Climbing Little Big Wall With The Locals

By Victoria Caffrey & Jossi Wells

Wanaka locals Victoria Caffrey and Jossi Wells set out on multi-pitch classic, 'Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.'

Growing up in Colorado I was engrained with a deep appreciation for the outdoors from a young age. Naturally New Zealand was at the top of my bucket list for most of my life. It was April 2018 when I made the classic leap of quitting my job and selling all my belongings to explore the promise of the winter down south. With working holiday visa in one hand and camera in the other, I set off with only the unknown ahead. It was October that I happened upon Wanaka after a winter in the club fields. I was immediately captivated and knew I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The access and terrain were constantly inspiring – my tick lists were growing quicker than I could cross them off. I told myself prior to coming south that I was retiring my climbing shoes and fully committing to the ski boots… but the glacial valleys beneath Mt. Aspiring beckoned, and I’ve always had a rubber arm.

Little Big Wall

It was time to get back on the sharp end. While dusting off the cobwebs I was eager to share this old vertical flame with Jossi. Being a full-time skier, Jossi is well versed in channelling ­his mental game - a skill I’ve always struggled with. After a month of “showing Jossi the ropes” and breaking him in with some cruisey multi-pitch climbing in Mt. Cook, it was time for both of us to up the ante.

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Having grown up in Wanaka with parents who were avid climbers, as a child Jossi had his own opinions of what climbing in Wanaka meant. For him, Tombstone was where the “big guys” climbed & Little Big Wall was where people slept on portaledges. Conversely, when I entered Hospital Flats for the first time, I set my eyes on Little Big Wall instantly due to its inviting aesthetic – it reminded me of a miniature Half Dome. 

Pitch 1 (Grade 15): Let the games begin

The first pitch was perfect for getting the hands and feet warmed up. Straight forward with a little overhanging crack to top it off.

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Pitch 2 (Grade 16): Intro to exposure, part one

Leaving the anchors, the second pitch begins with a spicy overhung bulge to keep you honest. I pulled onto the slab and pushed past the loose schist to the next set of bolts. After setting the anchor I soaked in the expanse of the valley behind me overlooking Rocky Mountain while listening to the cow conversations in the distance. Below me, Jossi was met with some new character building of his own. This wasn’t climbing at the gym anymore, and it was time to channel that head game.

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“I have dealt with a fair share of exposure in the mountains. With skis on my feet, I feel at home. Gripping rock with hands producing sweat at the rate of the Clutha was certainly a first,” Jossi would later remark.

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Pitch 3 (Grade 14): The stairway to heaven greets us

With completely stable hands, it really was the exposure of this pitch that kept our heart rates high.

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That said, it was a thrilling way to end the climb! After topping out on the final ledge, I put Jossi on belay and it was his turn to walk the line.

Abseil: They really do save the best for last

After looking below, Jossi and I were both keen to get our feet on some solid ground. I had been warned about the abseil as it can be a bit tricky to reach the anchor 40m below and it’s free hanging (ie. you aren’t able to touch the wall with your feet).

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I placed an extension into the second bolt to pull me closer to the wall as I lowered down. Once I reached the level of the anchor, I was still about a meter away. After a deep breath, I started to swing myself until I finally had enough momentum to tip my foot off the lower ledge and swing into the anchor. Bingo.

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LBW6As it turns out Little Big Wall is not for the portaledge connoisseurs, nor does it hold a candle to the Half Dome. I’ve quickly learned it is surely not the rock quality that drives the climbing culture in Wanaka - it’s the sense of adventure while navigating what I consider to be some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. It’s also the tight knit community of humble dark horses that fill this valley. The rough and tumble Kiwi culture runs deep through this glacial valley - as does the appreciation for this land we get to call home. 

Notes for next time?

Bring charcuterie for the summit ledge.

 

Words & photos: Victoria Caffrey & Jossi Wells