Technical Mountaineering course, New Zealand
In January 2005, I attended a 10 day, technical mountaineering course (TMC) in the Mt Cook national park in New Zealand. A TMC is a very good introduction to mountaineering, and covers the basics for climbers to get started on their own independent climbing careers. There were 7 others on the course and 2 guides (one was the legendary Bill Atkinson who is the grand master of the TMC and has trained thousands of climbers). I did the course through Alpine Guides, located in Mt Cook Village. I highly recommend these type of courses to aspiring Alpinist’s, however I would like to make the following observations and share my opinions about TMC’s:
– the weather generally sucks in New Zealand (ok we have some nice weather at times also). Be prepared to have at least 50% of your TMC restrained to the confines of various mountain huts due to the weather. Some groups if you are very unlucky may have very little chance to get into the mountains at all. On the other hand I have heard of groups who have perfect weather. All I am saying is that mentally prepare yourself for bad weather before you get there.
– A TMC does NOT really teach you how to climb. It WILL teach you how to safely rope up and travel over glaciers. It will teach you the basics of climbing steeper snow and ice and how to set-up belays. It will teach you about self arresting and snow caving. It will teach you about weather patterns and crevasse rescue. It will teach you rope and knot skills. But, to really learn to climb big steep things you need to get out there and experience it and climb lots of things yourself – especially to become a confident lead climber.
– For this reason I strongly recommend that anyone who takes on a TMC and is wanting to get the most out of it, goes off and climbs something independently immediately after your TMC. This will reinforce the skills you learnt on the TMC and your learning process of how to climb will really begin then. If you leave the TMC and never climb anything for the next 12 months then you will have forgotten most of the stuff you learnt. Also by climbing independently you will learn SO MUCH more. You have to choose routes within your capability, make ALL the decisions about route finding, weather, gear etc etc. You will learn so much more than going on a guided climb where all the decision-making and thinking is taken off you.
– Remember that on a TMC different people come for different reasons. On my TMC some people were there simply for an ‘adventure holiday’ and had no interest in climbing anything afterwards. And there is people like me who were there to learn as much as possible and soak up all the knowledge in order to get out on our climbing adventures. There is no right and wrong to this but it can cause tensions within the group. For example on our TMC some people wanted to spend two days to walk out of the Kelman hut to the road end – purely for the ‘adventure’. Meanwhile other people would rather spend the two days climbing and learning more, then pay a little more to fly out on the end of the second day.
Here is some photo’s from the trip: