‘The 100 Peaks Challenge’ is a list of 100 mountain peaks scattered across New Zealand. Photo / NZ Hunters Adventures
It took 30 years, but a Masterton man finally screamed from the top of the mountain after becoming the first person in New Zealand to conquer The 100 Peaks Challenge.
The 100 Peaks Challenge is a list of 100 mountain peaks scattered across New Zealand [five in the North Island, the remainder in the South Island].
The New Zealand Alps Club set the challenge in 1991 as part of a centennial celebration that aims to invite mountaineers of all levels to climb.
On February 21, 2021, Don French stepped on the summit of Mount Unicorn [2560 metres] on the Strauchon Glacier on the west coast of the South Island, completing a task he started in 1991.
“There’s a little pride [achieving this] as I remembered at the end  I looked at the list and I thought I would make it a goal of a lifetime to try and hike the 100 all, “said French.
“Maybe it won’t sink in for some time, and maybe it will be 10 years before the next person does.”
The 62-year-old, whose first mountain to be conquered was Mount Egmont in 1976, admits he has faced a bit of a challenge, having conquered 30 of the listed peaks before he set out to conquer the remaining 70.
“I’ve run 30 times on the board at that stage,” said French.
“But it took me 30 years to climb those 70 years.”
Out of 100, French said he did 14 summits alone, whereas with the others, he has a number of friends accompanying him.
The French – who also participated in four Himalayan expeditions and was one of the few to have conquered all the peaks in the country over 3000m – said the hardest of the 100 he climbed was Jagged Peak in the Arrowsmith Range.
This is arguably one of the most challenging alpine ice routes in the country.
He said it was a long, steep winter hike that took 23 hours.
French, who is also an active member of the Wairarapa Search and Rescue team, said he was lucky enough throughout his climbing career, suffering only minor injuries in time.
Asked if he ever felt like giving up at some point, French said it rarely crossed his mind because he was satisfied with what he wanted to achieve climbing the mountain.
“I was really brooding, with about two or three peaks nearing the end [of the challenge], that I don’t need to let this rule me or control me, “he said.
“I can stop now and still say I have achieved what I wanted to achieve, which is climbing many mountains.
“Participation in the sport was what prompted me to do this from the very beginning. Every mountain is great fun and is an adventure that spends a lot of time with a good climbing companion.
Despite the challenge, French has not had the urge to hang up his mountain boots.
It’s all about exploration, “he said.
“What motivates me to climb is discovering what is around me. Sometimes I wonder with my years, ‘can I still do that?’
“But once you get to the top of the mountain, you look out and you can see hundreds or thousands of other mountains, and then I start thinking, ‘I wonder if I should climb that, that looks interesting’.
“I noticed the mountains got a little steeper and a little higher,” French said.
French’s 100th hike was well documented by the film crew of the NZ Hunter Adventures television show, who climbed Mount Unicorn with him.
Part one will premiere at Duke on March 17 and part 2 the following week.