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The Last Day At Paynes


 

by Jackson Green

March 21, 2002

Paynes Ford is a wonderful climbing area in Golden Bay, New Zealand.

The zip of my tent fly opening pushes me the last few degrees so I topple over into complete consciousness. My sleeping bag is beginning to stick as the air warms in the morning sun. I inhale deeply to catch the aroma of old sweat and dirt that has become so familiar and pleasant. My eyes open to brilliant green, blue and orange nylon and I experience the same elation I have felt every morning I have spent here.

“I can hear something moving in there. Are you getting up?” inquires Graham.

With a mumble I unzip the tent to be greeted by the lean, grinning face of Graham. Graham comes from Maine and I don’t believe he has ever entirely rid himself of his jetlag. He rises every morning not more than half an hour after five o’clock. Further questioning reveals that he has already been into town this morning so my stirring occurs at a very leisurely eight AM.

I clamber from my tent and exchange a few words with Graham regarding the composition of his breakfast. After nagging bodily functions have been attended to I settle down to my own meal of dry Tri-Grain. Eaten with a fork from an aluminum billy in between swigs of water it makes a delightful breakfast, although I would be loath to touch such a thing at home. Here, with the sun on my bare back, Tri-Grain tastes like the food of kings.

Other campers start to stir and it is now my turn to wake people. A quick shake of the neighboring tent causes Merriss’s head to appear under the doorway and soon she and Mike have poured milk on their Tri-Grain and are hurrying their breakfast too.

“Ready to go?”

“Sure thing.” replies Graham.

I retrieve my bag and rope from the ground where I dropped them last night and we make our way down the hangdog driveway.

“It’s wonderful day,” I observe, “It’s a pity Palmerston can’t be like this.”

“Forecast is for rain this afternoon, though you wouldn’t think to look at it.”

“That’s New Zealand weather for you.”

We pass into the Paynes Ford scenic reserve and the dewy grass sooths my bare feet after the gravel of the driveway and road. We absently dance across the stepping-stones at each puddle in the path as we follow the way we have been so many times in the last week. To our left the wavy gray top of the cliff protrudes above the trees. I struggle to pick out the places that I have reached, each one bringing back a different route, a unique memory.

In no time we have reached the start of the Globe wall. I dump my rope signaling the start of the traditional morning banter

“You want to go first?”

“Umm, maybe … sure you don’t want to?”

“Well, I guess could”

“Ok”

“But then, I wouldn’t want to deprive you of the onsight”

“Have you already done this one?”

“Yeah, it’s quite nice”

“Looks a bit steep up the top”

“It’s not to bad”

“How hard was it again?”

“Only a 20”

“Alright then, I’ll give that a shot”

Despite our reluctance to be first up the climb is well within our capabilities. Graham climbs quickly and steadily. After putting in some thought to negotiate the first two moves he reaches the top in little more than a minute.

“Nice one”

“Thanks, it’s a little thin at the bulge there”

“Looked like you had no trouble though”

“Yeah, it’s fine”

My turn. I climb slower than Graham. I always do. Some steep ground on big holds, then an easy slab past the high first bolt and on to the second. But here things become more interesting. There is a huge handhold followed by a small overhang that appears to be completely blank. I reach high and feel around with my left hand but all there is to hold is some tiny slopers. “This was supposed to be easy” I mutter to myself. I come back down to the big hold.

I try reaching up with my right hand now, as high as I can go and still nothing. But there’s something way out right and low down. And there’s another a little higher up.

“That’s the way,” calls Graham “don’t know what you saw out left”

“I have an odd taste in these matters” I retaliate

Once the hidden hold is located its an easy ramble to the anchors and a short rap to the ground.

When I have organized the gear Graham declares that it is time for me to Body Nazis again. This rather gruesome sounding phrase is actually the name of a route I have been trying in the last few days. Despite having climbed to the top many times I seem unable to do the entire route without falling. Secretly I’ve wanted to have another go at this climb since I last fell off it two days ago.

“I don’t know. I’m still a bit sore from yesterday” I explain.

“It’s your last day here though, you have to give it one more try”

“I suppose you’re right, ok then”

It never does to show that one is too eager to climb something.

We stroll along the base of the cliff to the start of Body Nazis. A fantail flitting along beside us gives me an excuse to procrastinate for another minute so.

Looking up I examine the route as it weaves it’s way up the rock face that makes up the biggest part of the Globe wall. My mind repeats the moves as I prepare my gear.

Right hand on the big start hold, left foot high and a long move to a good pocket with my left. Feet up and clip with my right.

I unzip my rope bag and lay the rope out so it won’t tangle.

Right hand to the undercling, then left to some yucky sloper to help me get my right foot up, then left, but not too high. Clip with my left hand and reach to the blob.

I find some quickdraws and clip them to my harness.

Concentrate! Left foot up to a fragile little lip, two deep breaths, jump the right foot up to a big ledge, reshuffle left hand to sidepull the blob, body tension and quick with the right hand to a small sloper, left foot up, left hand, right foot, right hand and clip with the left.

I take off my shirt and find my chalk bag

Match left hand to right, feet up, right hand up to sloper, left to big pocket, rock over onto right foot, reach up with right hand and stand up into the rest. Hang out here for ages and then an easy cruise to the top.

I blow my nose. I’m ready.

“Mind giving me a belay?” I ask.

