Call of the un­known

Univer­sity of Otago part­time pro­fes­sional prac­tice fel­low in the School of Phar­macy David Woods climbs un­sum­mited moun­tains. Mar­got Tay­lor asks him how he came to en­joy ven­tur­ing into the un­known and what keeps him go­ing back for more.

Otago Daily Times - - Front Page - mar­got.tay­

THE next time you use GPS to find a shop two streets away, think of moun­taineer David Woods (61).

The Univer­sity of Otago part­time pro­fes­sional prac­tice fel­low in the School of Phar­macy casts maps and well­known routes aside when he climbs.

The un­known, he says, has al­ways ex­cited him.

He has been among the first peo­ple, if not the first per­son, to summit a num­ber of peaks through­out Green­land, the

In­dian Hi­malaya, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Mon­go­lia and Kaza­khstan since he started climb­ing un­touched peaks in 2011.

‘‘I just started googling un­climbed moun­tains and went from there.’’

The ex­pe­di­tions are a long way from the tame rock­climb­ing walls he started climb­ing while a teenager in North­ern Eng­land.

‘‘My fa­ther was a keen hill walker and for me, that led into climb­ing.’’

Rock­climb­ing walls were soon re­placed by the Euro­pean Alps.

‘‘I lived in the Lake District in Eng­land and Scot­land. I tended to go and live in ar­eas where there were moun­tains around.’’

When he moved to Saudi Ara­bia in the 1980s with his wife, Terri, and the high­est peaks were sand dunes, he knew moun­taineer­ing wasn’t just a pass­ing hobby.

‘‘It was a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment; we lived close to the bor­der of Jor­dan and then close to Ye­men. We did a lot of ex­plo­ration but there wasn’t a lot of climb­ing that went on there.’’

He was drawn to New Zealand’s moun­tains when a Kiwi ex­pat showed him a

Reader’s Di­gest il­lus­trat­ing New Zealand.

‘‘My eyes lit up when I saw the pic­tures and I thought yeah, that would be a pretty cool place to go and ex­plore.’’

The cou­ple ar­rived in New Zealand in 1988 for what they thought would be a twoyear stint to climb and for David to work at the univer­sity.

Al­most 30 years on, they are still here, but un­mapped peaks and the op­por­tu­nity to work as a con­sul­tant on the de­vel­op­ment of na­tional drug lists pulls David abroad fre­quently.

‘‘I quite of­ten com­bine a climb­ing trip with work . . . It can be quite an in­ter­est­ing shift be­cause I was on an ex­pe­di­tion in Kyr­gyzs­tan and then a cou­ple of days later I was at a con­fer­ence in Kaza­khstan, so it can be a re­ally quick change of fo­cus.’’

While they were en­tirely dif­fer­ent, climb­ing the un­known and work­ing as a con­sul­tant were linked by chal­lenge, he said.

‘‘It is cer­tainly a buzz and a chal­lenge to travel to th­ese places,

es­pe­cially to go into ar­eas that re­ally have not been ex­plored and work in new and ex­cit­ing en­vi­ron­ments.’’ He says the high­est peak he has climbed is 6500m and it is get­ting to the base of the moun­tain that is of­ten the tough­est part.

‘‘A lot of un­climbed peaks . . . are not overly dif­fi­cult; it is more their re­mote­ness and ac­cess.’’

His first ex­pe­di­tion to an un­climbed moun­tain, in the Nubra Val­ley of the In­dian Hi­malaya, in­volved a seven­day trek just to get to it.

‘‘The maps we had were very ba­sic, so a lot of the route plan­ning is done by sight. You look at the moun­tain and think OK, there looks to be a way up there. There is no guide­book and that is part of the at­trac­tion.’’

This at­trac­tion to the un­known al­most proved lethal for a fel­low climber on an ex­pe­di­tion in Mon­go­lia last year.

‘‘We were climb­ing a new peak in a very re­mote area and one of the group was hit by a rock and got a very nasty in­jury.’’

The group sta­bilised the woman, who had a badly crushed leg, and cared for her overnight be­fore as­sist­ing her down the moun­tain and or­gan­is­ing for her to be evac­u­ated by horse.

The ‘‘very scary in­ci­dent’’ did not pre­vent the ex­pe­di­tion from re­group­ing and sum­mit­ing the peak via a dif­fer­ent route.

Wit­ness­ing the ac­ci­dent had not put him off.

‘‘Go­ing into th­ese ar­eas, you have to ac­cept if some­thing does go wrong it is not just a mat­ter of set­ting off a lo­ca­tor bea­con or call­ing some­one on a satel­lite phone and say­ing send a he­li­copter.’’

His mother felt dif­fer­ently.

‘‘My mother, who is 88, has prob­a­bly been say­ing for the past 10 years that I’m get­ting too old for this, but she’s prob­a­bly just about given up on that.’’

The path to Ever­est is out of the ques­tion. He says he is too old to take it on and climb­ing with hun­dreds of oth­ers is the op­po­site of what at­tracts him.

As long as there are un­climbed peaks, he is likely to feel the pull to­wards them.

‘‘I think when I started this, it seemed quite im­por­tant to cat­a­logue and name them, but as I’ve moved on it’s be­come less im­por­tant. It’s more of a per­sonal thing.’’

The ex­pe­di­tions are not about mak­ing it to the top, ei­ther. ‘‘That’s one thing.

‘‘But it’s the get­ting there. There are a num­ber of emo­tions but it’s re­ally that col­lec­tive feel­ing of achieve­ment with the team you are with.’’

He also gets to in­ter­act with lo­cal peo­ple who have of­ten had lit­tle ex­po­sure to out­siders.

‘‘The ex­pe­di­tions I go on usu­ally put some­thing back into lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and this can be via lo­cal char­i­ties and good causes.’’

Dur­ing a re­cent ex­pe­di­tion to Kyr­gyzs­tan, he spot­ted an ‘‘enchanting peak’’ that he hopes to climb. He is also con­sid­er­ing join­ing an ex­pe­di­tion to climb Labuche Kang 111 East which, at 7250m, would be the high­est peak he had climbed and is the high­est un­climbed peak on Earth.

In Oc­to­ber, he will re­turn to Dunedin, a ‘‘great place’’ but lack­ing in moun­tains. He in­tends to en­joy the com­pany of fam­ily and friends whose sup­port has en­abled him to ‘‘live the dream’’.

While he is look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing home, he ad­mit­ted it was un­likely to be long be­fore he went back to his sec­ond home, an un­climbed moun­tain not on any map you or I have.


First hu­man con­tact . . . Moun­taineer David Woods reaches the peak of a never­be­fore­climbed moun­tain in Green­land in 2013. Left: Peak with a view . . . David Woods’ view into the Green­land wilder­ness dur­ing an ex­pe­di­tion.

Cold com­fort . . . David Woods pre­pares to enter his tent in Mon­go­lia in 2006.

First steps . . . David Woods and other mem­bers of an ex­pe­di­tion group start to climb an un­ex­plored glacier in Green­land in 2013.

Where no man has gone be­fore . . . David Woods em­barks on an ex­pe­di­tion into an un­ex­plored part of the Kala­pani re­gion in In­dian Hi­malaya.

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