For many years now, probably since I was a kid, I’ve dreamed of the big mountains of this world and how amazing it would be to experience their grandeur up close. The problem is, I was born on the lowest flattest continent on the planet. Yes, that honour goes to Australia, and I have called sunny Queensland home for most of my life. Don’t get me wrong, Queensland is great. We have beautiful beaches, lots of hiking & plenty of crags for rock climbing – it’s an outdoorsy person’s paradise. It just doesn’t get snow, or ice, or glaciers, well we just don’t have any really big epic alpine mountains. Nothing.

Alas all is not lost! Flights are cheap these days and just across the Tasman lies our rugged and rather accessible neighbour New Zealand. As a keen rock climber and hiker with his heart set on getting up close and personal with some bigger hills, I had decided that a pilgrimage of sorts was in order. It took a few years from their inception, for my mountaineering dreams to be realised. But finally in February 2015 I was off to the land of the long white cloud to attend a Technical Mountaineering Course (TMC) with Alpine Guides, who are based out of Aoraki/Mount Cook Village.

Lachlan-NZ-LOWRES-FullSelection-311

Making the dream a reality:

Before telling you all about that adventure, I’ll start with my journey leading up to arriving NZ. Before this my only snow experience had been about 1.5 days worth of skiing at Thredbo at age 14, and more recently a couple days of very light snow whilst walking the Overland Track in June 2014 – hardly an extensive cold weather resume!

To make up for my lack of snow & ice experience I figured it would be best make sure my rope work, rock climbing skills, and general mountain education was at least up to scratch. I purchased a copy of the seminal textbook on the subject about a year prior and got my nose stuck into Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Several biographies by well-known mountaineers were read & I chewed the ear off anyone I encountered who had ventured into the mystical world of alpine climbing. About a year before attending my TMC I also met Jules, & by chance we ended up working together at the Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude Valley. This was the final piece in the puzzle – someone as keen as I was to experience some mountaineering, as well as a buddy to train with, climb with & plan a grand adventure. Due to various factors, Jules enrolled in the comparable Alpine Climbing course run by Adventure Consultants, which ran at the same time as my TMC. This still allowed us to plan for some climbing before & after our respective courses, and if anything we experienced a wider gamut of skills collectively.

Training:

Fitness wise, I did have grand intentions of being in Ueli Steck condition before the trip, but lets be honest, that was never going to happen. In the months leading up to my trip I made an effort to get into some kind of shape by spending more time at my local climbing gym, doing the occasional multi-pitch or sport rock-climb, some fairly strenuous multi-day bush walks, as well as some boring hill training in my local suburbs – up and down steep streets and staircases with a heavy travel backpacks.

Basically mountaineering involves walking & climbing up big mountains. We don’t have many of those here in Queensland but there are a few. For example, any of the routes to the twin summits of Mount Barney [1364m] which is about 2.5 hrs South West of Brisbane, will provide about 1000m elevation gain (and the same back down) from the car-park. Training whilst carrying a heavy pack really helped, as did doing some steeper more exposed scrambles. All told, it was probably just enough, but I could definitely have trained a bit longer & harder! Mountaineering involves long hard days on your feet, with plenty of mental problem solving along the way. The best advice I can offer is that the fitter & more confident in the outdoors you are before embarking on a TMC or similar course, the more you’ll get out of the experience.

Mt Barney-September14-2

Heading up the South-East Ridge of Mt. Barney.

Equipment:

Being a gear nerd, this course finally gave me a legitimate excuse to really get stuck into researching specific mountain equipment. Another important aspect was tuning my cold weather clothing layering system to a fine art – not an easy task living in Brisbane! As you can see from the photo below, I took a fair amount of Kit… It’s worth noting that when you enrol in a TMC, that hire of some of the more the technical equipment is included in the cost of the course. (Ice axe & hammer, crampons, ice screws, boots, etc.).

For myself – this was only the first of hopefully many more alpine adventures, so I chose to purchase all of my own outdoor gear. I also took extras like a rope, tent, stove, etc. – to use for climbing with Jules before and after the course. When you enroll in a mountaineering course, the guiding company will always provide extensive gear lists & information about what is required. Alpine Guides were also very helpful in answering any specific questions I had about equipment or anything else.

NZ gear-1

Instead of listing everything – I’ll talk about a few essential items that were standout performers & why.

