My Last Climb

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“My last climb was to Glacier Peak on the Main Divide, and it very nearly was my last climb,” recalled Derek Grzelewski of his time in the mountains photographing for the Mt Cook story. “The beginning was magical: a pre­dawn start, brilliant starlight, a superb sunrise. Then, out of nowhere, a sou’westerly storm rolled in. By the time my partner Ross Hickey and I reached the summit the visibility had dropped to ten metres. Freezing rain soaked us within minutes, and we had to almost run along the Divide—only a rope length apart but each invisible to the other. Despite our fitness and the best gear available, we were prob­ably less than half an hour from hypothermia, from being too cold to move.

“Eventually, we found the couloir that was our route down, and got out of the worst of the storm, at which point the photo on page 85 was taken. It was a sobering experience.”

It was also just one of many adventures that came Derek’s way while he was on and around Mt Cook. “For the picture of the Caroline Face , I spent a night out near Ball Pass bivvying in the snow. The stars were so intense, I could not sleep for one moment. Unfortunately, you cannot readily capture such luminous experiences on film.”

Derek has had a longstanding passion for the outdoors. He started climbing as a teenager in the Tatras Mountains that straddle the border of his native Poland and what is now the Slovak Republic.

Departing Poland in 1985, he roamed the world and arrived in New Zealand after a year or so, without any intention of remaining. However, he found the country to his liking particularly the opportunities for solitude, climbing and wilderness travel that it affords.

As might be expected from an itinerant who seeks the riches that lie only in the vault of nature, he keeps his possessions to a minimum, heeding Thoreau’s advice to “dispose of the superfluous and see things as they really are, grand and beautiful.”

At present, Derek is working on two Explorer Douglas” and caving exploration.

Richard wolfe was born in Avenue Road in New Plymouth, but he denies that his interest in street names is a form of compensation for spending his early years in one of the country’s most unimagi­natively named streets. Rather, an abiding interest in popular culture and social history spawned not only the street names project in this issue, but the article on Zealandia, the female figurehead, in Issue 23.

“Back in the 1980s I started collecting packaging, and from that came a book on trade­marks in 1987,” he says. In 1989, a book on “Kiwiana” followed, then one on the kiwi itself.

“Why did we go for a small, furry, nocturnal, flightless bird as our national symbol?” he wonders. “I do not think it was entirely by chance. New Zealanders are happy to be a bit different from the rest of the world, to be a small, innocuous country, and we are pleased to take on the world and hopefully win against the odds from that underdog position. Until recently, at least, we’ve never liked what’s flashy or smart.”

Getting to the heart of what it means to be a New Zealander what it is that makes us different from other people motivates much of Richard’s research. “I want to get beyond nostalgia, to find some sense from the past to give us a few clues where we may be headed.”

His next book, due for release later in the year, deals with New Zealand folk art, defined as “creative products made at home.” That list includes rag rugs, weather vanes, rustic outhouses, macrame bags, bone carvings, wood turning and the like. “I’m worried about the continued viability of a lot of this sort of thing,” Richard says. “Cheap imports and television are the problems. Listening to the radio, you could do a lot of handcraft, but with television we’re producing a lot less. I wouldn’t like to see us lose all that creativity. I hope the book will remind us to keep the traditions alive.”