Story: Mountaineering

Page 9. New equipment and new people

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In the 1960s equipment changed and climbing became increasingly technical. Ice axes became smaller and were later replaced, for exacting climbs, by curved ice-climbing tools.

The use of pitons and ice screws became widespread, and climbers began wearing helmets. In the 1980s plastic boots, reverse-curve ice picks, titanium ice screws and fast-drying synthetic clothing began to be used. The reverse-curve ice pick was a far cry from the heavy, long-shafted ice axes used by earlier climbers.

Skiplanes and helicopters

After the first successful skiplane landing on the Tasman Glacier in 1955, climbers began to fly in to the peaks. For many, skiplanes and helicopters did away with the traditional long walk in, carrying heavy packs.

Mountain rescues changed in character once injured climbers could be lifted out by helicopter. New high huts were built – the first on the Grand Plateau in 1963–64. Flying in to a well-appointed hut became common. Most climbers no longer believed that a mountain had not been properly climbed unless the mountaineer had walked in.

Women climbers

More men than women have climbed throughout New Zealand’s mountaineering history, but the precedents set by Anna von Lendenfeld in the 19th century and Freda Du Faur in the early 20th have been followed by many other female climbers. Although there were relatively few women among the amateurs of the late 1920s and 1930s, Margaret Lorimer and Katie Gardiner (sometimes with guides) completed fine climbs.

Honouring Freda

Although Freda Du Faur’s name stands high in New Zealand’s climbing history, after her death in 1935 she lay in an unmarked grave in a Sydney cemetery until the early 2000s. Then a Sydney resident, originally from South Canterbury, arranged for a block of greywacke from the Mackenzie Country to be placed on the grave. New Zealand climbers helped pay for the placing and inscription of the stone.

After the Second World War more women climbed. In 1953, Mavis Davidson, Doreen Urquhart and Sheila MacMurray made the first all-woman, guideless ascent of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Other important women climbers of the 1950s were Beverley Price, Beverley Tweedie and Margaret Clark. In the 1980s several women – Jos Lang, Lydia Bradey, Erica Beuzenberg and Brede Arkless among them – became notable climbers and guides.

Australian climbers

Freda Du Faur was one of the first Australians attracted across the Tasman Sea by high mountains. After the Second World War, Australian visitors climbed mostly in the Aoraki/Mt Cook region, but few reached the forefront of climbing in New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Mountaineering - New equipment and new people', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Feb 2017