Extreme Outdoor Education (Part One) – Winter Mountaineering Training

“On a Mish” #115 Extreme Outdoor Education (Part One). Temple Basin. Arthurs Pass National Park. 18.8.2011. Learning new things or skills is something that you should never stop doing. I rushed myself into mountain travel without much training, and things could have gone wrong with my lack of knowledge. After completing a ‘Winter Backcountry Travel Course’ in Aoraki/Mt Cook in 2010 I learnt all of the things I was doing wrong when going on winter missions in the mountains. I was back for more training the next winter and this time I was learning new skills in the mountains above Arthurs Pass…

The course was a 4 night 4 day ‘Winter Technical Climbing Course’ to be held at the amazing location of Temple Basin Ski Field. The very basic ski field is not only a place for people to ski, but also a good place for people to learn. Sitting in a couple of large basins above the Arthur’s Pass Road, the location is about as epic as you can get plus there is the bonus of having a very comfortable lodge to head back to after each day out on the mountain.

The weather was calm and sunny on the day I arrived in one of New Zealand’s premier mountain villages. I needed to be up at the ski field in the afternoon so I took my time in the village and enjoyed the strangely warm winter day. While waiting for the day to roll on I was kept entertained by the antics of the local Kea. The birds are legendary around these parts and it is always amazing watching one bird distract a group of people away from their car while his mates go in for an inspection of items to steal!

In the afternoon I left the village headed up to the Pass to drop my gear off. No need to carry your gear up the snowy track to the lodge as there is a goods lift to take care of that. While I was dropping my gear off I had a chat with the lift operator and the fella there told me it was crampons needed all the way up to the Lodge.

The zig-zagging hiking track up to the ski field was very compacted ice, and I was glad I had a heads up about the conditions.

Up at the lodge I linked up with the rest of the people on the course and our instructor. As expected on a course like this, all the other participants were mountain minded people like me. We introduced ourselves to each other and settled into lodge life.

During the night it began to snow and by morning we were in a blizzard where the snow was falling sideways. Little did we know that the snow wasn’t going to go anywhere for a long time and later on we would be in for some extreme outdoor education.

Due to the unrelenting storm raging outside the first couple of days we were housebound at the lodge. Luckily this gave us a chance to practice rope work and other climbing techniques in the warmth and peace of the lodge’s large lounge / training area. My instructor also filled in the time by getting all the paperwork from the course out of the way while we waited for a break in the weather.

For the first two days there was no point heading outside as firstly it was bloody cold, and also it would have been pointless as we wouldn’t have heard our instructor over the gale force winds.

The positives about the experience was the fact that the lodge has excellent staff who kept us fed and happy. Also during the down time we had a chance to chat with the other skiers and climbers who were also stuck inside while Mother Nature bombarded the area with snow.

On day three the weather continued to roar and me and the other people on the course figured it was going to be another day stuck inside. While we enjoyed our breakfast our instructor joined us and to our surprise he told us to wrap up warm after brekky because today we will be heading out into the storm

Blizzard Conditions at Temple Basin

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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