Our objective is to pass on the skills, which have made us successful in our own climbing careers. The most important attributes being:
- Current techniques for mountaineering
- A climbing standard appropriate to the objective
- Attuned mountain awareness
- Sound judgement of your own abilities
- Solid planning and preparation skills
- The basis of good decision making
We endeavour to cover the following skills during the course; however factors such as weather, your fitness and climbing conditions may dictate that some skills are not covered in full.
- Fundamental snow and ice craft skills
- Rope skills applicable to alpine climbing
- Glacier travel and self rescue skills
- Weather analysis
- Route finding and navigation
At the end of the course, participants should have the skills and confidence to travel in glaciated terrain. You will have the technical ability and know-how to attempt major mountains by their easier routes in New Zealand and trekking peaks in the Himalayas. The program will also set you up with sufficient prowess to be guided on some technically difficult ascents.
We operate our courses in the 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 area that is best for running the course.
Operators based in Mt Cook are often shut down by weather for extended periods yet due to Wanaka’s central proximity to all the regions, we have the ability to anticipate these weather systems and will travel to the fine-weather side of the mountain range.
We can often get into the mountains several days before it clears on the windward aspects. Prior to committing to a region 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 at our Wanaka office at 9.00am on Day 1 and finish around 5pm on day 7.
THE WAY THE COURSE OPERATES
Experiential learning is a major factor in learning how to be a competent mountaineer and therefore we spend as much time as possible in the mountains actually climbing peaks whilst developing skills. Prior to going into the mountains we conduct an equipment check then work on rope techniques, knots and belaying. We will utilise helicopters or ski planes to fly into the high mountains to enable us to get to the high glaciers and huts. The timing of when we enter the mountains depends on the weather conditions at the time and we make every effort to get into the mountains as soon as we can to maximise your time in the high peaks.
When we are in the mountains we usually establish ourselves in a hut or camp then get on with the rest of the program. Initially you will learn how to travel safely in the mountains and on glaciated terrain. Often this will be on the way to a non-technical climbing route that you can then climb while your guide introduces you to skills applicable to the terrain you are on. Throughout the course, the guides will try to vary the terrain to give you variety and allow you to learn the techniques specific to snow, ice and rock and the aim is to 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 in versatility, and selection of the appropriate objective, based on the present and forecasted weather conditions.
TYPICAL COURSE OUTLINE
The following is a typical outline for the Mountaineering Instruction Course (MIC) based on a previous course in the Westland region at the head of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers where the highest concentration of New Zealand’s tallest mountains are located. The guide, Steve instructed four participants on an adventurous week. Following are diary excerpts written after the trip;
Day 1 Monday
We met at the Adventure Consultants office at 9.00am and were introduced to the other course participants and our guide, Steve who briefed us on the course itinerary and other details. We discussed, and then organised our personal and group equipment. Steve sorted out gear that we needed to rent and there was time to make a couple of last minute purchases in town. I made a mental note of what Steve told us 'It's very important to ration food effectively, too much and your packs become overly heavy, too little and you starve!' Steve showed us the preferred method for tying-in and basic rope skills that we would use when we reached the glacier so we spent some time on that, then we sat down to have Steve explain the weather forecast. He told us we would not be flying into the mountains today as planned because a cold front was passing over and the helicopters could not fly today. He said it looked like the following morning would be fine. As an alternative we headed out to the local rock climbing area to learn belaying and abseiling skills, and learn some rock climbing skills. I’d rock climbed on climbing walls before but not on real rock so it was fun making the transition to the ‘real thing!’ What I did notice was the shoes with the sticky soles made standing on small holds much easier and enabled me to use friction rather than edging all the time. The other course members were new to rock climbing and progressed really quickly as Steve demonstrated how to move properly on rock and what technique to use for the different type of moves we had to make. At the end of the session, we returned to Wanaka for dinner and a talk about what would happen the next day. It seemed the weather was going to be best up the west coast thus we packed all our kit so we’d be able to get away early in the morning.
Day 2 Tuesday
We met at 8am, loaded all our gear into the van and drove for 3 hours to Fox Glacier. The plan is to fly by helicopter to Centennial Hut at 2400m on the Franz Joseph Glacier. Cool, this was going to be my first ride in a helicopter!
We had some lunch and changed into our mountain gear, after all this time getting ready for this trip it was good to test it out in the real environment. At the helipad, we are introduced to the pilot and given a helicopter safety briefing before taking off. We buzzed over Fox village then had an amazing flight over the rainforest and up to the glaciers that we flew over (for what seemed like a long way!) to get to the hut. Huge peaks were all around us and I couldn’t believe how small the hut looked as we approached. This is outrageous terrain! Glaciers flowed everywhere all broken up in places and heavily crevassed, yet in other places it was all smooth. I wondered how we were going to be able to make our way around and work out where to go!
When we had landed Steve got us to get out of the helicopter and crouch on the snow while he unpacked the gear. Soon the helicopter pilot waved and left us to an increasing silence. Wow! I was looking down across the glacier directly at the Tasman Sea that seemed really close and Steve said it is only 20km away.
We sat around for a while taking it all in and Steve told us the names of all the peaks and what all the features were around us. I now know the difference between a crevasse and a bergschrund - I hope that comes up in a game of Trivial Pursuits some time!
