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Remarkables NZAT Training Week 2022

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Every year in the week before the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival, the team gets together to climb hard, have some yarns and organize expeditions for the coming years. For the six new recruits, it's a time to start bonding with the 'adults' and learn everything they can from what truly is a wealth of knowledge.

Things kicked off on Saturday with pretty average weather conditions around the tops. This heightened everyon's concerns around avalanches and a 'stepping out with caution' attitude was taken. The increased hazard around the backcountry saw most of the team take a conservative approach and keep to the close side of Queen's Drive. Liam quested around to the second buttress on queens drive and onsighted 'Cider Man' M5, while Lionel shivered away amongst he spin drift. Henry, who is the hardcore sport climber of the intake, took to the ice tools with ease and grace. Jaz introduced him to classic west face groveling, with an ascent of 'Lovely Gully,' and then some single pitch M3's at the start of queens drive. Sophie, Pete and Rose cruised over to 'Force It' M4 for an exciting burn given how much snow was plastered in the corner. They bailed due to difficulties in finding gear in spindrift, but then nipped round to do 'Dancing Queen' and then simuled 'Lovely Gully' on the heels of Henry and Jaz.

Remarkables training week

Ice climbing at the Remarkables

Owen and Reg had an exciting time navigating the roofs of 'Sgian Dubh' M4 in marginal conditions, although I am sure it added to the ambiance. Maddy, who confessed her love for off-width grovelly climbing, committed to her style and sent 'Chockstone Goulette' M4, with Steve supplying the lolly snakes. Alastair and I (Mason) were keen to get climbing but given the weather for the rest of the week was going to be amazing, we decided not to ruin ourselves on day one. We therefore made the executive decision to get as much vertical mileage on the skis as possible. Around 1500m later, quads exploding and sweat dripping we called it a day.

With the weather clearing on Sunday, the team took the opportunity to focus on rope skills at Poison creek. During the day they focused on efficient rappelling, rappelling with an injured partner, passing the knot and prusiking up a rope. Generally speaking, these skills can be visualized quite easily and the outcome of what you want to achieve is often right in front of you. However, putting them into practice with efficiency is an entirely different ball game. Failing well was the take home message from the day. Lionel and Steve drilled home that when shit hits the fan, which it can, these skills are crucial for getting you and your partner home safe. So practice the skills which you hope to never use.

Remarkables training week

With the technical skills courses out of the way and a major high weather system rolling in, it was time for some more climbing – Wye Creek here we come. The previous storm had rolled through with a very high freezing level, no one could be sure if the ice curtain was going to still be there. Setting off in two teams, touring and snow-shoeing, Lionel made sure that we were all observing the snowpack conditions and discussing route options to avoid terrain traps and loaded pockets. A quick swerve down from the saddle, we could all get our eyes on the ice, it was on! Excitement grew, skis were ditched, and we booted up to the bivvy ledges. What a sight, by far the fattest conditions I had ever seen, full ice coverage across the entire upper curtain. Reg, Al, Lionel and Steve were quick to set up top ropes and run us all through some drills to hone our skills. As quality water ice is such a rarity in NZ, we were all slightly rusty and for Henry this was a totally foreign realm. It didn't take us long to remember how to swing tools and kick feet. That evening, we settled down on the ledges, chowing down some freeze dry and swapping various mountaineering yarns. Day two translated into a focus on leading the ice and learning the dark arts of 'park style' (TM circa 1927 – Lionel Clay) ice climbing.

Ice climbing at the Remarkables

We all found that once we were leading, our technique dramatically improved as a result of the higher consequence of a fall. I guess everything just clicks when it matters. Moving down the curtain, Lionel was stepping away from classic ice climbing technique and teaching a park style approach where you move in a more 3D manner. Unsurprisingly, the sport climber Henry took to this with no trouble with years spent swinging around in overhung caves. It involves using various shapes and weaknesses in the ice to directionally place tools, creating efficient movement through steep overlapping ice. We finished up at Wye around 3pm and skinned back up to Wye Saddle for some sunset turns down an empty ski field. Unlike previous training weeks, we were spoiled by the weather.

Thursday brought another calm blue-sky day, but we took it as an opportunity to rest prior to the festival. Liam and I had a chill day at the pools, Maddy had a cruisy day in town. Meanwhile Henry projected V10s at Jardine's and Sophie went for a speed run up the gondola. Rest days are a spectrum, I guess. The first day of the festival brought a lot of Psyche. For Sophie, Steve and I this culminated in a first ascent on the East Buttress of Double Cone. Spied a couple months ago, this massive corner below the rap anchors of 'D B eh', was crying out to be climbed in winter. Starting left of 'Altered States' up a small ice pillar and then around the buttress, the massive corner came into view. Fully iced up and culminating in a 3m ice pillar, I quested up. Protection was easily found and the pillar at the top was protected with a perfect #2 cam, the ideal crux. 'Sup Dig Snyigg' (drink yourself gorgeous in Swedish) goes at M4 Wi3, a great climb.

Remarkables training week

Below us on the Alta slabs, Henry, Owen and Lionel got amongst it on Scottish Jockey. Unfortunately, during the first crux step, Henry dislodged an icicle which took his goggles for a ride thus shortening his day. Owen and Lionel pushed on, thoroughly enjoying the warm sun on their backs as they tackled the crux pillar at the top of the route. For Maddy and Liam the west face beckoned. They cruised around to 'The Fastest Indian' M5+. Liam, after on-sighting the first pitch the previous week, took the lead and quickly found his groove.

Remarkables training week

Then after trying it on top rope, Maddy got psyched and tied into the sharp end. A few whimpers and tentative movements later she topped out. Maddy went on to share the win of hardest female repeat, with close friend Tanja de Wilde. An awesome effort given its Maddy's second proper lead since her year-long rehabilitation from a broken ankle. By Saturday the bulk of us were pretty rooted, but when the weathers good the mountains are calling. Liam, Maddy and Steve got together to gun up 'The Whirrlies' M4, a wonderful day out with a mixture of terrain to keep you on your toes.

Remarkables training week

Lionel took Henry for a foray on the GT, taking the time to execute safe short roping and simul climbing technique. Owen tagged along for the first half, and then after checking out the Petit Couloir, skiied down the Grand Couloir of Double Cone. By all accounts much side slipping, jump turns and variable snow conditions were encountered. Sophie and I had a leisurely start, only arriving at the west face by 10am. I had my sights set on 'Blow U' M8, which I onsighted with a fair amount of effort. Unfortunately, I lost a glove in the process, but am stoked to have sent such a cool route. Sophie then went for a burn, although not managing it this time, she did every move on the route so is stoked to build up her endurance so she can crush it next year!

Finally, I would like to say a massive thank you to the Expedition Climbers Club for running another fabulous festival, and what a weekend it was for their tenth annual Ice and Mixed festival. We cannot wait for next year!!

For anyone interested in finding out more information regarding the festival, check out: 

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