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Six Days with Lydia Bradey

By Henry Fisher

After a request for stories for Vertigo, I thought a little piece about a recent AIC I took outside the NZAC might help fill the pages. Don’t worry, though – there were at least two members from the NZAC present at all times!

I recently attended a six day AIC organised through the WTMC (Wellington “Tongue & Meats”, to those who’re in the know) and instructed by Lydia Bradey: Mountaineer Extraordinaire. I was so inspired and enthused by this experience that I’ve been telling as many people as possible how fantastic Lydia is and how great it was to have a straight run of six days in the mountains (with days tacked on afterwards to practise what we learnt), rather than several weekends in a row that can get a bit tiring.

The WTMC were trying out getting an external instructor in, rather than relying solely on ‘in-house’ knowledge, and so asked Lydia if she’d be interested. The course was run from the WTMC lodge on Ruapehu, which gave us a warm base each evening to feed up, dry out and go over theory. This made the week’s mix of exceptional and terrible weather no real problem at all, and in fact I think a benefit as we could duck out the door and try out our new skills under the pressures of proper mountain weather, without it ever being too onerous for the students or instructor (yes indeed, I am a despicable ‘modern’ mountaineer who enjoys comfort wherever it can be found!).

The course was based around the learnings in the MSC’s Alpine Skills Manual, and in bringing us all to a level where we would have the skills to climb Mt. Aspiring Tititea (though it was made clear to us that practise practise practise would be required before we go running around like loonies on the Kangaroo Patch, the Ramp or the Quarterdeck!).

Lydia took, in my opinion, the excellent approach of using the manual as a check to see what we had or hadn’t covered, and then throwing us outside into real (though still safe) conditions, saying ‘this is what we’ve got with us (ie. not everything in the manual), that is where we need to go and these are the conditions. Now, how are we going to get there?’ This forced us to think on our crampons, and really begin to understand what the manual is trying to teach, rather than the ‘ideal’ situation which I’m sure more experienced mountaineers know is as rare as yeti’s teeth. Admittedly, it took me at least a couple of days for my brain to kick in and be able to say anything more than

‘Which knot this time?’ and ‘Ya’what? I’ve no idea! By the way my hands don’t work anymore!!’ and ‘I’m trying my best to tell him to come up, but the wind’s too strong!’

And so we learnt about kit, clothing, communication, cold wet dry & hot, the pleasures of being organised, carrying a thermos (ooo yeah!) and heaps more, which may all sound obvious (and does to me now) but there’s nothing like experiencing the “not having” to really drive those messages home. We also touched on colour coordination, which seemed essential at the time.

All in all it was a fantastic way to spend a week, and highly recommended. Before the course I felt I knew a bit about the mountains, and now – despite being upgraded to at least Henry v37.4 – I can be certain there’s so much to be aware of it blows my mind! Tongue & Meats are thinking about making this course a regular annual feature for members, and I know that Lydia is available as an instructor and guide and all sorts down in Wanaka. I’d also highly recommend the NZAC Summer Rock lead-climbing course as an excellent way to prepare yourself for some of the required rope skills and approaches to safety. Lastly, even if you end up hating mountains or already do (!), Lydia’s a fantastic person to meet and spend six days with : magic!

Posted: 15/09/15

Posted By: Narina Sutherland