Climbing at Paynes Ford


This post just contains the climbing that I did at Paynes Ford, New Zealand, and not the whole story of my stay there. See the other two posts in this series for the rest of the details – “Driving to and from Takaka” and “A few days at Hangdog”

**NOTE – this post has a gallery of images, but its located at the end of the post… mostly because said gallery is 105 pictures long.  WOO photography!**

Oh my lord the climbing here in Paynes Ford is amazing. It actually reminds me a lot of the New River Gorge, or possibly Rumney, thanks to the close proximity of an amazing climbing campground and tons and tons of epic sport climbing. There’s really no multi-pitch or trad climbing here, but the sport climbing ranges from 11’s to high 20’s and maybe a 30 or two. And the sport routes are quite interesting, to say the least.

First off – the rock. The rock in Paynes ford was a type of limestone that I hadn’t climbed on often, though it did remind me of the climbing that I did in California years ago when I went up with my buddy Big T. The rock was primarily a combination of horrid sloping holds and amazing huecos that provided amazingly placed “hallelujah holds” for when you needed a rest.

Second off – the ratings. New Zealand uses the Oceana system instead of the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). This took me a bit of getting used to, but its honestly pretty simple and efficient, since it doesn’t have the sharp increase in difficulty that comes once you break the 5.10 wall. I did kind of appreciate the simplicity and framiliarity of the YDS, but I slowly got used to calling climbs by their appropriate difficulty.

(Link to conversion tables:

The Climbs themselves:

On the 27th Mike and I headed out early, planning on meeting up with a few people who we had met at the fire the night before; Henrietta, Johaan, and Rikke. Johaan and Rikke were a couple from Scandanavia, and Henry was an adventurer / wanderer who was passing through for a few days before taking up a new job watching one of the huts set up by the Department of Conservation. Mike and I busted up a few pretty solid warm-up climbs before Henry met up with us, and then we all started turning up the heat and laying out some rather impressive climbs. After a bit Johaan met up with us as well and we switched off into two smaller groups – Mike and I rocking out the lighter climbs and seconding some of Johaan’s climbs while Henry and Johaan lead up some rather impressively rough climbs. What we worked up are:

    • Easy 11 – fun with great hueco’s, was a really solid warm-up climb for us
    • Easy 12 – great holds again, but has an awesome slab portion at the end. Really a good introduction to Paynes Ford’s style of climbing; sloped holds and awesome pockets.
    • SWEET 18 – very, very burly start (overhanging) moves to good handholds, it moved out of the overhand and and ended with a fairly difficult slab section that required some impressive balancing work. I wouldn’t want to lead this.
    • good 14 – Simple, clean, and efficient; a great cool-down climb that had some interesting moves near the middle.
    • slab 17 – Damn but this reminds me of WhiteHorse. Two bolts for a 20+ meter climb, with a 10m run out at the end. Scary, hellishly scary, but awesome. I took two falls trying to leave the 2nd bolt, but finally make it up. After sweating and swearing at the rock.

On the 28th it was raining for most of the morning, so Mike and I headed into town and did some light adventuring around the area and beaches. The full story is later on in this series about Takaka. However, we did meet up with Johaan later on in the afternoon and headed back to the wall to get a few climbs in. See, one of the amazing things about New Zealand in the summer is that the daylight lasts forever. Literally past 9:00 at night most evenings, so even though we didn’t head to the wall until nearly 3:30, we definitely had more than enough daylight left for us. We checked the guidebook for some climbs that usually stay dry, packed up the rope and draws, and headed out.

The climbs that we found had a lot in common with the climbs from the day before, but they showcased another part of Paynes Ford; the fact that most of the bolts are horribly placed, at least from a safeties perspective. If we fell while trying to clip the second clip we’d likely hit the ground, and the first clip was 4+ meters high. Yeah, scary. But we stayed within our skill range and kept ourselves safe.

    • 15 – The first climb that we did in the area, this was a really fun and strange start that we had a bit of trouble with, and an even stranger center
    • 16 – A simple climb, to be honest. It was definitely fun though, and the beginning offered a rather nice challenge for footing.
    • 22 – A very hard climb that we each tried once or twice before giving up. We didn’t lead it, just used a top-rope that I had set up on the previous climb.
    • 18 – Wow. I honestly don’t know how to describe this climb, besides hard, tiring, and amazing. It’s one of my favorites at Paynes Ford because it starts out very arm-strengthy, and then moves out into a sort of crack climbing. I loved it, and got amazing views from the top of the climb.

The 29th was a very good day, even though we got an impressively late start. Mike and I hauled ourselves out of bed, drank down some jet fuel masquerading as coffee, toasted some bread and jumped in the car. Instead of climbing at the crag right by the camp we headed through town to meet Johaan, Rikke, and a pair of Swedish girls names Jess and Hanna that we had met the night before. We all met up at the sea-cliffs – a place much like Otter Cliffs in Acadia. We arrived just as Johaan arrived (he had gotten lost), so the six of us grabbed the ropes and tramped up the path to the climbs.

    • 16 – lead – A very solid starting climb, it was made up of a good number of sloping holds in the beginning, with the handholds slowly getting better as we moved upwards.
    • 18 – good lord the first bolt on this one was high… I top-roped it after Johaan climbed, and I am glad that I did. The climb defintiely was not an easy one, and the second bolt was nearly as tough as the first to get to. I didn’t take any falls past the beginning, but I had watched Johaan take a few as he lead it. Rough.
    • 17 – Lead – an easy 17, though it had just enough mind games to make sure it was a legit 17 and not anything lower. Though the head games only came from leading, so on top-rope I would probably have lowered the grade to a 16+.
    • 18 – This one was full of a good number of nice laybacks, though even with the good handholds it was a bit too thin for me to lead. I did enjoy it on top-rope quite a bit though.
    • 19?? – This is a climb that Jess made up herself, since it goes between a 16 and a 20, but isn’t really completely on either. It was definitely solid though, and had a good number of rather difficult sections
    • 21 – Tough. Very tough. Started with a tough overhang and moved into an Arete (where you climb the outside of the edge of a rectangle). It took a lot of strength out of me, pretty much my entire days worth. But man it was worth it.
    • 20 – Guardian Angel – Jess’s project, I could definitely see why it was a project though… I finished it last in order to clear gear from it and the two routes nearby, but it was a CHALLENGE. Like… 5 or 6 falls with rests. Tough. But really good; though I wouldn’t want to lead it anytime soon. Funny part about this climb though, was that some guy had come around and double-bolted it. As in every time there was a bolt… there was a second one right next to it. I guess its intended to have full anchors at each section?
    • Dangers of rapelling with long hair – I got my dreads caught in the ATC again after cleaning the gear of the last route.  Thankfully I’m used to it at this point, and had my Pruissic rope on me.  So I just locked it on, ascended a foot or two, and was fine.  And this is why everyone should have a spare cord on their harness.

The 30th… a sad day, to be honest, since it was out last day climbing with Johaan and Rikke, though Jess and Hanna left early in the morning. Instead of rocking out a full day though, I met up with Johaan and Rikke near “The Fortress”, a giant boulder with some of the tougher overhanding problems on it. We warmed up nearby on some pretty easy routes before tackling the main conquest of the day… a route that followed up the inside of The Fortress at a 20 degree overhanging angle, give or take.

    • 15 – lead – light, with a real sketchy part between the first and second bolt. I rocked it like it was going out of style though, as a really good warmup to…
    • 19 – seconding Johaan – <Howling noises!!!> Damn but this climb was amazing. On The Fortress, it was a huge overhanging jug-fest where you burl and haul and drag yourself upwards. Great climb all throughout, and I go a full bat-hang in off a knee-bar about halfway up to rest. (Ed note: a bat-hang is where you hold on to the rock while upside-down, using only your feet and legs. A Knee-Bar is when you use the pressure between your knee and toe to hold onto the rock)


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