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April 2021 Issue
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Don French completes 100 Peaks Challenge

It’s taken 30 years, but the 100 Peaks Challenge is finally over for Don French.

On February 21, the veteran mountaineer (pictured at right) ticked off his final summit of the New Zealand Alpine Club’s climbing challenge, the West Coast’s elusive 2557m Mt Unicorn, making him the first climber to summit the 100 peaks.

It capped off a successful summer for French, who just weeks prior topped 2837m Mt Green, the penultimate climb on his list.

With 1.2km of vertical rock climbing, Mt Unicorn has evaded French for years, and he has had six failed attempts at its summit.

His successful season was aided greatly by excellent climbing conditions on the West Coast.

“The weather windows were far bigger than we needed, which is exceptional,” French said.

Both approaches were taken from the West Coast – which French prefers.

“There is a whole gambit of challenges along the way; strong river accesses, bush, steep climbing. You’ve got to find your route – you can’t just follow aimlessly along in other people’s footsteps,” he said.

After descending from Mt Unicorn, French enjoyed a well-earned soak in the Welcome Flat hot springs.

“We arrived late at night, and celebrated with a bottle of pinot we had stowed behind a tree in anticipation,” he said.

With the challenge complete, French has no plans to retire from climbing, but said he will have a refocus.

“When you’re standing on top of the peaks, you look out and think maybe I’ll do that one. One hundred peaks is not all the peaks – there are a lot more,” he said.

“Every summit is special, and this completes the end of a phase. It’s going to be interesting to see if my motivation changes over the next year or so.”