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November 2013 Issue
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Walkshorts, November 2013

Mayan Smith-Gobat’s dream of climbing El capitan and Half Dome in under 24 hours is in doubt due to the closure of US national parks

World record climbs hampered by Congress

Star Kiwi climber Mayan Smith-Gobat’s progress in Yosemite National Park has been stalled – not by injury or weather, but by the US Government shutdown.

Smith-Gobat had managed to break her own female speed climbing record on The Nose – an iconic 880m buttress on El Capitan – as well as the mixed team record, before rangers closed the park.

At the time Wilderness went to print the free-climber had a frustrating wait in perfect climbing conditions to see if the Congress could sort its dispute.

She was still hoping to break the world record for both men and women for climbing The Nose in under two hours, 26 minutes, and become the first woman to free climb a link-up between El Capitan and Half Dome in under 24 hours, but only had until the end of October at the very latest before flying back to New Zealand.

“I’m totally frustrated,” Smith-Gobat told Wilderness. “I’d heard rumours this could happen but didn’t believe it until the cut off date came and they started putting road blocks up.”

All Smith-Gobat could do was keep training and cross her fingers in the hope that the situation sorted itself out.

“I’ll keep the training up,” she said. “But the weather’s amazing there right now, probably the best October I’ve seen, so it’s super frustrating.

“But there are positives as well – I’ve been able to hang with my friends here. The valley’s still going to be there next year.

“It’s not as bad as for people who have waited 20 years to raft the Grand Canyon and only have one chance in their lifetime. It’s not the end of the world.”

How trampers can help unique little bird

Megan Willans releasing rock wren on Secretary Island. Photo: Sanjay Thakur

Megan Willans releasing rock wren on Secretary Island. Photo: Sanjay Thakur

Trampers are being urged to keep an eye out for a little bird conservationists say is as important to our natural heritage as the kiwi.

Rock wrens are found mostly in alpine regions between Fiordland and Tasman. They’re related to the rifleman and these two species are structurally unique to every other species of bird in the world.

But numbers are falling and, because the rock wren has a lower profile than some other New Zealand birds, less is known about the extent of threat to its survival.

DOC recently moved 41 rock wrens to the safety of predator-controlled Secretary Island in the mouth of Doubtful Sound. It’s been a successful move with a survey this year finding 63 birds to have hatched and fledged on the island.

But more needs to be done on the mainland and that’s where trampers come in. “We want to know the grid reference of where you see rock wrens, how many you see and whether you have seen any nests,” said DOC ranger Megan Willans.

“Rock wrens have a very high pitched call, stout legs, are greeny-brown in colour and flit around a lot, bobbing their head.

“If you see them, head into a DOC office to let them know the details.”

Willans believes it’s absolutely vital that as much is known about these little birds as possible. “The rock wren is the only true alpine bird in Aotearoa and is one of the most ancient bird species in the world – why would we want to let it go?” she said.

“Our biggest stumbling block is mice. We don’t know how to handle their constant reinvasion. The theory is that the birds used to nest low down, but have been driven by predators to nest more on bluffs.”

There used to be seven species of wren in New Zealand. Now, only the rock wren and the rifleman remain.

New DOC boss supports Kauri National Park

DOC’s director general Lou Sanson is keen to get the ball rolling on creating a ‘Kauri National park’ in Northland. Photo: Wilderness

DOC’s director general Lou Sanson is keen to get the ball rolling on creating a ‘Kauri National park’ in Northland. Photo: Wilderness

The formation of New Zealand’s 15th national park could be just round the corner, after DOC’s new Director General confirmed it’s a high priority.

Lou Sanson, who’s been in the job just over a month, says he wants to see a kauri park formed, which would make it the only national park in the northern half of the North Island.

Forest and Bird’s North Island Conservation Manager, Mark Bellingham, says national park status could lead to greater protection against the threat of kauri dieback but he’s worried the park could just be a token effort.

“In the last five years DOC has said the national park would just be in the Waipoua, which would make it the smallest national park we have.

“We’re promoting a bigger park, as a small park would disengage major iwi who would like to be a part of it. A bigger park would make a huge difference to the local economy.

“There needs to be more funding to protect trees from the disease, and improved protection status would mean there’s potential for greater investment. But a small park would only be a token.”

Heaphy mountain bike season could be extended

DOC is proposing to increase the mountain bike season on the Heaphy Track from three months to nine

DOC is proposing to increase the mountain bike season on the Heaphy Track from three months to nine

Mountain biking on the Heaphy Track is set to continue and could even be extended to nine months of the year.

