The interns, the young ones, newbies, bottom of the pecking order... whatever anyone wanted to call us, we were the new kids on the block and amped for the days ahead.
The week leading up to the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival (15-18 August) is a time for the NZAT to climb together, socialise, and talk trips for the coming years. Loosely based out of what was to become a very busy AirBnB in Frankton, we started trickling in on Friday at sensible, and not-so-sensible hours of the night.
The week held a strong focus on safety and mitigating risk in the mountains. We started off on the Saturday in that theme with Lionel running a day refresher course on avalanche awareness. This doubled as a great opportunity to rip out the skis! A quick session on theory in the Remarkables Skifield base building, then we skinned up the field discussing hazards and safe travel techniques, stopping often to talk through what we were observing in the snowpack, and how we would use this information to influence our travel route. Popping over Wye Saddle gave us a very different aspect to compare to the skifield snowpack, a quick ski downhill and then back up towards the ridge where Kim dug a quick pit to have a look at layers and failure propagation in the snowpack. We then headed back into the crowds for a rip down the piste and back in time for dinner.
Sunday we headed out to various destinations. Ben and Al ran speed laps of the classic ice line White Jism up at Lake Alta, with Al graciously allowing Ben to sneak the time trial record of the day. Got to be welcoming to the young ones, right? The rest of us headed around to the rime-covered West Face. James and Tim headed up the intimidating multiple roofs of Skin-doo while Lionel and I headed further around towards Double Cone. Due to poor snow condition further around Queens Drive, we turned back before our intended route in favour of climbing an interesting looking corner with a thin seam of ice. After a day of constant ribbing about my motley assortment of ‘rescued’ gear, Lionel took it a step further and named the route Booty Queen.
Monday held the first good forecast for the week, so we skied in to Wye Creek to chip at some ice. Ahead of our 2020 trip to Canmore this was a great opportunity for Steve, Reg and Lionel to run us through a few drills so we could hit the ground running in Canada. The Upper Curtain was in good form, and we had a very full day going over technique for climbing efficiently, multi-pitching, belays and V-threads. The weather was pleasant and warm, making for terrible preparation for Canada and also causing the ice to spring a few leaks. As a great bonus however, the skiing down to Wye Creek was excellent though a little rocky and committing in places. On top of this after the long skin out we again sneaked in a full run down the Remarkables Skifield, rounding out a very full and productive day.
Given we only had a week to climb, rest days were not on the cards so although Tuesday was stormy and unsettled weather-wise, we again headed out in various directions – Ben and Al to Fridays Fool for another day of speed ascents, Reg, Tim and James up a snow-covered Scottish Jockey up at Lake Alta, with Steve and I just around the corner on The Whirrlies to scope out a chimney that could in future provide a direct exit from this line. Biting wind, low visibility and gear freezing solid characterised what were probably the most challenging conditions thus far. Hot showers were in fierce demand that night, and with an increasingly full house the competition was getting serious.
Wednesday held a marginally better forecast, for which Ben and Lionel utilised in a run up the classic Fastest Indian, while James, Tim, Reg and I headed up Fridays Fool. James and Tim took the classic Book of Fools exit, while Reg and I headed up the Right Hand Exit into a dead end. With a rappel we backtracked two pitches and headed up the classic exit, topping out at the same time as the other two.
Though technically the last of our free days before the Festival, Thursday came with a catch. We had the morning free, but evening activities for the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival were kicking off at 3pm that afternoon. As the ‘new kids’ we were eager to make a good impression, but the temptation of trying to sneak in a climb in the morning proved too much for all of us and we were once again sprinting up to the West Face is the morning. Ben and I headed up Stone Free, back into doing battle with the rime ice fields once again. We topped the route in good time, rapped off a bollard and scurried down the skifield. We hitched a lift to Frankton, but were still 30 minutes walk from the Events centre. It appeared we were going to be late for the Expedition Climbers Club AGM. Furthermore (in an overall terrible showing from the new recruits) James was to our knowledge still up on the West Face with Lionel battling away on another equally classic, but much longer route – State of the Nation. Luck was however in our favour! The AGM had been postponed until later in the evening, drastically minimising the overall shame of our faux pas. We all turned up to the Events Centre with windburnt faces, apologetic expressions and harnesses still on to find our presence didn’t seem to have been too missed.
The start of the Festival marked a time for us to kick back in the evenings and socialise over great brews. James, Ben and I ran the Snowcraft One clinic for an engaged and sociable group of students. Their attitudes made the two days of teaching great fun. We managed to cover far more than I thought would be possible – each day I almost lost my voice, only to find it again in the evenings (probably louder than ever) after a few beers. The festive atmosphere of the social evenings, catching up with friends new and old, and a solid party on Saturday night rounded off what was a thoroughly enjoyable week. What a high note to start out on.