New Zealand Alpine Club – High Apline Skills Course

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the idea of climbing mountains! Most certainly driven from an early age of hearing about my fathers climbing trips.


To gain more skills in the mountains several years ago a few mates and I completed an ASM beginners mountaineering course, from this I learnt a lot of good skills but realised Australia has no real big mountains!  So recently the bug caught me for an economical course in NZ.  I finally settled on the High Alpine Skills Course offered by the New Zealand Alpine Club.  The net result heaps of new skills, new friends, more experience and some shiny new gear for next time.

The Trip in Short

For me, the trip started by flying out of Sydney Friday night to Christchurch.  Having Saturday morning to get myself sorted with food and missing gear (thanks heaps Megan!).  I must say both the supermarket Newworld and camping/climbing store Bivouac impressed me immensely.

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I met up with most of the team at Christchurch DOC office in the Botanical gardens (to get Poo Pots).  Then drive down to Mt Cook went pretty smoothly, meeting everyone else at the NZAC Unwin Lodge. The course officially started at 8:30 am on Sunday morning.  But due to bad weather,  mainly bad winds, we had two days of theory waiting it out.  Unwin Lodge and the nearby bluffs offer a very good opportunity to learn from some pretty experienced instructors Marty and Letitia.

On the third day, we were lucky to get clear weather and headed up to Plateau hut instead of the planned base of Barons Saddle hut as this is a better landing for the chopper. After getting set up in the hut we headed out roped up to practice anchors, crampon skills self-arresting and the afternoon was spent top rope climbing snow and ice.

Nagivation class and a reality check on the walk out.
Navigation class and a reality check on the walk out.

Day four of the course saw our second day on the snow included a three pitch climb up Glacier Dome which involved some steep cramponing, rope work,  gear placement and belaying off anchors.  After repelling down the far side and watching the other four climbing in the distance we headed back down to the glacier to practice rescue techniques in our own the huge CREVASSE!

A theory day in the hut followed with winds up to 120 kph according to the DOC weather forecast followed on day five. Another cool part of the course was seeing what other climbers were doing and that evening watching a team come down from Mt Cook.  Big discussions arose on who would walk out and who would chopper out ended in half the team walking out and half the team having an attempt on ANZAC Rocks and choppering out later in the day.

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In the end, four people walked out and four had a nice glacier walk then choppered out at 10 am due to high wind forecasts for the afternoon (luckily via sat phone). Though we did get a massively cool chopper ride and buzzed the other team on their way down from Cinerama Cole.  Advantage being we spent the day well fed and caffeinated and got some good climbing in on the bluffs and saved a slog of a walk home.

Unwin Lodge

The course starts and finishes in Unwin Lodge,  owned and operated by the NZAC for climbers as a base in the Mt Cook National Park.  The lodge is run as a not for profit similar to a hostel, but much nicer and much cheaper.

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 Plateau Hut

Plateau Hut is a Department of Conservation operated hut serving as a base for many climbers to access the mountains, being located at the base of Mt Cook.

The Terrain

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words…..

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The Kiwi’s have certainly got their online topographic maps sorted.

View Larger Topographic Map

The Gear

This trip involved lots of new gear for me second-hand boots borrowed crampons, some new wires to stark my rock rack off.  Part of the course requirements is to supply your own gear and shared gear split between pairs.  The NZAC have a basic list published on their site.  But briefly the gear required was a follows.

Personal gear included:-,  Adz,  axe, crampons, boots, harness, rock rack, bivy bag, jacket & over pants, good layering system, helmet gloves, sunnies, goggles, pack, sleeping bag & mat and all your toiletries and food. Shared:- Rope, stove, fuel and dinners.

The Skills

There were two sides to the course which I thought just as important as each other.  Firstly learning the technical skills that are well documented in print and presented by the instructors.  The other being the things you learn about yourself.

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Technical Skills, roping up, reading the weather, navigation and rescues are all important skills that the instructors covered brilliantly.

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Fitness is the most important thing you can have, without this you’re not really going to get anywhere!  I found my fitness was not up to what I  should have been and was a real take-home lesson the cardio stamina you need for a long day in the snow.

Mountaineering involves taking and managing risks and you really need to be mentally tough to keep going.  On top of Glacier Dome, the sheer height and wind exposure was an eye opener, not really that much of a peak and I was happy to wedge myself into the rock and not stand up to much.  I expect this is something you get more and more comfortable the more you do it.


Asbjorn, Phillipa, Caroline, Brad, Richard Marty, Letitia, Brendan, Quinton and Sefton (for organising) thank you all for a great time!

All in all, I would recommend the NZAC courses to anyone wanting to further their skills and experience.


8 Comments on “New Zealand Alpine Club – High Apline Skills Course

  1. Buddy. Good write-up. Pop over for a climb when things get chillier over here. You can crash in Huia before heading to the mtn

  2. Tim,

    Wow, look’s & sounds like you guys all had a hoot! And some terrific photos to boot!
    Your next challenge…..Mt Erebus in Antarctica??? After all you seem to like thrashing yourself.


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