“You don’t need one of those do you?” reply’s Graham as he threads the rope through his ATC. “It’s not like you’re going to fall off or anything”

“True, true”

I start up the route.

First clip done, just like I planned.

The undercling, damn, that hold gets smaller every time.

Second clip, but I fumble it and it takes ages. My right hand is pumped. Get the blob, feet up. Oh no, wrong foot! Fix it, no, falling.

“I’ll just go up and put the draw on the third bolt”

“Ok”

Back on the ground and it’s Graham’s turn to climb. He tries a route called Dave’s Arete. Easier than Body Nazis but much more sustained, and Graham has never been on the route before so he will have to work out the moves as he goes. He climbs strongly and gets to within three or four moves of the top before taking a big fall. He’s disappointed; an onsight of Dave’s Arete would be as hard as anything he had ever onsighted before.

Now it’s my turn on Body Nazis again. I’ve got the first three draws on, so that should halve the time it takes for me to clip. Just so long as my right hand holds out till I get to the rest.

Shirt off, blow my nose and start up the route.

“Wouldn’t want that extra point two of a gram in your nose.” Says Graham, “That’ll be the difference.”

I hardly hear him.

First clip, nice.

Second clip, that goes smoothly too. Blob, left foot first, good.

Third clip. My right hand is tired and it’s desperate, but I get it.

Match the left hand, shake the right, chalk up, right hand up and wide. No way, that’s way to slopey. I hold on hard, really hard, pull with my right hand. I fall off.

I notice a great big hold six inches further right from where my hand was. So stupid! I should have got that. There were only two more moves to the rest.

I carry on up to the route and put all the draws on.

“I’ll come back this afternoon and do it then” I say.

“But you’re so close” protests Graham “have another go now”

“Nah, my right hand is wasted. It’ll be fine by this afternoon”

“It’s supposed to rain then”

“Oh well, I might have to take some more time off work to get my quickdraws back down”

We stroll gently back to camp. From the fridge I grab avocado, tomatoes, lettuce and camembert. The cool crisp sandwich is just what I need after some hard pulling in the morning.

“Might go for a swim after this” Graham suggests.

I agree as I savor the camembert tinged with tomato juice.

With full stomachs we wander down to the river and jump in. After the fine weather over the last few days the water is finally beginning to get to a reasonable temperature. I swim across the to the far bank and back again. The water is clear but deep, I cannot see the rocks below. I get, as always, an eerie feeling as the bottomless green water swirls around me. I feel almost relieved when I step out on the bank again. I am also refreshed, and perhaps even a little cleaner.

Graham and I return to camp and find Mike and Merriss just finishing the avocado and tomatoes. Merriss begins to read out loud from Lord of the Rings. The sun is warm and the grass is soft. I close my eyes and before I know it the nine riders have been swept away and two hours have passed.

“Let’s go climbing.” I say.

“Alright, where?” Merriss asks.

“At the Globe wall. I still have to get my quickdraws down”.

“I think I’ll just watch and take photos. I’m tired enough for today”

“Me too, I’ll just belay.” says Graham.

So we all walk down to the Globe wall again. Mike spends a lot of time looking at the line of the climb he has been trying a little recently: “Feeling lucky, Punk?” Meanwhile, I prepare myself for Body Nazi’s again. By the time I have run through the route in my head, put on my harness and tied into the rope Mike has come over to watch and Graham is ready to belay. I remove my shirt, put on my shoes, open my chalkbag and blow my nose.

The rock feels cool against my fingertips. The first holds are nice, solid. I move fluidly up past the first clip and reach the undercling. I hardly even notice where. My mind is blank and my body is climbing. My feet move themselves now, no need for me to think about which goes where. Suddenly, it seems, I’m moving off the blob, and then I make the third clip.

Now I reach my right hand up to the sloper. And then further again to the better part. My feet rearrange themselves again and my left hand moves to the big pocket. Then I rockover and I’m standing at the rest. I hardly even broke a sweat.

The rest is easy on my fingers but it does take some back strength to stay there. All too soon I have to move again. My body goes back into autopilot mode. I cross over to a small crimper with my right hand and then reach high with my left, then high with my right to a little biscuit. I clip holding on the biscuit. Then two more long moves and I can reach the last clip. Then there are three more small crimps on some steeper ground and up to the ledge. The mantle is simple as long as I am careful with my feet and I’m at the top, clipping the anchor.

The world comes flooding back. Mike, Graham and Merriss are congratulating me. Have they been calling out encouragement over the whole route? I don’t know. My feet are quite sore so I take off my shoes and clip them to my harness. I notice that my knot is easy to untie, a pleasant change at the top of this route. I begin to abseil down the route and collect the draws. All right, I’ve done it! “And about time too.” I think.

Down on the ground again I belay Mike up Feeling Lucky. He looks like he is going to make it but falls at the crux at the very end of the route. Apparently this is where everyone falls on this route. It must be very frustrating.

“Do you want to have a go?” Mike asks

“No, I think I’m done. I’m satisfied”

Back at camp we cook a dinner using absolutely all the food we have left. It’s and odd assortment of vegetables and some tofu with no seasoning or spices at all but after a day at Paynes Ford this tastes wonderful. We all take turns reading Lord of the Rings until it is dark.

Back in bed in my tent I feel contented. Tomorrow I will have to go back to work and the real world but right now who cares. I drift to sleep and dream of limestone.



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