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Trip Report – Leading on Technical Ice Course, NZ

By: Adam Morrison

Source: Australis (Australia Section) Newsletter (Nov 2017)

In July, I was lucky enough to get some time out from work and family commitments to get across the ‘ditch’ and attend the Leading on Technical Ice Course at Wye Creek, Queenstown.

The main ice climbing area at Wye Creek is at approx. 1500m, and is located over the saddle behind Lake Alta, just south of The Remarkables ski field in Queenstown. Wye Creek is considered to be the premier ice climbing training area in New Zealand, having good access, a range of climbing from WI2 – WI5, and generally reliable conditions throughout July and early August.

After a hasty, last minute decision to make the 5 + hour drive from Christchurch to Queenstown (through the remnants of a southerly storm, due to a flight cancellation) Thursday evening found me doing a last-minute food shop and packing.

A late ‘alpine’ start of 7am was agreed at the Heli Tours office, where I met the three other course participants (all Kiwis), and our instructor for the next three days, Paul Rogers. We quickly paired into climbing teams, and then sorted out shared climbing and camping gear. The timing of the weather could not have been better, as the southerly storm had blown through, resulting in an outlook for a two day, fine weather window, before a north westerly front would pass through, bringing warmer temperatures and potentially precipitation at the main ice climbing area.

We had a quick weigh in and loaded our helicopter, before our 9am flight took us up the Remarkable range, over the top of Lake Alta, landing directly below the main climbing area. After a quick emptying of packs at our camping location, we geared up and post holed our way up the slopes towards the lower tier of ice.

The morning was spent top roping on lower angle WI2, concentrating on technique and efficient swinging, before moving onto screw placement. This enabled us to get in many pitches of climbing, building confidence before changing to the pointy end. We then moved to an upper tier, where we practiced building V threads, and belay changeovers, before rapping back down to the lower tier. The day was finished off by top roping some harder climbs, up to WI4. We got back to our gear stash just on dusk, and quickly settled into the evening activities, before a well-earned rest.

After a cool and windless night, Saturday morning saw us rise early and break camp, before heading up again to the climbing area, with the intention to spend the day lead climbing. Climbing in pairs again, my first route involved 3 pitches, before topping out and rapping back down on v threads. We then moved onto another route, and before I knew it, it was late afternoon and we had lead and rapped about 250m of WI3. By this time the ice conditions were changing due to the warmer weather, and we were all getting tired, so we finished up the day pushing ourselves and top roping some steeper WI3-4 pitches till dark.

We headed back down the hill to our gear stash, before walking down valley for about 1 ½ hours to a bivvy rock, to shelter from the incoming front. The following morning we awoke to warmer weather and light showers, and spent the rest of the day making our way down valley to Lake Wakatipu, and back to Queenstown.

Whilst it wasn’t a full three days of climbing, two seemed to be enough, considering the longish days and the number of pitches that were climbed… all participants were pretty frazzled by the second night. Like any alpine climbing, weather is king, and in this case, we had decided to walk out down valley as it made no sense to keep climbing in the warmer weather. If conditions allowed, it would be possible to climb for an additional half day, and walk out over the saddle back down to the ski fields via Lake Alta. This is also the more conventional approach to access the ice climbing area at Wye Creek.

To be clear, this is an instructional course rather than ‘guided’. Hence it is expected you supply all your own equipment, and know what to do with it! To get the most out of the course, aside from having experience leading or seconding easier ice pitches, you need to have solid trad lead climbing skills. This doesn’t have to be to high grades, but you will certainly want to have good rope handling skills and general multi pitch experience – sport climbers and boulderers need not apply!

As always it is great to spend time in the mountains with likeminded and interesting individuals, and there was certainly no shortage of banter between the Kiwis, Paul or myself. I believe one of the big benefits of this course is the 4:1 ratio and the experience of the instructor – Paul is a regular climber and has a huge amount of experience. This permits a lot of questions to be asked in a supportive environment, and answered with a frank and no BS answer.

Costing $800 NZD for the three days (including the one-way helicopter flight) this is seriously good value. I would highly recommend the course to any members who are looking to increase their skillset and experience on technical ice, or like me, have had a long break and are easing back into it.

Posted: 22/03/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland