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Kiwis attempt world-firsts

with Sport NZ Hillary Expedition Grants

Kiwis attempt world-firsts

with Sport NZ Hillary Expedition Grants

23 December 2014

Seven teams of adventurous New Zealanders will test their mettle when they embark on some world-firsts as part of Sport New Zealand’s (Sport NZ) Hillary Expeditions.

Their skills, courage, determination and physical boundaries will be pushed to the limit - all in a bid to achieve something special in the great outdoors and inspire other New Zealanders to do the same.

See our summary of the expeditions.

The latest Sport NZ Hillary Expedition Grants will help fund Kiwi adventurers in Antarctica, Denmark, Brazil, Peru and New Zealand. All of the expeditions will involve world-class outdoor challenges and include:

  • Paddling five class V rivers in Brazil that have never been descended before
  • Multiple new canyon descents around the West Coast, Mackenzie Basin, Wilberforce Valley and Nelson Lakes
  • Making a landmark ascent of Peru’s notoriously technical Mount Taulliraju’s West Ridge
  • Establishing a new rock climbing route on an iconic 313m sea stack known as Troll Finger (Trøllkonufingur) on the remote, sub-arctic Faroe Islands in Denmark.
  • Running the full length of the South Island consecutively with a Snow Dog team
  • Creating 30 new rock climbing routes in 30 days throughout West Coast’s Bullock Creek
  • Skiing one of the world’s largest ice caps in the South Pole.

“We are an adventurous and pioneering nation with a strong culture of excellence in the outdoors, and these expeditions embody that spirit,” says Sport NZ Chief Executive Peter Miskimmin.

He says the Hillary Expedition Grants not only honour the way Sir Edmund Hillary inspired New Zealanders, but recognise the length outdoor adventurers go to in extreme environments to achieve their goals – an attitude worthy of support and admiration.

To qualify for a grant, expeditions might include anyone, or a combination, of outdoor activities such as tramping, mountaineering, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, white water and/or sea kayaking, mountain biking and sailing.

“Kiwis set their sights high and these expeditions are a great example of that. Each person will need to be physically and mentally tough to succeed. They’ll need to plan well, yet be ready to deal with the unexpected.

“Most of these are world-first challenges and I hope that, like Sir Edmund Hillary, these adventurers go on to create their own inspiring stories for other New Zealanders to share,” Miskimmin says.

Information about all seven teams and their expeditions, as well as previous Hillary expeditions, can be found at Hillary Expeditions

The first expedition to kick off is Gradient and Water’s on 27 December 2014 in Brazil.


Media contact

Sophie Lee, Senior Communications Advisor, Sport NZ (phone 021 834 397 or email

The expeditions

Gradient and water - paddling five class v rivers in Brazil

The Gradient and Water expedition will see a team of five keen kayakers paddle five class V rivers in Brazil's Espirito Santo and Matto Grosso that have never been descended before. The expedition is expected to take between 75 and 90 days, starting on 27 December 2014 and finishing around 30 March 2015. By documenting their expedition, the team intend to promote Brazil's emerging kayaking community and stimulate domestic and international interest in Brazil as a kayaking destination.

"We have discovered what we believe will be the next mecca for kayaking, what could become a place like the Himalaya is to climbing. We've identified two regions for exploration, Espirito Santos which is a granite wonderland similar to the Sierra Nevadas in California; and a Northern state called Matto Grosso which is infamous for its huge rivers, remoteness, wildlife and hostile indigenous population. Neither of these regions has seen much kayaking exploration, if any at all, making the majority of rivers we descend world-first descents," says team member Jordan Searle.

Jordan was also part of a 2010/2011 Gradient and Water Hillary Expedition, which saw the team successfully kayak eight never-before-paddled river ascents in Papua New Guinea. He was joined by Ari Walker, who is also heading to Brazil for this expedition.

Jordan is a West Coaster and has been paddling for nine years, during which time he's completed fifteen first descents in both New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. He also instructs and mentors at the University of Canterbury Canoe Club, and is an active member of the West Coast White-water Search and Rescue.

