His energy maxed out, after grunting through the Bum Crack Pitch,

He called on Cait to now lead, and so they did a switch.

Greg was struggling with micro sleeps and staying awake was hell,

Cait finished the pitch and used a clear mind, to save the haul bag as well.


Her toilet routine had been affected, and was totally out of whack,

Greg had lost focus and had to get back on the wall to stay on track.

Pete led to the Glowering Spot, then slept as Greg led and Cait was belay,

Greg pushed on and reached Camp VI, pitch 23, hip hip hooray!


Greg felt like a King as food, drink and shade was provided,

His crew was helping motivate him and get him excited.

Up Changing Corners which he had studied for months,

Where’s all my gear, cam hooks to the rescue after falling just once!


A good sleep would help, knowing tomorrow we would top out,

Was crushed as the Germans, messed our sleeping quarters about.

We jugged past the corner and then past Brad Gobright,

He gave us his rope to use, and the end was in sight.


We planned food and water for four days on the wall, but five it would take,

We had all been so determined, no one in our team would give up and break.

Greg dropped the jetboil, no coffee, this could be bad,

It pushed the team to their limit but they weren’t even mad.


Pete and Greg talked of motor bikes, and laughed at sounds that we made,

As Caitlin focussed on the last two pitches, bolt ladders, she would smash that grade.

The team, awesome, incredible, cohesive, formidable, focussed and it shows,

We had arrived at the top the incredible and impressive Monolith, The Nose!


The Nose had taken its toll on our party of three,

There was no major celebration or jumping up and down with glee.

We sat and reflected, we hugged and we cried,

This whole epic adventure had been one incredible ride.


Greg Fisher (Peanut)

Greg – “This climb took our friendship to a whole new level. The Nose changed our lives forever.”

Cait – “El Cap is no match for 90 years of Canberra Climbing.”

Peter –

“In the fellowship of the rope

time shifts and dreams become reality

as we journey upwards together

into the golden light.”


Part 4

Notes for other climbers


Did we belong up there? Our ascent was slow – 6 days total (1 to Sickle then 5 days on the wall). We arrived at the top pretty wasted. Chris McNamara, in his “How to Big Wall Climb” book which we had used extensively, exhorts teams heading for the Nose to hone their skills by climbing a series of lead up big walls in Yosemite so they are efficient. For international teams this ideal prep is difficult as it is sometimes not possible to do multiple trips to The Valley due to expense and time shortage and many of us cannot stay for long periods. We did lots of training at home on small crags. We practiced hauling with real loads and doing thin aid climbing. We researched and practiced our system with three people. We gathered good information. On the climb we didn’t hold up any other teams, we arrived at the top with enough water to make our descent, we didn’t endanger ourselves (more than anyone else) or anyone else, we still had space in our second waste case, we didn’t leave any rubbish behind, we could have retreated at any point, we could have bivvied on our portaledge at any point, we patiently and respectfully dealt with being held up ourselves and we could have assisted any other team in difficulty at any time. And we had the most fabulous time!

Getting held up by crowds – In the main big wall season from mid September to late October there will be other teams wanting to attempt The Nose. It is one of the most popular routes in The Valley. Being delayed by other parties is inevitable. There is no formal queuing system at the base from what we could see and Greg Coit and Erik Sloan told us. You just have to get to the base on your preferred approach to the actual start of Pitch 1 and then wait for your turn among whoever else is there at the time. We didn’t have anyone else on our climb up to Sickle day but then the next day when we jugged back up to Sickle the team of Germans who had portaledged up there the night before and started climbing 10 minutes before we were ready, then an American pair arrived having started in the night, then a pair planning to go to Dolt. In amongst all this a NIAD pair cruised past us all. During that day the Germans held us up considerably, we let the Americans overtake and then they too held us up and the Dolt runners bailed from Sickle. By the next day we had all sorted ourselves into a workable order that continued for us to the top. We were clustered for one day which required much patience and made us dig into our water supplies. Later after we had finished our climb we noticed clusters near the top of the route which would have been worse. ADVICE – plan to get held up, prepare to be patient and respectful, be friendly to other groups and take photos of them to share afterwards, bring some extra food to share and bring extra water. Be prepared to climb in the dark. In the lead up to your start spend time in the Meadow and at the actual base of the route tuning in to the ebb and flow of the traffic.

Sickle Ledge – we climbed to Sickle and hauled a third rope and our bag with everything except our sleeping bags and 3 litres of water each. We secured our load on Sickle then rapped down on 3 ropes to the ground and spent the night back in camp. The next day we jugged up pre dawn with our sleeping bags and 3 litres of water each to Sickle having dropped our third rope back to the ground on the way. We had arranged for someone to pick up the third rope but several ropes had just been left at the base for later retrieval. This process worked really well for us. Not having a group behind us up to Sickle meant we could take our time and check all our systems. Not camping on Sickle meant we saved carrying up one extra day of food and water. But maybe it also meant we didn’t start before the Germans. The Germans had climbed without hauling to Sickle, rapped down, had a rest day then jugged and hauled and camped on Sickle.

Aid climbing practice – High stepping, placing and weighting gear, managing ladders, using Fifi hooks. Use of peckers and cam hooks. Use of offset nuts and cams. Multi day multi pitch endurance. Portaledge set up and pack up, sleeping in, hanging vertically and off ledges, using the rain fly and bivvy bags. Hauling with your estimated loads – body, space, 2:1. Get your jumaring nailed using different methods for off vertical, vertical, overhanging – with 2 people you will jumar half the route and with 3 you will jumar 1/3 of the route. Belay and anchor setups and changeovers – quads worked well for us. Rope management on hanging belays – use of rope hooks, rope bags or saddle coils with slings. Bolt ladders including overhanging leading and cleaning. Lower outs and pendulums. Free and French free with a big rack. Climbing in approach shoes. Climbing in the dark. Be very careful practicing aid climbing in areas which are not regularly used for aid – aid placements put unusual forces on rock. Anchor systems, attaching, backing up then releasing the loaded haulbag straight up and on traversing terrain. Hauling straight up, traversing, overhanging and off vertical, releasing from getting stuck.

Pitches – consider dividing up pitches to be led beforehand. That way each person can practise, psyche up for and research their pitches. Share info in case things change on the mountain. Practice each key pitch – King Swing leading and following, top overhanging bolt ladder, Great Roof, ButtCrack flaring awkward groove.

Key bits of equipment

Portaledge is great to give flexibility in timing and placement of camps and fitting in with other groups. Without a Portaledge you get committed to specific objectives each day which adds pressure and may turn hold ups into more stressful situations. We used a lightweight Runout Customs ledge that took several months to arrive from USA.

Cam hooks – we used two wide and one medium.

Pecker – we used one large

Proper belay/climbing gloves – your hands will get worked

Climbing balm and tape for hands

Spare head torch and batteries

Light rain shell jacket (used for wind shell as well) and pants. OR Helium were great and surprisingly durable.

Sun protection hat system and sun shirt.

Clothing – wear bright colours for photos!

Footwear – TC Pros were excellent with TX 4 approach shoes. I led a lot in the TCs and Cait only occasionally – we both ended up with numb big toes with nerve damage. Apparently this is common.

Rack – Totem cams were great with a range of small alien offsets and micro cams, brass micro and larger offset nuts, regular cams. The listing by Erik Sloan in “Yosemite Big Walls” was great.

Topos – we mainly used the one from “Yosemite Big Walls” by Erik Sloan. Have several copies with associated collected beta on each pitch.

Waste cases by Metolius are excellent. Taking 2 for our group of three was a masterstroke.

An extender draw was found very useful for fixed gear and bolts.

Go light!

Descent – sort out options for the descent. Have a map of the hike and detailed topos for the East Ledges. A great idea would be to recce the East Ledges by hiking and jugging up it or climbing the East Buttress then doing the East Ledges descent.

Sources of info

Erik Sloan – “Yosemite Big Walls”. Erik also offers a 1 hour chat over the Internet – his support and encouragement is fabulous. Check his website too. He also has an as yet unpublished guide to climbing The Nose – this has terrific info on each pitch.

Chris McNamara – “How to Big Wall Climb” (associated videos on YouTube) and also his guide “Yosemite Big Walls” – both published by Supertopo. Also “The Road to The Nose”

Websites – Supertopo and Mountain Project are great

Guide services

Yosemite Mountain Guides is the only licensed operator in The Valley. Greg Coit is fabulous – as well as instructing he guides various big wall routes on El Cap and other Valley cliffs. He provided lots of good beta on the route.

Yosemite grades – “Remember Yosemite 5.8 is probably 5.10, Yosemite 5.9 is also probably 5.10 and Yosemite 5.10 is about 5.10 as well.”

xRex Studio – extremely high resolution panorama photo of El Capitan. You may be able to zoom in on this image to show a series of about 2,000 individual overlay photos of Erik Sloan and Roger Putnam climbing on every pitch of The Nose route over a seven hour push from bottom to top. I could only zoom on my phone.

2:1 hauling system – we used this system from Alpine Savvy. It was excellent and worked extremely well with our Protraxion, Rock Exotica PMP 2 pulley at the top, small Petzl Partner pulley at the bottom. A Rock Exotica Pirate carabiner for the hauler to clove hitch into worked well as it had a round spine. We used this for most of the climb until we were able to do a standard body haul near the top when the load diminished. Our starting load would have been about 75 kg.

System for our group of 3 – our team of three was fabulous from a mutual support and fun point of view. We researched widely, tried several systems and sought lots of advice. The system we settled on was recommended by Erik Sloan and checked by Greg Coit. It is simple, straightforward and reduces the potential for complicated tangles (which we had experienced in practice with use of 3 ropes and a tag line). Key bits of equipment – pretied quad anchors, 2:1 hauling system as above, microtraxion, 3 rope hooks (not essential), lead rope, haul rope, 17 m lower out rope for the haul bag, long back up sling for haul bag, anchoring cord for haul bag long enough to anchor and tie munter/mule. The beauty of this system is that there are only 2 ropes to deal with.

  • Leader leads pitch trailing up haul rope.
  • On reaching the anchor leader attaches quad to bolts (on the Nose there are always at least 2 bolts at each anchor) and makes self safe. Leader communicates “Safe”. Leader fixes haul line and communicates “Haul Line Fixed”.
  • 3rd Person connects microtraxion from harness to haul rope (Grigri won’t work due to traversing nature of many pitches on the Nose) and pulls through slack. 3rd Person attaches jumars to haul rope then lowers out from anchor generally by hand over handing from the bottom end of the haul line, which is still attached to the haul bag, which is still anchored to the belay at the bottom of the pitch.
  • 3rd Person jumars up the haul line with the microtraxion as a backup so they don’t have to tie back up knots. She carries a small backpack with the haul kit and some water and food.
  • While the 3rd Person jumars the haul line the leader pulls up 4 m of slack in the lead line and then fixes the lead line. The leader communicates “Lead Line Fixed”.
  • When the 3rd Person reaches the anchor she makes herself safe. The 2:1 hauling system is removed from the 3rd Person’s small backpack, which they have jumared up with, and is attached to the quad and the haul line is set up in the 2:1 system. Excess haul line is coiled on a rope hook and the haul line pulled up tight. 3rd Person communicates “Ready To Haul”.
  • The Cleaner undoes the haulbag back up sling from the anchor at the bottom of the pitch. The Cleaner then undoes the releasable munter/mule knot and lowers out the haul bag. The lower out line is not tied into but is threaded thru a snaplink biner on the Cleaner’s harness (the Cleaner will not be dragged sideways but can access the lower out line while going up near the haul bag in case it gets stuck)
  • The Cleaner starts cleaning the pitch using a grigri as a backup and tying knots in the lead line which are attached to her harness to stop it hanging down too far and getting stuck.
  • The 3rd Person or the Leader or both haul up the haul bag. The person to lead the next pitch eats, drinks and prepares. The haul line is coiled onto a rope hook as the bag comes up.
  • When the haul bag arrives it is attached to the anchor with a munter/mule knot then backed up with the long sling. The haul kit is detached and stowed in the 3rd Person’s small backpack. The haul bag rope coils are rotated as necessary to allow it to feed out smoothly on the next pitch.
  • When the Cleaner arrives she is made safe. The Leader collects the cleaned gear. The lead rope is coiled onto a rope hook. The Leader attaches the haul rope to the back of her harness and sets off up the next pitch.

Communication – needs to be very simple and very consistent. We used a combination of calls, radios (2 very small and rarely used), rope tugs and visual signals.

 Rope coils – pro tip. When using the rope hook or lap coiling into a sling start off with a long coil then make each subsequent coil a little shorter than the last. This stops the coils getting tangled in each other.

Tag line – we did take a 60m 6mm cord tagline in the haul bag but ended up not using it. Sometimes when the leader was less than ½ the rope length out we tagged up gear on the haul line.

