Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Climber’s Nursery – The Otago Tramping and Mountaineering club.

The jewel in Otago's crown, Mount Aspiring. Most climbers in the OT&MC aspired to climb to these heights. Many did, and went on to greater heights: Photo by Colin Monteath

So many competent New Zealand climbers came out of Otago, and it is interesting to look back at the origins of mountaineering in Otago, and wider afield so see why ?

The N.Z. Alpine Club, formed in 1891, was the first organised mountain club in New Zealand. Several more were formed early last century, particularly after the First World War--the Tararua Tramping Club in 1919, The Otago Tramping & Mountaineering Club in 1923 and the Auckland Tramping Club in 1925. In Canterbury, a Christchurch Tramping & Mountaineering Club was formed in 1925. Later its male members formed the Canterbury Mountaineering Club.

With the Southern Alps well traversed regularly by Maori in search of Greenstone, food and for the general draw of what lays over the ridge, early New Zealand mountaineers and trampers generally ignored a lot of information available in Maori records and folklore. Here is an extract from my article on Maori mountaineers of South Westland. http://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com/2008/03/maori-mountaineers-of-south-westland.html

The mana and beauty of the Pounamu was an added attraction to cross the Divide again and again, all the while gathering further alpine experience. Their pre-European glossary of snow and ice, whilst not as comprehensive as the Inuit (Eskimo), certainly proved that they had rubbed their paraerae (sandals) on the high mountain passes. Whenuahuka described the permanent snow on the high peaks and hukapapa was the name for the huge snowfields. The snow slides from the high peaks were hukamania, and as they grew and took on avalanche proportions, they became hukahoro. The glaciers that drained the snowfields were called hukapo, the glacial sediment waiparahoaka and the snow-fed water, waihuka. Kipakanui, or ice, was seen in the shady valleys in winter, and the thick ice which never saw the sun was named waiuka, meaning solid water.

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Early runholders and goldminers in Otago often crossed passes in the late 1850s and early 1860 and set a path for later European climbers who followed. My great grandfather James McKerrow surveyor /explorer a true-blue Otago mountain man, surveyed many parts of remote Otago, Southland and Fiordland frequently climbing peaks, not only once but sometimes four times before he got the right weather to take a bearing. So many of us young mountaineers in Otago had a lineage from explorers, shepherds, runholders, goldminers, sheep stealers and surveyors and with our tough outdoor upbringing, we took to the hills of Otago, like ducks to water.

James McKerrow (pictured left) was the first person to climb Mount Pisgah in Fiordland in 1863. McKerrow noted that 'from its summit, the mouth of Caswell Sound and the ocean beyond, were seen on 3 January 1863. At that time there was a strong desire to find an overland route to the West Coast. 'The sighting of the West Coast from the interior for the first time, so far as I know, brought to my mind the sighting of "The promised land" by Moses from Pisdah, hence the adoption of the name."

One hundred and thirty years later, Southland mountaineer Stan Mulvaney wrote of how this was a very difficult task.  More on James McKerrow
So with this background of rugged Maori travellers, surveyors, runholders, goldminers and explorers, the spirit of the hills started a new era with Malcolm Ross of Dunedin heading for Mt Earnslaw in 1885 on an expedition which was characteristic of the 'pluck and daring', colonial ingenuity and self-reliance which typified the early exploits of New Zealand's homebred mountaineers (Ross 1892). Ice axes were improvised from manuka saplings and the blades of sheep shears, while horseshoe nails provided extra friction for his boots (Gilkison 1957: 32). Ross's expedition triggered a number of attempts on Mount Earnslaw, which was finally climbed in 1890 by one of the original expedition members, a young local shepherd and tourist guide called Harry Birley.

By erecting a cairn on the summit, he left not only proof of his ascent, but also marked the advance of man further into this remote wilderness.

Between the first and second World Wars, in the context of social dislocation and economic hardship, young men and women in Otago were drawn to mountain environments for an experience which diverted them from, and in a sense gave meaning to, the world and time that they were living through. It was also a time increasingly characterized by the 'more rigid structures, impersonal forces, and sprawling cities' of the historical momentum of rationalization and bureaucracy (Olssen 1981: 278). explore 'their' mountains and that therein they discovered a sense of self.

