Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lifestyle: Logistics of Climbing in Castle Hill, New Zealand

Lifestyle: Logistics of Climbing in Castle Hill, New Zealand

What more can be said of Castle Hill? It is truly a place that has to be experienced, and is without a doubt one of the premier climbing destinations of the world. Here I'll give you a snapshot of what myself and my friends did to manage it relatively cheaply, given the conditions and time we were there.

Season: Without a doubt wintertime is best in CH. Hardcore locals won't even seriously touch the rock there unless there is snow on the ground and cold temps. The limestone is merciless when heated by the sun and you will be sorely tested to send problems that you magically floated up when it was chillier.

That said, we climbed there at the very end of the season, during the month of November. If you find yourself in this situation, you are best served by getting up relatively early and climbing in the morning while the rock is still cold from the night. Then you can hang out during the noon portion of the day, and get back to business in the evening. Days were long during this time, and it was light outside until around 9:30pm, and is climbable until well after with headlamps.

Another note about climbing during this time: Flock Hill and Dry Valley are inaccessible during this period (until around December 15th or 25th depending for lambing. Don't even think about trying to sneak in, and the locals are adamant about obeying these rules strictly. As well they should be since there have been rumblings of access issues due to some unscrupulous climber-types. Don't worry though, Spittle Hill and Quantum Fields have over 4000 problems to unlock, and some of the best classics in CH are found in those 2 areas.

Accomodations: If you aren't really on a budget, there are several options around. Castle Hill Village has full-on cabins you can rent out for an average of NZ$100 a night. So, get 4-6 people together and that's about what you'd pay at a hostel. If you can stand that kind of proximity and lack of privacy.

Also, you could probably stay in Christchurch and commute the hour-ish ride out. Christchurch has more hostels than you can shake a stick at but we stayed at two that were excellent.

BASE Backpackers ( This is a chain establishment that has the business of sheltering travelers down to a science. Located in the center of Christchurch right at 56 Cathedral Square they are recognized by the large red X icon. They have everything you need; showers, dorm rooms (around NZ$26 a night for a dorm-style room), with fluctuating rates season-depending), laundry, downstairs bar (Heaven & Hell), and internet room. This is a busy place, full of younger travelers so expect the noise level to be on the high side. Phone: +64 982 2225

Foley Towers ( Our favorite spot. Located at 208 Kilmore just a few blocks from the center of town. All the amenities, and a decent rate (NZ$22 a night for a dorm-style room, even cheaper if you spring for the BBH Card, which you can purchase at the front desk). A bit calmer environment, with a peaceful courtyard, full kitchen for cooking needs, internet, dining room, etc. etc. It just has a great vibe there, and the travelers are mostly European (so way cooler than us loud-mouthed Americans).

Camping: For those who are interested in going on the cheap, we camped at Craigieburn Shelter for the duration of our stay. This spot is accessed by driving out from Christchurch (see Getting There below). Just drive about 10k past where the climbing is and you'll see a turnoff labled 'Craigieburn Shelter'. Everyone warns you not to leave your tents up, but we did. We were just careful to find a spot off the road at the shelter. The main reason for the warnings though is because of the resident Kea birds. We battled this destructive prankster with hard plastic food bins, but still endured early morning foraging, and some chewed up camp chairs. Check online for info on this dastardly parrot, but don't think about killing it; it's protected! You'll grow to love them as much as you hate them, the cheeky bastards. However, if you do get all your stuff stolen, I take no responsibility. This is a 'Do At Your Own Risk' option.

Nonetheless, it's free, and they have a toilet and the aforementioned shelter for hanging out in and cooking.

Shopping: If you are staying for at least a month or so you will be cooking to stay on a budget. Here are your best options:

Four Squares in Darfield: This small grocery is located between Christchurch and Castle Hill. If you don't fancy driving the whole way and only need a few things this place will serve you well. Look for 'Pams' label brand as this is the generic 'cheap' brand (Pams Nutella ripoff rules!). Additionally do NOT miss the Darfield Bakery for anything on their menu. Delicious and priced reasonably.

Pak N' Sav in Christchurch: The mega-shopping mart. There are actually 2 in Christchurch, but the easiest one to hit up is the one on Riccerton since that is the road you end up on when you go straight into Christchurch from Castle Hill. They have everything you need, including the aforementioned Pam's brand items. Don't forget to go on Tuesdays, as everything in Christchurch is cheaper on Tuesdays (well, most things, including the cinemas).

Getting There: Likely you will fly into Christchurch to get to Castle Hill. If you are renting a car and driving straight out from the airport you will head south on Russley Road (Rt 1) and then hang a right heading west on Yaldhurst, which becomes 73. You will reach Spittle and Quantum first in about an hour. Those crags are accessed easily by a pullout on the side of the road with a double gate area (there is an informational plaque there as well to read). Flock Hill and Dry Valley are accessed via the Cave Stream pullout about 3-4 more kilometers up the road on the right.

Well, that's about it for the bare-bones info. If anyone has anymore questions about going about climbing in Castle Hill that the vast powers of the Interweb can't solve, then feel free to post a comment and I'll include relevant info into the main body here.
So, this is a destination well worth checking out. The possibilities are endless and the climbing will both humble and titillate. One of the top 5 spots in the world I've been to, so go give it a go!