Some specific pitch beta – the best pitch by pitch info is on Erik Sloan’s as yet unpublished “Guide to Climbing The Nose” which won’t be reproduced here. (Call or email him). The beta below is based on Erik’s topo (28 pitches) which seems to be preferred to the Supertopo one (31 pitches) – the pitches are slightly different in where they start and finish

  • Pine Line is the best approach if hauling – climb and haul round to the right of the tree and up to the anchors at the start of Pitch 1.
  • Pitch 4 – Greg used a large pecker twice on pin scars. Use the higher anchors on Sickle.
  • If hauling Pitch 4 don’t let the bag go low or it will get stuck in the “man eating flake” – haul and lower out at the same time.
  • Pitch 6 – the lower line with two lower outs worked well.
  • Pitch 9 to Dolt Tower we used larger cams including leapfrogging 2 no. 4s towards the top.
  • Pitches 10 and 11 – do not link
  • Texas Flake – leave the rack at the base of the chimney.
  • Boot Flake Pitch – a cam hook, micro cams and micro offset nuts were used above the bolts, leader to clip bolts across top of Boot for Cleaner.
  • King Swing – For the video with tips and beta look at Section 1 above or search;   Youtube King Swing Greg Fisher.  Leader is lowered down 16 – 20 feet below The Boot to where her feet are level with the 3rd from top bolt on the bolt ladder on the Boot pitch. To get maximum traction on the wall and a good sprint action Greg positioned his body so he was running with his toes pointing towards the direction he was running to get maximum speed. The hardest section of the aiding up to the anchors after the swing is through the wide part of the crack just above Eagle Ledge. It saves time for the leader to back clean as s/he climbs so that no-one has to go down to Eagle Ledge to clean it and also to reduce rope drag. The Germans did an extra pitch by anchoring on Eagle Ledge and lowering their haul bag down.
  • Lynn Hill Traverse – is not sport climbing. It is 5.10 face climbing with bolted protection and a little bold. An extender draw is useful. Cait only found 3 bolts (not the 4 marked on both Erik and Supertopo topos). A few micro/small cams can be used together to protect the section between the 3rd bolt and the anchors.
  • Great Roof – there is usually fixed gear with various tat up the final section into the roof.
  • Pitch 21 up to Camp V – this is a very awkward and strenuous pitch! It’s called The Butt Crack. Take care there have been accidents on this one.
  • Pitch 22 up to the Glowering Spot – On the thin aid section up the crack offset nuts are good. Don’t back clean as there are ledges below to fall onto.
  • Changing Corners – there are two bolts that lead right into the right hand corner – don’t take these. Continue up the 3 bolt ladder above. From the top bolt if you high step in your aid ladder and tension right you may be able to reach into the corner on the right high enough to reach a fixed wire. Cam hooks and micros in this section until bigger gear up to the anchors.
  • Wild Stance – Avoid the MegaDeath Spike on the left of the anchors.
  • Pitch 27 – an extender draw is useful. The anchor placement is uncomfortable.
  • The Top – communication may be very difficult from the top down to the anchor below. Plan for this prior to setting off on the last pitch.


Mount Franklin – Arthur’s Pass New Zealand – Summer Solo

As each new stage revealed itself I considered turning back. With a comrade we would have talked through the options and continued on our way. Alone I felt with each stage I was getting deeper in and further off the beaten track. No mobile reception. The sat phone was a last resort at the bottom of my backpack.The initial hike in along the Mingha River had been pleasant. Braided stream crossings, Lord Of The Rings moss forests, ferny grottos, blue pools beneath rapids and cascading glacial waters, high valley walls on either side. At times I felt like Frodo on a quest. The high point of Dudley Knob gave gorgeous views back down and up valley. Up and down over tributary streams to Mingha Bivouac which was being refurbished by a tradesman and passing hikers. There were quite a few of them. Many were hiking the Te Araroa, a trail that stretches for 3,000 km from the top of New Zealand to the bottom. Some were doing “just” the South Island and others the whole thing. My route in was  partly along the river trail of the “TA”. Most were “southbounders”, pairs, couples, solos. Kennedy Falls plunged 150m into a raging torrent below. Walking at a moderate pace, stopping to take photos and eat and drink, it took 4 hours to reach Goat Pass and the very pleasant hikers hut. Then down, following the streamway, criss-crossing to switch sides and sometimes threading the stones in the actual stream. Waterfalls tumbled from on high. Down the Upper Deception River. Deception Hut was true to its title, promised much and delivered nothing – hot, stuffy, full of sand flies, grotty and not even enough ground to pitch a tent outside, in a patch carved out of the bush. I had considered overnighting there but a decision was already made for me. From the later start of the day, 10.00am, it was already 4.00pm. My time estimate for the climb from the hut at 750m to a hopeful camp at Lake Anna at 1750m was about 4 hours. Give or take, a lot of unknowns.

“Ascend the slide upstream of Deception Hut to the scrub line then sidle into the head of the creek” (Good Luck Creek). Guidebook brevity. I finally twigged that a “slide” was a narrow river of talus rocks that had flowed as a landslide from the crumbling cliffs way above. Previously I had learned that these possible routes through surrounding steeps were not quite as vertical as they appeared when you actually started climbing up. This one looked long and very steep, especially the top part. Stage 1. Charlie had taken a nasty tumble in this hostile sort of terrain. I spied out discontinuous runs that were partly vegetated – these stones had been stable long enough for plants to grow around them and so made reliable steps. I linked a few of these then when they ran out I took to the lines of larger rocks – these are most often more stable, but when unstable the consequences are greater. I moved to the right hand side where larger stones met the bush edge then back to the middle and then back right. Up and up. On the smaller rocks it was a matter of moving up quicker than the stones flowed down. There is mostly a strange sense of equilibrium on some “slides” where the rocks have come to rest and when they slide away they don’t go far. I guess the steeper ones, and particularly collapsing moraine walls, are often too vertical to be negotiable. As I approached a narrowing towards the top with a slight sense of vertiginous instability due to a subtle steepening of the angle I was able to crab walk gingerly across to a scrubby gully on the left.

Going any higher on the slide was not an appealing option. Stage 2. The gully was almost vertical but led to a ridge line that looked good. Large tussocks and bushes provided surprisingly secure handholds which enabled ascent. In fact they felt more reliable than some of the rock hand and footholds in the Southern Alps. At the first flattening on the ridge I found a cairn and didn’t feel so alone. A route had been taken this way by others in the past. This was reassuring and a confidence boost. Perhaps Gandalf or Strider had passed up here. The ridge led upwards to about the 1250m level where there was a vague sloping shelf that looked like it could provide access across the face of the valley wall. Stage 3. The scrub was almost impenetrable – at times I had to weave between bushes, at others just bash through, occasionally disappearing into a hole beneath the foliage. Slow. Tiring. Lifting legs up and over too high branches. This was turning out to be a true New Zealand alpine mountain struggle with a bit of everything just to get to the climb. Semblances of overgrown track appeared randomly in the scrub – bliss.

Mount Franklin above Upper Deception Stream

Eventually I could see and then finally reached the upper shelf of the creek, a beautiful stream that crescendoed over a set of falls off the edge of the scarp into an unseen void. I picked out what looked like a possible summit of Franklin above a high shelf of stone.

Stage 4. 6.00pm. Even though a grassy campsite beckoned nearby I felt fit and strong. I had recently put in some long days in the hills and also something about being alone was energising. Overcoming each obstacle, being totally self reliant. In remote country. I pushed onwards, upwards, first over deep tussocks then over scree stonefields without vegetation. The creek disappeared beneath the rocks. Safe and low angle. Just a trudge. Up. I got into a count, 1 to 20, 5 times over, then look up, check the progress, count again, and again. Slow progress. By 7.00pm I had reached a point where the creek reappeared below a series of waterfalls. My phone navigation app indicated I was at 1388m – I couldn’t believe I was still at least 300m lower than the lake. Stage 5. At least the way ahead was clear and the end point for the day in sight. A zig zag line up beside the main fall led through cliffs onto a shoulder. Moss and alpine flowers. The sound of falling water. Colder. Step by step. Look up, pick an objective 20 to 30 meters away, a distinctive rock mostly, reach it, pick another one, like a marathon run towards the end, just one small section at a time, step up, and again, and again. Eventually I made a col from where the lake opened out just beyond – green, beautiful, perched high on the mountain, a reminder of a glacier. A cutting cold wind. Always the weather, glanced out to the west to track changes to the cloud patterns, monitored the higher peaks in the distance to gauge the level of their cloud shrouds, stayed in touch, not a place to get caught unawares. 8.00pm. 10 hours, 15 km, 1400m ascent. Felt good.The days are long in NZ, the evening sun goes down after 9.00pm and there is light for a while after that. Tent up in the wind on a flat spot that had been cleared by other climbers and walled a little with stones. I anchored the tent by threading walking poles and tent pegs through the peg loops and then piling heavy rocks on top of them. Built up the walls a bit more to deflect some of the wind. Wisps of cloud played among the spires of Franklin’s upper ramparts. Jumped inside and cooked up. Warm food and drink, sheltered from the wind, jacketed, beanied and sleeping bagged. I felt cosy and cocooned. As long as the tent held up. The forecast was for ok, not brilliant, weather. No storms predicted. Things can change though.

Overnight the wind must have abated. I had journeyed deep into slumberland.

Dark cloud layered the western sky above the ocean. Mt Murchison, heavily glaciered, stood above the pack in the south west. Overhead was mostly clear. 7.30am. Packed up camp, hid all my stuff under a small overhang and covered it with rocks so the cunning keas couldn’t tear it to bits. I sidled around the lake on scree then ascended another stonefield to a high col on the narrow ridge separating Franklin from the peak above my camp.

Looking east from the col

The view down the other side was magnificent, a huge drop to a hanging snowfield. A braided river silvered in the morning light up into a range of lower mountains. In a scene of quiet, slow drama valley cloud spilled over passes between mountains. Stage 6. In places the narrow spine across the col was knifedged. I scrambled carefully along, up and down, ledges one side, over a pinnacle, across a slab, down, along a line of footholds. A gaping abyss on both sides. Switched on. A few loose rocks kicked off. Crampon scratches from winter ascents. To the last col before actual Mt Franklin. Weather was holding, a breeze from the west wasn’t bringing the gloom any closer, Murchison had a cloudy head by then but it wasn’t getting lower or spreading to other peaks.“From the col above Lake Anna climb via the steep South Face and South Ridge (an excellent route)”. Close up it looked doable without a rope and gear and a buddy. Not as steep. A line of scree, always a line of scree, appeared to lead up to a traverse line right to a sharp ridge that spired up to the first summit. Stage 7. Each stage flowing into the next, like an adventure puzzle, piece by piece. I climbed, at last felt like I was climbing, route finding, moving up. Through the loose stones that fell away below over a drop. Out along the traverse line and then to the ridge. Up carefully. Gently move up on rattly holds. New Zealand weetbix rock. Up the arête. Move after move on black and grey. Always downclimbable if things got too deep, too out there. I wondered what it would be like in winter, in snow and ice, maybe more solid, glued and frozen together. First summit. Along to the next, and the next false summit. Finally to the last, but no there was another away over further yet. And eventually the cairn on the true top. Mountains and valleys in every direction.

Looking east from the summit

Nothing higher. Plummeting depths all around. I could see my campsite beside the jewel green lake way below. Rested a little. Kept glancing at the clouds and monitoring the wind. Ate and drank. Photos. A great sense of achievement. Thrilled I had pushed through each stage on the way up, into the unknown. With other people we would have done the same, most probably without using a rope, made the same decisions. On my own I had been singularly focused. Flowing through at my own pace was liberating.

Down. I was keen to get down. Through the now known territory. Before the weather changed. Down the climbing sections switched on. And relaxed and so easy down the screes, slid down with gravity. 10.00am second breakfast in camp. Packed up. Retraced my steps. Spent time photographing the flowers and plants beside the waterfall. Endless stonefields.


A small deer in the tussocks. Across the scrubby shelf I happened upon more of the old track.



Found more cairns to follow, some that I’d added a stone or two to make them memorable for the return journey.





Lowered myself down the tussock gully back onto the “slide”. Like a grey river ready to carry me away. I sought out the gravelly runs and slipskied down mostly in control. Walking poles became ski poles. Then the larger stones that didn’t move were more laborious, slower. A fraction of the time. 2.00pm at the base.

Lunch. A plan was hatching – to get back to Arthur’s Pass at a reasonable time. This would enable me to make the most of the following day’s good weather forecast to climb Mt Rolleston. So I pushed on back up Deception River. Passed marshals in high vis vests, yellow sign posts through the river, helicopters overhead, a team of officials and medics at Goat Pass Hut and timing stations – all being put in place for the famous Coast to Coast race the next day. Across NZ in one or two days. International multi sport event. 1000 participants run, cycle, kayak. $1000 each. My feet got hot. I worried about blisters. Tired trudging with a lightness of heart. Easy going downhill. New Zealand mountain hikes always take longer than expected. It’s difficult to internalise the scale.

7.00pm. Back at the car. 11 1/2 hours. Camped at the DOC campground beside the road in the village. Packed ready for Rolleston. Bed. Slumped into stillness.