From its inception, the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club ran trips to remote parts of Otago and Southland and members quickly gained bush, river, snow and ice techniques. Photo: OT&MC archives.

So the formation of the Otago Tramping Club club was not an isolated event. Dunedin had been the home of a good many noted trampers and mountaineers such as Malcolm Ross, Kenneth Ross, H.F. Wright, J.K. Inglis, E. Miller and E. A. Duncan. In the earliest post-war years groups of Otago University students - G. M. Moir, R. S. M. Sinclair, D.R. Jennings and many others - had been exploring and track-cutting in the Hollyford and Cleddau Valleys. And both the hills around Dunedin and the Routeburn, Greenstone and Hollyford areas saw an ever increasing number of visitors. Amongst these the idea of forming a Club had been discussed informally, and the idea was quick to gain acceptance.


In 1923 the new Club immediately started with a flourish, and forthwith set out to walk. There was an immediate rush of new members, and at the end of the first year the roll was 157. The first tramp was planned for Saturday afternoon, September 1. About 50 members assembled at Ross Creek reservoir and set off up the Pineapple Track to Flagstaff - a clear sunny day, with a cold south-westerly wind, the kind we know so well. The following Saturday some 60 persons gathered at the Gardens corner for a climb of Signal Hill and down the other side to Burkes; and this was followed the next day by a trip to Whare Flat, where various parties converged on a pleasant river-bank below McQuilkan's (long since washed out by floods and ruined by the invading gorse).


Ben Rudd at his hut with Otago Tramping Club visitors 1923.



A fortnight later while one group climbed Mt. Cargill, two others set off for Whare Flat - one of which made the journey successfully, but the other was stopped and warned off by Ben Rudd, the old hermit whose property was long afterwards purchased by the Club. Scott Gilkinson was one of those cut-off and still remembers the feelings of alarm as they encountered the stocky, bearded little man with the shot-gun. As a result of this, the Club arranged with Ben Rudd that he would cut a track through the manuka scrub, thus providing a route to Whare Flat while keeping members well away from Ben's property. For this he was paid the princely sum of £5, and the track was under very

By 1930 then, the Club was well established as a force in the community. Whereas previously trampers had been looked on almost as cranks, or at best as rare curiosities, their activities were now accepted as rational and respectable. The 'thirties, and the onset of the Depression, saw the Club ready to play its part.


At 4350 feet (1325 m) above sea level Big Hut. In 1946 the Otago Ski Club opened this spacious 70-bunk ski lodge near the summit of the Rock and Pillar Range. The Otago University Tramping Club, then the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club, took over the hut in the 1980s and did repairs that kept the elements out.

On the local scene there was extensive development of active interest in the mountains. For seven years the Otago Tramping Club had been building up its activities. The Otago University Tramping Club was functioning—very actively in some years, more modestly in others. Under the influence of Ellis, Miller, Boddy, Aitken and others, Otago men had been taking an active interest in the higher mountains in North-west Otago. At the end of 1930 the Otago Section of the N.Z. Alpine Club was formed in Dunedin, this being the start of a long period of friendly co-operation between trampers and mountaineers. In 1932, as a result of five weeks of continuous ski-able snow on Flagstaff, the Otago Ski Club was formed; the Tramping Club " learned with interest of its formation and extended to it its good wishes for a successful future ". The three clubs operating in their respective fields worked in well together, with some members common to all, and with members of one of the clubs not infrequently becoming interested in the others.

Right: The trusty 'Mountain Mule' pack carried the loads for over four decades, perhaps longer. From lugging 90lb bags of cement and
 4 x2s on the frame, huts were built. On Christmas trips 90 lb packs were not uncommon. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Interest in organised Christmas trips reached a peak in 1947 when no less than three expeditions were planned Rockburn - Olivine, Hopkins and Ahuriri, with 50 to 60 members involved. Gordon McLaren and Murray Douglas climbed Mt Ward (third ascent) - the first major ascent to be made by the climbing enthusiasts. A high standard of safety was maintained on all these trips and no incident of any sort occurred, despite the numbers in the field.

