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Wild Dykes: Ground up adventure climbing on the Charismatic Wall Fiordland

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Falling backwards head first. Never a good situation to find yourself in. My helmet splits as my head slams into solid granite. My shoulder and elbow softening the blow. A worried voice asks from the belay

"are you hurt ?"

"yes," I reply but "ill be ok, nothing broken"

I pull back up to my high point, ask for a knife and pull up ten meters of slack to the severed portion of my rope where I tie in with a new knot and cut the damaged portion of rope off. I had missed a small sharp quartze edge poking out from the rock and not extended my cam far enough to avoid the rope rubbing on it as I fell. Good job the nice fat 10mm Tendon Master rope did its job. I aid for a few meters while my nerves calm and I test out the throbbing shoulder. All seems well and I switch back to free climbing to finish the pitch off. I have always known that money spent on good quality ropes and helmets is never wasted. This was the one in 20 year moment where you need your gear to work. My helmet split, rope partially cut in half and hanging 500m above the valley floor I was quite pleased with the fact I always stick to new gear for this kind of climb. The ascent was going quite well until this point. We are 10 pitches into our climb and the shallow cam I had been using to hold me to the wall while I placed a bolt ripped out. The joys of ground up new routing. Intense satisfaction and challenge interspersed with moments of terror. Picking a line up steep complicated terrain is one of the most rewarding challenges available to us as rock climbers and route developers. Accepting there is a real chance you won't be able to do it and all that effort will finish at a blank portion of the wall is a real possibility. However, we were not too worried about that. We are following a fantastic natural feature on the wall. Wild Dykes running up immaculate granite slabs tempting us upwards and onwards.

Two days before I had been making a rope solo ascent of Uprising on the Charismatic Wall, as far I'm aware the first solo ascent of this wall. Rope soloing requires you to climb each pitch twice once on lead then once again to clean the gear. I climbed the route in 80m long pitches taking 8 hours and 40 minutes bottom to top. A fun day out. On the way down I spotted this fantastic natural feature running up the wall. White quartz dykes splitting the grey granite leading towards the top of the cliff. Unsure if Llew would even show up to Homer Hut or if I would have a climbing partner for the coming days my car was filled with everything needed for a Darrans adventure. I found Llew in the hut the next morning. As I rested from yesterdays solo we discussed options for the coming days. I had bolts and a rack in the car. How about we go and look at a new route on the Charismatic Wall I suggested. I saw a pretty good line that might go up there yesterday. Llew is keen and we head up with a small amount of bolting kit and rack of cams the following morning. We begin by climbing the first 7 approach pitches of Uprising. Reaching the upper wall we Swing leads having an excellent first day. 7 new pitches climbed cleaned and bolted. The line is mostly going on gear with some great face climbing between the cracks. We rap off early in the afternoon with the idea to save some energy for the next day and head back to Homer Hut. The following morning we re climb 14 pitches to our high point and begin pushing the line higher. I lead an exciting pitch and Llew starts on the pitch above. After 10m he has had enough and I'm tired as well. I had climbed around 70 pitches of granite in the past four days and motivation to push on was lacking. We both need a rest. To lead even relatively easy pitches of low 20's climbing when your bolting on lead needs a fresh set of arms and a high degree of mental motivation. We need to head home for a day or two and rest. Tired and excited we rap off with a commitment to come back later that week.

I now have 7 days to finish the route with Llew before leaving nz for Chamonix and an upcoming expedition to Changabang in April. Back in Homer Hut a sport climber who will remain nameless asks Llew, "what kind of alpine faggotry are you guys up to today" Such is the love between the 'sport climbers' and 'alpine climbers' A healthy lack of respect extends in both directions. We have a bit of a laugh as we think of the sadness/offensiveness of the comment, ground up new routing certainly is the best kind of alpine faggotry we could think of. You almost feel sorry for the climbers who come to Milford and never venture out from the cave at Little Babylon. There is so much good quality climbing around to experience. I guess they must enoy the feeling of holding the same 30 holds of their project day after day. I did some training for my next project as well while up on Wild Dykes. Holding onto small crimps counting to ten seconds as I drill a bolt. Breath count, Shake, repeat. It takes 30 seconds to drill a bolt from a good stance. 3 x 10 second hangs just like on the finger board at home in my garage. I'll be ready for that next sport climbing project in no time.

Before you know it Llew and myself are on the final push up the wall. We have stocked up a high bivy with bolts drill and water. Late one afternoon we drive down to Milford and climb our way up to the bivy. The next morning we would aim to climb the final 7 or so pitches to the top of the wall. The day dawns crisp and clear. It doesn't get much better than this. A tsunami of cloud fills the valley, sun bathes the South East ridge of Tutuko and we are finishing off the morning coffee. I'm excited and nervous. It's inspiring swinging leads with Llew up the wall. He's really trying hard to free everything as we lead and bolt and I want to match his effort. I know that this means some big run outs and exciting climbing as we weave our way up. I lead off from our high point, forearms screaming as I hang on drilling my second bolt of the pitch. Then it's up and off, the wall is steep and I can afford a good section of climbing before worrying about finding any natural gear of placing a bolt.

We spot a partially completed rap bolted line to our right. Aiming to keep our line independent we push back towards the main overhang and what will be the crux of the route. This pitch falls to Llew and he makes and impressive onsight of the moves weighed down with rack and drill. We add more bolts to his fine lead on the way down to keep it sane for those that follow. Often on the line we add and extra bolt or two after climbing. The line will still provide excitement for those who follow us but we accept many others will enjoy more protection that we afforded ourselves. All up around 10 additional bolts were placed along the route after we finished climbing the pitches. If you choose to follow us up this wall and find your legs shaking and arms pumping out don't worry ours did too. Considering the terrain we are pushing the line through, complexity of route finding, bolting on lead and cleaning of loose rock we were both stoked at the speed in which we manged to establish this route. 3.5 days of climbing and 2 days of getting water buckets and climbing kit into position on the wall. Not many have had the pleasure of establishing routes like this or experienced the deep satisfaction of matching your partners effort pitch after pitch. The walls of Fiordland have allot to offer, I won't under sell the skill or care that is needed to complete first ascents like this, it is hard dangerous and exciting work however....for those who love a good bit of 'alpine faggotry' there are wild dykes in those hills waiting for you.

Wild Dykes

650m , 24 pitches , 23 Llewellyn Murdoch & Daniel Joll Feb 2022

Rack 10-12 draws , single set nuts, single cams .2,2,3 doubles .3-1.

Established ground up over 3.5 days of climbing and five days total on the wall. The route can be rapped with a single 60m rope. We were helped allot by Steven Fortune and Jono Clarke who helped bring up supplies / bolts and water to the high bivy allow Llew and myself to start our final day on the wall with light bags.

Click below for a full route topo

Wild Dykes Pitch by Pitch
Download PDF • 326KB

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