Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Skiing and mountaineering class on Mt Ruapehu

We didn't make it up the mountains last winter as we were renovating and usually too busy doing demolition on the weekends, our ski gear was also too hard to extricate from the garage, as it was behind and under all our house stuff. After the lack of snow down in Queenstown we booked ourselves to do an intro to winter mountaineering course up at Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu. Helen has done lots of mountaineering - but it was all over 10 years ago and she was feeling rather rusty. Aaron has not done any. So it was a good chance to learn/brush up on some of the basics.

We decided to go up on Friday and get an afternoon of skiing in before the course as the weather was looking pretty good. Fortunately it was only an afternoon of skiing as our skiing muscles are rather out of shape and we got pretty tired.

Helen with the Pinnacles in the background

Once the lifts were closed and the sun was going down we walked up to the hut that we were staying in over the weekend. Unfortunately it wasn't one of the huts that is easily accessible from the carpark and it took about 30 minutes to walk up in the snow carrying our gear. Fortunately it was a beautiful evening and a very pleasant stroll up the hill.

On the way up to the hut

The Hutt Valley tramping Club hut

Sunset from the hut balcony

And back toward Ruapehu's summit

As with most of the huts on the mountain this one was built in the 1970's and has some interesting decor - straight from the 1970's. The wall paper was "special".

Groovy wallpaper in the hut

Most of the other people on the course arrived on Friday night and had to walked up in the dark with the instructors, it would have been a little tricky to find your way in the dark. Saturday morning the weather was great and we headed out to learn how to kick steps, cut steps with the ice axes, walk with crampons and stop yourself using the ice axe (ice axe arrest) if you fell on a slope. We also practised navigating, trying to find transceivers (in case you get buried by an avalanche) and learnt a little about the snow and avalanche risk.

Learning to play with ice axe and crampons

Some guys had built a snow cave just by the hut, so we crawled inside and checked it out.

Escaping from a snow cave

Unfortunately by mid afternoon on Saturday the weather had come in and we had to find our way back to the hut in a white out. The weather only worsened overnight and we awoke to rain/snow and strong winds. So after some more talks about the theory of weather forecasting/conditions, avalanche risk and shelters, we headed back down to the car park mid morning on Sunday and drove very cautiously down the hill and back to Wellington.

Despite the shortened course, I think we got what we needed out of the course. Aaron now knows how to walk in his crampons and is ready to climb a big snowy mountain - if the conditions are good and it isn't too hard!

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