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Australia Photos

All Photos By Adam Lincoln

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New Zealand Photos

Photos By Adam Lincoln

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Australia & New Zealand Trip Update from Dave Kimber on November 12, 2007

Castle hill is tight. so many amazing boulders and problems. the only real problem is that flock hill and dry valley are closed for lambing. that part sucks, since there's so many incredible tempting lines there that we can see from the road. of course, this is tempered by the fact that there are still about 4000 problems in spittle hill and quantum field alone. the bouldering is intense. i climbed really strong in the grampians, but this is totally different. it's all push-friction on glassy footholds with condition-dependant slopers to hold you on. i think i'm -finally- getting it though. i definitely climb a few grades lower here than what i'm used to haha :)
Anyway, gotta split. rest day today, and we're sharing the internet with each other at the flock hill B&B/backpackers. plus it costs like $1 for 10 minutes. this place is actually a bit expensive, though there are deals to be found. i'm writing all the logistics down for both the gramps and castle hill in separate guides that i'll post on the blog. the info they give you on the web blows ass. we've had to just figure it all out ourselves, and something like i'm going to write would have been invaluable.

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Hand Care for Climbers

You look down at your hands, marveling at their rhino-like thickness. Experimentally you hover your yellowed, thickened pads over the flame of your campstove burner, roaring at a temperature roughly equivalent to that of the earth's molten center. The pads darken slightly in response, but you feel no pain. Oh yes. Then the next day you rip off a pocket in an overhanging face, and one of your callous pads catches on the vicious lip and rips off to the pink, vulnerable skin underneath. Doh!

It turns out that those thick, elephantine callous buildups on your fingers aren't exactly the best thing for you, as a climber. When the corn-like swells appear it is usually the cause for celebration by newer climbers that think the days of plastic-scoured tips are over. The callouses have arrived Mr. Johnson, rejoice, for yee shall suffer no more! Well, not exactly.

Yes, callouses are an integral part of climbing. The protection they afford is invaluable, and allows you to climb much longer and on much rougher surfaces that you normally could with your previously baby-pink mitts. However, letting them build up too much can cause other problems to crop up. They form thorny ridges on the insides of your fingers, and bulbous buildups on the joints of your fingers. These then in turn create little malleable skin clusters that greedy, sharp rocks will snag onto and unceremoniously shred right off, often down to the moist, vulnerable skin a few layers deeper than your normal skin layer. Additionally those buildups can dry and crack, causing painful splits in areas where you need to make direct contact with the rock.

However, all is not lost. With a little bit of diligent care, you can have tough grips that stand up to any day of hard climbing, and also won't give your hands what your feet look like they have: unsightly, and potentially climbing-trip-ending corns.

Necessary Tools

  • Sanding block or pad (about 160-220 grit will do, sold at painting supplies stores)

  • Climbon or Monkey Skin (or regional equivalent)

  • Neosporin

  • Band-Aides

Sanding the Skin

The idea here is to sand down your calluses so that they are uniformly smooth with the rest of your skin surface. You don't want to sand down to the normal skin layer, you just want the irregularities that can snag on the rock to be taken away. This allows you to climb on your calluses but reduces the chance that you'll rip a flapper. Gentle back-and-forth passes over the thicker calluses with the thicker grit sandpaper can take away the unevenness, and then the finer grit can be used to smooth it out. I've found that the peskiest calluses happen just under the first joint of my index, middle, and ring fingers. I can tell by bending the finger joint and looking at a sideview. Instead of the skin folding over, there is a callus gap that prevents the fold. This area is usually the first victim of a split, since the snag will happen just at the joint bend, and we all know how difficult it is for splits in joints to heal. Try to make sure that you give this area a good sanding pass too. If you've built up those calluses for a long time without sanding, you probably won't get it all even in the first go. In fact you probably shouldn't since overdoing it will result in too-thin skin. Just get the ball rolling with an initial go, and the pay attention to where the build-up occurs the most compared with where you get any tears or flappers the most.

Skin Balms and Salves

Climb-on (or equivalent) is fantastic for repairing skin overnight. Just apply it liberally over the tips of the skin and on any tears or rips you've acquired throughout the day's climbing. I've found it is best to do this just before I go to sleep to allow it to really soak into the skin, so I'm not doing other things that will wipe the material off.

Another sure bet for serious tears is to apply some Neosporin over the area and then a Band-Aid overnight. All the bacteria that was feasting on your cut will be destroyed and the healing process can occur all night long. Try not to wear the Band-Aid throughout the next day though, because you want oxygen to help with the healing during the day as much as possible. These method has (at the insistence of my nurse friend) helped me to much speedier recoveries from skin injuries, and got me back on the rock much faster.

Time and Rest

Another thing to stress on the heels of this advice is the time-honored method of, well, time. It heals all wounds and as hard as it may be to resist, taking an extra rest day to allow for the skin to heal up can work wonders.

So, if you can endure the jeering of your friends calling you a 'poofter' for giving yourself a loving manicure before a day's session, you'll have the last laugh as you continue climbing strong on solid skin while they whine about their bloody flappers and almost-sends. Good luck and good climbing!