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Hunter’s high

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June 2021 Issue

Greg Duley is best known as the editor of NZ Hunter magazine and for hosting the TV show NZ Hunter Adventures with his son Willie. But he’s also an accomplished climber and here he talks to Alistair Hall about his recent record-breaking climb of Unicorn with Don French.

You joined Don French on his record-breaking climb of Unicorn (2557m), which saw him complete the 100 Peak Challenge. What was it like to climb with Don?
Don and I have been climbing together for a couple of years after we first met at Tukino Lodge on Mt Ruapehu where I do ice climbing most winters. With Don’s years of experience and my enthusiasm and drive, we make a pretty reasonable mountaineering team for a couple of old buggers! Climbing the Strauchon Face of Mt Unicorn with Don was great fun.

You’re a well-known hunter, how is it you came to be on this climbing trip?
I’ve been transalpine tramping and doing some informal mountaineering for most of my hunting career – the two actually go hand-in-hand quite well. But I decided some years ago to start getting a bit more serious about it. I’m slowly working my way through climbing all the premier 3000m peaks, many of them solo, to see if I can bag them all before my knees give out for good.

As far as outdoor challenges go, where would you rank this one?
It’s up there with some of my most enjoyable and satisfying climbs, due to the planning involved because of the remoteness and seldom-climbed nature of it; and the commitment required if you are going to pitch it – meaning many hours with a moderately heavy pack including your rack and bivvy gear over a day and a half on the face itself (poor Emil, our cameraman, had camera gear to carry as well). The weight on our backs made every pitch feel a couple of grades harder, especially towards the end of the day. It is an immense face of rock, the largest in New Zealand, with no bail-out options, and the feeling of bivvying on the knife-edge saddle just below Unicorn’s peak after 24 long pitches that day was exhilarating!

The ultralight Lowa Alpine SLs helped Greg save a lot of weight on the long climb of Unicorn. Photo: NZ Hunter

When choosing gear for your outdoor adventures, what considerations are you making?

It depends on the trip, but on our TV Show expeditions, because we are carrying so much more gear than most – with hunting, climbing, packrafting and all our camera gear – the lightest weight while still being fit for purpose is nearly always our biggest consideration.

You used a pair of Lowa SL GTX boots on the trip. Why did you choose these?

The SLs are the lightest full shank climbing boot Lowa make – just 1400g/pair for my UK size 12s. They weigh no more than an approach shoe, but have enough support for moderate ice climbing. As we needed our boots to do the hanging glacier section a third of the way up the face, and also for the descent, their extreme light weight was a huge advantage in our packs. They also have a super low profile, making you feel more in touch with the rock and ice.

Their outsole construction is the next best to a climbing shoe I’ve found for moderate alpine rock climbs.

The rand on this boot looks different. What’s going on there? 

To save weight, Lowa has used a series of reptile-like PU scales over a synthetic microfibre upper instead of the usual solid rubber rand. While this sort of construction is never going to give quite as much protection, nor last as long, as a full leather boot with rubber rand, I have been impressed with how the SLs have performed over the two years I’ve been wearing them.

What’s your overall impression of the boot?

I’m immensely impressed with them, and would use them exclusively for all our trans-alpine hunts and climbs now, except for the middle of winter and the steepest ice – they don’t have the extra insulation nor quite as much support as Lowa’s Alpine Experts. They are good to go from new with no break-in period required.

This story was produced in partnership with Lowa New Zealand. Watch Greg and Don climb Unicorn on NZ Hunter Adventures (season 7, episode 5) on TVNZ OnDemand.