Christmas 1948 saw another Club camp in the Wilkin Valley. Pack horses took half a ton of stores to Jumboland Base Camp and their owner charged £97 for the privilege. Every part of the Wilkin and its tributaries were visited, and several good climbs made, including the first ascent of the inaccessible Pickelhaube in the South Wilkin. Jack Hoskins and Scott Gilkison made a first crossing from the West Coast via the Waiatoto, Pearson Saddle and South Wilkin. The Rees, Dart, Matukituki, Rockburn, Hollyford and Ahuriri were also visited by other parties. Aspiring was climbed by Gordon McLaren and party, and Murray Douglas climbed Mt Cook - the Club's first major post-war ascents.

It is interesting to note just how advanced the Club had become by the end of '63, with parties as far afield as Cook, Homer, Harrison, Tutoko, Matukituki, Dart and Rees. A considerable number of peaks were climbed in these areas, and while this may be commonplace today, it was then regarded as another milestone in the Club's history. In November 1963, the Club moved into its (then) present premises in Lower Dowling Street. By 1964 the Club was under the capable control of President Gerry Kampjes who initiated skiing within the Club, and expressed a desire for the Club to build a hut at Coronet Peak. Models, plans and specifications were prepared, but even up until 1968 " red tape foiled all plans to go ahead with this.

John Armstrong carried on the tradition of capable and innovative Presidents with entrepurnurial skills, a sense of adventure, and an even bigger sense of humour.


Women always played a leading role in the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club. Robyn Norton (now Armstrong)  went on a number of  big, remote journeys such as this one in Forgotten River, the Ollivine Ice Plateau and climbing peaks at the head of the Rockburn before coming down the Rockburn in 1967 with future husband John Armstrong and a young Bob McKerrow.

On January 8th and 9th, 1966, six Club members climbed Mt Cook - M. Jones, G. Kampjes, J. Armstrong, G. Hasler, I. Meyer and H. Laing. Although Club members had climbed Cook before, and have since climbed far more formidable peaks, this does serve to give some idea of the standards reached during this period.

A change in attitudes was noticed in 1966, and is evidenced in the following report which is worth a place in history:

At a lively extraordinary general meeting held on October 26, 1966, the grandiose plans of the committee, led by radical President John Armstrong, were amended. Chief Guide James consented to remain in the cabinet, as tramping is still an 'approved' sport.

The following motion was passed after hours of discussion and much amendment. "This Club should continue to encourage tramping, climbing, ski mountaineering and ski-ing without detriment to the Club's prime aim of tramping."

Bob Cunninghame: " There has been a considerable change in the last five years. There was next to no climbing up until that time."

Gerry Kampjes: " Five or six years ago there was little ambition in the Club and less than half the number of people."

Graeme Hasler: "Safety is of paramount importance. We must have a balanced club"

Laurie Kennedy: "Something must suffer if we run a climbing course"

Jim Freeman: " People now have more money and are able to spread out into areas and sports not previously possible. Now less scope for tramping. Climbing is the natural outcome of tramping"

Alan Thomson: "Need to support tramping"

Arthur James: " Far better to have a small specialist club where you know most of the people rather than a large social ski-ing and climbing organisation."

Jim Cowie: " If the O.T.C. does not run an instruction course in climbing there is little incentive for the likes of me to remain in the Club."

Roger Conroy: " Let's change the name to the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club"

Ross Adamson: "Too much advertising on ski-ing by word of mouth and publications"

Easter '67 still saw climbing being carried out with Bruce and Ken Mason, Heather and Stu. Thorne, Logan McGhie and Dick Brasier climbing Mt McKenzie. Mt Strauchon was climbed by Stu. Thorne, Logan McGhie and Dick Brasier, and Mt Huxley by Bob McKerrow, Graeme Lockett, Jim Cowie and Keith McIvor.

Photo: Bob McKerrow (l) Graeme Lockett and Keith McIvor on the summit of Mt. Huxley, Easter 1967. photo: Jim Cowie

Christmas 1967-68 saw Club trips led by John Armstrong and Bruce Mason to the North Routeburn, North Col and Rockburn, other's going on to Fohn Saddle and the Beansburn. Parties led by John Fitzgerald went to Martins Bay, Big Bay, Pyke, Alabaster Pass, Olivines, Cox Saddle, Hidden Falls, Park Pass and Rockkburn. Trevor Pullar looked after a party from the Arawata River to Mlilford Heads, Laurie Kennedy's party went into the Olivines whilst Jim Cowie, Keith McIvor and Bob McKerrow spent 10 days in the Cook region and 10 days at Aspiring. Graeme Hasler also ,was back in the Cook area. All in all, a fantastic amount of tramping and climbing was achieved during this season - on a scale which was to continue until the end of the '60's.

