Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Explorers seek new heights

Six teams of Kiwi explorers will attempt to become the first to climb challenging new routes on some of the most precarious peaks on Earth. Photo / Supplied
Six teams of Kiwi explorers will attempt to become the first to climb challenging new routes on some of the most precarious peaks on Earth. Photo / Supplied

Six teams of Kiwi explorers will attempt to become the first to climb challenging new routes on some of the most precarious peaks on Earth.

The New Zealand Alpine Club has given out the highest number of grants in recent times this year, with 13 mountaineers receiving funding for international expeditions.

Their targets range from a stone needle on a remote Nordic island to a high-altitude traverse in the Hindu Kush mountain chain in Afghanistan.

Alpine Club general manager Sam Newton said the climbers were aiming to make world-first ascents of summits, ridges, faces or alpine routes.

They would attempt a "healthy mix" of climbs that included hard technical routes in Peru, remote mountain exploration in Afghanistan and Alaska, and hard adventure rock-climbing on the Faroe Islands, off the coast of Denmark.

"All the recipients are experienced climbers in New Zealand and it is great to see them using this experience to push boundaries in the international arena," he said.

"All of these expeditions are for new routes at the cutting edge of alpinism."

Mr Newton said Kiwi climbers had been well-regarded the world over for close to 100 years. "This is just another chapter in that story."

Christchurch climber Peter Harris, 23, is excited at the chance to make history.

He is one of four young New Zealanders planning the first-ever ascent of the unclimbed west ridge of Taulliraju - a Peruvian mountain that soars 5830m above the Santa Cruz Valley in the Cordillera Blanca, part of the greater Andes range.

The party has been planning the ascent for 18 months, as the culmination of a three-year Alpine Club mentoring programme in the Southern Alps.

"We've been training up on technical ice climbing, mixed climbing, mountaineering, rock climbing - every kind of discipline. So climbing Taulliraju is the culmination of that. "

Mr Harris said the north and northwest faces had been conquered before, but the west ridge remained unclimbed. It had been attempted by a New Zealand party in the 1980s, and an American team in 2007.

"It's a pretty ambitious goal, but it's something we definitely think is within our abilities," Mr Harris said.

The peak would be "extremely exposed" and the party may have to climb a mix of rock and ice. They also faced the challenge of Taulliraju's high altitude.

"The peak's just under 6000m, so we're going to have to acclimatise before then - there will be that added challenge, where everything's harder when you're struggling to breathe and the altitude messes with your mind a bit."

The party will spend six weeks in Peru, doing a number of preparatory climbs before attempting to summit Taulliraju in mid to late May.

Pat Deavoll, one of the world's leading woman mountaineers, is among the most experienced grant recipients.

The 56-year-old will attempt the first traverse of Langua-e-Barf to Koh-e-Langar. Both Afghan peaks have been climbed only once, and the linking ridge has never been crossed.

She will make the attempt with American climbing partner Ted Callahan in early August.

The most far-flung expedition will be in the sub-arctic Faroe Islands, a Danish territory in the North Atlantic.

A trio of New Zealanders - Jack Grinsted, Jason Blair and Dave McKinney - will attempt to climb a new route up a 313m sea stack known as Troll Finger.

- NZ Herald

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