4.45am. The alarm went off. Without even opening the door of the tent to check the weather I turned it off. Wonderful, soft slumberland. My legs were heavy. Best horizontal. Rolleston would still be there.

Later that day. Over coffee the weather up high had clouded in. Visibility would have been almost zero. A lucky decision. Rest.

The 100 Peaks Challenge. I’d never heard of Mt Franklin. Not a must do mission. Not necessarily the best climbs or the tallest mountains. More a guide to encourage people into the mountains. Thank you NZAC for this centenary initiative. A structure for a lifetime of forays across The Ditch. Now my list has its own scratchings and additions.

Postscript – the following day I overnighted at the NZAC lodge with a noisy crowd of Coast to Coasters (slept in my tent on the quiet grass outside to escape the snoring and 4am comings and goings).

Zermatt Adventures – hiking, via ferratta and basic mountaineering

All the walks described here are very briefly outlined on the brochure map “Panorammakarte/Plan Panoramique/Panoramic Map” which is available in tourist information and accommodations for free in Zermatt. Also on the website. Hiking routes are graded and times estimated. See also the Cicerone guide to “Walking in the Valais”.

Five Lakes Walk – 5 Seenweg


2 1/2 hours, mostly downhill. Start – 2 funicular lifts from Zermatt to Sunnegga then to  Blauherd. Finish – Sunnegga, funicular transport back to Zermatt.

An underground funicular railway took us from Zermatt to Sunnegga and then a cable car to Blauherd at 2571m. Immediately we were on a high mountain shelf with sweeping views of the valley far below, alpine meadows and the higher snow capped peaks. The Matterhorn in the distance towered above everything.

Sidling the hillside led to the Stellisee, crystal clear water, the snowy dome of Monte Rosa as the backdrop. Wild flowers, herb fields, the Matterhorn ever present. Classic, iconic Switzerland. Cath walked ahead, like “Heidi”, in high spirits. Sunshine. Views from postcards in every direction. It was hard to take it all in as the path wound down gently and occasionally more steeply in switchbacks. The Grindjisee was partly surrounded by stands of fir trees like scenes from a fairy tale. Down lower we crossed a stream torrent. Crimson flowered low heath, more small fir trees and boulders edged the Grunsee. Then it was steeply down a narrow trail beside another tumbling stream to the Moosjisee, a man made small lake of opaque aqua. Finally over a small rise to the Leisee. This lake, closest to the cableway, had a beach, seats for relaxing and was the swimming spot for hot days.

On a varied, gentle, spectacular 2 1/2 hour walk mostly downhill we had become fully immersed in the Swiss Alps.


Basic Mountaineering

This is a serious full day hike involving the use of crampons and ice axe to ascend the top snowy valley and final peak but without the danger of crevasses. 1800m of ascent and descent. “Superlative…for many years it was seen as one of the two classic training climbs of the region….” Kev Reynolds, Cicerone Guide to Walking in the Valais.

The trail to Trift departed from the village centre of Zermatt. Between hotels then old wooden cottages and into the forest the steep path zig zagged upwards. 300m higher the Edelweiss Alterhaupt perched on a promontory overlooking the whole valley and offered drinks and food. Onwards and upwards, hard snow covered the cascading stream in places. A deep gouge made a  furrow through a section of ice to the next section of trail which switch-backed through steep rock where thick ropes had been attached as handrails. The grassy slopes were laden with a hundred different types of windflowers – yellow, white, pink, purple, blue, red. At the edge of perception I could almost hear tinkling cowbells and yodelling. Another 400m up I reached Hotel du Trift set wonderously at the base of a huge cirque – the Zinalrothorn, Mettelhorn and Unter Gabelhorn towering above. The hotelier, breakfasting with guests at a table in the morning sun, offered advice on the weather.

The trail branched off into steep herb fields flanked by another tumbling stream. As the altitude increased the Matterhorn became visible above a ridge line. Over a rise I reached snow patches in a hanging valley where I threaded my way up on exposed grassy and rocky areas until there was only snow. It was soft enough underfoot to be secure without crampons and it steepened towards a high col. Here the view into the next valley opened out – a snow slope dropped down into a bowl where an exquisite small blue watered lake lay enclosed by ice, and below this the valley wall plunged way down to then rise up opposite to snow and ice covered peaks along the range to the north to the perfect, jagged summit pyramid of the Weisshorn. Cloud moved slowly through the landscape, alternately obscuring then revealing the surrounding mountains. Fairly confident I could retrace my steps if the mist came in and stayed, I put on crampons and swapped walking poles for my ice axe. The snow was still soft on the surface.

Occasional glimpses of the summit of the Mettelhorn beckoned me across the snow (neve) below the Platthorn and then further to a steeper snow slope that led up to the final rocky section. Feeling the altitude I moved in sections, each interspersed with short rests, zig zagging upwards. The  snow slope was edged by a massive drop into the valley.

At the top I rested, lunched, photoed. Took it all in. Hung my legs over the void. Watched the mists and cloud swirl and drift. Figured the mountains in the 360 degree panorama, made some plans for climbing futures. Felt glad to be alive, overwhelmed really, thankful to be healthy, on top of the world.


Then down. Concentrated. Took great care. Each step placed carefully, to catch a crampon spike or trip would have led to a slide, and hopefully a self arrest with the axe but much better not tempt fate with a fall. Cramponed feet kept apart. Down past the col as the incline lessened I could relax and slide a little with each lengthened stride and make good pace. Back at Trift I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate. Just out of the oven an apfelkucken appeared as if by magic, with cream. Nearby a Swiss flag fluttered above a garden of flowers and in front of a gushing waterfall in the middle distance, while above glaciers caught the afternoon light. Down through the fields of flowers. Everywhere tumbling water sounded through the stillness in tune with my own sense of gratitude and vitality.

Matterhorn Glacier Trail


A half day hike traversing the lower shoulder of the mountain. Gently undulating from Trocker Steg (2 cable car rides from Zermatt) then down to Schwarzsee (cable car descent back to Zermatt). Like being in the “throne room of the mountain gods” Galen Rowell.

The cable cars swept us straight out of the valley to the snowy shoulder at the true base of the mountains. We wove the path between stoney rises and glacial lakes. On one side was the icy ridge of the Furgsattel that led up to one side of the Matterhorn, Italy lay just beyond. In front the lower glaciers gave way to sheer rock walls that led up into the clouded summit of the famous mountain. My eye was continually drawn to the Hornli Ridge that faces directly towards Zermatt. This is the popular and historic climbing route that one day I might hope to climb unassisted by guides. We walked slowly from vantage points to lakes and then to stop to just drink in the scene. Stupendous. Monte Rosa, brilliant white, behind, the rounded dome of the Breithorn almost directly above, and the sharp peaks that lead to the Weisshorn. It is hard to imagine a more sublime mountain scene. The cliched shape of the mountain seemed to retain some of its mystery and power by being partially shrouded in mist for much of the time. Following the season of enormous snowfall and probably due to some extent by global warming the whole scene was alive with flowing meltwater. The Hornlihutte stood on a level section of the ridge above, enticing.

This must surely rank as one of the finest short walks in the world.



Via Ferratta/Klettersteig Zermatt

Via Ferratta

3 seperate but linked “iron ladder” via ferratta routes have recently been established on the crags above the village on the west side. The access trail leads up from behind the railway station or off the path to Trift, signposted. 15 minutes hike uphill from Zermatt to the start of Route A or B.

Route A – good intro to techniques and to a little exposure

Route B – intermediate to advanced, steep, exposed, some strenuousity

Route C – continues on from Route B to a high grassy slope


Linking all three routes takes about 3 hours plus another hour for the descent via a hiking trail (if you know what you are doing). An info brochure is available from either the Tourist Info office near the railway station or the Zermatters Alpine Centre. There is no cost for the activity if you have experience and equipment (helmet, harness, via feratta set – these can be hired in the village). Guides can be paid to take you through the course and provide instruction – see the Alpine Centre.

The real climbing started beneath the main cliff face with a steep ladder up blank rock. This was followed by a series of traverses on half logs, natural foot holds and iron bars and rings. These were linked by ladders in a mix of natural climbing and use of the ironwork, all protected by newly laid cable. At a particularly exciting part you are high on this cliff way above the village in quite hostile terrain below a large overhanging roof system with another overhang below. Spectators from the village can watch people climbing across the black, grey and yellow rock. At the top of this section you hike along a vegetated shelf to a larger cliff which is ascended on a series of ladders and natural foot and handholds. The cable is always at hand to affix the via Ferratta carabiner cords and also to use as an aid to climbing. As you ascend the views just keep getting better. After another linking short walk I met up with a pair of “amigos” from Barcelona. For the third and final large cliff of steep and spectacular climbing we photographed and videoed each other, chatted about climbing in Spain, Chamonix and Australia and had fun in each other’s company.

Breithorn Solo

Basic Mountaineering

This is the easiest of the 4,000m peaks in The Alps (4164m). Half a day. Start from the top of the Matterhorn Glacier Express lift from Zermatt. Equipment required – ice axe, crampons and walking pole. People who are not comfortable with use of crampons and ice axe and not experienced with glacier travel should hire a guide from Zermatt.

My concern going solo was crossing the glacier which could contain hidden crevasses. Without a climbing partner on the other end of a rope there would be no chance of stopping a fall through the snow into the hidden chasms in the ice. After much research on the possible dangers and risks I decided to go up and have a look and assess conditions as I found them on the day. In beautiful weather I walked along the ski run following a pair of other climbers and not far behind a guided group. A route across the glacier was well compacted by the feet of many others. I could not see any sign of crevasses so followed this pathway over the snow. Other groups roped up and put crampons on and some just hiked across like me. On the other side where the slope from the summit dome of the mountain steepened I put crampons on and got out the ice axe. Most people were now roped together however some others walked up unroped and skiers ascended also unroped but with ski crampons on.

On the day it seemed safe to make the crossing. Also I presumed that the guides take on full responsibility for their clients by having them roped in. There was also the possibility that they try to maintain an atmosphere of peak adventure and an air of being necessary for the climb. Previous reading had indicated that they did get fed up rescuing people who were not properly skilled or equipped or prepared – fair enough. The angle and runout closer to the top was such that an uncontrolled slip from someone unroped or unable to self arrest with an ice axe would have resulted in an accelerating slide off the mountain.

The summit is truly spectacular. There is space to sit safely for lunch or stand and appreciate the magnificent view of peaks all around and the valleys plunging way below. There were certainly a number of other people to share the experience with but being climbers and skiers, all with an interest in the challenge and aesthetics it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The altitude affected people in different ways – there were some really struggling to keep up a slow pace and others who were probably better acclimatised. From the top the safest and easiest way to descend is to follow the same route down. Down the narrow furrow of footsteps in the snow back to the glacier.

An exciting alternative for the confident and sure footed is to continue along and then down then  narrow snow ridge to the east. On the northern side of this ridge is an almost vertical drop of thousands of feet to the rocky talus below and on the southern side it is slightly less so. Passing the occasional person necessitated one person to leave the narrow foot pad and stamp out some foot placements in the snow on the steep slope just off the ridge crest. The feeling of moving through the mountains was intense – grand scenery, concentration, brilliant aesthetics, physical exertion and mastery. From a saddle further on it is possible to ascend to the next summit on the ridge which consists of a narrow cornice. To climb further and keep following the ridge would be fabulous real climbing over steep mixed rock and snow in a classic alpine position, probably requiring a buddy and a rope. Next time I’d have both and aim to do much more – the Matterhorn, Monta Rosa and maybe even the Weisshorn and Finsteraahorn. The list grows but also becomes clearer with each step into this landscape.

Back down to the saddle it is then a straightforward trek back down to the main trail. A single narrow but deep crevasse, easily crossed, kept me focused. The snow had softened by early afternoon making the walk back a little tiring, though it was all downhill or flat.

Gonnergrat to Riffelalp via the Mark Twain trail


The third in our series of “this must be one of the best short, easy hikes in the world”. 2 1/2 hours though more time is recommended to fully immerse in it. Start at Gornergrat, having most likely caught the train up from Zermatt to 3089m.

The main trail downhill leaves the stupendous view from the lookout platform. With the crowds of tourists seeking a pleasant walk through the iconic Swiss mountains you wander down a network of trails towards Riffelsee. The wonderful mountainscape of the Breithorn, Castor, Pollux, Liskamm and Monte Rosa rises up above the Gornergletscher glacier below. Huge hanging lumps of ice cling to the mountain tops ready to crash down. Rapidly melting rock strewn glaciers feed raging torrents. Silently standing aloof the Matterhorn beckons the walker onwards and steadily down. Wild flowers become more prolific as the altitude drops. A thousand photo opportunities present   themselves with the mountain as the backdrop. Even I, who wholeheartedly loves the mountains and the natural world, was surprised at how much pleasure everyone was gaining from its presence. Beautiful alpine lakes bubble into an alpine stream past the rocky bulk of the Riffelhorn. Most of the tourists depart the outer trails here heading for the Rotenboden or Riffelberg stations.