Ari also has some decent paddling under his belt, having kayaked his way around Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, USA, Brazil, and Canada over the last two years. His background in mechanical engineering may prove to be useful in the more remote areas of Brazil.

Other team members include Christchurch-based teacher Barny Young, who has been paddling for 11 years, coming from a background of Canoe Polo in which he played at a national level. Since devoting his time to white-water exploration, he's completed first descents of the Harmen River, Roaring Meg Creek, Upper Whataroa, Upper Wanganui, Toaroha Canyon and Rocky Creek.

Fellow team members Joe Morley and Jared Johnson hail from the UK and United States respectively. Joe is the current 'Sickline' extreme kayaking world champion, and narrowly missed out on making the UK Olympic team in 2012. Jared brings a wealth of experience to the team, with 20 years of paddling class V rivers under his belt. He is also a world-class climber, adept at providing rope support for river gorges when necessary.

“None of our team are ‘professional’ athletes, and I think it is our simplicity that sets us apart,” says Jared. “We’re not flashy people using cutting edge technology, we’re just going to put in some hard yards and get the result… at least 6 World-First descents.”

NZ canyoning team - attempting previously un-descended canyons in South island

Over three weeks in March, a team of six will be attempting to complete and document first descents of nationally and internationally significant canyons on the West Coast, Mackenzie Basin, Wilberforce Valley and Nelson Lakes.

The NZ Canyoning Team includes some of the pioneering members of the NZ canyoning community and the expedition will be the first major canyoning expedition undertaken by New Zealanders in New Zealand.

The international canyoning community has recently awakened to NZ's huge canyoning potential and there has already been a French expedition here with more planned for the future. The team hopes their expedition will lead the charge for more international expeditions to NZ for canyoning.

"Canyoning is one of the fastest growing new adventure sports, and NZ has phenomenal, world-class canyoning potential," says team member Richard Bramely. He says there was virtually no canyoning community in New Zealand ten years ago. He and his fellow team members, Daniel Clearwater, Toine Houtenbos, Annette Phillipps, Neil Silverwood and Justin Venable, have drawn on their previous experiences in caving, kayaking and mountaineering, and applied them to canyoning - travelling overseas to learn canyoning techniques from established communities.

Nelson local Richard has come from a caving background. The management consultant is a part-time canyoning guide for Abel Tasman Canyons and has been an integral member of many caving alpine expeditions both in New Zealand and internationally. He was recently part of the team that made the connection between Nettlebed and Stormy Pot caves in New Zealand, resulting in one of the deepest caves in the Southern Hemisphere.

Team members Daniel Clearwater and Toine Houtenbos have both been canyoning for ten years. Daniel has descended over 200 canyons around the world - of which 32 are first descents. He has kept meticulous records of all his descents since he began, which form the basis of the first NZ canyoning guide book, which he intends to publish in 2015.

Toine has worked as a canyoning guide in Europe and South Africa before making the move to New Zealand. In 2010 he travelled to Japan to train with the Commission International de Canyon and wrote the Code of Practice for Recreational Canyoning in New Zealand. He is also the founder of commercial canyoning operation Abel Tasman Canyons, and has completed around 600 canyon trips in more than 100 different canyons around the world - 25 of which are first descents.

Like Toine, Annette also studied with the Commission International de Canyon. Both she and teammate Neil recently completed the first descent of New Zealand's Gloomy Gorge, which has attracted the attention of international media for being one of the most challenging canyons worldwide.

Justin, an emergency and rural hospital doctor, is an accomplished international kayaker and canyoner with a background in competitive white water slalom. His passion for white water kayaking has seen him complete multiple first descents around the world and in New Zealand, including the steepest kilometre of kayaking in the southern hemisphere - the Waitaha River's Windhover Gorge. The team plan to complete and document the first descents of what they describe as canyons of international significance - the Amethyst Ravine (Whataroa, West Coast); East Sabine Chasm (Nelson Lakes National Park); Tuke River upper canyon (Hokitika, West Coast). They also intend to complete and document the first descents of what they describe as nationally significant canyons - Thar Creek, Paradise Creek and Mary Stream Waterfall (Hopkins Valley, Mackenzie Basin); and Hut Stream (Wilberforce Valley, Selwyn District).

