Karl’s New Zealand Adventure!

Karl’s New Zealand Adventure!

Mt Sabre Feb 2023

As I peer over yet another improbable looking edge, “does it look like we can go that way?” floats the question from Brad- my climbing partner for perhaps the 10th time already today. We are high up on Mt Sabre, which is a 500m peak in the Fiordlands of the South Island NZ. Brad was out of sight, we are trying to descend the boulder strewn ridge line off Mt Sabre, where we had spent the previous night on the summit in a cave that we had happily stumbled across after 12 hrs of climbing.

Looking back at Mt Sabre, where we spent the previous evening on top.

This is day three of our adventure in the mountains. Despite being a gigantic piece of rock, it is but a speck in the overall beautiful landscape here. We can see the wonderous Milford sound from our high vantage spot, a place that tourists come from all over the world to see. There is no one else for miles.

We still have a long way to go to get to safety. My fingertips are raw, hands scraped and bleeding in many spots- “how do I explain the rough condition of my hands to my Osteo patients in two days time”? No time to ponder this question as I tiredly stumble. A fall here would mean at best, a helicopter rescue- time to concentrate on moving safely.

Months ago, emerging out of lock down I had wanted a climbing adventure to focus on, we somehow found a blog describing someone else’s adventure up Mt Sabre. That’s it, that sounds awesome. Lets’ climb Mt. Sabre we both agreed. Our first day consisted of 10 hrs of walking, scrambling, tricky route finding and some very nervous glances upwards… what had we got ourselves into?

In the lead up, I had trained in a bouldering gym twice per week with a ritual strength based warm up routine. I also had done daily squats, regular yoga and in the last two weeks I wore a weight vest around the house to simulate wearing a pack for hours. Looking up at the looming wall after 10hrs of non stop effort to get here, my physical preparation suddenly felt inadequate. Only days ago back in the gym I had congratulated myself as I had improved in every functional capacity test that I had used to measure my training progress. None of that mattered now as my stomach churned…

Near the end of day 1- Looking up at the imposing Mt. Sabre, we slept amongst the boulders at the base of the cliff that night.

After an evening encounter with an ever curious Kea, we slept (shivered rather than slept) out in the open air with the glaciers in the distance twinkling in the moonlight. The next day dawned beautiful, clear. Climbing such a big piece of rock we were cautious to ensure that we were on the right path, so we moved slowly and carefully. We found a pair of dropped climbing shoes, how could anyone climb this without shoes? The mind boggled at the unfortunate soul. The climbing was great- equal parts exhilarating and absorbing. It took us 12 hrs of continuous climbing to get to the summit and we were rewarded with a sunset and magnificent views from the top.

Day three consisted of multiple abseils to get off the summit, followed by hours of a scrambling traverse of the ridgeline to get down safely. Throughout our three-day adventure we had often pondered, just how fit were other people who did this in just one night? If we get through this adventure safely and happily, should we even be comparing ourselves to anyone else? So far, we had walked for 10hrs on day 1, climbed for 12hrs on day 2 and now on day 3 we were at least 4 hrs of scrambling in with the end of the ridgeline still a long way off.

Standing on the rough ridgeline and looking back at where we had come from, two days ago we had been at the glacial lake far below.

So how do I define success of this adventure? In our social media dominated world it’s easy to get distracted by the success of others. Was it getting to the top, or is it simply getting down safely? This was indeed an adventure where every step mattered. A point that was sharply illustrated as we reached the valley floor. A helicopter appeared and hovered over the ridge that we had only an hour ago traversed- it was a rescue in progress of another climber. We staggered exhausted into the hut after another 12-hour adventurous day in the mountains, hoping to share our story with like minded climbers. Barely an eyebrow was raised in response to our arrival, even by those with whom we shared a night in the hut several nights ago.

It seemed an inglorious end to our adventure however, our satisfaction remained sky high.

We had dreamed, planned, trained and stepped into the unknown… the world somehow seems brighter.