The Riffelseeweg trail leads into the Mark Twain Weg which is an absolute cracker of a walk. At first the route winds down following the stream between rocky bluffs and flowered herb fields. Around every corner was a new scene just made for a toblerone advertisement. It was hard to move past the notion that we were walking in some fairy tale or through the “Sound of Music” or that we might have been “Heidi’s” grandparents in another time and place. This was actually real. Across the face of the hill the track is dug into the steep slope and this is where the flowers intensified into fields of yellow and white that covered the grasses which dropped away into the Gletschergarten gorge. Crimson alpine rose undergrowthed small fir trees on the steep rocky sections that led us down to Rifflealp.

Remarkables – Grand Traverse – Summer Solo

High above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu the skyline is jagged with rocky spires. From almost the lake’s edge the ground rears up skywards through a wild country of grassed ridges and walls. All of this catches the wind, the storms, the snow and the late afternoon light. So close to civilisation but not to be underestimated.

A friend and I did a climb on the North East Buttress of Single Cone, one of the three pinnacles on the Traverse. The rock was coloured grey green and veined white. Smooth slabs had off sloping holds and overlaps. After two pitches we reached the less steep upper section where we could unrope and scramble. Up gullies, featured walls, slabs and finally the main ridge which ran through to the top. This climb was a familiarisation of the access, the climbing and also primarily a chance to scope out the descent at the end of the Traverse. All checked for the next day I scrambled down to the walk down track.

We all walk our own line of risk within a complex interplay of skill, experience, confidence, motivation. On my traverse day I would be going solo.

Remarkables at the head of the lake – early morning

I drove up the winding mountain road with my favourite tunes cranking through the spectacular landscape. An hour’s hike up from the ski field base and past Lake Alta arrived me at the Traverse proper, below a set of cliffs that topped the main ridge and provided a high point for a communications tower. At this level I headed across a large undulating shelf. I undulated down at one stage instead of regaining the ridge which meant that I had to scramble through some tricky terrain before I could climb up to a helipad. This switched me on, focussed my mindfulness about each move, made me start to feel “out there” a little, exposed. I’ve done a few solo things, including some long climbs at Arapiles. My mind tangled with the contrast to having a buddy around. A list of about a hundred mountains to climb in New Zealand and only probably 20 more years (61 now) to do as many of them as I can carries part of my motivation. Plenty of rockclimbing and hiking are under the belt but I only started serious mountain climbing two years ago with a sudden set of circumstances that enabled me to have the time and the means to stretch into real mountains. An unexpected dream coming. In my backpack I carried a harness, short rope and a small rack of gear for any difficult and scarey descents. Or to retreat.

“To be clear, I normally climb with a rope and partner. Free-soloing makes up only a small percentage of my total climbing. But when I do solo, I manage the risk through careful preparation. I don’t solo unless I’m sure I can do it.” Alex Honnold.

The day before there had been about ten parties on the Traverse whereas on my climb day I could only spy out one other. They were up ahead, roping up the ridge towards the North Peak of Double Cone. There was an easier route up a series of ramps on the left side of the ridge which I scoped out as the most straightforward way ahead (this is the route in the guidebook photo topo). Once I started though the actual ridge became my route of choice – the rock was mostly sound and the actual climbing moves were fabulous. Not hard but interesting. Huge drops down either side of the knife edge. Queenstown way below, snowy, iced mountains to the west including Tutoko and Earnslaw which remained on my list, and Aspiring. Way to the north Cook’s distinctive shape was visible on the horizon – beckoning. Narrow flat sections required confident balance, in places I crouched and ran a hand along the edge. When the holds ran out on one side of the ridge there was often an alternative on the other. A steepening towards the top drew me away from the edge then to the summit. The views all around were sensational.

It took a little time to find a way down the steep section to the gap between the North and South Peaks. The guidebook recommends considering rappelling if the sloping ledges are covered in verglass (frozen water ice). Fine in good hiking boots and dry summer rock. In many places the rock was scratched from crampons. The prospect of a winter climb, with a buddy and a rope, was enticing but a completely different sort of challenge. The group in front pitched their way up slabs from the gap, the top of the Petit Couloir, and an exposed arête. I found solid holds for hands and feet and continued up to the south summit of Double Cone. Rock shoes lay unused in my backpack. I first lunched on top while the other group did the same on the next pinnacle. Across the void we nodded at each other and exclaimed the beauty of the day. I loved being on my own, felt I was in my element, wide awake to the world, confident moving over the warm rock, in striking terrain.

Between the South Peak and the next gap, the Grand Couloir, was uncomplicated. I left the others, who were pitch climbing up the edge of the ridge, and this time followed the photo topo from the guidebook up a series of linked slabs and to the top of Single Cone. These slabs were riddled and crisscrossed with extrusions of white quartz, in beautiful profusions of patterns and wriggles, that appeared like writings, hieroglyphics, telling the stories of the mountains for those that could decipher the language of the rocks. I could only ponder the geology and appreciate the aesthetics of the figures. Run my fingers over the intricacies. Second lunch on the summit. Two other later climbers topped out on the South Peak of Double Cone. Their silhouettes against the deep blue above the horizon of the Main Divide looked stupendous. In my exuberance I felt like shouting over to them to ask their email addresses so I could send them a couple of cracking photos.

On the familiar ground of the ridge from the day before I descended. Not quite so keyed up from the unknown. The South East Gully must have been a little further along the summit ridge – I would probably need to rappel this if I climbed the traverse in winter. Back down to Lake Alta, hardy people swam in the glacial green iced water, tourists hiked up in the afternoon for sunset photos.


Scoping out the access the day before was very beneficial.

Conditions can be changeable – wind, rain, snow etc – can change the nature of the Traverse significantly.

As an Australian rockclimbing instructor I would always recommend having a rope, a buddy to hold the rope and gear for pitching.

The info and photo topos in the “Queenstown Rock, Ice and Boulders” is excellent and highly recommended. $50 for a “Grand” adventure.  From NZAC or outdoor gear shops in NZ.

Cappadocia Hiking

Cappadocia is a place of magical beauty in the arid heart of Turkey. Canyon like valleys, stone fairy chimneys and ancient dwellings carved into the rocky landscape make for a wonderful place for walking. Goreme is a fabulous base. Tourism in Turkey decreased dramatically following a major terrorist incident in Ankara in 2015 and the crackdown on the attempted coup in 2016. Personal experience over the time of the 2018 election indicated that Turkey was surprisingly calm and very well ordered. We felt quite safe travelling in Istanbul and Cappadocia. Tourists seem to be putting these places back on their lists but at the moment things seem quiet and uncrowded. Some of the walking trails are a little overgrown and decent maps are hard to come by. With advice from friendly locals and the basic maps that are freely available some great walking is achievable. Winter is cold and possibly snowy, summer is hot. There are standard day tours operated from Goreme that take in a variety of sites and include some walks – the Red, Green and Blue tours.

Rose Valley ***

One of the best walks in the area. Half a day. Can be started in two places – either from higher up the road past the Goreme Open Air Museum just past the Kaya Camp Area (see alternative below). This is about an hour’s walk from Goreme. Three paths depart here – take the left hand path then take a right turn off this after 200m and follow this steeply down into the deep valley. This narrow dirt road becomes a footpath into the canyon trail. Ancient dwellings have been carved into the soft rock, tunnels have been excavated to channel water and there is a church complex further into the canyon up on the right hand side. Apricot and grape fields give way to an opening of the lower valley as it leads to Cavusin. From here it is a short walk to the capped fairy chimneys of Pagabasi. A taxi back to Goreme can be arranged either at Pagabasi or Cavusin.

A better starting point may be from Aktepe Hill which could be accessed from Goreme by taxi.

In 2018 there were no trail side stalls on this walk.

Kiliclar Valley **

A short 2 hour walk very accessible from Goreme. A lovely walk in the late afternoon when soft evenglow will light up the fairytale landscape. Start from the top of the hill 200m up the road past the Goreme Outdoor Museum. A sign marks the start of the narrow foot trail which descends into the narrow and steep canyon. Ladders enable descent of some sections. Tunnels, cliff dwellings, amazing geological features, red crags. At the canyon opening beautiful fairy chimneys and pinnacles dot the rolling fields. A short walk back to the left over a ridge brings you back through more apricot groves to Goreme.

Ilhara Valley *

This valley runs for 14 km but arranging to do the whole walk would require being dropped off at one end and arranging a pick up at the other. The whole valley is reputed to be an excellent walk. As part of the “Green Tour” we did a 4 km section in the central most popular section. The valley was a spectacular gorge with high vertical walls, different geologically to the Goreme valleys. In the walls were churches and dwellings. Cafes and restaurants were found along the the valley floor, some with tented rooms above the river. A good path followed the full flowing river.

Note that Ihara Valley is a couple of hours drive from Goreme.

Love (White) Valley ***

Spectacular, surprising and delightful. A real highlight. 2 hrs from the bottom end to Urchisar.

This is accessed at the bottom end of the valley below Goreme by a 10 minute taxi ride or a 2 km road walk. The valley is open to start and right away almost you wander through a wonderful forest of striking stone towers. Wild flowers were abundant in late July. The formations and cliff dwellings are amazing. Walking in the top section is over undulating rocky rolling white folds of stone. You exit up left into apricot groves and then to the main road and on to the towering fortress of Urchisar with its hollowed out spires and grand 360 degree views.

From Urchisar the return from Goreme can be by taxi or a return hike down Pidgeon Valley.

Pidgeon Valley *

Take care which entry you use to access this walk if starting from Urchisar. The entry from the viewing area south of the town will give access to a valley that includes a reasonably dangerous knotted rope descent down a blank section of cliff. The valley accessed from the north of the town provides a more straightforward hiking route.

2 hrs from Urchisar to Goreme.

The cliffs are often overhung by smooth, rounded caps. The valley is dense with ancient cliff dwellings. A deep canyon is glimpsed in places. The trail is overgrown and sometimes hard to follow. The only cafe in the gorge serves great Turkish coffee. The proprietor, in 2018, said that 5 years ago there would have been 1,000 walkers each day whereas now there might be 20 – 30 at the most.


Is a great base for walking and exploring. The morning balloons are a festival of colour – giving a magical air of old world floating flight. Through the soft light of early dawn they rise and fall among the buildings, valleys and stone towers. Sun crests a high ridge golden in the stone houses and surrounding hills. Small corner stores and a COOP supermarket stock all sorts of supplies. Restaurants are cheap and the TripAdvisor top picks are sensational (Pumpkin, Top Deck, Bubek Kebap). Carpets, ice cream, cafes, flavours, spices, lamb and veggies, aromas. Sparkling lanterns inside stone dugouts or balconies with cool evening air. The muezzin calls four times a day over the loudspeaker from the mosque. Acoustic fusion Turkish Arabic world music. Lyrical chatter of the Turkish language. The sports Club is where the local men hang out and play board games and cards and chat. It’s an international tourist village with an authentic local feel. It seems a little down at heel due to the decreased number of tourists but therein may lie some of its present charm and laid back atmosphere. Stone towers are interspersed along almost every winding street and throughout the town. Hotels and accommodation are found at every corner and dug into all the rocky slopes. It feels very organic, seeming to grow out of the hills. Pink, yellow and grey. Most establishments have large generators for when the electricity goes off. A couple of places have pools which are fabulous for cooling off in the heat.

Whirling Dervishes

We were lucky to be able to witness this in a “caravanserai” building dating back to the 12th century days of trade along the Spice Road. Four men in black cloaks with long white skirts performed while three played the haunting soundtrack. It was all very respectful, meditative and carefully choreographed. The music rose up to the high ceilinged stone church like structure from drum, windpipe and zither. They twirled faster and faster to bring heaven down to earth and to reach a state of transcendence. The practice is based on a dance formulated by Rumi. There were only 9 of us in the audience but still the performance was highly professional and complete. We were transfixed and quite carried away.



Tasman Distress

Tasman Distress

This article was published in the New Zealand Alpine Journal 2018

Hiking up the lower Tasman

Our mountain is hidden behind closer, lower peaks of the range. On the left is the Tasman Glacier, the great hulk of Mount Wakefield, then further left in the view is the Hooker Valley and the Peaks of Footstool and Sefton and high hanging glaciers. Through the large picture window of the NZAC’s homely Unwin Lodge to the right is another rage of giant hills. Hidden as well is Mt Cook, whose presence is felt everywhere.

 Malte Brun. Copious research. Maps. Training runs. Guidebook. Internet. Training hikes up hills with a weighted backpack. YouTube videos, blog sites. Lightweight gear purchases piled up at home. Aesthetic and solid red rock perched high on top of the range across the valley from Cook. An expedition certainly. From the ground up. Just hard yakka that might lead us to the prized summit. Charlie and I were to go lightweight.

