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High Alpine Skills Course Report

By: Liam Sullivan

Source: Nelson / Marlborough Section Newsletter – April 2018

Inspired by another local member’s recent experience of attending a High Alpine Skills Course, I decided to take the opportunity, & attend a course over the period 2-7 January.

The setting was Pioneer Hut, situated at the head of the Fox Glacier. Myself, our instructor, & three other course attendees were based here for the week, in spectacular surroundings, overlooked by several 3000m peaks including Mt Tasman.

We were split into rope pairs, & over the course of the week, we were instructed predominantly on glacier travel & crevasse rescue, the placement of snow anchors & pitched climbing.

Conditions had been quite warm over the summer period & freezing levels were quite high, so we usually carried out our activities early in the morning while the snow was reasonably firm, & rest up during mid-day to early afternoon, before undertaking something closer to the hut later afternoon.

Because of these warmer conditions, we unfortunately did not get the opportunity to use ice screws or try V thread anchors, but we did gain experience in negotiating steeper snow.

We used our skills to climb a minor peak & would have attempted Lendenfield if we had not had a brief storm pass through later in the week which left us hut-bound for a day. The winds were strong enough that even an outside trip to the loo was not attempted that day! We made use of our time in the hut though, learning about various weather systems & how to interpret meteorological maps, & practising crevasse self-rescue techniques with the aid of a micro-pulley.

On our penultimate day, we roped up & descended the glacier to Chancellor Hut, also situated in a spectacular setting overlooking the ice-fall of the glacier. The next morning, we were choppered back to Fox township. Looking back, I had been hesitant to attend this course for some time, assuming I did not have the required experience. I had attended our local Basic Snow Craft Course some years ago & had participated on about a dozen club trips since that time. The skills learnt from these trips though, stood me in good stead & it was only a matter of slowly accumulating the required equipment, some of which could be hired from our local section, additional items from the larger, Canterbury/Westland section.

In preparation, I found YouTube a useful source of information on how to tie the various knots required & viewing crevasse rescue examples. Also, having kept up a moderate, but regular fitness regime leading up to the course, I had no problems completing the physical requirements of the  course.

“I would like to thank our club for providing me a generous grant towards the cost of this course & if any member was thinking about attending a future HASC course, I would have no hesitation in recommending it.”


Posted: 14/05/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland