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Published: October 22nd 2008
Me at the saddle
Rocking it out on the saddle of Ben Lomond
I've had a couple of months just busy with exams and so there hasn't been much room for blog worthy activities, however this weekend along with my english mate Simon (finally another englishman arrived! Took 8 months!), we climbed our first mountain!! We kind of jumped in in the deep end a bit with this one, although it's obviously not a mountain in the league of everest and the like, it was pretty hard work for us - a 5,735ft high climb up Ben Lomond in Mt Aspiring National Park. We did some training before hand and also climbed the much smaller Summit hill outside Dunedin the weekend before as a practise run for something bigger, though the final hardest section of the Ben Lomond climb was still a shock in how much it took out of us.
We decided to climb the first section of the tramp on saturday afternoon/evening to see what the terrain would be like. It was immediately steep and daunting, parts of it requiring both hands and feet to ascend; more like rock climbing. Still it wasn't too frightening, except for one bit where someone had carved a wooden chair right infront of a massive
Simon at the saddle
Simon chillin' at the saddle
drop so that your legs would dangle over the edge. Excited by the chair (as anyone would be), I sat down and fell prey to this practical joke, turning around to see just how high we were. Anyway all went smoothly, although we did go off trail for a while thanks to some poorly signposted sections, meaning we made it back to Queenstown's centre only just before nightfall.
Afetr that all that was needed was a big meal and some good rest for the climb the next day. We stayed in a Queenstown Backpackers Hostel with an ear-shattering snorer who actually nearly choked himself on occasion with the inner workings of his own nose, only to wake himself up in shock at some unknown sound. It's crazy how much anger you can feel in these situations, it's clearly not his fault he snores, but I still found myself celebrating a mini-victory on each of his awakenings. What a bastard I am, I know. So we only got about an hour or twos sleep, Simon sleeping in the kitchen area to escape the noise.
We got up at around 7:30am, grabbed a few more supplies for our daypacks and
The final 'scramble' to the summit
began the ascent, tracing the first easy section we did the night before carefully through slightly blurrier and more tired eyes. Once through this section we began the real challenge, and possibly the road to dissapointment as we knew that if there was too much snowfall we didn't have either ice-picks or ice-pick skills that we'd need to complete the ascent. Luckily the mountain was visible in the distance and with a thin layer of snow scattered only on a small portion of it, looked pretty do-able.
We trekked on further and further away from Queenstown tredding on a bizzare mix of mud and icicles. The view to our left at this point was unbelievable; infact the pictures in this blog (all taken by Simon), really speak for themselves and illustrate most of it much more than writing about it could. However one picture I decided not to put up was of my bloody foot, as at this point in the trek I had realised a small cut on my left heel had opened up into one big enough that it had bloodied half of my sock. The pain in my legs from the walk had totally distracted me
One of the many steep drops beside us...
and so it the cut had been rubbing my shoe all the way and getting worse. Still it wasn't a problem and was quickly bandaged up, though a good reminder for me to prepare for blisters and stuff like this in future!
Anyway we continued on towards the Ben Lomond Saddle, approaching some nasty drops to our left and the first signs of some snow. We were pretty tired at this point, and with the knowledge of the fact that we had a coach to catch to get home only four or so hours later, were pushing ourselves a little too hard to get up and down again. We past a couple of people at this point and then reached the saddle of Ben Lomond where we took pictures of each other sitting on the signpost with our backs to one of the coolest views i've ever seen. We then saw the route to the summit, easily the hardest looking bit of terrain yet - a steep and in places, unstable, rocky narrow route up besides a dizzying drop to our right. Again it was back to rock-climbing, or more accurately as the guide describes it - scrambling, up
Me at the summit (the rock behind me to the right)
this tiring and relentless route to the summit. Having raced up this quick we were beggining to feel the effects of altitude sickness a little sooner than you normally would, and when we were very near to the top we began to feel the effects of this. I feel that we have not evolved correctly in this respect, the last sensation our body needs when up mountains is dizzyness from the effects of the altitude - totally unhelpful, and so a sit down was required.
As Simon nibbled on a bit of ginger cake - brilliant for easing nausea caused by these things apparently, I scrambled up a little bit more and round the corner only to see that we'd actually already pretty much made it. The rock of the summit was right behind us, and the track only appeared to wind round the mountain - we were at the top! We took a few weary looking pictures at this point and began an even more nerve-wracking descent, being very, very careful to avoid slipping at all. This part was the most challenging i'd say, not for how tiring it was or because it required any specific techniques, but
Simon at the summit
Simon working them shades at the summit
for the very small room for error it allowed. To distract us on the way down were some cool looking 'wetas' - big grasshopper type bugs that dotted back and forth between our feet.
Anyway once on much flatter ground we were able to 'smash' the rest of it as kiwis say as it was sooo much easier this way round. We passed one guy who asked what the summit was like, 'It's pretty awesome' I said, 'pretty dangerous though too, big drop!', 'Awesome.' he said with a big fat grin - that pretty much sums up the mentality here.
When we finally made it back into Queenstown we began to realise the simple fact that we were very tired and so after eating the most amazing curry we got on our coach. We then entered some kind of strange dreamworld where conversation with each other and self-respect infront of the general public no longer mattered, I only awoke to wipe the dribble off of my mouth and my day pack before returning to dozing in an almost self-damaging body position.
So after walking home I went to bed pretty quick at around 9pm and was permitted
In the snow
Us taking a break in one of the patches of snow on the saddle
sleep by my confused body clock at around 1am. Anyway the whole thing was bloody awesome, and I think i'm going to do one more of these type of things before tackling all the big mountains in the hemel region on my return in about 17 days (roughly, you know). I can't wait to see you all again, I'm getting pretty excited to come back already, it's been a very long time!
Anyway i'll do one more blog I think and then I'll look forward to speaking to you all in person! Hope you're all good and things are going well back there!
Speak soon, Tom
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