In addition, they plan to complete and document first descents of a number of canyons which could be descended by intermediate-level canyoners, including May Creek (Hohounu Range, West Coast); Camp Creek (Alexander Range, West Coast); Scarcliffe Creek and Takahe Creek (Wilberforce Valley, Selwyn District).

NZ Alpine Team - summit unclimbed west ridge of Talliraju, Peru

The NZ Alpine Team is planning the world's first ascent of the unclimbed West Ridge of the 5830m Taulliraju in the Santa Cruz Valley of the Cordillera Blanca - part of the greater Andes Range in Peru.

Taulliraju attracts much attention due to its imposing nature, and the technical difficulty of the climbing routes on the mountain. Until recently, the West Ridge has been a virtually unobtainable objective due to its highly technical and corniced nature. There appears to have been only one serious attempt on the West Ridge of Taulliraju in 2007, an attempt thwarted by poor snow conditions. As such, the West Ridge remains unclimbed in its entirety.

The NZ Alpine Team's expedition will commence in early May 2016, and is expected to take around six weeks.

The team consists of four young New Zealand climbers - Rose Pearson, Jaz Morris, Frazer Attrill and Pete Harris - ranging in age from 20 to 25 years. For the past two years, they have been mentored through the New Zealand Alpine Team. All four are technically competent on snow, rock and ice and have a solid foundation of Southern Alps Mountaineering, and all will be going on an overseas climbing expedition prior to the 2016 Taulliraju Expedition.

Troll finger expedition - establishing a new climbing route on Faroe Island's troll finger

In September 2015, a team of three New Zealand adventurers will set out to establish a new rock climbing route on an iconic 313m sea stack known as Troll Finger (Trøllkonufingur) on the remote, sub-arctic Faroe Islands in Denmark.

Specifically, the team plans to make a first ascent of a new route on a 70 meter-long overhanging start. It will mark the second ever ascent of Troll Finger. (The first ascent was led by a Faroese team in 2012, and team member Jack Grinsted says photographs from the expedition show the potential to develop a new direct route that follows an excellent line of rock features).

Additionally, the team hopes to explore other new areas for climbing in the Faroe Islands - bolting new routes and running a workshop for local climbers.

The Troll Finger expedition team has a proven track record of working together and successfully documenting successful expeditions in the past, including challenging trips into the Darren and Paparoa Mountains in New Zealand.

Jack is a strong mountaineer and rock climber with numerous first ascents to his name. He has been a key driver for the establishment of rock climbing around Punikaiki on the West Coast and has helped to establish several new crags and over 30 climbs in Bullock Creek and Punikaiki River. He also has experience in climbing remote mountains at high altitude.

Jack's brother, Tom Grinsted, has had a life of adventure mountaineering and tramping in New Zealand, as well as climbing throughout Europe. He also mentors young people in the outdoors with the Foundation of Youth Development's Project K. Jason Blair adds further strength to the team with his vast experience as a professional adventure photographer based on the West Coast. He's a former competition climber, and has excellent technical rock climbing skills.

Great southern snow dog traverse - running snow dogs across the full length of the South Island

The Snow Dog team aims to run more than 1,000km in one continuous journey across the full length of the South Island over a month in winter 2015 - the first time this has ever been attempted in New Zealand.

The expedition is modelled on the most famous dog sled race in the world - the Iditarod in Alaska. The 1000km race takes place every year in March in below zero temperatures, through long hours of darkness and across treacherous terrain.

In 2014, New Zealander Curt Perano completed the race, and is providing support and inspiration to the Great Southern Snow Dog Traverse team as they take on a uniquely kiwi version of the Iditarod in New Zealand's South Island.

The plan is to follow a route down the island that maximises snowy terrain and will require a variety of mushing techniques. The route will also pass by more populated areas such as Hamner, Tekapo and Wanaka where others can join in on the journey and learn more about the sport of mushing.

