It was with some trepidation that I threw every single piece of gear I own, into duffel bags and packs, in preparation for heading down to Queenstown for a week of training with the Team prior to the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival. From the information which had been circulating, it was clearly going to be an initiation by fire, evidenced by the fact the whole Team had been warned that we were going to be ‘encouraged’ to set new routes around the Remarkables.
A cloudy Saturday morning turned out to be an omen foretelling the type of weather we were to see all week. As half the team ventured round to the South Face of Single Cone for a crash course on ice and mixed climbing, Team Dunedin comprising Frazer Attrill and Jaz Morris, made light work of Friday’s Fool (WI3, M4). With reports of the climb being “fat” and in “the best condition ever seen”, Ari Kingan, and your humble author decided to go and test the waters of this classic on Sunday. There was an expectation that we'd breeze up the climb, given Frazer and Jaz's performance the previous day, but it was with a fair amount of apprehension, that I gazed up at my first ice lead. It became crystal clear to me in the first ten metres of the pitch, as I frantically punched my 16cm screw through the ice and out the other side, that the term ‘fat ice’ is inherently subjective. At the same point, both my legs went into sewing machine mode, and with bad things coming in threes, I also had the misfortune of discovering the true meaning of the ‘screaming barfies’. Summoning my last bout of will-power, I slowed down, swung the tools with a little more precision, and after what felt like an eternity, eventually reached the belay. The remainder of the climb became progressively easier, and it was a jubilant pair who topped out on the ridge a short while later. Meanwhile, Team Auckland (Peter Ramage & Jason Horrocks) scoped out the possibilities around Lake Alta, settling on a suitably fearsome project boulder which somehow managed to thwart their stalwart siege style tactics. Jaz and Frazer spent the day scampering around Lake Alta, making a foray up Altered States (WI2), as well as scoping out the action on the Flight Deck.
Monday’s events threw a pall over the Team, with the shared burden bringing everyone a bit closer. Sticking together, all the Team ventured down to the Pink Palace, where Jason’s true colours came out, sending an M6, despite two initial encounters with the bouldering mats.
Wednesday saw the team scattered across the mountain. Team Auckland went round to Alta ice, but halfway up, they found it rather thin and sketchy, necessitating a hasty retreat before the sun had its way on what remained of the ice. Joined by an Irishman, Jaz and Frazer sniffed out some turf around the Alta Slabs, setting a classic M3+ route aptly named ‘On General’s Orders’. Back at Queen’s Drive, Team Canterbury/Westland was shepherded up Sgian Dubh (M4) by Steve Fortune.
With Jaz instructing on the Snow skills course, Team Canterbury/Westland coerced Frazer to join them on State of the Nation (M5) on Friday. Being the first day of the festival proper, we encountered unexpected traffic jams along Queen’s Drive, and coupled with slight geographical challenges about where the route exactly began, the result was a somewhat delayed start. Running the gauntlet - yours truly inched his way up the climb, with little consideration to his poor belayers, who quietly froze as the minutes painstakingly ticked by. There turned to be a wee gathering at the first belay, when I finally reached it, with another party who had discovered the correct start to the route. Eventually, all three of us were reunited at the top of the first pitch, and a hasty team conference convened, where it was decided that at the present pace, we wouldn’t top out by night-fall, and bidding three of my wallnuts farewell, we bailed off the side of the climb. Peter and Jason spent half the day unexpectadely cross-training as they walked up and down from the top of Telecom Towers. Determining conditions better suited to establishing a route much closer to the coffee; they instead bouldered on an M4/M5 problem on the bluffs just above the base buildings.
Saturday turned out to be the last day of climbing, with Team Auckland heading up Number One Gully (M2), where Ari and myself met them - having earlier followed Friday’s trend, and bailed off a new route just to the left of State of the Nation. Failing to find the elusive bolt anchors at the top of the route, Jono came to the rescue, making it a considerably less expensive bail, by retrieving both the cam and piton which were lowered off.
Jaz, Ari and Tiff Stephens made a solid effort on the traverse race on Sunday, backing off in conditions which deterred all but the two winners: Danny Murphy and Mike Buchannan. In hindsight, being thrown in the deep end can teach you to swim rather quickly, and the week was testament to the fact that a concentrated period of climbing really solidifies the skills and abilities necessary for ice and mixed climbing. The Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival has to be one of the best events of the climbing calendar, and with some serious unfinished business, you can guarantee I’ll be back same time, same place next year!