Paul Kersten wrote the following article about his experience on an Adventure Consultants Alpine Climbing Course in December 2010. The article was published in the Bunbury Mountain Designs Newsletter www.mountaindesigns.com .
SOUTHERN ALPS NEW ZEALAND Alpine Climbing Course - A Climber's Perspective
Greetings fellow adventurers. If you haven’t booked your big adventure for 2011 how about you do that, book the time away, pay a deposit and figure out the rest later :)
Just spent 3 months in NZ. 6 weeks being in South Island tramping and climbing with 10 days at mountaineering school. No experience needed just get fit and enjoy. We had a 64 year old farmer in our group of 8.
Guides x 2 were fantastic. Mark and Mark from Adventure Consultants based in Wanaka.
Spent the morning at HQ meeting the team and sorting gear, then out to Hospital Flat for intro to rock climbing, abseiling and getting familiar with climbing gear. Backpackers accommodation for the night and team cook up of Mexican cuisine and off to the pub with new mates for a few Steinlagers as there ain't no watering holes for the next 9 days. Great diverse bunch of people. Nothing like an adventure to create a common thread.
9am all packed up and off to Mt Cook, also known as Aoraki, meaning cloud piercer. Lunch at Unwin Hut then load the chopper for 20 minute flight over glacier lakes, the ice fall, past Mt Cook on the left. Malte Brun Range on the right, over crevasse infested glaciers, past the Minarets all the way to the top of the Tasman glacier. Two trips. Total of 300 Kg of gear. Short half hour walk up to Kelman hut which sleeps 23. Also known as the Kelvinator for obvious reasons. Warm and sunny 7 deg c so watch out for sunburn under your chin from reflection, also the inside of your ears and up your nose. Nice!
Someone who shall remain nameless snored like a snofolofogus, to the extent one guide slept outside on the heli pad. Actually Daniel did get quieter as the days went by, Oops let that one slip.
6am start. Glacier travel, roping up, ice and snow walking technique, cramponing techniques, self arrest, ice axe use, belaying, anchors, snow stakes and pitching. Phew. All on a sunny day in Paradise.
5am kick off. Good freeze over night and another gorgeous sunrise promising a great day. More cramponing practice. We're at the top of Mt Aylmer 8550 feet for 12:30 lunch. Glacier softens in the afternoon heat, making it a long slushy trudge back to hut.
Another good freeze and clear sunrise. One hour walk down Tasman Glacier then ascend Mt Abel. Putting into practice the last 2 days skills. 6 pitches and a traverse to the summit.
2 hour traverse along the ridge to Mt Mable. Return to hut by 6 pm. Were all a bit puffed from a big day in the mountains. Thank goodness for OSM bars. One Square Meal nutrition bars. If you’re in NZ bring some back for your friends, they’ll love you for it.
Sleep in until 7am. Bliss. Getting used to 10 people in a 4m x 4m room of mixed gender. Hot muffins, butter and jam... breakfast is ready. The weather is changing so we're in the hut for knots, prusiking, crevasse rescue, assisted hoist. Head out in afternoon amongst cloud. 35km per hour winds so we're all layered up for crevasse rescue. At our location the glacier is 600m thick. Some of the crevasses are so huge and so deep you could hide a city of Bunbury bus. Tonights radio call suggests snow tonight and winds at 70 kmph gusting to 100kmph on exposed places.
Yep it’s snowing lightly. Toilet seat so cold you put layers of precious loo roll on the sides just in case. Maybe that’s where the term "freeze your arse off" came from! With our brains blurred with knots and ropes and pulley systems and auto blocks, we brave the elements and head off to find a nice crevasse to jump into for the real deal to put it all into action where it begins to make sense.
Light snow early on so we're indoors for Professor Mark and Mark. Weather forecasting, avalanche awareness, hut hazards, navigation, route planning, catering, nutrition. The group is split between whether we bag another peak or head down the glacier first light for ice climbing. The weather will be the decider.
5 am. No freeze. Shapeless white out conditions. Bagging another peak won’t be happening so it’s a massive breakfast. Working out a navigation plan as we're walking through crevasse country and about two thirds of the glacier length as we walk out. Visibility 30 metres makes route finding a nightmare and it makes hearing more acute. Rock falls, the shot gun crack of avalanches, the creak and groans of the ice. Like an alpine orchestra.... admissions free.
Weather cleared by early afternoon and 9 hours after departure we set up a rock kitchen and sort out the bivvi sacks for a sleep out on the bottom end of Tasman glacier. Blisters for the first time after 10 hours on crampons to sort out. Hit the sack soon after dark. Woke up at 11pm with full on view of Mt Cook above us. Must have been the brightest stars I’ve seen in my life and an abundance of shooting stars. Cool.
Repack for chopper pick up and return to Mount Cook airport. Strange to see green vegetation again after 9 days of white grey and brown. Lunch of fish and chips or Hapuka and taters in Twizel with L & P to wash it down. Welcome shower after 10 days and off to the pub for amber nectar and long debrief...until 3am in fact!
Oooh my head as I head to Christchurch to pick up my youngest son Angus (14). Tomorrow we head to the top of Fox Glacier to put it all into practise on our own. Yahoo!
Best performing piece of clothing was Ice Breaker 200 base layer short sleeve. 9 days and no smell. Fantastic! I’m also now a BUFF fan. So light and versatile. It will be the first thing to be thrown into the pack lid on next trip. Good question to ask groups of people in huts "what book have you read that’s changed your life". You may be familiar with these or maybe want to check them out; Affluenza by Clive Hamilton. 3 cups of tea. Can’t remember author as I’ve lent it out. On the road by Jack Kerouac, which they are currently making a movie. Annapurna by Maurice Herzog.
Great course for 3000 kiwi dollars which is about 100 bucks Australian! Adventure Consultants were great, not selling smoke, you got the whole experience.
Paul Kersten (PK)