Learning the Ropes (Part Four) – Aoraki / Mt Cook Winter Travel Training

“On a Mish” #35 Learning the Ropes (Part Four). Aoraki / Mt Cook Winter Travel Training. Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park.18.7.2011. There is something so special about travelling on foot though the mountains. Just you, your thoughts and nature, a combo I have become very acquainted with. With that said there are risks that come with moving about the hills and no one should tackle the back country without at least a little bit of training. I had been lucky enough to stay out of trouble (mostly) up to about half way through 2011, so to decrease the risk of something bad happening I took a trip to Aoraki Mt Cook Village to learn the ropes of outdoor winter travel…

We had struggled our way up to Red Tarns and if it wasn’t named after little lakes you would have thought it was just a flat area on the side of a mountain. Thick snow covered everything and the area was sculpted into a series of bumps and lumps creating a simple white landscape which was brilliant in more ways than one . And, if course, behind us stood Aoraki, overseeing everything we did.

From the tarns we climbed high via a small gap between Mt Sebastopol and its shoulder, and it was on the shoulder that we planned to spend the night. While ascending we encountered perfect pinwheel rolls of snow. Similar to a snowball in a cartoon, the rolls had started as a tiny chunk of snow which gravity then took on a journey towards the bottom of the valley. The perfection of each pinwheel even had our guide Dave impressed, and he has seen it all when it comes to situations in the mountains.

A large drift with a view of Aoraki was the perfect spot to build a snow cave. Before starting we had to take in the scene, which was good enough for our guide to forgo the cave and just sleep outside. After quick and careful instructions we got to work, and I’m guessing that due to seeing our enthusiasm Dave let us get a bit carried away and build a cave that would have housed 10-15 easily. It is safe to say that we had plenty of room in our snow palace and the warmth meant we all got plenty of sleep.

Early-ish the next day I got up and silently cursed the drip that followed my face throughout the night (just part of the fun of a snow cave), and then I went outside. I love seeing someone who loves their job like me, and seeing Dave simply staring around at the beauty that surrounded us showed me he was born to do what he does. At this stage I planned on many nights in the mountains like him, but unlike him I needed training and experience first. This course was an excellent stepping stone in the direction of a happy life in the wilderness.

After the others had emerged from the cave we took in the view for the last time and then began our descent towards the village and the end of our course. Things couldn’t have gone any better, and to say we got value for our money was an understatement almost as big as the peaks that surrounded us. I am grateful for all of my training and so far it has served me well. From my multi-day missions to my more recent mini mishes, it was all made possible by me attending my multiple mountain courses and I highly recommend you learn the game before you go play. Because going on a mish has got to be one of the best sports available, and it is truly on offer to all!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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