Typically, events involving teams of huskies in New Zealand are more like 'sprint' races of 5-10kms, and team member Sarah Wilson says the dogs and human teams will need to retrain themselves from being sprinters to being the equivalent of ultra-marathon runners - requiring months of preparation for the dogs and mushers so that they are able to pace themselves for a long journey.

The team is made up of four members and includes Sarah, Erik Bradshaw, Kate Smith and mentor Colin Whitley who will not only be bringing his seven huskies along for the expedition, but also years of experience in working with and racing huskies.

Sarah is an experienced mountaineer and adventurer and organised the successful Cook to Cook expedition, which received a Hillary Expedition Grant in 2013. She has spent the 2014 winter training in mushing techniques and entered the "Wanaka Snow Dog" festival in the skijoring (skiing with your dog) event. In 2011 she was rescued from burial in an avalanche and since then has been passionate about raising awareness of avalanche safety and funding for Aspiring Avalanche Dogs.

Erik Bradshaw has been back country skiing and climbing for over 30 years and has completed expeditions in New Zealand, Himalayas, Antarctic and North America. In 2011 he completed the first ski traverse of the Southern Alps starting at Nelson Lakes and finishing in Fiordland 45 days later. Erik has also been the recipient of a Bravery medal from the Royal NZ Humane Society.

Kate Smith is an experienced musher and has trained and competed in sled dog racing since 2008. She is also an experienced mountaineer and ex glacier guide.


In January 2015, over the course of 30 days, the Bullock Creek expedition team will set out to establish 30 new rock climbing routes over as many days in the West Coast's Bullock Creek area.

Bullock Creek is situated in a part of New Zealand that has little to no sport climbing and the team of six aims to unlock the potential for a diverse set of climbing routes by camping in a rock bivouac at the crag and putting up various routes over the course of a month.

Team member Neil Silverwood says the area has the potential to be one of New Zealand's premier rock climbing destinations. The 100m high, north-facing cliffs run unbroken for six kilometers along the valley wall, and much of the rock is immaculate and featured, he says.

He will be joined by fellow climbers Neil Warrington, Ashley Millar, Jen Robinson and Troy Mattingley, bolting routes that are moderately graded so that they appeal to a wide range of climbers and climbing abilities. The team also plans to create a free online guidebook that will include all of the existing routes and our 30 new routes.

As a West Coast local, the expedition is in Neil Silverwood's back yard. Neil's a strong climber with a passion for exploration, and has been involved in the exploration of several new rock climbing areas.

Neil Warrington is one of the top climbers based on the West Coast and a prolific route developer. He lives and breathes the sport and has climbed around the world, as well as undertaking a huge amount of route development on the West Coast.

Ashley is also an accomplished rock climber and one of the strongest in the team. He is an excellent sport climber and regularly onsites routes graded in the mid-20s.

Jen is a passionate sport climber based in Nelson, and Troy Mattingley lives in Christchurch and is amongst the top climbers in the country.

4caps expedition - skiing the largest ice cap in the south pole

The 4Caps Expedition has evolved from a dream of Hamilton-based twin brothers Zac and Josh Lyon to ski the world's four largest ice caps in Greenland, South Pole (Antarctica), Patagonia and the North Pole.

In August this year, they completed the crossing of Greenland and with some assistance from a 2014 Hillary Expedition Grant, they will depart for Antarctica in October 2015.

The entire challenge is expected to take three years and will see Zac and Josh walk about 5000 kilometres across all four ice caps. If successful, they will be the youngest to complete the trek.

Olympian and Trans-Atlantic rower Rob Hamill is the expedition director and says that while he wasn't sure initially whether the young men had what it takes to complete such a mission, he was quickly convinced.

With an ice cap already under Zac and Josh's belt, they have been treated to a wealth of learning and experience. However, it's no mean feat, with the boys having to regain weight between each stage due to the arduous nature of the journey.

Zac says that safety will be the biggest challenge in Antarctica, with measures needed to manage the cold. The boys will need to push well beyond the limits of both physical and mental endurance - battling slow starvation, whiteouts, crevasses and serious sub-zero degree temperatures.

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