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100 peaks in 30 years

 PHOTOS/NZ HUNTERS ADVENTURES

Ain’t no mountain high enough

JOHN LAZO-RON
[email protected]

PHOTO/JOHN LAZO-RON

It’s taken 30 years, but a Masterton man is finally shouting from the mountaintops after having become the first person in New Zealand to conquer ‘The 100 Peaks Challenge’.

‘The 100 Peaks Challenge’ is a list of 100 mountain summits spread throughout New Zealand [five in the North Island, the remainder in the South Island].

The New Zealand Alpine Club established the challenge in 1991 as part of its centennial celebrations that aimed to get mountaineers of all levels out climbing.

On February 21, Don French stepped upon the summit of Mt Unicorn [2560 metres] on the Strauchon Glacier on the west coast of the South Island, putting to bed a task he started in 1991.

“There is quite a bit of pride in [achieving this] as I remember at the end of [1991] I was looking at the list and I thought I’d make it a lifetime objective to try and climb the whole 100,” French said.

“It probably won’t sink in for some time, and it’s possibly going to be another 10 years before the next person does it.”

The 62-year-old, whose first mountain he conquered was Mt Egmont in 1976, admitted he got a bit of a head start on the challenge, having already conquered 30 of the listed peaks before he set out to conquer the remaining 70.

The peak of Mt Unicorn. PHOTO/DON FRENCH

“I already had 30 runs on the board at that stage,” French said.

“But it’s taken me 30 years to climb the 70”

Out of the 100, French said he did 14 peaks solo, while with the rest, he had a range of companions accompanying him.

French – who has also participated in four Himalayan expeditions and is one of only a handful of people who have conquered all peaks in the country over 3000m – said the most difficult of the 100 he climbed was Jagged Peak in the Arrowsmith Range.

It is arguably one of the most challenging alpine ice routes in the country.

The base camp on the Strauchon terraces.

He said it was a long, steep and committing winter climb, which took 23 hours.

French, who is also an active member of the Wairarapa Search and Rescue team, said he had been reasonably lucky throughout his climbing career, suffering few injuries in his time.

Asked if he ever felt like giving up at any point, French said it rarely crossed his mind as he was content with what he had set out to achieve in mountain climbing.

“I did contemplate with about two or three peaks near the end [of the challenge] that I don’t need to let this get on top of me or control me,” he said.

“I could stop now and still have said I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve, which is to get up a lot of mountains.

“Participation in the sport is what drove me to do this in the first place. Every mountain is a lot of fun and an adventure spending a lot of time with good climbing companions.”

Despite having achieved the challenge, French had no desire to hang up the mountain boots yet.

Time to get serious, arranging gear for the first pitch.

“It’s all about exploration,” he said.

“What motivates me to climb is that thing of finding what’s around the corner. I do wonder sometimes with my years, ‘can I still do it?’

“But once you get to the top of a mountain, you look out and can see hundreds or thousands of other mountains, and then I start to think, ‘I wonder if I should climb that, that looks interesting’.”

“I have noticed the mountains have got a bit steeper and a bit higher though,” French said.

French’s 100th climb was well documented by a film crew from television show NZ Hunter Adventures, who climbed with him up Mt Unicorn.

Part one will be aired on Duke on March 17 and Part 2 the following week.

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