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Thomas Adamson on Fuel (29, 26), Babylon Crag, Cleddau Valley, Darran Mountains, New Zealand, in January 2007. Derek Thatcher and Mayan Smith-Gobat enjoyed similar sport routes at Babylon and nearby crags just prior to joining forces with New Zealand’s best talent to establish the most difficult alpine rock routes in the country. [Photo] Derek Thatcher

A group of New Zealand’s eminent rock climbing talent met in January and February to push uncharted, hard, free routes in the Darran Mountains around Milford Sound, New Zealand. After sending a number of sport projects on the granite valley crags, the gang ventured into the mountains to establish long alpine and trad routes that are unparalleled in the country.

Mayan Smith-Gobat working up the new unnamed route (25, 11 pitches) on the Kaipo Wall, Darran Mountains, New Zealand. In early February, she and three rope-mates camped at the top of the wall, rappelled in–and didn’t climb out until 11:30 p.m by headlamp. [Photo] Craig Jefferies

Jonathan Clearwater, Mayan Smith-Gobat and Derek Thatcher established the season’s first notable alpine route on the northwest face of Mt. Sabre (2162m) on January 24. The trio took a new-school approach to the mountain, traditionally the domain of long, hard aid routes established in the 1970s, by climbing light and free, ground up and onsight in a day, without bolts or pitons. They established Tora Tora Tora (24, 450m), which ascends a buttress right of The Original Line (Denz-Jan-Judge, 1974). Although difficult, sporty and done in great style, the trio skirted the prime line: an unclimbed, steep buttress to the left that is generating a buzz among a few of us Kiwi alpinists.

A route that has attracted even more attention is Shadowland, an old A3 aid route on a remote and pristine wall. Its full ten pitches had never been freed until February 4-6, when Craig Jefferies and Paul Rogers joined Smith-Gobat and Thatcher to send their major goal for the year at 27, 300m. Overhanging in its entirety, it is undoubtedly the most sustained, difficult and free rock route in New Zealand. The ascent was made ground-up, onsighting and redpointing all the pitches over two days, except for the final, steep 26 corner crack, which exhausted Smith-Gobat at the end of day two. She jugged up the next morning to redpoint the pitch and finish the project.

After only one day of recovery the foursome flew north into the remote Ngapunatoru Plateau above the 1300-meter Kaipo Wall. Over the next two days they abseiled down to the major snow shelf that runs across the middle of the wall and climbed eleven pitches back out via a beautiful, steep, clean buttress (25, 500m, 11 pitches). The unnamed route involved fairly serious, difficult and committing climbing with bolted belays, due to the sketchiness of gear placements. Despite unprotectable difficulties, the party topped out into camp at 11:30 p.m., having climbed some of the toughest pitches by headlamp.

The Darrans is entering a golden age as we begin to look past the famous slab routes of the ’70s and realize that there are humongous overhangs to climb. Some outrageous projects are now in the hat, but the potential for new, hard, long alpine rock routes remains massive.

Derek Thatcher leading Shadowland (27, 300m, 10 pitches), Darran Mountains, New Zealand. Thatcher is one of New Zealand’s most talented and versatile climbers–a necessity, as this sporty new line is the country’s most sustained, difficult and free rock route. [Photo] Craig Jefferies