Catch, Match, and Dispatch Thatcher. Not many of you people know this, but that’s actually what his parents wanted to name one of the strongest, most enigmatic climbers this country’s ever seen. Ever. Wisely, they went with Derek instead, and saved him a lot of trouble later in life. Can you imagine roll-call in year nine? ‘Catch, Match, and Dispatch Thatcher? Are you here?’ ‘Present, Miss!’

Anyway, on with the introduction. Not that we really need one, considering he’s been at the forefront of the New Zealand climbing envelope, and the pushing thereof, for the past fifteen years or more. He’s so polite he’d probably say sorry for skinning your knuckles if you punched him in the face. Not that you’d hit anything other than smoke because he’s such an enigma. He’s so enigmatic it’s probably his middle name. I mean, he’s probably not that enigmatic to his close friends, or his brother, but we’ll never know! Does he even have a brother? Nobody knows! And that’s why I’m interviewing him, to bring to light his epic true story for you, my disgusting public, the wider NZ climbing community. Jeez, you could at least look grateful about it.

Moving along! For those of you who don’t know who this guy is, follow me as I sweep away the fog of mystery, swipe ineffectually at the mists of mysterious misty mysteriousness and dredge the legend to find the pearly heart in the clam-shell of the man himself! Using next to no research at all, I present to you now a treasure-trove of poorly made-up facts and, at best, barely plausible half-truths about this shy-and-retiring berserker of bouldering, this reticent rock-rollicking recluse, the alliteration is blinding me, this mindless maniac of something to do with rock climbing beginning with M, this Stephen Hawking-level geek of grades, this teacher of small humans and on and on it could go but I lost my thesaurus.

He hails from Wellington but we won’t hold that against him, and since then he’s done way more boulders than you, a thousand of them over V6, in fact. He’s only the second human in the universe to have ever climbed Angel of Pain, he’s responsible for probably a large percentage of the country’s hard routes, I’d know if I asked him, but for argument’s sake let’s call it 83%, he’s possessed of a weird and slightly worrying encyclopaedic knowledge of useless climbing trivia, and despite all of these achievements the fame really hasn’t gone to his head all that much.

Who is the man behind the myth? The enigma, if you will, because that’s the word of the day, in case you didn’t already notice. Like a super hero, Thatcher hides behind his affable smile, his Clark-Kent-like glasses, and his affable manner that’s so genuinely personable you could bounce a sledgehammer off it. Is there a dark side lurking somewhere deep within? Is he prone to wild fits of rage, or raging fits of wild sloth? Does he cry when watching The Notebook? Has he ever helped an old lady cross the road? Has he pushed an old lady INTO the road? Is he allergic to peanuts? All the answers to none of these questions and more is what you’ll probably find below in this hard-hitting, surface-skimming exposé. Why is the ‘e’ all bold like that? I’m not sure! So follow me as I delve deep into the enigma that is…DEREK…THATCHER.

Follow, I said!




Date of birth 1/12/1978
Years climbing 16
Favourite vice Coffee
Hardest route Maybe Xena (33)
Hardest boulder Maybe Psychosis (V12)
Hardest flash White Face, Stone Fort, TN (V10)
Most memorable route/boulder They all blur into each other
Ape index 12cm
Favourite area Darrans or Castle Hill
Biggest fall Sounds dangerous
Most embarrassing nickname Beta Fairy
Sponsors No thanks
Favourite shoe Whatever gets me up the climb – I normally carry an arsenal for every occasion



1)   Describe yourself in five words or less.

Midget climbing geek


2)  How did you first get into rock climbing?

Last year of high school, they had holds on the gymnasium wall. Then the rec centre at Uni had a free wall, I climbed there a lot.


3) Multi-choice

Given that you’re a teacher, which means lots of holidays and poor handwriting, what’s your preferred method of punishment?

A) Fifty lashes at the drinking fountain

B) Strap the offending child to a chair and force it to listen to the beta for every route at Babylon, with diagrams

C) A day in James FM’s classroom

D) Hang them by the toes from the ceiling fan

Answer: A day listening to JFM giving Beta on routes at Babylon he can’t do.


4) I used to look up to Rafael from the Ninja Turtles because he was such a badass, but now he’s dead to me. Who was/is your idol?

I never have really figured out how to idolize folk.


5) What horrific childhood trauma still keeps you awake at night?

Failing spelling tests at primary school.


6)  Now that you’ve successfully self-replicated, what does the future hold for the Dispatcher?

Climbing wise trying to figure out how to stay motivated while decreasing in strength and ability. So far I do this by upgrading old climbs. Also I have just added a repeats column to my action logs so my graphs will look better!


7)  What problem in the Basin has longest eluded you? And why?

Secrets of Slow Twitch Motion (1999) and House of Pain (2000). Close so many times on both but never managed to align the variables involved.


8) If you were a fighting style, what would you be?

Bare Knuckle Boxing.


9) And speaking of fights, you look like you were a bit of a scrapper at school, what was your win/loss ratio?

e? i + 1 : 1 + i²  (this equation was too complex for wordpress)


10) How does the new breed of today’s climbers stack up to those old guys from back in the 90’s and stuff?

