Alpine Expedition Course


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POINTS OF DIFFERENCE

  • More time to gain experience while practicing skills
  • Focus on remote mountainous areas
  • Highly experienced expedition guides instructing

COURSE OBJECTIVE

Our objective is to pass on the skills, which have made us successful in our own climbing and Himalayan careers. The most important attributes being:

  • A solid climbing standard and mountain awareness
  • Sound judgement of your own ability
  • Good planning and preparation skills
  • Informed decision making
  • Technical mountaineering proficiency

SKILLS TAUGHT

We endeavour to cover the following skills during the course; however factors such as weather and climbing conditions may dictate that some skills are not covered in full.

  • Basic to advanced snow and ice craft
  • Rope skills applicable to alpine climbing and expedition climbing including fixed ropes
  • Glacier travel and rescue skills
  • Weather analysis
  • Alpine rock skills
  • Mountain first aid, health, high altitude medicine and acclimatisation practices
  • Route finding
  • Navigation
  • Avalanche awareness and rescue techniques
  • Expedition camping skills, tenting, snow caving, bivvies

COURSE VENUE

We operate our courses in the Remarkables, Mt Aspiring, Mt Cook or Westland National Parks.

Being based in Wanaka gives us more flexibility than any other location in the Southern Alps to be able to travel directly to the best area for running the course.Operators based in Mt Cook are shut down by weather for extended periods.

However, due to Wanaka’s central proximity to all the regions, we have the ability to anticipate these weather systems and will travel to the opposite side of the mountain range and get into the mountains often, days before it clears on the windward aspects.

We consider factors such as: weather and snow conditions, hut occupancy rates, and our knowledge of where to find the best climbing conditions at the time.

The course will commence and finish at our Wanaka office at 20 Brownston St, Wanaka. The course starts at 9.00am on Day 1.

THE WAY THE COURSE OPERATES

We spend as much time in the mountains as possible actually climbing peaks whilst developing skills. Initially you will develop and reinforce your skills in a contained environment and move on to more challenging routes, and terrain during the course.

Due to the variability of conditions and weather, the guides will make changes to the program to ensure you get the best outcomes and training opportunities from what the gods throw at you. Because of this you should expect some changes to the itinerary and be flexible with your perceived outcomes. Whatever happens, your guides will use their considerable experience to ensure you get the best from the course that can be offered.

Experiential learning is a major factor in learning how to be a competent mountaineer. The emphasis of the course is on safe application of skill development. We will introduce skills through actually climbing peaks and increase the intensity of the program at your pace.

Alpine climbing can involve long days with early starts in order to gain a summit, and descend before nightfall. There are times when the weather may be rough and there can be periods of discomfort. We manage this through consultation with the group members and our objectives are dictated by the strength and motivation of the group as a whole.

You may have the opportunity to develop additional skills before the course commences. Rope skills can be learned through local alpine clubs, and previous rock or alpine climbing experience will allow you to gain even more from the course.

Weather plays a major factor in any mountain experience and New Zealand's Southern Alps get their share. We intend to run the course to schedule, however weather influences may require us to adjust the program accordingly.  Weather in itself is an important lesson for the group to learn, in versatility and objective selection, based on the present and forecasted weather conditions.

SAMPLE COURSE OUTLINE

The following is a typical outline for the Expedition Course based on a prior course in the Remarkables and Mt Cook regions with AC guides, Dean Staples and Mike Madden.

Day 1 Monday

The group meets at 9.00 am at the AC office in Wanaka at 20 Brownston Street. Course participants are introduced and the guides outline the course syllabus, and what the group will be up to each day of the course. The group is given a brief rundown on what the forecast is saying about the upcoming weather.

Dean gives a concise equipment talk so everyone knows what to bring and the crew then organise personal and group equipment. (Note: bring all your gear with you, including those items you are not sure whether to include or not). Rental equipment will be fitted at this time and final purchases can be made. Food is sorted for the trip, which becomes a valuable 'hands-on' exercise for everybody. Once organised, the group load themselves and the gear into the van for the 2.5 hour trip to the Remarkables Range, a rocky range with a couple of steep rock summits.

It’s a hike for 1.5 hours to the AC camp on the flanks of Single Cone, one of the craggy peaks of the Remarkables. The camp consists of a couple of expedition style tents, one for cooking and one for sleeping. Dean and Mike deliver a lesson in ropework and belaying skills which for most of the groups it’s revision but for some it’s reasonably new.

Then it’s time to sort dinner. There are lots of rules about camp safety to absorb as the guides induct everybody into safe and hygienic practices. Nobody wants to be responsible for burning the camp down do they! Everyone grabs a bunk and are taught how to refuel and light the stoves then the group is broken into teams for dealing with food and dishes.

