Mountaineering is the Height of Fun

A New Zealand Herald Article from many years ago...

Mountaineering is the Height of Fun
30 Jun, 2000 3:24pm
Scaling a summit in the Hindu Kush

Richard Wesley tells GREG DIXON what it's like to leave the mundane world behind and, camera in hand, head for the peaks.

George Mallory had his reasons. The famous English mountaineer, who died nearly 80 years ago attempting Mt Everest, did it "because it was there."

Richard Wesley has his reasons too. But the young Auckland climber might well sum up his motives "because it's an adventure."

The 26-year-old electrical engineer recently spent three months climbing in the former Soviet Union province of Kazakstan and in north Pakistan.

The adventure took him up and down 12 summits, including four unclimbed mountains and one peak over 7000m. And he has the pictures to prove it.

"I do all sorts of outdoor sports - rafting, canoeing, caving, whatever's going. But climbing definitely offers the best pictures."

Wesley's trip was a two-part affair. The first was a 36-day transalpine epic with an American mate, Keith Parks, in the remote inner reaches of remote Kazakstan.

The climbing sounds like Boys Own stuff - but there were a few surprises on offer before the friends took to the hills.

In a street in the Kazak town of Almaty, Wesley - who is the chairman of the Auckland section of the New Zealand Alpine Club - found that globalism is no theory. A billboard for American cigarettes had a strangely familiar city as a backdrop. Closer inspection showed it was Auckland.

As well as traversing the grand-sounding Marble Wall (6400m) near the Kazak-China border, the pair climbed Mt Khan Tengri (7010m), one of the most beautiful peaks in the world.

Mind you, they had to spend three nights waiting in a snow cave at 6000m for a break in the weather before having a crack at the summit.

"The climbing was excellent but we realised we were almost out of our depth," Wesley says. "We came up against some very big mountains and a couple of expeditions that were turning back, and we thought, 'Oh, are we in the big league now?'

"But our style of climbing was our success. We were lightweight, experienced and totally self-contained, able to move with the weather and adjust our plan according to the situation. British and Russians parties coming up still had the siege mentality of making camps and trying to hit the top and rush back."

After being taken out of the region by Russian helicopter, Wesley made his way to north-east Pakistan.

He was one of 24 young climbers selected from around the world by the International Climbing Confederation to take part in a large-scale climb - including 150 porters - in the Hindu Kush range.

It was there that he and his fellow-mountain goats went where no one had been before, including a traverse to a snow plateau at 5500m before scaling Mt Chikari (the Hunter).

Wesley hopes to have left a permanent reminder that a New Zealander was in the first party to climb one of the four unclimbed peaks in the Hindu Kush. He named one Mt Tutanekai, after a hero of Maori legend.

He hopes the name will stick. The memories of the climbs certainly will, though his experience - which includes climbing in South America, the United States and Nepal - suggest that the peaks are not necessarily the high point of an expedition.

"I don't ever think that making the summit is what it's all about. I look at my slides and I think that I take more photos of my campsites, where we were relaxing or sitting on a bedroll and eating. It's then you realise you have this incredible world all around you, a world so many people miss out on."

Though perhaps not as many as there used to be. Commercial operators now offer the inexperienced climber the opportunity to be Sir Edmund Hillary without the inconvenience of having to have the experience of the first man up Everest.

Wesley, who is not particularly interested in taking the tried and true route up the world highest peak, sees the commercialisation of climbing as something of a double-eged ice pick.

While commercialism can bring controls, such as the demand climbers remove rubbish to reduce their environmental impact, the catch-22 is that if commercial operators weren't bringing some many people to the area the environmental implications would be reduced accordingly.

"In terms of Everest, I have visited the base camp and talked to many 'Everestors' and I respect their drive to climb the highest mountain. But I personally look at the Everest climb in terms of adventure. The money and time invested in climbing it can only be described as huge and climbing at that level involves a large measure of luck.

"For me that investment can return far more exciting adventures away elsewhere."

Mallory may well have agreed.


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