 A weather window of 5 reasonable days. First steps on the dirt road to Ball shelter the pack felt heavy. I adjusted the waist strap and the chest strap and the shoulder straps for the first of a hundred times. Boots felt clunky and heavy and hot. Not certain whether the car was locked Charlie walked back to check. Everything was hot. Blue sky. Hard work. Rest. Drink. Sunscreen. Trudge. I questioned whether we needed all the stuff loaded up. Charlie’s pack looked too big. Mine just felt heavy. Hot. We took a wrong track into steep moraine then backtracked and struggled steeply uphill to a higher level. Tripped over and landed a bruised cheek. 3 hours to the shelter, 9 km. Water, shade, lunch. The first beginnings of blisters. Should we have called it early and bailed out? Together we decided to push on.

 We needed to descend 100 m down the steep moraine wall. Looking out it was entirely evident that we had embarked on a big adventure, a Big Adventure! Everywhere were off vertical cliffs of dirt and stones. This is an active geological country and erosively alive. Global warming had awakened a monster. Along the length of the wall everything was falling down. Glacial retreat has been up valley and the level of ice had gone down vertically as well. Tall cones of loose stones, dirt and boulders towered in triangles up from the base, at the ready to slide or accept a top up from above. The top edge was scalloped with collapsed sections that appeared as bites out of the earth. Our first challenge was to locate the safest recommended route down to the floor of the glacier.

 Careful perusal of the copied out text from the new guidebook kept at the Lodge. We located the recommended bite and rocky line down. Steep. Loose stones. Gravel slid ahead. Step on the rocks that seemed to be more firmly bedded into the dirt. Down. Steep. Don’t slide out. Zig zag a little. Link up through a bouldery, more stable section. To an intermediate shelf then along a remaining morsel of the old foot trail that was yet to tumble into the gulf below. On this level we gazed out with growing dread at the 5 km of rocky moraine floor that stretched seemingly forever before meeting the white ice way off up valley. It was a moonscape out there, hilled and valleyed. It conjured a scene from the approach to Mordor at the ends of the living earth guarding the fires of Mt Doom. We spied out a route through the first part with a series of go-to points – a dirty white ice cliff, a heart shaped rock then a large shadowed boulder. Down the second section. More dirt and less rocks here. Finally safely to the base.

The first steps would be just like the last across the fierce moraine. Boulders and rocks of all sizes lay in a mess of small hills and valleys interspersed with occasional steep, slippery stone covered ice slopes. Gruelling work. Many of the rocks wobbled or tipped when weighted. Our walking poles skittered and held weight in varied, random degrees. Hot. Sweat. We sat together in the vile, lifeless wilderness on the odd hot flat perch. Drink. Battle through another section. Pick an objective 50 m away and work slowly towards it. Don’t focus on the whole mountain just break it down into small achievable sections. Grinding heat. Still. Progress was very slow. Painfully slow. Literally. For hours under a baking sun. A heat wave. Dry. Parched. Hot rocks above the ice hidden far below the surface. We rationed our water. Precious sips. Sweaty sunscreen. Across the ferocious desert. After several hours of torture every ridge beckoned ahead to be the last only to disappoint like another false summit. Thinking of Frodo struggling with the weight of Middle Earth on his ring into Mordor we pushed on with packs way too heavy. Hot. Dry. Almost out of water we stopped above a large depression. The loads on our backs removed, ice slopes led us down to flowing water. Blessed relief for our thirst, iced water, relief from the heat under an overhang of hard blue ice and, most wonderfully, a large cave of ice caverned and tunnelled away, carved in sinuous flowing runnels of deep blue cold ice, which could have been inside the glacier for millenia. Like veins in the living ice. Now melting before our eyes. We were seeing into its heart, into its within, face to face with the meeting of heat and ice – it shouldn’t have been like this. Out of the brief respite we trudged on with aching feet. A small mountain of rocks promised a finish in the distance only to again deceive. Hot. Finally a narrow ridge provided a key line between crevasses in the transition zone between the bare rock plain and the retreating white ice of the glacier. 5 1/2 hours of torrid torture. This is what it had come to now. Apparently only decades ago the same journey could have been done in quick time across wide tongues of exposed ice through the rocks – relatively easy hiking. A steady stream of helicopters now carried tourists and other climbers unwilling to undergo the effort of the crossing. It is no subtle irony that the same helicopters contribute to the climate problem. We had elected to pay our dues and learn the terrain as it is now.

At last the ice highway

Walking on the smooth ice was highway like. At times we wove a path along raised lines between furrows and hollows. Small streams of melt water drained the surface and joined to form larger flows that disappeared into holes small and large. Some were filled with water and others were rushing waterfalls. We could feel it melting around us. Intense bright light. Everywhere a drink. A little further for the day.

A flat spot in amongst some boulders on the ice in the middle of the glacier made for an “expedition” style camp. A tent area was levelled with ice axes, a big table rock the kitchen bench. Right beside the tent was a small moulin which was round and a perfect size for billy dipping to collect water. Like a narrow mine shaft it disappeared into the mysterious depths of the ice. Mount Cook and the Minarets towered above. Small avalanches from perched glaciers way above broke the stillness with waterfalls a constant background. Cool katabatic breezes and strange wafts of warm air alternated from up valley. The light slowly dimmed and the full moon rose. We cooked and ate then lay down in warm bliss cocooned in down. In the darkest hours of the night doubts drifted through a period of half sleep – we were cut off by the desperate moraine from a straightforward escape, was it all too hard, were we carrying too heavy loads, would our (mine anyway) oldening body cope, had we bitten off more than we could chew, should we call it in the morning before we got ourselves even deeper in???? Some moisture seeped through the tent floor in the night and wetted part of Charlie’s sleeping bag.

Early morning clear. The weather conditions were even better than predicted from my hundred pre-trip checks. We had a window of maybe 3 1/2 more good days. All being equal this should be enough. It was why we had reorganised the trip so we could be just where we were. Muesli, tea. Charlie seemed keen to go.

Up the ice. Smooth and hard and slippery from overnight cool. Crampons. Along the floor of the valley our way was shaded and cool until the sun crested the mountains to the east. A valley opened way above the moraine wall which revealed our objective silhouetted in early morning light, still 2000m above. We made a good pace, slowed only at a bend or where the angle increased causing the ice flow to shear and crack into crevasses and compress into hillocks. Zig zag. More surface streams and creeks flowed into holes in the ice almost beckoning us to slip and slide in. The whole range felt alive with erosion and flow and occasional falls of rock and ice. Sound, movement of the breeze. Tasman seemed to have a living presence, cold and hard and aloof, strong but fragile, watching, sensing our passing maybe. Holding us to account.

Helicopters started early ferrying the tourists up from the village to walk and explore the ice, and climbers, unwilling to effort themselves, to huts and mountains that in times past had only been accessed on foot up this massive river of ice and rock. Below the Beetham valley a stream rushed steeply downslope besided by more steep moraine walls of dirt and stones. In those past times a safe route up the more stable slopes had enabled access to a high hut which was used as a base to climb the mountain or access another hut near the now disappearing Malte Brun Glacier. Now further up past the outlet stream of the Malte Brun and Turnbull Glaciers was our recommended route. From out on the ice all the possible options looked desperate, the sort of things I sometimes had nightmares about – cliffs of dirt and stone that would crumble down faster than you could climb up. Perception was foreshortened and when we actually made our way to beneath the most likely looking bouldery stream line disappearing skywards its angle was slightly less than the critical steepness between definitely unclimbable and possible. Sometimes it’s hard to judge something until you actually step onto it and engage with the parameters. Our key line up consisted of larger rocks piled together between the finer and smaller steeper walls. The rocks were mostly settled on each other in reasonable solidity enabling upward progress. Occasionally one would dislodge and tumble down a few meters to come to rest again. Many had to be gingerly weighted. Helmets on. It felt good to be scrambling, without poles in hand. The responsibility of the person higher up was to be extremely careful not to send rocks that could take out the person below, and that of the person below was to try to climb to the side of the fall line of stones from above, and to trust. In an unspoken pact of connection with one another we slowly ascended. At the first steepening the boulder line changed to dirt and loose stones. We angled across and up to another line of larger rocks. 100m. Slow. False lines led into other steepenings. 200m. Rest. Apart. Easier more secure sections then others less so. Hot. Hard work. Exhausting. Another drink. Rest again. A false top. Eventually a saddle came into view over to the right. It took an age to reach. 300m.

A little higher again we crested a ridge into the most sublime scene. A snow covered remnant of the lower Turnbull Glacier nestled under an unnamed peak of vertical red rock. A large section of ice had broken from this and floated in a small magically blue lake. The higher glacier fed a stream that rushed and tumbled noisily over large blocks of stone into the lake. Another stream flowed out of the lake and down onto lower slopes. On the higher white slopes of snow a party of two tiny climbers inched slowly upwards, 3 hours ahead of us. Other red peaks towered around the cirque and the buttresses of the summit block of Malte stood above these.

We pressed onwards in the mid-afternoon towards the upper glacier. A little higher we sat exhausted, filling water bottles. We still had two separate glacier sections, a rock step and 600m more of elevation between us and our intended bivvy spot. We weren’t going to make it in time. We had either been too slow or hadn’t allocated enough time for the approach. Our anticipated weather window didn’t have any leeway in it to allow for contingencies like this. Take any more time and we would expose ourselves to a possible huge lashing storm in a tent for several days. We had both experienced such storms in the huts nearby and vowed never to be caught out in the 100+mph winds and seeming oceans of rain and snow that fall from the sky. Together in a matter of a few minutes we called it in, made the decision and decided not to push on. Rested for a little. The year of planning and prep and training would come to nought. The dreamed of summit would not be ours to savour. Elusive. Disappointment.

Down. Descent back beside the narrow torrent to the lake shore. A single flat tent site right beside the lake. Packs off. Sat. Rested. Ate. Drank. Removed the big boots that encased tired, aching feet and a couple of blisters. Hot late afternoon sun. Snooze. Put the stove on for a brew. The tent up. Like a man cleansing his soul Charlie immersed himself completely in the ice water three times. I walked around the lake shore to the snow slope. The ice flow was close to the edge, the tent in the distance on the gravel beach, the peaks up on the left, the Tasman valley off the edge below right, and Mount Cook sitting steadfast across the void. For decades I’ve had these sorts of images in my mind’s eye and carried them close to my heart. Exhaustion melted away slowly as the beautiful reality of where we were slowly seeped in. Coffee, dinner, photos. The sun set with light blazing rays through Cook. The moon rose close to the lakeside peak. The now deeper blue of the lake reflected moon and tent light. To think of this as a consolation prize would have been a gross ingratitude. Sometimes in the natural world events conspire to deliver treasures unexpected. Like any true adventures the outcomes are often unknown. It wasn’t till later that we would consider more deeply the value of our decision making involved in turning round. Too tired to resist the call of the horizontal we were unaware of the glittering river of stars that blanketed and kept watch over our high mountain camp through the night.

Early morning, early start, a long day ahead, make the most of the cool shade. A last wistful look back at the lake. our high point and the beckoning Bonney Rib. Sometimes big undertakings take several attempts. Each experience leads to learnings that eventually build towards success. Motivation can deepen over time. Familiarity brings appreciation of the critical aspects – the effort involved, the most appropriate equipment, the lie of the land, the stages of the approach and exit, the team’s capability, the amount of time that is required and a host of other things.

Slowly, carefully we began our return down the boulder and scree line. The larger rocks felt more secure. Scrambling, down climbing. The finer stones and gravel slid out, each footstep became a dynamic movement so much easier than on the ascent. Heavy packs took muscle and balance to finesse through the more hostile steeps. Stop. Drink. Rest. We worked together with one above and below, a few smaller rocks and runs of scree tumbled down, safely. Eventually I reached the base, dumped my pack and rested. Looking up I noticed Charlie take an awkward tumble sideways. He took a long time to recover himself, straighten his load, angle legs downhill, stand and get moving again. Gingerly he continued down to rest at the glacier ice edge. I had to help him remove his pack from his right shoulder. In his fall his pack had forced his shoulder forward sharply into a rock. A torn rotator cuff was well known to him, having recovered completely from one many years prior. He was pretty sore and sure that this was another. A long rest, took stock, ate, rehydrated with cool glacial meltwater. We considered our options – using the sat phone to call in a rescue chopper, walking down the glacier to try to pick up a return chopper from the regular glacier hike tourist trips, or continue to hike out. He made the call to continue and see how it developed. We had 1 1/2 days before the forecast foul weather would envelop us.

In surprising good spirits Charlie pushed slowly down the ice. At the reduced pace and with more rest breaks than on the journey in we had time to savour more of the sculpted moulins, melt holes, stream runnels and waterfalls in the surface of the glacier.


We rethreaded our way through the maze of mini ridges and mostly shallow crevasses. We inched our way past huge waterfall outlets to high glaciers. As his internal conditions became harder and we slowed more we started counting off talus piles at the base of mountains beside the valley to gauge our progress. Each became a mini objective to attain in the overall task. Choppers dispensed tourists nearby at the bottom of the ice. Still Charlie was firm about making his way out under his own steam. His blisters were becoming an issue as well by this stage. We drank deep and filled water bottles over lunch.

