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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March 1, 1938.)

The Making of Mountaineers

page 23

The Making of Mountaineers.

Mountaineering, says the popular belief, is a form of insanity. Once accept that view and the railway mystery excursions stand condemned. For they are making mountaineers. Inevitably so. Because almost every tramper has in him the stuff of which a mountaineer is made, awaiting such contact with the high hills as the mystery tramps provide.

Trampers who feel the urge to step up to higher things have a glorious opportunity this holiday season. They will not find the step as big as they might fear. True, there are important ways in which mountains differ from the element in which the tramper usually moves. There is a lot more rock; often there is snow and ice. But if the mountaineer has acquired a greater poise and judgment such as only experience can provide, the tramper yields him little in general endurance.

Scores, perhaps hundreds, of trampers have graduated to the climbing class in Canterbury in the last few years. The writer is one instance. He acquired a love of climbing almost by accident, and not very well equipped, made his first ascent under winter conditions at Arthur's Pass. With seven others, several tyros like himself but most of them proficient mountaineers, he climbed Avalanche Peak (6,003 ft.) in two hours—at that time supposed to be a winter record. And although “Avalanche” is one of the most notorious peaks in the National Park, all of the inexperienced trampers were in the first bunch on the summit ridge, apparently as fresh as any members of the party.

Arthur's Pass provides the best and most accessible training ground for the climbing enthusiast in Canterbury; and summer is the best time to make a start there. The lower peaks are then practically free of snow, and the newcomer may scramble almost at will, getting the “feel” of the mountains and the joy of first achievement, while risking few of the dangers with which mountain-climbing is usually associated. Though that does not mean that he should not first ask the advice of some competent climber, and take such precautions as are necessary.

The accessibility of Arthur's Pass is a strong point in its favour; it may be reached in about three and a-half hours from Christchurch, and at the cost of only a few shillings. It is the recognised headquarters of mountaineering in Canterbury, and in holiday season especially there are always experienced men at hand to offer any needed advice or guidance. Then the variety it offers would alone be sufficient to make it popular. There are bush and river trips of all kinds, while the climbs proper range from hills of 3,000 feet or so, to Rolleston, not the highest, but certainly the first big peak which young climbers aspire to conquer. Nor is it necessary for the tramper to buy a lot of expensive equipment for his first summer season. An ice-axe is useful, and it is good to become used to one; but well-nailed boots, and the inevitable pack, are sufficient to see any fit person to the top of “Avalanche.” Any climber will tell him where he may not go unarmed.

Whether the newcomer to the mountains essays such first ascents with others of his class, or with experienced men, they are adventures he will not easily forget. They will be the trips on which his feeling for the mountains will be sharpened. He will remember, and rightly, that 6,000 feet is—well, a long way above sea level, and a good deal higher than most New Zealanders have climbed. And Rolleston, he will console himself, is only 1,450 feet higher, merely in fact the next step to anyone who works hard to acquire climbing experience.

Those moments of realisation will be born, not in shouts of ecstasy, but in the long periods of silence in high up resting places, drenched (one hopes!) in sunshine. Maybe the climber will suck an orange, or he may munch a mouthful of raisins or nibble a cheese sandwich. Each man's thoughts, though unspoken, will be the same; for thus early has the climber's creed been adopted. “Always a little further.”

And that creed? Is it a madman's creed? Is mountaineering only another name for insanity—or suicide? So sober men say. But then they have never climbed mountains.

Smoking was a perfect craze with the great ladies of two hundred years ago. There were no cigarettes in those days so they smoked pipes. Pictures of the period are full of interest. One is of a girl walking along a garden-path followed by a maid bearing a tobacco-pipe. Another depicts a lady of quality smoking her pipe in her bath. A third shows a pretty girl, her trim waist encircled by the arm of her lover. He is evidently devoted but she has eyes only for her pipe at which she is fondly gazing. How these fine ladies and their cavaliers would have revelled in “toasted” with its exquisite purity and delightful aroma. Toasting it is that rids this incomparable tobacco of its nicotine. But that is only one of its charms. The five brands of the genuine toasted, Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold owe their wide popularity to sterling merit. There is no tobacco to compare with them. They are unique!*

On the ridge leading from Otira to Mt. Barron. (Photo: W. D. Frazer.)

On the ridge leading from Otira to Mt. Barron.
(Photo: W. D. Frazer.)

page 24