Day 2 Tuesday
After breakfast it’s time to use yesterdays skills on the bluffs above the camp for some multi pitch climbing on low angled, but very good rock. There are very good cracks that are used to protect the climbing and the guides climb alongside to ensure the gear is being used correctly, as well as advising on how to streamline systems and climbing calls. After several pitches the groups have reached the top and are working on rappel anchors that are used to descend. The next lesson is on fixed rope training where the participants get to see how they are placed as well as ascending/descending practice.  A hungry crew head back to the camp for lunch.

Then it’s time for walking on snow and self arrest techniques. This gets everyone going as they slide down the slopes and learn how best to stop with the ice axe. The skills are handy at the Remarkables early season for walking around on some of the snow slopes leading to the peaks. The guides then instruct the group on prusiking and self rescue skills that are a lead-up to crevasse rescue skills that will be taught later in the course.

Day 3 Wednesday
Today the course is split into two groups, Dean taking one group up Single Cone by the East Ridge while Mike takes the rest via the South ridge. It’s a day to put multi-pitch climbing into practice with awesome views out towards the Southern Alps. The teams meet at the summit for lunch, then descend back to camp to pack up and head down to the vehicles to drive to Mt Cook for the next phase of the trip. All good so far! The group arrives at the New Zealand Alpine Club Hut, Unwin Hut, where everyone moves into a bunkroom and chips in to cook dinner.

Day 4 Thursday
The weather has deteriorated overnight and there are no flights going today. The day is spent on theory lessons that focus on weather, navigation and route finding lectures (and outside practice), a high altitude illness lesson, escaping from the system techniques, and crevasse extraction training. In all its frustrating waiting for the weather but the time is put to good use. The forecast is on the improve so it’s a more positive outlook for the next day.

Day 5 Friday
By 9.30am the group is at Mt Cook airport and loaded into a helicopter for the spectacular flight past the country’s highest peaks into Murchison valley at the head of the Tasman Glacier.  The group unloads the gear in the middle of the glacier and soon the skies are silent, and the grandeur of the surrounding peaks sinks in.  The guides deliver an initial familiarisation talk to clarify nomenclature and identify the peaks and features surrounding the valley and point out safe and unsafe areas of travel.

The gear all now must be carried up the slope to the Murchison Hut that is a bit of a grunt with a weeks worth of food and equipment! The hut is a small bunkroom with a bench for cooking and an outside loo that requires boots to be put on before heading out. There are more rules about hut safety, especially as everyone needs to be especially careful with white spirits stoves.

After lunch it’s time to head outside and get gear sorted to start the high alpine component of the course in earnest. The guides take the group through a progression on roping up for glacier travel, cramponing and ice anchors. At the end of the day everyone has either developed an entirely new set of skills and for those who have done some snow and ice climbing before, this is good revision to know they are on track with their existing skill set. It’s a big mistake to assume the other climbers are as current as they believe they are, and this in itself is a good lesson as techniques vary between areas and evolve over time. The evening is spent getting dinner ready and preparing for an overnight bivvy the following night.

Day 6 Saturday
The group leaves the hut early to descend onto the Murchison Glacier. Along the way they learn how best to negotiate glacial terrain and what is the correct rope technique to use around the crevasses. Basic crevasse self rescue is covered and this will be followed by a more comprehensive lesson later in the course. Snow anchors are introduced during the lesson and the team use the training time on the glacier to rest up before the slog up the slopes to Classen Saddle.  From there one has good views down into the Godley valley and on to Mt Darchiac. But the day is not over yet; the guides soon have the group racking up again to climb the 2444m peak above the saddle known as Mt Phyllis. Hooray, the first summit of the course!  It’s going to be a bivvy out tonight and the group retires to have a lesson on good camp management and establish camp in the alpine setting. Then it's time for a team cook-up and look at the sunset before a welcome sleep.

Day 7 Sunday
The group gets to appreciate how difficult it is to get organised after a night out in a bivvy and it takes some time to have everyone up and ready to move on. It's good to clear the lungs with a 2-hour walk up the slopes towards Mt Broderick which was almost climbed to the top while working on running belays and rock anchors on the way up. Close to the summit, Dean made the decision to come down due to high winds and less than perfect rock. The valuable skills of mountain movement, mixed rock and snow climbing highlight this trip and one can revel in the satisfaction of staying at high altitude all day. The decision is made to pack up quickly and begin the descent back to the Murchison Glacier. The team must down-climb the sections they came up yesterday, so the first one down places anchors and runners as security for the descending climber above. The guides focus on everyone placing good snow anchors on the way. Once the team reaches the ice they cross the glacier to the hut. A good dinner is enjoyed, then Dean and Mike involve the team in an in-depth debrief where the teams actions and techniques are analysed, and suggestions for improvement are made. The guides make it clear this is no place for sloppy or lazy techniques and they will pull up anyone who isn’t focusing.