Midday. The moraine had taken us 5 1/2 hours on the way in. 1/2 an hour to climb up the moraine wall to the hut – I guessed we’d reach Ball Shelter and the safety of a straightforward hiking trail by 7pm, Charlie guessed 6.30. We made good time back through the big parallel crevasses and then stayed left following slightly easier terrain with smaller stones the average rather than the larger, more difficult balanced rocks. We almost walked at a normal pace for several short sections. Then it was back to Mordor, endless piles, up and down. Rest. Drink. Long ridges that ended in depressions, sidled along crumbling slopes, tottered from boulder to boulder, knees and feet. Heat. We sat on flat rocks together in what seemed like a lava field. The rocks had absorbed the sun and radiated heat. Hot. Dry. We later learned that in the heatwave week of 30+ degrees C days this day had been the hottest ever day recorded in nearby Queenstown (35.2 C). The valley side walled by the moraine and mountains each side created a huge oven for us to cook ourselves in. 4.30pm the hottest part of the day. I picked out an objective, a particular rock about 50m ahead, to aim for.

Charlie “Tough Guy” Freer

Then again, rest. And again through the afternoon. From the start we could see our shangri la, our objective, the grassy flat where the difficulties ended, in the distance. Charlie was struggling, pain levels at 7 – 8 out of 10, serious painkillers. Resting on a baking rock he reminded me of the story of Joe Simpson’s survival crawl, dragging his smashed leg across terrain like this in Peru. Later each ridge falsely promised to be the last before the valley side. Finally the sun went down below the mountains and we were bathed in cool. The oven door had opened. At 7.30 pm we struggled to the end of the valley floor section.

I offered to do two laps of the climb up through the moraine wall to carry mine and Charlie’s packs to the top. Charlie “Joe Simpson” Freer declined. Tired legs and sore feet. We slowly inched upward on balanced rocks and sliding gravel to the half way shelf. Then again to the top. Flat, grassy ground never seemed so sweet. 8.30 pm. Completely spent. We collapsed onto soft grass. Boots were cast off to release swollen feet. Charlie removed his socks and strapping tape. Ugly raw skinless flesh on the inside of his heels. His feat of endurance and self possession gained legendary status. Eventually we resurfaced, tented, cooked and recouperated enough to appreciate the stunning scenery from our balcony position.

Step by painful step Charlie walked out down the rocky track which became a gravel road. Sometimes we walked together and at others alone in our own worlds. Lots of rests. Relief and a hug at the Carpark. Thoughts turned to next year. Could we justify the chopper ride in and out because it is much harder now? Or is it just a different mountain now? One that maybe we are just not fast, strong or fit enough to climb unassisted?

Next day as we returned from the doctor the weather window slammed firmly shut. Wind blasted straight down the Tasman Valley. Cloud whipped across Cook and the other mountain tops. The bottom of the glacier was a maelstrom of dust and flying gravel. It felt apocalyptic. Like the mountains in a vengeful rage were showing us the end of the world.

Overnight the cyclonic storm front (Fehe) delivered massive rains across the whole country. Damage was extensive on the west coast. Many roads were cut off. A large number of vehicles were stranded overnight by flooding rivers and needed to be helicopter rescued the following day. Blizzards dumped snow higher up. A church was knocked flat by the wind.

Travel Insurance for Rockclimbing and Mountaineering – an Australian perspective

Title photo – Camp beneath Mts Whitney and Russell USA Sierras

Notes from Dec 2018

For Australian climbers heading overseas

You need to read the PDS (Product Disclosure Statement) for each travel insurance agency of interest. All agencies have this document easily downloadable.

The following has been based on my understanding of what I have researched and may be incorrect.

Communications in the field is often necessary prior to a rescue/assistance to confirm your insurer is going to foot the bill.

Generally rockclimbing and mountaineering requiring ropes and specialist equipment is above and beyond what’s included in most travel insurance policies.

Overlapping, chunking parts of the trip, doubling up – Some people may choose a combination of rescue cover from eg, Global Rescue or Ripcord and general travel insurance from a mainstream agency. The separation of these in a claim may get messy. Mostly you have to specify the whole length of a trip when purchasing a product. Take care to disclose all aspects of a trip.

Generally you require a medical certificate in the country you are claiming for in order for your insurance agency to accept a claim for medical cover.

Differences in altitude require differing levels of trekking cover.

Ian Brown – Regular Route Fairview Dome P 1

International agencies

The following is a link to an excellent overview of international travel insurance and rescue and evacuation services suitable for mountaineering and rockclimbing with a USA perspective.

Based on this intro/review and my own research the following seem valid points.

Global Rescue

  • Recommended/used by – Mountain Madness, American Alpine Club, Adventure Consultants
  • Combined with Signature travel insurance gives a product that includes rescue, evac, medical etc and standard travel insurance
  • For 1 year membership and Travel Insurance for a 5 week climbing trip in USA cost is approx. $650US
  • Preexisting medical conditions do not limit coverage
  • Available to Aussies
  • Some bad reviews
  • Requires two way comms – eg satellite phone

Ripcord Rescue + Travel Insurance with TravelEx

  • Recommended/used by – Adventure Consultants, IMG
  • Preexisting medical conditions not excluded
  • Comprehensive product
  • The only available option for Australians however is medical evacuation and rescue – approx. $312 per year membership – the travel insurance additional option is not available to Australians
  • Great reviews
  • Requires two way comms – eg satellite phone

Medjet Assist

  • Only covers medical transport

World Nomads

  • Activity specific
  • Limited rescue and evac capability
  • Poor reviews

American Alpine Club

  • Membership gives $10,000 cover anywhere in the world for rescue
  • Gives a discount for membership of Global Rescue

Austrian Alpine Club

  • Membership is available to anyone no matter country of citizenship/residence
  • Yearly fee approx. 50Euros
  • Rescue insurance of up to 25,000 Euros included and applies worldwide
  • Also discounts at wide range of European mountain huts
  • Rescue must approved prior to it being undertaken

BMC (British Mountaineering Club)

  • Looks to have a great policy
  • Only for residents/citizens of Britain
Ian Brown – Venusian Blind, Temple Crag, USA Sierras

Agencies with Australian retailers

Following is a good review of standard travel insurance available to Australians

Most of these don’t cover hiking above 3,000m or rockclimbing. Some will cover hiking above 3,000m and rockclimbing if an additional “Adventure Pack” is purchased for an additional fee. None cover mountaineering using ropes and climbing equipment.

Allianz Travel Insurance available through eg, Teachers Health (available to non-members and members), Virgin Money etc includes with the additional “Adventure Pack”;

  • Hiking, trekking or tramping, peaking at altitudes from 3,000 metres up to 6,000 metres, where specialist climbing equipment is not required;
  • Outdoor rock climbing (with ropes and appropriate safety gear);
  • Abseiling
  • And lots of other adventurous things
  • Cost for 5 week USA rockclimbing trip with Comprehensive TI and Adventure Pack is approx. $720AU
  • Some good reports from Nepal with commercial activities providers.


Seems to have a policy similar to Allianz with the Adventure Pack but at about half the price.


  • Has specific policy additions for rockclimbing and mountaineering
  • Not for USA, Canada, Nepal
  • Formal link to VCC (Victorian Climbing Club)
  • Online only
Ian Brown – Charlotte Dome, USA Sierras


NZAC (New Zealand Alpine Club)

  • Provides insurance for Australian members for mountaineering in NZ only for a fee

Travel Insurance with your Credit Card

If airline tickets are purchased with a credit card some credit card providers include complimentary travel insurance. This insurance is generally underwritten or arranged in conjunction with a mainstream travel insurance agency eg HSBC Platinum complimentary travel insurance is underwritten by Allianz. However policies will most likely not include mountaineering or rockclimbing and additional “Adventure Packs” are probably not available.

For this insurance you need to have available proof of air ticket purchase eg a copy of your credit card statement, to elicit acceptance by the card agency.

Take with you a contact for the insurance aspect of your credit card not just a 1800 number.

Pre-existing conditions
Many policies (read the PDS) include automatic coverage of a number of pre-existing conditions, but most of the listed conditions are useless (eg. acne!). If you have any potentially risky or expensive conditions which are not automatically covered, you should make specific enquiries about them. Many providers are quite helpful with this, and after asking a series of questions will give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as to whether they will cover you. Different providers might come up with different answers, even if they are selling the same base product (eg. Allianz is a common product resold by TI retailers). And subtle distinctions can be important. Case study: A traveller has a blood clotting issue and is on medication that increases bleeding risk (eg. warfarin). No policy could be found that covered for claims arising from a blood clot, or from bleeding. On enquiry, some companies said they would not pay on any claim that had ANY association with these issues. However one company said that as long as the original cause of the claim was NOT those conditions, then they would cover a claim (eg. a broken arm, that was a bit harder to treat because of more bleeding). Although this could be read as at variance with the wording of the PDS, the company would not put the clarification in writing, saying they had recorded the phone call against the quote, and that was enough. Is it? Who knows.
Evening Light, Top section of The Nose of El Capitan, USA Yosemite

Thanks to Ian Brown and Zac Zaharias for input.

Kumano Kodo

Kumano Kodo

 Nakahechi Route – a 5 day walk


Background and History

“Kumano is the ancient name for the southern region of the Kii Peninsula – a sacred site steeped in mystery and legend. Since ancient times this lush and rugged environment has nurtured a profound form of nature worship in which mountains, rocks, forests, trees, rivers and waterfalls are deified and revered as objects of worship. Kumano’s rich natural landscape is believed to be the otherworldly abode of the gods, and has been the focus of pilgrimage and spiritual training for centuries.” (Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Official Guide Book, 2017)

Grand shrines and sacred sites of Buddhist sanctuary and mountain ascetics are linked by a network of pilgrimage routes. Together these shrines, sites and pilgrimage routes are recognised as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The Kumano Kodo is “linked” to the only other UNESCO recognised pilgrimage route, the Way of St James in Spain (Camino de Santiago), enabling walkers to become “Dual Pilgrims”.

For more than a thousand years the Kumano area has been a place where Buddhism, Shinto and nature worship have been combined, adjusted and redefined – syncretised. Spirits of the dead inhabit the peaks. Pilgrims sought healing, regeneration and salvation. In this “paradise on earth” they walked to be spiritually and physically purified. In Shugendo, a combination of folk religion, shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism and Shinto, followers sought to gain supernatural powers through ascetic practices in the mountains. The early Kumano, 794 – 1185, was the golden age of pilgrimage reserved for the Imperial and aristocratic families who trekked in great assemblages. Later, 1185 – 1333, the Samurai warrior class continued the tradition and then from 1336 – 1573 came a wave of more common people. During the 17th to 19th century the Kumano became very well frequented. Under a stricter regime the Kumano fell into decline from the late 19th century. Only very recently since the 1990s have contemporary Japanese people rediscovered the pilgrimage routes and then in the last 10 years has it been opened up to westerners.

Day 1    Into the Mountains

Access was easy. Train to Kii Tanabe. The tourist info at the train station has free info booklets with maps. The bus station is right outside the station. Lots of helpful people speak English and were very friendly. An ATM is nearby and probably supermarket if required. Buses departed for Hongu stopping at Takijiri Oji every hour. The bus took 40 mins.

All accommodation and luggage transfers should be pre booked from the Kumano Kodo website which is a little complex but can be worked out and the website does everything once you learn how to use it for bookings. A booking request will take a few days to process. We had a group of 9 and some nights we had to be accommodated at different places in the same locality.

At Takijiri Oji we were met by our luggage transfer people with “welcome” signs. There is a Kumano Kodo visitor center with more booklets of maps and stamp booklets that are both free but must be requested. Water is available in the center.

The pilgrimage starts at Takijiri Oji where there is a shrine, stamp station and covered shelter.

An ascent of 300 m steep hiking took us up through beautiful forest on a path which was held together by the roots of many trees. It twisted and zig zagged and wound past rocks and mossy logs. An optional crawl through a tight rock cave added challenge. Towards the first flattening the trail followed a narrow ridge line. Stone steps and flatter open trails led us to the first lookout which revealed marvelous views of very steep hill slopes and deep valleys, all thickly forested in varied shades of dark green. The forest reminded me of ninja movies from my childhood where characters leapt backwards up into the trees from the ground and the “Twilight” films – brooding, silent, still. Small villages nestled in the valley bottoms. On the way up and across the ridge top we chattered, catching up with those in the group we knew and getting to know the others, gradually establishing and deepening the friendships with each other.

“To resolve to attain supreme enlightenment and then, to travel this distance can only be accomplished by way of our own feet.” (Kuki a.k.a. Kobo Daishi)

Further on we rested at small shrines then entered a village perched on the ridge. A special walkers’ rest area provided excellent views of distant ranges foregrounded by terraced vegetable and rice gardens. Yellow and pink and white flowers bordered a narrow road. An old man proudly showed us his beautiful bonsai trees and well-tended garden. A larger shrine had been freshly painted. Accommodation – delightful hospitality, very comfortable rooms with stunning views across the valley. Hot bath with glimpses to the distant mountains. Sumptuous food. Good company.