Club member Boh McKerrow was a member of the 1968 Andean Expedition, and in return for some assistance from the Club, provided interesting accounts of his exploits.

The number of Club members who went south to the Antarctic during the '60s included Ken Gousmett, Keith McIvor, Bob McKerrow and Frank Graveson. A large number of members have tramped and toured overseas, with some distinguishing themselves on the climbing scene. Two names that spring to mind readily are Bob McKerrow and Murray Jones.

Bill Denz  (right) went on to be one of, or if not the greatest, New Zealand mountaineer,  started in the Otago Tramping Club. While I was climbing in Peru in 1968, Bill Denz at the AGM August 1968, was elected onto the club committee. As his biographer Paul Maxim writes, “through the OTC, Denz and his friends met some of the seasoned local climbers Bob Cunningham and John Armstrong, overseeing his first climbs at Long Beach. Perhaps that is a good place to stop as Bill went on to be not only New Zealand’s greatest mountaineer, but one of the best in the world. We owe so much to the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club, and the mighty mountain of Otago.

A recent bulletin of the OT&MC shows a very active club with membership rising and the nursery alive and well.

Thanks to Lee Davidson for permission to use extracts from her publication:


The Spirit of the Hills: Mountaineering in Northwest Otago, New Zealand, 1882-1940.



Thanks also to the Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club to use freely from their history:


http://www.otmc.co.nz/otmchistory1.html

17 comments:

CalumExplorerHudson said...

Great article Bob! It has filled in a few gaps in the history. Yes the OTC/OTMC was a great stepping stone for me and provided me many mentors who were more than willing to encourage a young 'Whippersnapper'! I have been thinking of late I would like to find out a bit more about Dunedin's rock climbing past, particularly pre 1971 when I began that part of my career at Long Beach. Cheers, Calum.

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Calum

I am pleased to read the OTC was a great stepping stone for you as it was for me. At 17 years, I joined to do the Freedom Walk to break the THC stranglehold on the Milford Track. Regarding Long Beach. I started there in 1966 when people like Murray Jones, Bob Cunningham, Jim Cowie, Keith McIvor, Laurie Kennedy, Howard Laing and a few others would go there regularly. I got serious for a while, making my own etriers from a TV aerial and hexagonal bolts from big pieces of brass. But we didn't really climb for the sake of rock climbing, but to prepare us for rock pitches we may encounter on alpine climbs. Vern Leader was the first real solo rock climber from Dunedin in the mid 1920s and 30s. See my article Vern Leader Pioneer solo rock climber p 96 NZAJ 1996. Have a look at the photos of him on rock and his great balance. Aat Vervorn and I took him on a GT of Cook when he was 64 and he was so agile, with superb balance. Maybe we should try to fill in the gap between Vern's day in 1920-30 up to when you and I were climbing there? Cheers, Bob

Gollum said...

Bob

I remember Murray Douglas from my days with Lands & Survey in the Waitaki Valley in the early 1980s. Murray was running the shop above the Benmore Dam and used to fly model aeroplanes from the concrete strip below the dam. Whenever we had a tree planting programme near the take-off strip he would come racing down and abuse the hell out of us.

I got a great shock when I was told that he used to be a leading Guide up the road at Mt Cook.

Those were the days. Weekends up the Hopkins and Huxley or up to Mueller Hut. Beautiful.

Bob McKerrow said...

We were fortunate to have those days up all those remote Otago, Fiordland, Canterbury and Westland valleys. I remember Murray Douglas well. When the Scott Base huskies were returned from Antarctica to Christchurch in 1987, I sent them to the USA for our North Pole kennels. Some of them later crossed Antarctica with Will steger's successful crossing. Murray Douglas was at the wharf at Lyttelton to greet the dogs. He did a wonderful stint in Antarctica with the dogs.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
So often I stand on a cold winter morning park ground watching the reason why this little nation produces the finest rugby players in the world. The same applies to the endeavours of mountaineering and climbing. Grass root stuff that creates aroha and passion, and nudges people along by always raising the bar.
Cheers,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Yes Robb, it is grass roots supportive club approach which provides the nursery for so man young NZer.

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