Ver­ti­cal Thrills

Ice climb­ing in Wanaka is a truly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence, writes Suze Kelly

Go Travel New Zealand - - Wanaka -

How does this ver­ti­cal icy medium work? Can I re­ally just climb up it?” These were the thoughts front of mind when I imag­ined my­self climb­ing icy wa­ter­falls. I ac­tu­ally found that step­ping on to the ice for the first time is a truly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence and far from a scary ex­pe­ri­ence.

I’d been think­ing about hav­ing a go at ice climb­ing for a while now. I al­ready down­hill ski and have done some cross country ski­ing. I en­joy getting out and about on the crisp win­ter days, as be­ing in the sun­shine in­stead of be­ing cooped up in­doors can do won­ders for the spirit. So when the op­por­tu­nity came up to join in on the five-day ice climb­ing course op­er­ated by Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants, based out of Wanaka, I thought “Right, this is the time to step up to a new chal­lenge.”

I made my way to the meet­ing point on the morn­ing of day one, con­fi­dent that all the new gear I needed would be wait­ing for me, and met my guide Dean, along with the other three par­tic­i­pants on the course. After in­tro­duc­tions, we quickly got into try­ing on the var­i­ous bits of climb­ing equip­ment, in­clud­ing fit­ting cram­pons to climb­ing boots and ad­just­ing gaiters. We needed to make sure we have the right lay­ers for this out­door ac­tiv­ity and plenty of warm dry clothes to change into at the end of each day’s climb­ing. It didn’t take long and then we were pack­ing back­packs and getting ready to climb into the he­li­copter for the short heli ride to the win­ter base camp that Ad­ven­ture Con­sul­tants op­er­ates. One su­per scenic flight later and we touched down right be­side the camp. A few min­utes spent mov­ing boxes of food into the din­ing tent and then it was time to eval­u­ate our sur­round­ings with a cuppa in hand. Huge cliffs nearby seemed to dwarf us and the ice coat­ing ev­ery­thing was still in the shade whilst our camp was sparkling in the bright sun. Nice!

Dean sorted us out with snow­shoes so that we could walk on the soft snow and we had a ba­sic in­tro­duc­tion to avalanche aware­ness as we had a 20 minute walk to the base of the climb­ing from camp. We found out that the haz­ard rat­ing was low but it was still good to learn these skills as they are in­cluded in the course in­struc­tion top­ics.

With a sec­ond break­fast on board and packs loaded up for the day with the gear we would need, we set off. The walk was fairly aer­o­bic and a good warm up for what was ahead. We started out at a gen­tly slop­ing ‘ice crag’ that wasn’t ver­ti­cal, and Dean showed us tech­niques for plac­ing your ice tools into the ice and how your cram­pons should kick into the ice. He climbed up our first ob­jec­tive, at­tach­ing the rope to run­ners through ice screws and then we were able to have our turn, in a top rop­ing fash­ion. It was fun to see my fel­low novice ice climbers start out and feel the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of mov­ing over the ice. When it was my turn I couldn’t be­lieve how my ice tools sunk so in­cred­i­bly well into the ice and felt so se­cure. I had less con­fi­dence in my feet but ap­par­ently it’s nat­u­ral for be­gin­ner climbers to feel this way and we did some ex­er­cises to help us gain the con­fi­dence to ‘stand up’ on our feet and take the weight off your arms, which is the se­cret to suc­cess when ice climb­ing.

A few hours seemed to fly by and then it was time to head back down to camp, as the last light of the day started to fade. Once we got in to camp, we changed into warmer lay­ers and added big down jack­ets since we were go­ing to be less ac­tive dur­ing the evening. Dean got the kitchen stoves and din­ner prepa­ra­tion go­ing and we helped out with slic­ing up vegetables, all the while sip­ping hot drinks. After a big din­ner we talked about the plans for next day and then headed off to our sleep­ing tent where we each had a sleep­ing cot and an equally big warm down sleep­ing bag to crawl into. Clean­ing my teeth out

I re­flected on a great first day be­ing in the moun­tains and felt rather chuffed to have this wilder­ness view to my­self right at that mo­ment.

un­der the stars with snow twin­kling all around in the beam of my head­lamp, I re­flected on a great first day be­ing in the moun­tains and felt rather chuffed to have this wilder­ness view to my­self right at that mo­ment.

We car­ried on the same for the next three days, build­ing on the skills each day to tackle longer and more ad­ven­tur­ous climbs. My arm strength lasted un­til day five and al­though I’m sure I could have man­aged just one or two more ice climbs, it was a good change of scene to pack up our gear and com­mence the walk out down val­ley back to civil­i­sa­tion.

Over five hours, we made our way be­side a moun­tain stream along the val­ley floor, still with snow in abun­dance every­where, mean­ing we used our snow­shoes un­til the snow cover got thin­ner and then we de­scended into na­tive for­est filled with bird­song and out down to lake level and our wait­ing ve­hi­cle.

Not long later after, we had handed all our equip­ment back in and had a de-brief about the week. We headed to a bar down­town with my new ad­ven­ture friends to cel­e­brate our new found skills and plan the next trip. What a week!

Ice climb­ing is truly mem­o­rable

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