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To the “top of the hill” and back down again

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Author Topic: To the “top of the hill” and back down again  (Read 528 times)
« on: April 04, 2009, 03:38:09 pm »

Scaling mountains all in a day's work

But still scary for a Marlborough businessman

By ROSE DALY - The Marlborough Express | Wednesday, 01 April 2009

MADE IT: Marlborough identity Graeme Giles stands on the summit of Aoraki-Mount Cook.

MADE IT: Marlborough identity Graeme Giles
stands on the summit of Aoraki-Mount Cook.

Marlborough businessman and salsa dancer Graeme Giles is no regular mountaineer, but he does like to find himself between a rock and hard place.

He has just returned from climbing to the summit of Aoraki-Mount Cook, the fourth mountain he has tackled in four years.

"It scares the hell out of me," he says, noting that reliving the trip still made his palms sweaty. So you have to ask, why?

"It puts you in a mind frame that helps you tackle other things in life," he says.

The entrepreneur started to climb with international guide Marty Schmidt four years ago as part of a sponsorship deal. Once a year, Mr Schmidt picks him up and they head off to the highlands.

Mr Giles says he cycled to build up his leg strength for last week's climb, otherwise that was the only preparation he did.

"It's more about your mental approach," he says, adding that he doesn't prepare himself mentally for the climb. "You just put yourself into that environment."

Four years ago the pair tackled Mount Rolleston in Arthur's Pass. There were blizzard conditions with snow on the ground at Arthur's Pass village.

"I felt buggered, but I still walked the three kilometres to the village," he says.

The next year, Mr Schmidt turned up at Mr Giles' home at 6am and took him to climb Mount Aspiring. It was a heavy vertical walk, but they went up and back in a day because there was a weather window. "One of the challenges was The Ramp, which has an open snow face that goes nowhere. You're working vertically with picks. It's most challenging for your mind. Looking at nothing, you would easily get vertigo."

Mr Giles says there was a constant reminder that you were tied to the mountain, and there are two most important things about mountain climbing.

"Mistakes and the weather. You can handle the weather if you don't make mistakes. Marty Schmidt says I'm the best client, because I live in the now." His guide reads the snow conditions and the sky really well, he says.

"You don't rely on your experience, but rely on the fact that you are with the right people."

They allowed four days for the Mount Cook climb. Mr Giles says no-one had been up the mountain for months since two Japanese climbers got caught in a storm in early December and one of them died. That was the 69th life claimed by the mountain.

Mr Giles didn't relax much before they headed off.

"I never sleep the night before a climb. You look where you're headed and you can't get your heart rate down."

They took a helicopter up to the Plateau last Wednesday, at a height of about 2000 metres, and the weather was "absolutely brilliant". They then climbed to 3000m and bivvied for the night, cunningly next to a crevasse.

During the night, the snow was thawing, and Mr Giles heard the rumbling of rocks. Big boulders the size of cars rolled down the mountain, he says, just 25m from their bivouac, but the crevasse strategically shielded them from the falling debris.

Starting the climb, often in the early hours when it is still dark, is always a big surprise when he sees just how far he has climbed.

"When the sun is up and you look how far, you freak." Suggesting you would also lose a sense of time, he agrees. "I'm very good at that."

On reaching the summit, the first person he called on a satellite telephone was his wife, Annie. And after a few photographs, the pair made it back down last Friday just before storm clouds covered the mountain.

Mr Giles thinks most people who are 90 per cent fit could do what he did, quoting the phrase, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch. Yard by yard, life's hard".

Asked whether he thinks Mr Schmidt might take him to Mount Everest or K2 next, Mr Giles replies, "It's his choice, not mine."

So he does as he's told? "Yes."

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