Nearly 6000 bikers rode the track in DOC’s three-year winter trial, which allowed riding between May and September.

DOC believes mountain biking should continue, after largely positive feedback from trampers and bikers, and says consideration should be given to extending the season from March 1 to November 30.

This is despite the fact that 10 per cent of carnivorous snails found on the track have been crushed.

“That figure is a concern,” said DOC’s Martin Rodd. “But we don’t know whether it’s been caused by bike tyre or by foot and this is something we’ll need to monitor.

“The feedback we’ve had from trampers and mountain bikers has been really quite positive – it appears to have been a success. It’s a big call to consider extending the season so we’d want to make sure everyone has a fair chance to have their say. Any changes such as this would take years, rather than months.”

Local trampers have mixed opinions, according to Raymond Salisbury from Nelson Tramping Club. Rodd recently spoke to members of Nelson and Waimea Tramping Clubs and Salisbury said not everyone supports mountain biking on the track.

“Some people warned that it will lead to user conflict and that there are plenty of other places for people to bike in the area,” he said. “Personally I think it’s good to get New Zealanders outside and enjoying the backcountry, whether it’s by foot or on a bike. But they should keep the track bike-free over the high season and that includes March, which is just about the busiest month of the year.

“There’s also a lot of money being spent on hardening the Heaphy Track and building huge bridges and uncovered decking at the huts. This is all for the bikers and it would be nice to see more money benefitting trampers.”

The Heaphy experiment has paved the way for mountain biking to be considered on tracks in other national parks, including Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Fiordland.

– Matthew Pike

No boundaries

The group reaching the ridge on the slopes of Mt Cheeseman

The group reaching the ridge on the slopes of Mt Cheeseman

Youngsters with disabilities have pushed themselves to new limits by spending two days high in the Southern Alps.

The group of nine spent five hours building a snow cave on the slopes of Mt Cheeseman and four of them slept there overnight.

The trip was organised by Recreate NZ, an Auckland-based charity that gives young people with disabilities unforgettable experiences.

The charity’s general manager Brent Jenkin said the youngsters get a lot from these experiences. “It’s all about confidence, self esteem, independence and the school-to-work transition. We feel our trips really help with that and our Life Skills course, which teaches them things like how to cook and use public transport, is very popular.

“The trips offer a lot of ‘firsts’ and, for everyone on this trip, snow caving was a first. We try to push them a little bit, but seeing their peers doing something is a great motivator for them. We know their limits and some will get tired more quickly than others so we always have a plan B.”

If you’re interested in getting involved, visit

Fifty new runs in whitewater kayak guide

NZ White Water1Zak ShawFor those who like to leap down waterfalls in fibreglass cocoons the latest issue of New Zealand Whitewater is about to hit bookstores.

The book features 170 kayaking runs from across the country, including 50 new runs not featured in the previous edition.

Author Graham Charles is normally in the thick of the action, tackling every rapid and waterfall before putting pen to paper. But this time he’s had to take a back seat approach.

“Normally I test all the runs but this time I’ve had people write for me,” he said. “There are a lot of crazy runs with big waterfalls, some of which I know I’ll never do.

“The place with the most new runs is the Bay of Plenty. There are a lot of young kayakers there and the region’s really well set up for waterfalls. There are plenty of steep creeks and when it rains there are giant waterfalls.

“The new runs reflect the changing nature of the sport. The level’s lifting all the time with better skills and equipment. Waterfall hucking is the trend and we have a generation of young kayakers for whom doing a 15m waterfall is the norm.”

Charles welcomes the changes to the sport and believes the constantly evolving nature of it is healthy. “I think it’s a good thing. I have no grudge that I used to be at the forefront. Everyone gets older and, when you’re 47, you can’t take the hits that you can when you’re 23. There’s a lot of collateral damage with broken bones and so on – there’s no way I could do it now.”

The new issue is significantly different to the old one, with a complete change of script, new runs and a slightly different lay-out.

“The book’s been completely re-written but I hope it’s retained the humour of the old issues. It has new cartoons and I like to take the piss out of people and myself,” said Charles.

“The main intent is to get people enthused about the runs. It’s not a blow by blow account of each run. The river will do its own thing and a class five paddler should be good enough to cope.

“The book’s aimed mostly at higher level kayakers – the bulk of the runs are class three, four or five. Class two runs will only be included if they’re absolute classics.”