Several years ago the question was asked and debated by the New Zealand Alpine Club “the death of alpinism”. Many climbers of yesterday questioned if alpinism in NZ was simply a thing of the past.
Myself and a few of my friends also debated the issue. However we came at it from a different angle. We are all climbers, active, motivated, doing regular climbing expeditions, wanting to push ourselves. For us alpinism and its ideals are a way of life. For us alpinism was not dead. We decided that as a group we could make a difference to a wide section of the NZ climbing community. By working together we could help more than just our own friends in our immediate climbing circle.
This started with three key ideas. All of which are now active. All the ideas lead towards the same final goal.
That goal is to see kiwi alpine climbers leading expeditions to the remote, difficult, hard alpine ranges of the world and coming home with cutting edge new routes under their belt.
For this to happen we believed several things needed to change in the NZ climbing scene. Firstly with the odd exception of the solo alpinist, climbing hard on a big mountain requires skilled partners. People you know and trust. People who have a broad skill base and the mental capacity to get the job done. To often as climbers we heads off on an expedition with people we don’t know. Simply because we are short of climbing partners and resort to taking the only people who say yes. This usually leads to a less than idea expedition.
We will often also go away with people who don’t have the right skill set. Again this comes down to us not knowing them very well and in general the community not having enough good avenues to train, learn and explore their limits at home.
The Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival was step one of this plan. We hope that in time as more people meet each other at the festival, form new partnerships, push themselves through competition we will overcome these first two problems of expedition climbing. We hope that by more kiwis and those from other countries getting to know each other, being exposed to climbers of all abilities, watching the fittest race and compete they will get motivated to train harder themselves. To do more weekend trips and eventually to have stronger climbing partnerships with people they really know and trust when the head off overseas.
The next major issue stopping allot of NZ expedition climbing we decided was that for young people and climbers in general funding an expedition can provide a very challenging obstacle. Most climbers if they are lucky will get away on a major expedition ever couple of years. Compare this to the top Europeans or American climbers who have good sponsorship and funding. They are off one to two times every year. Step two of our plan was to bring sponsors and climbers together and to help fund those trips. By starting the Expedition Capital Fund and getting more sponsorship into climbing in general we believe that in the future climbers from NZ will not have to rely funding from outside sources. We will be able to fund our own major expeditions via the Expedition Climbers Club, Expedition Capital Fund. Expeditions that people will want to be on. Expeditions that will be fully paid for. We also hope that this money we raise combined with the additional links to industry sponsors will significantly improve the options for climbers who want to head out on annual expeditions.
The final step of our plan came down to youth development. In general terms the NZAC does an amazing job bringing beginners into the alpine environment and providing them with their basic training. We thought however that the structure to take a beginner and form them into a cutting edge alpinist was missing. We needed a specialist alpine climbers club something that has a clear focus and goal. Our response was to form the Expedition Climbers Club Inc. This gave us the structure needed to manage and run our three main activities the Festival, NZ Alpine Team and the Expedition Capital Fund. All of us struggled through our early 20’s trying and usually failing as we figured out the skills and techniques required to climb hard on a big mountain. What if we had been guided or pushed in the right direction by experienced older climbers? Perhaps we would have reached our current climbing levels much faster and been in a better position to really push the standard of NZ alpinism along. With that in mind we formed the New Zealand Alpine Team. It is our way to help bridge the gap between the climbing generations, share knowledge and hopefully do our bit to encourage a younger generation to take up the challenge. By sharing all of our knowledge and skills with them our aim is they will quickly overtake our ability. We also hope that by setting up this structure one day we will find and train the next Uli Steck and in doing so help raise the future standard of alpinism in NZ.
The Festival, Expedition Capital Fund, NZ Alpine Team are all three parts of the same plan. They receive a wide range of support and help from many active members in our climbing community. They all succeed through team work and the sharing of a common goal. To see NZ alpinism not just alive but thriving, growing and innovating. The goal of one day seeing Kiwi climbers once again at the cutting edge of world alpinism.
Dave Bamford long time NZAC member & ex NZAC President was at the Ice and Mixed Festival 2013 on Saturday night. The following day I had a conversation with one of his friends. It went something like this. “usually Dave talks allot, but this morning we just couldn’t shut him up! He kept on saying how much fun he had last night. On and on he went stating for anyone who wondered if alpinism was dead in NZ all they had to do was look in the room last night to see this is clearly not the case!” I couldn’t have agreed with him more if I had said the words myself! Alpinism in NZ is not dead, it simply took a short nap and is now waking up full of energy, strengthened by teamwork, cooperation and community!