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Trip Report – Instructor Development Course (December 2016)

By: Richard Young

Source: Wellington Section Newsletter

Last December an impromptu opportunity arose for NZAC to offer a development course to those who had assisted on the annual Snowcraft courses run by regional branches. The course would be conducted by Nick Craddock, limited to four participants and first in first serve. It sounded like a great idea and, being in a position to mobilise quickly, I put my hand up. It turned out the other participants weren’t able to make it after all and after a bit of discussion about whether we should proceed or not, it was decided I would still join Nick for some climbing and development.

Upon arrival in Queenstown I sorted out the minor problem of my gear being sent to Auckland instead of Queenstown and after ensuring that Air NZ would guarantee delivery of my gear to Unwin I left for Mt Cook Village to meet Nick.

When I arrived we made a plan for the morning. The weather was looking good for a few days and we discussed going to Plateau for some technical training and possibly climbing Dixon. A flight to Plateau Hut was booked for 9am. The following morning we had breakfast, did a gear sort (my gear arrived at 10pm the night before – hats off to Air NZ), and made our way down to the airport.

Arrival at Plateau Hut on a balmy windless day was fantastic and I was pleased to be in the mountains again. We claimed our bunks, had a bite to eat and set off towards Mt Dixon and the purpose of the afternoon’s exercise was to climb a circuit Nick often uses for teaching courses. Nick explained how the benefit of knowing your terrain and when it was coming up is highly valuable when taking students, particularly when conditions aren’t ideal but leaving plenty of options open. Our circuit involved climbing up to the East Ridge of Mt Dixon from the Grand Plateau, practicing placing gear, and establishing belay stations along the way. We then traversed the ridgeline back towards Plateau Hut and rapped back down to the Grand Plateau to head back to the hut for a brew.

The plan for Day two was in a state of flux for a few hours because our weather window was rapidly diminishing. Several other parties in the hut had bailed from other objectives like Aspiring and Cook and were now lining up Mt Dixon as their next target. Knowing it was going to be rather crowded and probably average conditions we set the alarm for 4am for a potential start on Dixon. Already awake with the general activity of the hut we didn’t need the alarm and got up to check the weather ala “look out the window.com” and it confirmed how it sounded from inside, strong winds and snowing. Not pleasant. Nick and I quickly decided that wasn’t for us and we could make better use of our limited time that day so we headed back to bed for a couple of hours. We would aim to climb the lower buttress on the South Ridge of Dixon instead. It would be more technical climbing and more enjoyable conditions and it proved to be exactly that. After a bit of effort crossing the large schrund we climbed to the top of the lower buttress, had a couple of stops to check some belay stations for future training, then rapped off and headed back to the hut.

The weather wasn’t looking good for the next day and all parties were preparing for a mass exodus the next morning. We were preparing for the same but Nick miraculously managed to arrange a shared flight arriving in 30 minutes so it was all go to get packed and ready for the machine to pick us up. Within an hour we were back at Unwin showered and eating venison steaks for tea!

The rest of the week at Mt Cook was looking like our current summer – windy, cloudy and slightly wet. The next day we decided to climb some of the classic multi-pitch trad routes at Sebastipol which was excellent. Nick showed me a new teaching area ear marked for development and we did a bit of route cleaning while we were there.

We finished off our time at Unwin the following morning with some technical rope work, crevasse rescue, escaping the system, pussiking and confidence roping.

The weather was still looking unsettled and we decided to head to Wanaka but postpone our last day together to avoid the passing cold front. When we met for our last day together the plan was to head over to the Remarkables to do the traverse but the 30cm of overnight snowfall stopped that plan dead in it’s tracks and we opted for a second breakfast at Kai Whakapai and more trad climbing at Hospital Flat. It was hard to believe we couldn’t stick to our original plan because of too much snow considering we were trad climbing in hot sunny conditions with temperatures in the mid 20s that same day!

Nick said the whole of spring and early summer was so unsettled that the season had basically been like one big storm up to mid December. Despite the mixed bag of weather for this trip we maximised our time as best as possible practicing some technical climbing skills and learning some useful tricks of the trade when assisting on the section snowcraft courses. The trip was well worthwhile, and thanks to Nick Craddock, Simon Middlemass, Simon Williamson and the Wellington section for supporting it.

Posted: 03/03/17

Posted By: Narina Sutherland