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May 2011 Issue
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Greg Child leading pitch one of his Excommunication, a major new route on The Priest in Castle Valley, Utah.
Australian climber and award winning author Greg Child is the headline act at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival

Greg Child’s reputation stands out in the climbing world like the mountain peaks he has conquered. Among a string of achievements is his climb of K2’s North Ridge (8611m) without supplementary oxygen and Everest’s North Ridge (8848m) more than once. He’s also pioneered routes on the legendary El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, India’s Mt Shivling (6553m) and on Trango Tower (6248m) in Pakistan.

He was the first person to ascend the Northwest Ridge of Pakistan’s Gasherbrum IV (7925m), the first to ascend the Wall of Shadows on Alaska’s Mt Hunter and the first to climb Great Sail Peak (1617m) on Baffin Island, Canada.

It’s this range of climbing experience – big peaks, big walls, rock and sport climbing – that gives Child the most satisfaction looking back on his 30 year career.

“To have stayed pretty good at all kinds of climbing for a long time is the thing I like the most about my career,” he says. “I was never really top of the game in any one of them, but I did all of them pretty competently.”

Now in his fifties, waiting for a hip replacement and a solo parent to his six-year-old daughter Ariann, Child, who lives in Utah, USA, doesn’t do much climbing these days. That’s why he’s found the time to fly down to New Zealand this July to talk about his career and his proudest moment – summiting K2 – a the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival.

“I went [to K2] a number of times to try it,” says Child. “When we finally did it, it was satisfying because we did it very expeditiously. But [afterwards] I remember thinking it would almost be better in some perverse way if I hadn’t reached the summit because then I’d have something to come back for.

“But when you’ve done it, that’s it; it was almost like a slight let down.”

Coming from the low-tech era before the advent of satellite phones, the Internet and social media, Child says he finds it amazing how connected many of today’s climbers are.

He says nearly all expeditions are now wired to social media and instant communication.

“Before all of this, there was something nice about going to Pakistan and knowing when you said goodbye to people you’d have no contact with them for a couple of months,” he says. “I don’t necessarily see that it’s a good thing that everything is now reported on and known about in real time because it creates a sense that we’re on stage.

“It takes you away from the idea that you’re going to the mountains for some sort of solitude.”

Compared to his heyday, Child also believes climbing has increasingly become a “beauty contest”.

“In the old days a couple of guys would go out and look incredibly dirty for several months on the glaciers,” he says. “Now they’re wondering whether they should shave so they look good for a photo shoot. There’s a lot of airbrushing in the climbing scene these days.”

Despite the criticisms, Child is excited about the future of the sport. Before coming to New Zealand, he’s attending a climbing festival in France where an award for the best climb of 2010 will be given. Based on the entries, he says he is “heartened” by a trend for small expeditions returning to difficult and remote exploratory peaks in places like the Himalayas.

“They’re doing it in the traditional way,” he says. “There’s still health in the sport.”