Take it to the Top: Ten Great Alpine Adventures

New Zealand: A Southern Alps Adventure
  |  Gorp.com

If scaling a mountain peak is your idea of an ultimate winter holiday, look no further than New Zealand. (Our winter is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.) A vast range of snow-capped peaks runs almost the entire length of New Zealand's South Island, encompassing an area greater in size than the Alps of Europe.

For novice mountaineers, start off with a week-long introductory course that will teach you all the important skills needed for moderate to serious alpine climbing. Head to a high mountain hut by helicopter or ski-plane—your base of operation for the next few days. You'll feel like a boy scout on the first day, learning the basic knots and rope skills. Next you'll be introduced to rappelling, or abseiling as they call it down under. It takes some courage to trust your rappelling gear as you take that first step off the top of a cliff, but abseiling quickly becomes fun, and the process will teach you fundamental skills used in all roped mountaineering.

After learning basic skills, take a daily trek up the slopes of the upper Tasman Glacier area to practice the essential techniques for snow and ice travel. Learn how to arrest a fall on a shear slope using just your ax and crampons, and how to set snow belays. Construction of emergency shelters and igloos is also covered. After a couple of days, head back to the rocks for a technical climbing class. Here you'll learn how to place "protection"—nuts and jammers—into rock cracks to secure your climbing rope. All the major belaying techniques will be demonstrated, and the students will climb some pretty vertical rock faces.

Most courses conclude with instruction in glacier travel and crevasse rescue, carried out on massive ice fields a few miles from the Mt. Cook base camp. This is the most physically demanding part of the course—grueling but vital training. On high-altitude expeditions, more climbers are lost to crevasses than any other hazard.

Practically Speaking
Cost for for most basic seven-day alpine courses runs around $1,500, including bunkhouse accommodation and most gear (you must supply suitable clothing). Ten-day technical mountaineering courses conducted entirely on glaciers and at high elevations are also available. In the course of a week and a half, clients will become self-sufficient climbers, capable of joining a major summit expedition. A successful graduate of the course is then eligible to join one of the major climbing expeditions, such as Denali.


Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 1 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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