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Rusty Ice

February 1, 2014

helo290The alarm went off far too early at 0600 but it was enough time to get me out the door and up to Tekapo by 0800. The drive from Timaru to Tekapo, where the climbing company I will spend the week with is based, is a reminder of how different we all are. Even though we live so close. Different agriculture. Different construction. Architecture.  Horticulture. Roads. Signs. I muse at how quickly I tuned into the unseen strum of the place a few nights ago yet now so easily spot the differences.

I land in Tekapo on time despite starting out later than I wanted. Too much talking and mulling over morning coffee had slowed me up. But we had our gear sorted and were on the road to the Mt Cook area by 1030. The chopper lifted us out at 1300 and ten minutes later we were on the snow below Kelman Hut, heads bent low as the chopper whipped up the snow and ice around our ears, lifted over us, leaned briefly on its column of air, slipped sideways and was swallowed up by the silence of the mountains even as it flashed and shrank into a tiny button of light over the white ice. We pause in the moment of silence then gather our gear and start a grinding climb up a steep slope of soft snow, pivot around an obvious crevasse and make for door via a clamber over snow drifted to the height of the  gutter behind the building.

Carolyn, from Canada, is a fellow student on this advanced alpine training course. Elke is our guide and instructor and we have the hut to ourselves. We get onto the snow straight away and spend the afternoon rehearsing self arrests, snow anchors and moving across steep snow and ice in our crampons. I had forgotten how much I have covered on the previous expedition out here but it quickly came back. Well, most of it. Self arrests require you to literally throw yourself into the exercise without any concern about how foolish you might look. It’s all about having confidence in how well the tools and techniques work. Without that confidence any work we try and do later on high slopes and precarious heights may well be for nothing. It certainly will be for nought if the prospect of such adventures scares us off even attempting them. Confidence in equipment and confidence in techniques are two essential ingredients in undertaking this sort of sport. It’s good to go back to the basics and Elke is happy to rehearse stuff with us. Carolyn  has a lot of experience with snow and ice it seems – that should be no surprise given she calls Canada home though I shouldn’t make any assumptions about that. She recently completed an alpine course in Canada so I feel very rusty as we tackle simple things. But the only way to address the rustiness is to admit as much and ask to be shown stuff anew. This is not the time or place for immature or male (or both) reluctance to admit lack of knowledge. My previous training is now 14 months old and I have not touched ice since then apart from what I have put in beverages. However the intervening period has been filled with a reasonable amount of training on rock and that is proving helpful straight away. I hope it will help as the week progresses. I certainly feel stronger and more game to tackle stuff than when I came up here the first time.

Diary 20 January 2014

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