The Darran Mountains, summary. The alpine and rock climbing region of the Darran Mountains (Fiordland) continues to be the area of New Zealand that is generating the most climbing news and new routes of note. In late 2006 the New Zealand Alpine Club published Craig Jefferies’ new guidebook to the Darrans. The guidebook’s 312 pages capture more than a decade’s worth of new route activity since the last edition, as well as revealing the enormous scope for new climbs that this region still provides.
A Hillary Expedition grant from the Government organisation SPARC enabled a group of (mostly young) and highly motivated individuals to make some major first ascents this summer. The “Rock Solid Progression” team of Kester Brown, Craig Jefferies, Paul Rogers, Mayan Smith-Gobat, and Derek Thatcher pooled their talents to make the first free ascent of Shadowlands (27) on the remote Sinbad Gully headwall, near Mitre Peak. This sustained 300m route has multiple pitches of hard climbing, including three of 27 and two of 26.
Following this, they helicoptered onto the Ngapunatoru ice plateau and rappelled into the isolated 1,300m Kaipo Wall, adding the first new route since the 1974 first ascent. The team rappelled to a shelf at the base of the upper wall, placing bolt belays, and then Smith-Gobat and Thatcher climbed back out via 11 pitches of varied and often difficult, committing climbing up to grade 25. The first ascent of the Kaipo Wall was made by Graham Dingle, Mike Gill, and Murray Jones, who reached the base from the Hollyford River by raft, kayak, and foot. The three then climbed the entire 1,300m face from the valley floor via a prominent corner/ramp in the upper section. The crux pitch was 17.
Early in the summer Smith-Gobat and Thatcher teamed with the 2006 CMC/Macpac Mountaineer of the Year, Jonathon Clearwater, for a quick and inspired first ascent on the northwest face of an iconic Darrans mountain, Sabre Peak (2,162m). Tora Tora Tora (24) takes a direct line up the face right of the Original Line and was established on sight, ground up and with no fixed protection. It is the first new route on the face in over 20 years.
Closer to the climbing base at the Homer Hut, a four-pitch project on the Mate’s Little Brother was completed to give the hardest alpine free climb in the Darrans: Armageddon (21, 28, 28, 25). This powerful route climbs directly through the Second Coming roofs and was redpointed by Stefan Hadfield and Derek Thatcher.
The Barrier Face (Gertrude Valley) saw a new five-pitch line established 200m right of Joker by Sam Bossard and Al Ritchie. Scrabble (18, 18, 20, 18, 22) was bolted and climbed over several days. Late March saw two new routes added to the northeast face of Barrier Knob by Kristen Foley and Mark Watson. Utu (25, 22, 24) is the hardest line on Barrier Knob and features intricate slab and face climbing, while Forgotten Silver (16, 18, 20) climbs a sweep of nicely featured rock. Both routes were bolted and climbed over four days.
New route activity continues at Babylon with the pace driven by Bruce Dowrick and Jon Sedon. Attention has recently turned to the reportedly Arapiles-like Little Babylon, a very promising cave above Babylon. A number of new routes were completed.
Mark Watson, New Zealand Alpine Club