It’s time to pack up all the gear in preparation to carry heavy packs tomorrow for four hours up the valley. The plan is to climb the Murchison headwall to Kelman Hut, which is situated at the head of the Tasman Glacier. The guides have cunningly had some of the food and fuel flown in there to reduce the loads somewhat.  A bad forecast means an early start is required to get to Kelman before the weather gets too bad.

Day 8 Monday
It’s hard getting up at 3am and it takes an hour and a half to have breakfast and leave the hut while it’s still dark. A glacier approach is done by headlamp to the head of the Murchison valley until the dawn breaks. The route requires the team climb three pitches on snow and ice on the headwall for security around crevasses then it’s a short climb up to Kelman Hut. Just in time, the wind increases and rain and snow start to fall, horizontally!

Day 9 Tuesday
The morning is fully frontal so the team does a session on rescue scenarios and medical first aid. The rain and sleet stops lashing the hut around midday and that leaves time to head out and do a session on crevasse extraction and prusiking out of a crevasse. Its good training that leaves one in no doubt that it’s best to avoid falling into them!

Day 10 Wednesday
It’s mostly clear again so the decision is made to get up and head out at 5am. An hour across the valley is an ice face on a peak that is perfect for developing ice-climbing skills. Due to hard conditions the climbers are forced to use only ice screws as runners and belays. After five (shortened) pitches they have bagged another summit, the 2,699m Mt Aylmer. An intricate ridge descends to the Col then it’s time to make an afternoon ascent of Hochstetter Dome 2,827m that is reached mid afternoon, and there is time to hang on the summit for a while to take photos and enjoy the view. The descent is via the west shoulder then it’s time to make the hike back across the breadth of the Tasman Glacier to Kelman Hut, and there’s lot’s of incentive to get dinner prepared and into bed. Another storm front is forecast to come through and the group feel fortunate to get the summits in they have achieved.

Day 11 Thursday
A tired group walks down the Tasman Glacier travelling over ice, moraine, and onto the end of the white ice, 4 hours down from Kelman Hut. There’s a series of short but steep ice walls that the group get to practice some steeper climbing on as there’s a bit of delay before a helicopter can pick up the team. It’s impossible not to be happy with the helicopter ride out to Mt Cook village, thus avoiding the long slog the rest of the way down the Tasman moraine. That shower at Unwin Hut surely feels good after so long!

In the afternoon the vehicle is packed up for the return to Wanaka where the team all decides that instead of cooking tonight they will go out for a feed. The night is spent bunking it at a backpacker lodge close to the town centre so it’s not far home for those wanting to celebrate more than others!

Day 12 Friday
Today it’s back to the AC office. There’s time for an informative lecture on climbing at high altitude and a video taken by the AC guides on climbing Everest with spectacular footage of the summit ridge through the Hillary Step to the top. Then there’s a discussion on decision making in the mountain environment and it is really beneficial to glean from the guides how they go about making decisions in such extreme environments. To finish up sorting out the equipment then the guides debrief the course. Team members get to share the highs and lows that each person experienced on the course with the rest of the group who have come to know each other well over the previous 12 days. After all the goodbyes have been done, the group heads into town for some socialising. Of course plans are already being made for future climbing trips with like minded people who have a similar experience level and aspirations.

HOW TO FIND US

 
 

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 We moved into our new premises in January 2013.  We are walking distance to the shores of Lake Wanaka and now have amazing views of the surrounding mountains that we love to play in. The new building is a nicely renovated house with  space for groups to get ready, a classroom, a dedicated kitchen and an area for packing expedition gear for freighting to the far corners of the earth.  We've also expanded our lobby with added retail space.  There are ten work stations in the office with a nice outdoor deck and shade cloth for the Friday afternoon g and t's! 
 
 

Day 1 of the course begins at 9.00 am at our office, in the Wanaka town centre at 20 Brownston Street. Please arrive just on 9.00am as the guides will be preparing prior to that time. You will need to arrive in town the night prior to the course commencing. Please let us know if you are delayed in your arrival and an expected arrival time.

You will find some of New Zealand's best sport climbing in the Matukituki Valley - the gateway to the Mt Aspiring region (just a ten minute drive from our office). Three ski resorts provide plentiful winter activity and all year round fishing, boating and numerous other recreational activities abound.

Photos

Learning to Climb
 

Media...
 

  • THE SCHOOLING
    Insights to the world of ski mountaineering from professional freeride skier Lorraine Huber on the Adventure Consultants Alpine Expedition Course. 
     

  • THE SNOWS OF AORAKI
    Dan Slater of Climb Magazine (UK) published a wonderful insight into climbing New Zealand's highest mountain, with Adventure Consultant's guide Andy Cole.
     

  • MY OWN PRIVATE GLACIER
    Jonathan Moody recently joined us for our Alpine Expedition Course.  His blog about the trip features in Outer Edge magazine.
     

  • MINING LIFE AND LIVING - FROZEN PLAYGROUND
    Christie Prior shares her experience on an AC Mountaineering Instruction Course last summer.
     

 

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