I’ll never forget that feeling of irrepressible euphoria I felt late one evening in the middle of May 2013, when I received an e-mail from Steven Fortune offering me a place on the New Zealand Alpine Team. I’d always been a bit of a fan boy for top climbers; avidly reading about their exploits in the Climber and Alpine Journals, dreaming that one day, in some parallel universe, I too might be able to do something like them. Needless to say, when Steve noted that the other Christchurch mentors were Jamie, Kester and Reg, I was beyond ecstatic.
We were the first intake of this New Zealand Alpine Team, and while I’m not sure any of us quite knew exactly what we were signing up for, or what it would turn into, there was a wealth of enthusiasm there. Given the calibre of people applying to get in, I was truly stunned that I’d been selected, and was sure I was the weakest link. Among the first intake were Rose Pearson and Jaz Morris. At that stage, Jaz was one of those names who always seemed to be floating round in terms of full-on multi day tramping and mountaineering. As for Rose, we’d both done a NZAC Mountaineering course the previous winter, so I knew she was a strong rock climber, and equally as competent in general mountaineering as me. Further to this, she was terrifyingly fit, something I experienced first hand trying to keep up with her pace up the mountain each day of the course.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
- Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities
The past two years have been a whirlwind of new experiences, massive learning curves, the greatest of achievements and their fair share of pain and suffering. Two years ago, I refused to believe that rock climbing was particularly important for me to be an alpinist, and now I’m climbing at least three times a week, with a number of multi-pitch rock first ascents to my name, and an upcoming trip to Yosemite & Canada. While I’d always wanted to go on an expedition overseas prior to graduating from University, not in my wildest dreams had I seen myself going to Alaska for five weeks, climbing Denali and Mt Frances in 2014, with another six week trip to Peru planned in 2016.
So what does applying for the team and being in the New Zealand Alpine Team actually involve? There’s obviously a selection criteria around the Team; generally we’re looking for new athletes between 18-25, who have climbed a number of Mount Cook Grade 2-3 or higher in both summer and winter. At the same time, applicants should be able to lead an 18 on trad, and have good general cardio fitness.
Perhaps you’re an alpine legend, climbing Mt Cook 5, but struggle to haul yourself up an 18 at the crag; or alternatively maybe you crush V10, and are trying to send that 28 project before winter, but have only done some technical walking around on some Grade 1+ snow – apply anyway! The most important thing is that you’re exceptionally keen, and driven to learn where you’re weakest.
When I applied for the Team, I was absolutely convinced I wouldn’t get in. I had a strong tramping and trans-alpine background, was very comfortable on snow and winter conditions, but had very little technical experience in rock, multi-pitch climbing, or ice and mixed climbing. I was convinced there would be a whole lot of people from all the Outdoor Ed Courses at various Polytechs applying, and they wouldn’t want some fairly inexperienced, if insanely keen, muppet like me. The reality is that at its core, the New Zealand Alpine Team is a mentoring programme. It aims to take good climbers and mountaineers, and over time, develop them into top Alpinists.
Without a doubt, being a part of the Alpine Team requires a significant investment, in terms of time, and energy. There’s an expectation, as there is at any professional sporting level, that you will train, and be accountable to what kind of training you’ve done and how you’re progressing. Many climbers get riled-up at the idea of training for climbing; instead wanting it to be some illusionary paradise where merely thinking about climbing, and then just climbing a couple of times a week will make them strong. Sorry to crush the dream, but you’re not going to go far without putting in some serious work.
However, there’s absolutely huge reward if you are prepared to put in the requisite work. While the Team is an Amateur Sports team, it is at the highest tier; with current sponsorship arrangements with Macpac, Jetboil, Tendon Ropes, Salewa and Gu for both gear, as well as some financial support for Team trips. Furthermore, given the position the Team occupies as New Zealand’s elite alpine team, there are a plethora of other one-off sponsorship which is available from outdoor clubs, non-profit and government organisations. In short, if you put the work in with regards to training and developing your climbing with the help of your mentors, you’ll have the opportunity to go on a number of incredible, very affordable trips overseas during your three year tenure.
You’ve got until the end of May to apply – so my advice is go out there and climb things so you can try and meet the requirements if you don’t already. Worst case, just apply anyway. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and even if you’re a little inexperienced, it doesn’t hurt to be on the radar – three years comes round mighty fast, and with the success of the Alpine Team so far, it’s here to stay.