Today we meet our guides and other group participants at the Wanaka office, 20 Brownston Street, at 9am for a briefing. After everyone is introduced, your guide will outline the course syllabus and the actual venue the course will take place. Next, we get together to discuss and then organise our personal and group equipment (bring all your gear with you, including those items you are not sure whether to include or not). Equipment pertinent to the course will be discussed and you can get all the advice you need concerning equipment from the guides. Anyone requiring rental equipment will be fitted at this time (but please advise in advance of your requirements to ensure you are catered to) and final purchases can be made. Food is pre-sorted for the trip by the guides to save time. It's very important to ration food effectively, too much and your packs become overly heavy, too little and you starve! Basic rope skills and tying in are covered to ensure consistency and revision for those who already have rope skills. This enables us to get right into it when we reach the glacier in a couple of days. Trip planning is covered followed by rescue first aid and decision-making. Once all this is completed we pack up for the trip. Excess items can be left at our office for storage. We travel by road to Fox Glacier township (or Aspiring or Mt Cook) depending on where weather and conditions are best! Please remember a travel bag for use when overnighting in Fox Glacier/Mt Cook village/Wanaka village before and after the trip, see equipment list for details.
After an early breakfast, the group is bundled will fly to the remote Fox Glacier en-route taking in the awesome peaks of the region we will be soon scaling. An initial familiarisation talk to clarify nomenclature and identify the peaks will help you absorb this wonderful environment before moving into the more practical elements of the trip. We utilise the hut system in the region when they are not too full and we move our gear in before we sort ourselves to get out onto the snow. The group ropes up for crevasse travel training and we go for a walk on the glacier. Our other mountaineering gear is introduced as we go along with the rudimentary techniques needed for mountaineering - use of an ice axe, learning to crampon and to self-arrest. The first day out in the mountains is always exciting and eventually we will retire to the hut for a team cook-up and maybe a lesson on weather forecasting while watching the sunset.
An early start sees the group roped up and away just on dawn towards a traverse of Grey Peak on the upper reaches of the Fox Glacier. It's good to clear the lungs with a 2 hour climb up the slopes to Pioneer Pass. Here we actually have to place snow anchors and belay on snow or ice towards the summit. At the summit we rest with Aoraki/Mt Cook right there in front of us and we get to see right up into the upper Tasman Glacier! After a quick lunch it's time to descend. We find some suitable seracs and experience ice climbing. It's a chance to hang onto those tools and find the balance point on the crampons. Tired and elated we return to the hut for the night.
An early start again, but this time up to Mt Von Bullow, a few kilometres from the hut. The glacier approach is done by headlamp until the dawn breaks just as we near Mt Von Bullow's summit. We climb the final section with a belay and use of snow anchors to the summit. Then we move around on the Davis Snowfield to climb a snow ridge up to West H, our second summit. A welcome cup-a-tea greets you at the hut after a challenging yet rewarding day out with time to dry out sweaty clothes and boots in the afternoon sun.
Today a cooked breakfast is followed by a navigation lesson and numerous cups of tea and real coffee. Navigation is a crucial skill and can mean the difference between comfort and concern in the mountains. By knowing these skills one can actually avoid ever getting (completely) lost! A more involved weather lesson follows lunch, and an introductory avalanche awareness lecture then it's time for a game of cards before dinner.
Today you will practice equalising anchors and discuss some crevasse rescue theory. Weather permitting an attempt on the Minarets, two 3000m peaks in the Franz Josef Glacier area, may be possible. This will require a bivvy at Graham Saddle, some five hours from our hut. Providing an opportunity for the course participants to consolidate the skills they have already acquired by planning and executing a trip under the watchful eyes of the guides. Food is packed, stoves and pots loaded in, and sleeping gear stowed in packs as well. With heavy packs we set off from the hut aiming for a late afternoon arrival at our bivvy site.
Today an early start (3.00am) is required to make the most of the calmer weather often available in the mornings. The summit should be reached by about 1pm before the group carefully makes its way back down to pick up the bivvy gear before descending back to Centennial hut for the night.
Just near the hut is a perfect crevasse to practice rescue skills. We each take turns to jump into the crevasse while our climbing partners hold our falls. They then carefully pull us up out of the crevasse then we swap around. All the time watched carefully by our guides for safety pointers. In the afternoon we return to our food supplies.
Today we descend to Chancellor Hut on the Fox Glacier. There are several opportunities to utilise our navigation skills and it's a good chance for the course members to work through this under the watchful eyes of the guide. Not too long after our arrival at Chancellor Hut , a helicopter will arrive (weather permitting) and we are soon on our way to Fox Glacier Township for showers, steak, beer and a morning's ice climbing on the lower glacier.
This morning the group travels back to Fox Glacier for a 30 minute walk up to some steep and overhanging ice faces. Here you will spend the morning further honing skills you have acquired throughout the week. The group descends back to the vans for lunch then return to Wanaka by road to sort out the equipment and debrief the course. After such a successful week it's worth a trip downtown for a group meal and social evening.