Saturday, September 4, 2010
The Energy Center of the World - An Epic Excursion with Earthquakes
It is spring here but you wouldn't know it. For comparison sake, it is similar to Colorado: it may warm up and be rather nice but then snow a couple of feet (which is nice too). It is mostly cold though, so many students, for their mid-semester/ spring break, ventured for the northern, more temperate climate. I decided to make my way to Castle Hill, about a 6 hour journey in a car from Dunedin. Sit back because this is going to be an interesting story.
My problem thus far in New Zealand has been transportation. I do not have a lot of money and want to do things that few other internationals students desire; therefore, sharing rides is unlikely. Petrol is expensive, so it comes down to crunching numbers for the cheapest, most reliable option (I could also hitch hike, which is smiled upon here, but it is not reliable for a hundred or more kilometer journey).
Here was my plan the night before the break: "I have a week to do something. I know of a couple climbers in Castle Hill that I could crash with -- so I will head there. Ben invited me to go skiing, which is expensive but would be fun. Aight, so here it is. Plan A: I'll go skiing with Ben, Stu, and others, head back for playing in the evening church band, ask if I can use a car to drive to Castle Hill and live out it, and go bouldering for five days. Plan B: Go skiing, catch a bus up to Christchurch, rent a car, live in it, go bouldering for five days, and catch a bus down."
Plan A would have been much cheaper but no one was willing and able to lend me their car. So renting it is! Renting a car plus the bus fare was cheaper than I thought (about the same to ski!). These details are boring but they do lead to a better story in the end.
The bus ride was long. People like to have their comfort stops... However, I arrived on time to reach the car rental. It was actually a new compact that was rather nice. I was a bit nervous to drive due to the fact that I have never driven on the left side, in a left-handed manual, going around the belts (get it? roundabout). It was a bit stressful going through the second largest city in New Zealand but once I was on 73 heading to Arthur's Pass, everything was fine, especially when seeing the beauty abounding. I took many stops just to look around what the Dali Lama called the "energy center of the world". To reach Castlehill, you must go over Porter's Pass but many people continue to go through Arthur's Pass, which is suppose to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is also the only way the Maori people were able to reach the west coast through the southern alps.
It was raining but I didn't care -- the rock is limestone and the sun brutally vibrant (mostly because the ozone is thin there) so things would dry out quickly. Pointing out things to myself and laughing with a childish glee, I finally met up with Alex and Kathryn, the English couple who are traveling and climbing around New Zealand for a year. We hung out for a bit at the place they were staying (Flock Hill Lodge), played some ping pong, caught up, and stoked the fire.
I was ready to crush in the morning (which means to climb hard... or at least think you will climb hard). Even after sleeping in the compact car (not recommended) and the cloudy raining morning, there was still plenty to be climbed. Words cannot describe this place. From a climber's perspective, there is literally no end to the boulders. I felt like a kid in a toy/ candy store, running about from boulder to boulder... losing interest in one and pointing and screaming at another. The climbing is much different though: using triceps, shoulders, and core muscles to wallow up this sometimes perfectly smooth, round boulders strewn in an open plain, sandwiched between glorious mountain peaks. I climbed well that day and the next but I was utterly destroyed even after the rest day -- I couldn't lift my arms above my head!
Friday. Last full day in the Castlehill area. I went up early to warm up while Alex and Kathryn were getting themselves ready but the weather played foul. Rain turned to sunshine, drying the rock, but then turned to snow, shedding several centimeters of fresh snow. It made for nice ping-pong weather in a woodstove-warmed hut. Kathryn offered or me to sleep in their storage tent because I could actually stretch out. The snow had stopped at this point and the skies were clear, dropping the temperatures drastically but I was warm nonetheless, dreaming about the next, final day of Caslehill.
Here are my thoughts when I was awoke my movement during the night (Keep in mind, I had been sleeping in the car by a lake for four nights and with all the new snow, the nearby ski resorts were detonating for avalanche control):
Bounce Bounce Bounce
wh--what? why is the car moving. why are Alex and Kath trying to get me up so early? - said in an awoken-too-soon-and-angry tone.
Bouncing stops, start gentle shuffling front to back every five minutes or so
why would the ski resorts we detonating so early?? Those must be some pretty strong explosives if I can feel them all the way down here.
Sleepiness fades and irrational fear increase
I think that was an earth quake -- what if lava starts gushing out from the ground?
I found out the next morning that it was a 7.2-7.4 earthquake that woke me up the night before. I was confused to be actually bouncing inches off the ground, up and down, and thought that I was in the car. I didn't think that it was that bad though. Alex and I joked that there might be some new boulder problems because of the quake moving some boulders around. There weren't. I climbed for about 2 hours and then waved off the English couple, who had been so hospitable to me, and made my way back to Christchurch, with little knowledge of the earthquake.
I passed through the epicenter unaware, trying to get gas but there was no power. I eventually made it to the car rental place where I was met with wide-eyes and unbelief. The lady found it hard to believe that I drove through Darfield (the epicenter) and was returning the car on time with gas in it. She also found it hard to believe that I would make it back to Dunedin that night because everything was closed and the city was in semi-chaos (really not that bad). I made it on the only bus leaving that evening for Dunedin and slept well on my cold but comfortable bed.
The earthquake is not what is interesting to me, though. The Castle Hill area is quite honestly the most beautiful place I have ever seen. There is some sort of strong pull to the place, or an energy. I met such a diverse range of people, all doing cool activities. Climbers from Austria, skiers from Switzerland, Canadians, English, American, Kiwi, and Aussies are some of the nationalities I met. It is awesome to sit down for a meal and talk to such a diverse group of people, including a guy who has/is biking around New Zealand for 9 years preaching the Gospel. Next time I come to New Zealand in the winter I am going to bring two things only: skis and a bouldering pad and head to Castle Hill.
Posted by Daniel at 7:05 PM