We carried our gear to the hut and moved inside. It’s small and basic but big enough to shelter from the weather and fits about 14 people at a squeeze. There was another group of 4 people there so there wasn’t an issue with space, but Steve said sometimes it gets very busy so we were quite lucky. We dressed in our gear and took our equipment with us outside to begin our lessons. I could see there was no way we could just get out there and go climbing without learning how to be safe on the glaciers.
We learnt how to walk properly on snow, then how to use crampons and ice axes. Then we put on the ropes, set up for glacier travel and went for a walk for a couple of hours to learn how to travel safely without falling into a crevasse. The sun was setting so we went back to the hut and helped Steve prepare dinner which ended up being a really nice meal. And I’d thought I might end up eating dehydrated food all week!
Day 3 Wednesday
Steve got up at 6.30am, started the stoves and soon we had a brew on. Apparently we have to learn how to do it ourselves so we can prepare and cook tonight. A quick breakfast followed and when the caffeine levels were achieved, we roped up and got our crampons on. (Wow, the snow had got so hard overnight!)
We crunched our way downhill initially and stopped to do some self arrest on a smooth face of snow. Self arrest is the art of stopping yourself if you slip, by throwing the pick of the ice axe into the snow and coming to a halt. We did that for an hour until we were experts! Then we tromped across the glacier towards a peak on the edge of the Davis snowfield called Mt Von Bulow. Not much of a climb up really but an opportunity for us to learn how to use snow stakes and belay on snow, a technique we can use for steeper climbs now we’ve learnt how to do it on low angled terrain. The tramp back across the glacier was extremely hot in the afternoon sun and we retuned to the hut tired yet happy with the day. And yes, we did learn how to use the stoves and make dinner! We spent an hour and a half that night learning navigation techniques and made a navigation plan for an ascent of Aurora next day.
Day 4 Thursday
We packed up early full of anticipation for the day ahead. After all, we’ve already learnt a lot of the skills we need to safely do the climb (I just hope we don’t go into any crevasses as we’ve not learned how to get someone out yet!) The trip across the glacier to the base of the mountain didn’t take long and soon we were pitching up the slope putting in snow anchors and belaying each other. Arriving at the top was fun and we did some rappels off snow anchors on the way down (even though we could have climbed down as it wasn’t so steep) then Steve came down after and brought our snow stakes back to us.
We had lunch on the glacier then Steve taught us assisted hoist crevasse rescue, something I realised I’d need a lot more time to perfect before I could consider myself proficient. It was good for me to realise that prevention is better than cure and, on the whole (as explained by Steve), good technique and route finding prevents the need for us to perform crevasse rescue by not going in them in the first place!
The weather is changing slowly but surely, high clouds are dancing across the sky and lower level grey clouds are billowing onto the glacier towards us. I realise we’ve been pretty fortunate but our forecast last night said things were getting worse (‘crapping out’ was Steve’s official interpretation!).
The climb back up to the hut is getting tiring. I was pleased to get there just as the sleet started coming at us and luckily I didn’t get too wet. Dinner was consumed with a ‘gusto’ that only comes about when one is truly famished. We listened to the forecast then Steve taught us some weather theory so I began to get a better appreciation for how to read a weather map and how to ‘read’ the weather. This would help a lot when I was planning my own mountain trips in future.
Day 5 Friday
I must say I wasn’t upset when we awoke to the sound of rain lashing the hut, my body needed a rest so I rolled over and slept a bit longer, luckily so did everyone else! Finally Steve got up and got a brew on and we had a late breakfast. With no chance of going out in this weather, so we did some more rope work and learnt how to prussic up and down ropes. We followed up by putting more time into getting our assisted hoist crevasse extraction technique sorted. I enjoyed an equipment lecture from Steve that was very comprehensive and we had lots of cups of tea and snacks during the day.
Day 6 Saturday
More bad weather today as the storm hadn’t moved off. The forecast said it would turn to the south today and get colder and fine up. We had a lecture on trip planning and preparation and Steve talked about his Himalayan climbing exploits and what it was like to climb Everest, a climb he’d done as a guide with AC back in 2006. I don’t see that on my horizon and feel like I have a long way to go but a couple of the guys seemed interested in doing that in future. Toasted sandwiches were the highlight of the day and after lunch we started packing up to hike out towards the Fox Glacier for the night where we’d planned to bivvy out. It’s amazing how heavy the packs feel when all the sleeping bags, food and climbing gear are loaded into them so we were a little slow across the glacier that afternoon. We walked for two and a half hours across the Davis snowfield and dropped onto the Fox Glacier below Mt Von Bulow that we’d climbed a couple of days before. From there we trudged down the glacier to Chancellor Dome. The plan was for us to bivvy out which I found out meant to just lay a mat out on the snow and lie down on it to sleep! We cooked a simple pasta meal on the stoves and watched the snow sparkle as it froze. A cold wind blew in the early hours and I had to pull the hood of my bivvy bag over me to stop the snow blowing in. Yuk!
Day 7 Sunday
It wasn’t easy getting up but there was no point in sticking around, so we hurriedly packed up and descended in a couple of hours to Chancellor Hut. Steve arranged for a helicopter pick-up and soon we were winging our way down to the Fox Glacier village.
We managed a shower followed by lunch then hit the road back to Wanaka again where we sorted out the gear we’d used. Steve took us through a debrief where we could chat about our experiences of the week and get ideas about what progression would be appropriate for our next steps.
A few of us decided to go downtown for a meal and social evening, and to share plans for future adventures!
HOW TO FIND US
Click on map to expand and navigate
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.
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.
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Christie Prior shares her experience on an AC Mountaineering Instruction Course last summer.
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