Pack Osprey Variant 52L. This rucksack was perfect. Lightweight, comfortable & supportive for big loads, it has great features (I loved the secure ice axe/hammer attachment). It’s constructed from bright red nylon that’s durable enough to take a fair beating. Having the ability to cram it full of 25kgs+ worth of kit for the approach, then strip it down to just the essentials for a day of climbing was invaluable.

Variant dyp

Boots Scarpa Rebel Pro GTX. In hopes of channeling a bit of Ueli Steck again, I figured wearing boots he helped design would be a good start right? Jokes aside, the Rebel’s were a good choice for NZ in summer – super light for a C3 rated boot and very comfortable. The graduated carbon midsole did wonders enabling front pointing on steep ice & snow, but still giving some much appreciated flex for long approaches and glacier crossings. They were plenty warm for the roughly -5 temps I was climbing in, but theseare definitely not a winter/high altitude boot. I was pleasently surprised how well the Rebel climbed on rock too, and there is plenty of rock in the New Zealand Alps during summer. My second choice was the Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro GTX, which Jules used & had great success with. Mountaineering boots really need to be properly worn in, so if you’re going to buy your own, do it a fair while before you depart. Some good thermal socks are also essential. I used Icebreaker Hike Heavy merino socks & Icebreaker sock liners.

rebel dyp

Harness – I took an Edelrid Orion climbing harness – which is an all-rounder. It was perfect for the alpine climbing, & proved to be especially comfy, even when I spent a solid 45 minutes dangling on the end of a rope in a crevasse waiting for my partner to rig up a Z-pulley rescue system to pull me out. It was also ideal for the rock climbing I did before & after the TMC. I’ll be putting up a full review of the Orion in the not too distant future.

orion dyp

JacketA parcel containing my Patagonia Leashless Jacket arrived at the Alpine Guides office an hour before I departed for the TMC. I’m glad it did! The Leashless is a technical alpine shell, using 3 layer Gore-Tex Active fabric. The Leashless breathed VERY well, was lightweight (about 370g) & still quite durable. Pit zips also helped with venting when I didn’t have time to take it off mid-climb. I also used the Leashless as a windbreaker on some multi-pitch rock climbs & it performed brilliantly!

leashless dyp

Pants – For alpine climbing a decent pair of soft-shell pants are essential. The Patagonia Simul Alpine kept my legs warm when needed, breathed when the days got warm on the glacier, they stretched well and a nifty adjustable waist pull ensured they didn’t slip down as I lost a bit of weight during the trip. Zippered pockets also meant that what I put in there stayed put, a small but important feature.

simul alpine dyp

Sleeping bagA Western Mountaineering Ultralite was enlisted to enshroud me in a fluffy cocoon of warmth for the trip. Weighing in at an impressive 870g for the long size, with a men’s comfort rating of -9 degrees Celsius, this bag is difficult to top in the warmth-for-weight stakes. The Ultralite performed like a trooper. In the alpine hut I was so warm I unzipped the bag and used it as a quilt most nights. The one exception being a particularly rainy night spent in an open bivouac – which demonstrated the need to zip up my bivvy sack before falling asleep, lesson learned!

ultralight dyp

With all my gear, one common thread is to aim for keeping everything as lightweight as possible, without sacrificing too much on durability. Having the right clothing & equipment in the mountains can mean the difference between unnecessary suffering and enjoying a rewarding & successful climbing trip.

Stay tuned for part two of this article – a full trip report about my TMC.

Lachlan-NZ-LOWRES-FullSelection-181

 

 

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

3 Responses

  1. Dion Durrant

    Hi Lachlan,

    Great photos and blurbs/info. Have been semi following on Instagram etc (hope that doesn’t come across sounding like I’m stalking you – haha) as I find your pics to be very inspirational – I love the outdoors and actually seem to be or have been in the same general areas as yourself. Only you have captured your moments sooooooooooo much better than me and that is something I am now attempting to learn to you (hence your inspiration). Anyway, thanks so much, keep up the great work and I hope and wish I could only get out there as much as you seem to be able to do.
    Am waiting for your 2nd part of your TWC adventure as this is something I also have on my wishlist.
    Keep up the great work.
    Cheers
    Dion

    Reply
    • Lachlan Gardiner
      Lachlan Gardiner

      Hi Dion,
      Glad you’re enjoying the photos & articles. Great to hear a TMC is on your list – you’ll have a blast.
      Keep up the passion the outdoors!
      Cheers mate, Lach.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.