4km – 2pm to 4.30pm, 430m up, 200m down. Takijiri-oji – Takahara

Day 2   Bamboo and Cedar

In the morning showers swept up the deep valley to our North. Mist rose and wisped between the forest and a low layer of heavy cloud in a changing series of Japanese landscape paintings. Birdcalls, crickets, and breeze made up the soundscape. Almost alive with a watchful presence the misty mountains had stood bearing witness to our fleeting passing and even to that of the pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo from across the centuries. What changes would they endure in the future I wondered.

A rainbow coloured the ranges auspiciously as we started walking. A good omen for the day ahead. Uphill through the village. Rainfall flowed at the roadside and turned a small waterwheel. Forest. Uphill. Sunlight streamed occasionally through the canopy. Dappled light then dim as cloud and mist vapours rose through trunks. Damp. Ferny forest floor on steep slopes under tall cedar trees. A pond overhung by delicate green. Shrines, red raised mini shelters, ancient standing stones, jizos alone beside the mountain path. The narrow track was carved into steep hill sides. Beautiful light, soft, changing with the vegetation and weather. Countless thousands of trees. Eerie birdcall.

We walked, sometimes chatting, sometimes quiet and alone with our own thoughts, tuned in to the landscape, to the past, to our own inner worlds. Brightly coloured in our designer outdoor gear contrasted the greens and browns of earth and plants. Mosses covered trunks growing and rotten, delicate fungi, surprising red crabs scuttled. Rest, eat, laughed together, regained hydration lost in copious sweat. Humid. Warm. Hard work uphill.

The trail is well signposted and mapped. “Kumano Kodo” with arrows and “Not Kumano Kodo” indicated diverging ways not to go. Distances. Interpretive information signs at key points of cultural interest. We stayed in touch with a couple of other groups, Australians, an older Japanese couple, and others.

Streams flowed over smooth stones. The sound of running water. Log bridges. Another small shrine. A place to collect another stamp in my pilgrim booklet. Lunch shared, plans made for the next day as we had to split up for different accommodations. Bamboo in amongst the forest cedars. Large village, paved road, cup of tea. Then uphill on a narrow road. More uphill.

Tsugizakura-Oji shrine at the top of the hill. Magnificent cedar trees, like an ancient growing cathedral. Tori gate, stone steps led up between the giants. We are quiet and awed again by the connection of nature, spiritual pursuit, homage.

“If the surroundings are serene, the mind is clear. When the mind and its surroundings are deeply connected, morals are profoundly cultivated.” (Kuki a.k.a. Kobo Daishi)

At sunset the forested hills across the valley turned iridescent green. Our small guesthouse, Minshuku Tsugizakura, became a door opening onto the best Japanese hospitality we had experienced. Comfortable room, a very friendly older couple. It only holds 6 people and each was treated like a queen or king. The sumptuous meal was prepared by, Mr Yuba, a retired chef with 50 years Tokyo hotel experience and a passion for creating the tastiest dishes. The food was served and interpreted for us by, Christopher, a New Zealand Japanese with impeccable English and Japanese. Conversations ranged across diverse subjects adding a deeper layer to the “Masterchef” cuisine. This experience was an honour and privilege to be treated to. Bath, tired, plum wine, sleep.

13 km, 8.45 am – 4.30 pm (the walking seems to take a long time – hills, lots to investigate, millions of photos, rests, lunch, humidity, chatting). 830m up, 650m down. Takahara to Tsugizakura

Day 3  Through the Tori Gate

Breakfast was a replay of dinner with a fusion mix of Japanese-western friendly micro dishes. Bacon and eggs Japanese style, fruits and yoghurt, orange juice and then fish, tofu, pickles, salad etc. After copious thanks and smiles and gratitude for the extraordinary hospitality our hostess drove us down to the bus stop. We bussed through a short section of road walking to make a shorter day which enabled us to get to Yunomine, a famous onsen village. Much of the trail is serviced by local buses from nearby villages so the walk can be made extremely flexible based on time constraints and physical capabilities.

From Hosshinmon-oji we walked through small settlements. Fecund veggie patches and what appeared to be rows of tea hedges. Many houses fronting onto the route had quirky carved figures displayed for hikers. From a hilltop shrine we glimpsed Hongu, a final destination for the ancient pilgrims, the place of one of the primary temple complexes.

I walked alone for a little and pondered. If part of our hike, our journey was to be something of a pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodo what is it that we were trying to find? To discover? To pay homage to? To learn? To connect with? that brings a deeper meaning to our walking together. What would we “take home after internalising our experiences?” Like the lotus flower – I can grow in strength into something fine, acknowledging the darker and negative sides of myself, working thru them to seek beauty in myself, relationships and my impact on the world – perhaps to leave criticism of others behind, to make my garden more beautiful, to be careful and positive in my dealings with others. To gain a deeper awareness and understanding of the pursuit of challenge and lifefullness thru mountain asceticism and effort. To gain a more appreciation of the universality of our human seeking for deeper meaning in life connected to the cosmos.

Our “mind” is covered in the dust and dirt of our weaknesses, trauma, bad habits, cruelty etc. We need to work hard to sweep this dust away. We are connected to our physical surroundings. By “cleaning” our rooms and tidying them we create order and beauty and so do the same to ourselves. (Kuki a.k.a. Kobo Daishi)

Forest under bright sunlight contrasted the previous day’s somber mistyness. Ferns, rooted pathway, stone steps, sandstone worn from centuries of footfalls. Less humidity. A high vantage point provided distant views of a giant Tori gate in the valley below.

The famous temple of Kumano Hongu Taisha seemed to rise out of the land, made of timber with a thick thatched roof and brightly coloured wall hangings. Incense and smoke – a purification symbol. The area was busy with walkers and day trippers. We lunched in the grounds nearby, bento boxes packed with goodies and rice balls wrapped in leaves. Stamps pilgrim booklets. Left the town, exiting under the massive Tori gate, the biggest in Japan.

Up, up and up. Steep root bound steps in forest that got darker again. Mosses, ferns. A small shrine and the remains of a very old tea house – rest. More upwards effort. Then the trail showed its incredible age. It wound down a narrow ridge on a pathway that had been worn into a deep groove, steeply down, down. Crossed a stone bridge into the old onsen village. Sulphur smells of the hot mineral waters mixed with the aromas of timber. The constant sound of running water from a stream that ran through the middle of the settlement.

Onsen. Relax. Washed away the day’s sweat. Conversation in the bath about Jung’s collective consciousness connecting with the Buddhist concept of the universal consciousness or mind. Hot mineral salted water. Clean. Washed through. Another series of culinary delights at dinner seated on the floor. And later a cooler evening.

Bus from Tsugizakura to Hosshinmon-oji then walk to Hongu and on to Yunomine.  11km walk

Day 4   Over the Mountain

A short bus ride took us to the next trail head at Ukegawa.

At the start of the trail a newish sign in four languages proclaimed “Peace to the World”.

Coloured flowers in gardens. Steep uphill for 400m. Through the back yards of houses. Into the forest. The weather was clear and warming but a gentle cooling breeze blew across the hills. We made our way upwards steadily. We were getting into a rhythm with the days and the group. The forest and hills, greens and browns became like home, meditative. A time to think and reflect. A time to interchange. We rested at the remains of a tea house that had been very busy on the route during the Edo period between 600 and 848 AD. The antiquity of the path we were following added a huge depth of history to our journey. At times we walked along high, narrow ridges where the slopes on each side plummeted away. Some sections of track were carved into the steeps and very old stone walls hold it in place in others. Small wooden bridges crossed streamways. Lush ferns, moss, tangled undergrowth, open forest.





A small, solitary Jizo shrine was perched atop a pile of small stones. I felt quite affected by the script that described this. It seemed to encapsulate a key part of the rich and mythical nature of the spiritual belief of the people of the past, and perhaps the present also, that pilgrimaged along this Kumano Kodo. The lyrical description, the story, the rawness of my own mother’s recent passing, the thought of young children dying and the large pile of small stones struck a chord deep inside me.

A rare opening in the forest which coincided with a high point revealed a panorama of hills and mountains that faded from green to blue into the distance. We morning teaed and chattered and laughed together. A small Jizo watched over us. At its feet a recent hiker had laid a small bracelet as an offering that was inscribed with colourful peace signs.

At first I was dismayed at the spoiling of the sanctity of the tiny shrine but on reflection I thought of it as a form of syncretising of modern beliefs and symbolism with those of the ancients. This is exactly what had been taking place over millennia in the Kumano in the merging, blending, mixing and coming together of different forms of Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, shamanism, folk religion and Shugendo.

Undulating terrain followed for several kilometres. We lunched on our bento boxes at a shelter on the site of another old tea house ruin. Then downhill. Past poem monuments and small shrines. I walked alone for a time with some music – a hybrid chant overlain with lilting electric guitar – that connected immediately the inner landscape with the outer world. And more steeply down. Stone steps. Smooth river rocks had been transported high onto the hill to stabilise the path and in places to form a tessellated pavement which could have proved difficult in wet conditions. For some of us with joint issues the down was much harder than the up. Eventually to the village. And the river, pristine, clear and deeper green water flowed over rocks and pebbles.

An old school had been converted cleverly to accommodate walkers in comfort at Koguchi.  We swam in the cold water in gently swirling pools below a riverside shrine. More delicious food for dinner. Plans were made for an early start to the challenging last day.

Moonlight suffused through paper screens. The flowing stream sounded outside our window. Smell of timber.

Bus from Yunomine to Ukegawa. Walk Ukegawa to Koguchi. 13km. 670m up, 690m down

Day 5  Walk

The trek over the Ogumotori-goe section is the hardest of the Nakahechi Route. A long day  ascending, traversing and descending a large mountain. Straight into mossy stone steps, up and up and up. Forest. Chat and step up a thousand times and then a break and then again. The incline was well graded, not as steep as anticipated. A boot repair with zip ties seemed to be working well. We kept to a slow and steady pace. A flat section half way up provided a little welcome relief. Maybe it was the meditative nature of repetitive movement through the forest landscape that made the actual nature of the path so interesting. Large stone pavements, smooth rocks heavily mossed at the edges of the “way”, steps edged with triangular shaped blocks, twisted cedar roots, logs that hold back erosion and my favourite a large ascending smooth slab that could have been treacherous without pegged in logs affixed horizontally. In places huge gnarled trees had grown into the side of the path and occasionally a large boulder had come to rest in the center.

At one point golden light beckoned through the trees from higher up. Under foot constantly changed and surprised.

Flat shelves had been excavated and held strong with stone retaining walls. These had become overgrown through the centuries. In ages past this area had been a small village of accommodating guest houses. I imagined the noise and activity of owners hustling pilgrims to stay in their lodgings, the smells of cooking, smoke from fires, and walkers, some struggling uphill and others in high spirits nearing the completion of their journeys with one last mountain to cross.

This steep hill known as Dogiri-zaka means “Body Breaking Slope” – an 800m climb. “Even the famous poet Fujiwa Teika (1162 – 1241) was at a loss of words after walking this section, stating in his pilgrimage diary from 1201 that, ‘This route is very rough and difficult; it is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is'”. (Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route Maps information booklet)

I was able to feel a small connection, in my own struggles upwards, with the Shugendo who sought to gain supernatural powers through ascetic practices in the mountains. Stone poem plinths had been placed at regular intervals. I wished I could have read each inscription, the Japanese script appeared evocative and mysterious. Brendon’s altimeter GPS watch indicated earlier than expected our imminent arrival at the high point and still in good condition we made Echizen-toge Pass. Small celebrations, chocolate and a group photo.

Thankfully downwards for a short time took us to a beautiful stream. Grottos, mossy boulders, flowing water, ponds, overhanging delicate green foliage. Reflections.

According to Kuki Ietaka, chief priest of Kumano Hongu Taisha (one of the three Grand Shrines) “Kumano is a feeling, not form – a manifestation of the Divine Intangibles – a celebration of life’s powerful vitality. The value of Kumano is universal, timeless, and as relevant now as it was 1000 years ago. It is a peaceful place in nature to take a moment to reflect on, and reaffirm one’s future direction and meaning in life – a sacred space to open one’s mind, heart, soul; all of one’s senses; and let the artificial boundaries and borders of the modern world disappear – allowing us to contemplate life as one unified humanity on planet earth. The importance of a pilgrimage to Kumano is not in its completion, but rather what you take home after internalising your experiences.” (Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Official Guidebook, 2017)

Up and over an intermediate hill on the larger ridge line to the remains of an old tea house. Now there is a forestry road and in spite of guidebook exhortations that there are no facilities on this day’s walk there was a flushing toilet, shelter and a drink vending machine. The small cans of hot coffee from the machine proved very popular. Jenny shared sweet mung bean cakes carried from the day before. We undulated on the forestry road and the trail along the tops. Water flowed gently beside and over the path flagstones at times.

Like characters from Lord of The Rings we passed through the “Abode of the Dead”, “the souls of the dead gravitate to these higher mountains, where spirits inhabit this section of trail”. The forest then parted to reveal a rare view of the region ahead – the ocean, convoluted coastline, a small seaside town – our ultimate destination. Bob stood tall on a tree stump. Laura and I did ninja jumps in the trees. Our finish was in sight way below. And we all ate rice balls for lunch, again.




Down, down, down. Joints complained. Knees, hips, ankles. It was a long way to the base.

Eventually our journey ended at Kumano Nachi Taisha, one of three grand shrines of the Kumano. The temple complex was wonderful. Incense fragranced the air at the entrance to ancient wooden temples. A massive old-growth camphor tree, incorporated into the terraced grounds, has a narrow cleft in its base through which pilgrims can pass into rebirth. From the terraces a magnificent view of a colourful three storied pagoda shrine in the foreground and the plunging Nachi-no-Otaki falls, the highest in Japan. We stamped our pilgrim booklets and walked on tired legs to the bus stop.

Later at the coast in outdoor onsens we soaked in hot mineral water while looking out over the smooth green sea to other islands. The setting sun touched high clouds with colour. Raptors floated effortlessly over the water and a fish jumped. The natural world rolled ever onward and our “other” journey continued.

14km, 1260m up, 930m down. Koguchi – Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Totals – walking

Distance  55.4 km

Ascent     3,400 m

Descent.  2,970 m


Bookings – for accom and luggage transfer done through Kumano Travel (see note below). The website is excellent once you have engaged with the route.

Costs – package for 5 nights accom, dinner and breakfast and some bento lunch boxes, and luggage transfer was about $700AU per person. Extras were for drinks, snacks, onsens etc.

Food – provided was very Japanese. Dinners are generally sumptuous. The occasional mini mart in villages provided more variation. Suggest you take tea and coffee and other special drinks and powdered milk if you are addicted to these otherwise plenty of green tea provided. Take a coffee mug? Bring some muesli and powdered milk if you struggle with Japanese breakfast. Suggest making use of mini marts to stock up on snacks.

Boots were found suitable

Luggage – arranged transfer worked seamlessly

Groups – don’t worry if you can’t always be accommodated in the same place as there are usually multiple places available nearby

Pace – we walked slower than on a standard hike/bushwalk because we had shorter days planned but also because we found there were lots of interesting things to investigate along the way. Also there was quite a lot of up and down.

Path – ancient and mostly well-formed but could be slippery in the wet.

Walking poles – highly recommended to have 2 in case of wet conditions and also to ease the downhills.

Water – fill up enough for each day – at least 2 litres – each morning. Vending machines for drinks also available.

Map booklets – maps should probably be printed from the Kumano Travel website before you come in case you can’t get them in Japan. They are available from Tourist office in Kii Tanabe, the Kumano Heritage Centre at Takijiri and some places along the way.

Stamp booklets – each of the special places has a very nice little unique stamp that can be collected into a Pilgrim Booklet. You have to ask at the Kumano Heritage Center at Takijiri for the Booklet.

Local buses – are accessible from many places along the route and make flexibility easy to enable changes to walk plans along the way.

Signage – is generally but not always excellent.

Local people – very friendly and helpful

Useful contacts and info

Kumano Travel – is an international award winning community-based initiative; a bilingual (Japanese and English) online reservation system for the region. Accommodation reservations, tours and activities, local guides, info, luggage shuttle, model itineraries

Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Pilgrimage Route Maps. Booklet

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Official Guidebook 2017 – available through the website of Kumano Travel

Island hopping the Seto Sea by bicycle – Six Bridges – Onomichi to Imabari


Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Cycle

Island hopping the Seto Sea by cycle – Six Bridges

Onomichi to Imabari


A 2 day cycle (for us) across amazing bridges and islands in the Seto Sea. An 80 km ride along the most direct route where many interesting side trips could be made through, across and around the islands to make a cycle journey of greater length and possible challenge. Well signposted, good maps at the tourist info offices and bike hire easy to organize.


Onomichi – A Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto to Fukuyama then a local train to Onomichi. Both trains are JR (Japan Rail) lines. Tickets were purchased in Kyoto Station at the “Foreigners” (English speaking) counter – easy and helpful. The “bullet” was like a ground level airplane. Lots of trains would be available from Osaka, Shin Osaka, Hiroshima and Kansai Airport.

Imabari – also serviced by train to Fukuyama then to Osaka or to Hiroshima.

The ride

At the exit to the station at Onomichi is a small Tourist Info booth where we were directed to the Green Hotel. The Green Hotel is 150 m from the station on the waterfront. Inside the Hotel foyer we arranged luggage transfer which unexpectedly was not available to our booked accommodation half way along the route (we sent it to accommodation in Imabari at the end of the route). We packed a few items in day packs for the ride and hired bikes with front baskets to carry them. Bike hire was done in a stall in the carpark next door. General purpose bikes with 5 gears proved ok. There are plenty of bike stations along the way so worries of not carrying spare tubes and a few tools were dismissed. Maps were available in the Hotel area.A small ferry took us across to the first island nearby where we started cycling. The start of the route was a little tricky to find but there were other cyclists to follow. The main route is marked on the road with blue signs pointing the way. Much of the first day to Setoda was on back roads with little traffic and dedicated cycle trails. Highlights were riding across the long suspension bridges that connect the islands – on cycle paths a level below the car roadway or on paths separated from the traffic. Rural land, forest, beaches, industry, shipyards, villages. Convenience stores appeared regularly with shaded areas especially for cyclists. Traffic seemed to be very cycle aware and courteous. A range of people were on the ride – lycra clad racers, mountain bikers, kids, tourists on hired rattlers, hybrids, road bikes and a few tandems. No tourers with lots of gear. Being 80km long I guess many would complete the ride in a day, do an out and back or stay half way like us with minimal gear.

In all directions the Seto Sea was jade green. Steep forested islands painted themselves into this iconic Japanese landscape. Haze added an otherworldly atmosphere to the scenes.

At Ryokan Suminoe in Setoda we stumbled into old Japan. Refined and welcoming hospitality. No words of English. Paper sliding wall panel shutters. Our room overlooked a lush garden. Tatami floors. Bath with a view into the garden. Sunset over the sea. Worn wooden floors. Individual room for dining. 7 course dinner with much seafood. Breakfast of fish, rice, miso soup and coffee. A little anxious about wearing the correct slippers.

30 km from Onomichi to Setoda on Day 1.


Another hot day. Terrific riding most of the way. Spectacular bridges that included the longest – 4.7 km. Views from high bridge vantage points of the islands and the sea. Uphills to access the bridges were long and slow but steady at well graded 3% angles but the downs were fast and easy. Navigation was straightforward right into Imabari following the blue line on the side of the road and the regular signs. “Cyclist sanctuaries” popped up just when needed for toilets, food, drinks and shady rest breaks. Much of this part of the ride route hugged the shore line with a dedicated cycle lane mostly and sometimes quiet roads.  Strong tidal currents swirled the water round the ends of islands. A steady stream of ships plied the open sea ways. Villages, small towns, forest, orange and mandarin orchards, shipping industry. Cycling the spectacular bridges was unusual and very enjoyable. Each was a different engineering feat. The infrastructure and setup for cyclists was excellent. The bikes made the trip with no hassles. At Imabari a “Giant” shop right beside the station hired out smarter bikes for the more discerning cyclist.

The whole cycle trip can be extended beyond the standard 80 km by taking on some of the more challenging routes identified or taking the extra optional sections out and around the more isolated parts of most of the islands. Cycle touring is a wonderful way to tourist a place – active, at your own pace, one of those iconic self-propelled ways to travel. You interact with the place and the people in a quiet, gentle way.

Imabari – Cyclo No Ie – small funky youth hostel style accom right near station, terrific hospitality, book ahead as its popular and cheap. Fab yakatori restaurants nearby. Trains out to Hiroshima, Osaka and beyond.

50 km from Setoda to Imabari on Day 2.

Seven Summits Australia – Mount Townsend


Mount Townsend – Seven Summits Australia

Charlie Freer climbing peak sw of Cootapatamba Hut for the sunset

Here’s my personal best of “Seven Alpine Mainland Winter Summits” of Australia. The list is made up of the most enticing peaks for lovers of interesting winter mountain ascents. While including the highest mountains in mainland Australia a few are not in the seven highest. All have their own challenges that may include ice and snow, remoteness, changeable and extreme weather conditions. None should be underestimated, especially in winter. The idea of these “seven summits” is to focus attention on the local landscape in a way that captures the imagination and stimulates the thirst for adventure. So far in four attempts I have been successful on three of the peaks and have turned back on two.

Mount Kosciuszko     2,228m

Mount Townsend       2,209m

Mount Twynam          2,196m

Charlie Freer with Kosciuszko top left to the north

Mount Jagungal         2,061m

Mount Bogong           1,986m

Mount Feathertop      1,922m

Mount Bimberi           1,912m

Mount Townsend is off the beaten track. Further out than Kosciuszko and away from the standard Main Range crossing route it is generally more than a day trip in winter unless snow conditions and the weather is perfect. From the Eagles Nest café at the top of the main Thredbo chair lift we cross country skied up along the route of the Kosciuszko Walk. Occasional sections of the metal boardwalk were visible poking through the good snow cover. Apart from an icy breeze the weather was clear. The view from Kosciuszko Lookout at the 2km mark showed the next part of the route. Fresh powder snow made the uphills easy with our patterned ski bases gripping nicely, and the gentle downhills a dream. Sections from Etheridge Gap to Rawsons Pass were icy.

With summit fever for Mt. Townsend we bypassed Kosciuszko and traversed across its northern ridge line to Muellers Pass. The windswept ridge to the top of Muellers Peak was alternating ice and powder. I strapped my skis onto my backpack and just walked up. On the hard ice of the Main Range sometimes it’s easier to walk if you don’t have climbing skins for your skis or snowshoes. From the top of Mueller a stunning vista opened out to the north – frozen Lake Albina, Little Austria and Lady Nothcote Canyon backdropped by the spectacular Sentinel and Watsons Crags with Mount Jagungal lying distant and aloof. The traverse of Mueller felt almost like a mini mountaineering exploit with a narrow rocky ridge perched high above plummeting slopes on both sides.

We left our packs in the bowl below Townsend’s peak and skied easily up to a flat part of its eastern ridge. From here we kicked steps up the final steeps to the summit. Alone. We stood on the very edge of the Snowy Mountains. Massive wedding cake hills made up the Main Range with only Kosciuszko a little higher. Snow gave way to green forest thousands of feet below and to the west in the Geehi Valley which merged into blue range upon range down into Victoria. Dazzling light. Huge sky. Pristine white. Hardly a sign of civilisation in the enormous landscape. It was difficult to tear ourselves away. Then we thrilled in the perfect, consistent snow and telemarked back down to our packs and lunch.

On the western side of Muellers Peak and Kosciuszko is a large, gently undulating shelf that hangs high above the valleys. This is a relatively seldom visited area of delightful ski touring in good weather.

Afternoon tea on the snow couch

In the mid-afternoon we rounded the southern ridge of Kosciuszko into the headwaters of Swampy Plain River which flows out of Lake Cootapatamba.

Snowgum skeleton, windblown ice. Kosciuszko
Skiing back to the hut in the gloaming

From a peak nearby we watched the sun set behind an approaching bank of dark clouds. Cootapatamba Hut, a small survival hut, made for a comfy overnight.


In the middle of the night it was a better option than our snow tent as a blizzard hit.

About 10cm of snow had fallen by morning. The forecast improvement in conditions did not eventuate so we set off into the storm in limited visibility, blowing cold wind and snow showers. On a compass bearing and with snatches of clearing we climbed steeply up to North Ramshead, then down to Kosciuszko Lookout and back to the top of Thredbo.

Charlie Freer skiing up into the storm

As we descended the downhill ski runs the weather improved and the sun even came out. In 1 ½ days we had experienced all the weather of the Snowys in winter – blistering sunshine to blizzard, and the full range of snow conditions from sheet ice to brilliant dry powder.

Peter a little iced up at Kosciuszko lookout

Postscript; Several years prior I had encountered an international party of mountaineers who set off, against local advice, into a blizzard to climb Kosciuszko which was their last of the “real” Seven Summits of the world (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents). They did not make it and had had to be rescued by police and NPWS staff who put their own lives at risk. With a tight time schedule they had been turned back and flown out having failed on Kossie after summiting Everest, Denali etc.

Day 1 – approx. 18 km. Day 2 – approx. 4 km.

Mount Bogong on the far horizon beckoning next winter


52 Adventures. That's the aim. One each week. Like any real adventure the outcome is unknown. The journey, the comrades, the solitude, the challenges, the special places are what matters. And this is the record – writing, images and video. Enjoy.