Same same? Now climbers typically have stacks more endurance and are way better at climbing steep terrain. Back in the day I was always impressed with Ivan and Kaz as they were such burly strong dudes. It is a bit depressing that it turns out you can just be really skinny and drag your way up a few hard things but you couldn’t lift the drill to bolt it yourself.


11) I’d ask you a serious physics question because you’re smart and wear glasses, but I don’t know any. Instead, which legendary beast of legend would you most like to tame/ride/slay? That’s a serious question because it reveals your inner nature to some extent.

A Phoenix.


12) What the hell is up with you and adding awkwardly difficult sit-starts to already established boulder problems? Nobody can do any of them!

More like nobody bothers to try them. When I started bouldering at the Hill sit starts where not done – hop starts where the norm. Ivan thought I was silly, he came around in the end though! I guess I was always looking for difficult lines and sit starts are quick to clean and try. Also in climbing I have always been pushing to improve, mostly by simply trying to climb everything, no excuses. Sit starts included.


13)  For the benefits of all the young up-and-comers busting their pulleys trying to repeat your old problems, what hard-won training strategy would you like to pass on?

Stop focusing on strength training. Spend your time trying improve as a climber not getting better at hanging on stuff or pulling on stuff. I have always thought the right sort of strength will come from focusing on being a better climber – focus on all the things that are hard to focus on – motivation, movement, time/money, how warm your shoe rubber is, humidity, hip pathways, mental game, sequences, how would a 4ft 11year old do the move you can’t reach?, micro-beta, competition, ego, which way your heels are pointing when you do a move…. Most climbers I see don’t get to the stage where their strength is what’s holding them back, it’s always a raft of other things. By ignoring all these things you may end up being strong (having terrible footwork can make you really strong) but you will just be another climber not achieving their potential.
Also stop making excuses. If you were a better climber you would send next go. (I am always thinking about that)


14)  What’s your one OCD trait?

Cleaning footholds.


15)  Which international route would you love to climb before you die? And which boulder?

Tom et je Ris, Verdon. Crown Jewel or The Wheel of Life.


16) What’s your biggest weakness?

Chisel grip.


17) Would you say the Basin’s heyday is behind us, or before us?

Behind us. Would be great to be proven wrong.


18) Multi-Choice #2

Which famous NZ climber penned this gem of a quote: “As with chess, there is no ideal rock-climbing physique, unlike rugby, where it helps to be big and white.”?

A) Charlie Creese

B) John Palmer

C) Graham Dingle

D) Ed Hillary

E) Steve Conn

F) Roland Foster


Answer: Ed? (WRONG! It was actually Graham Dingle, from ‘The outdoor World of Graham Dingle’, published 1983)


19) So…did you cry during the Notebook? Come on…

I haven’t seen it, is it that bad?


20) Some say you’re the best rock climber NZ has ever seen, or ever will see, so everybody else might as well quit. Bold claim. What do you attribute your legendary status to?

My amazing publicity team for constructing such a well thought out and comprehensive campaign. They never doubted my success and meticulously carried out the elaborate ruse like only accountants could. I know we had a few surprises along the way but they dealt with them with the utmost professionalism and swiftness of a McDonalds Drive through. Thanks Team.


Special Guest Question:

What earns your greatest respect in climbing? Skill; strength; power; endurance; commitment; longevity; peak performance; onsight ability or red point ability, or other?

The ability to dig deep to achieve any/all of the above.


21)Out of all the rock climbers NZ has ever produced, who

Is the strongest: Kaz.

Is the weakest: Regan has to be the weakest man ever to climb 30 right?

Whinges the most: Regan.

Has the best excuses: That’s an oxymoron. So Gomez.

Has the worst excuses: James Gunn, dude should be climbing 9a.

Is the best tall climber: You.

Is the best short-arse climber: Rach the Mus.

Is the luckiest: Mark Pugh Williams.

Is the unluckiest: Pete the Radness.

Is the ballsiest: I have never liked the idea of ‘boldness’ as something to aspire to. But Zac has excellent head for high pressure situations on rock.

Talks the most shite – JFM obviously.


22) What’s the biggest thing holding NZ climbing back, and what do us lazy slouches need to do to catch up with the big players?

I am not sure anything is or could hold NZ climbing back. If I were to make comment I would be talking about pushing climbing in NZ. First off stop thinking there is nothing rad to do and there are no hard climbs to be done locally. Get out there and get stuff done. Travel around NZ – it is a tiny country spend time at every crag then find some new ones. Stop the whole ‘closed project’ thing, especially at the upper end. Stop gluing things and making them easier. I don’t care that it’s not a consistent 25 now or that you want to climb the same climb that so and so climbed. I have never glued a hold, but I intend to go on a glue hold smashing rampage soon. Might even fill in some holds so that I can have some harder climbs. If you want to be a big player be part of the above. Even better become a force in the above.


23) What’s your biggest strength?

My big head.


24) Finally, because I know you’ve got nappies to change and spew to catch with your shoulder, as I understand fatherhood to entail, do you have any last words of patented Dispatcher wisdom to impart?

Always be rad. 

And be sure to check out his Castle Hill database for all the latest in graphs, pie-charts, spreadsheets, dioramas and loads of other stuff that you didn’t know about bouldering in the Basin.

Feature image by JOHN YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL PALMER. Others are Erin Stewart and downtown Kester Brown



2011 Castle Hill - are there infinite grey boulders? on Vimeo by derek thatcher



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