Technical Mountaineering Course, New Zealand

07 December to 17 December 2002

View from just outside Centennial hut

The view from just outside Centennial hut(December 2002)

New Zealand is a wonderful country that offers many different types of outdoors sports. For the daring, there are bungee jumps, sky diving to name a few. For those who loves water, there are white water rafting, surfing et cetera. If you just want to a few days off for a trek, there are many trails that you can take and they offer very scenic views, remember the images in the movie, Lord of the Rings? Of course, there are snow-capped mountains that offer many different grades of climbing. For my trip there, it is to attend a 10 days technical mountaineering course under Mount Aspiring Guides.

Mount Aspiring Guides has its headquarters at the small town of Wanaka in the New Zealand southern island. From there, we have the option of going either to Mt Cook region or Mt Aspiring region for our technical mountaineering course. This flexibility is important because whether or not we could go onto the mountains to practice the technical skills that we will be learning would depend on the weather on the mountain.

For this trip, we went to Mt Cook region as the weather there seems to be better than Mt Aspiring region. The journey to Fox Glacier took as 5hrs by a minibus. At Fox Glacier, there are lodges where we can stay and wait for the weather to clears before the helicopter can bring us into the mountains. At the mean time, we are able to practice some cramponing technique at Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier is a 10min ride from the main office area. It is one of the few glaciers that actually come down to the sea. However, the glacier is retreating at quite a fast rate. In any case, this is an excellent place for anybody who wants to experience walking on the glacier but not wanting to go into the mountain to visit.

When the skies finally clears, which means that there are no danger of clouds covering the mountain, the helicopter brings us to Centennial hut where we can practice our technical skills. However, since 2 days are spent learning some technical skills on sea level due to bad weather, we only have 8 days left on the mountains. Centennial hut is located at an altitude of 2430m, at this height, the surrounding is already covered with snow, ice as well as crevasses that accompanies them. The hut has a smaller compartment called vestibule near the door to store all the technical gears and wet outer shell. There is a toilet hut that is just outside the hut which is really just a deep hole with a bucket below. The hut itself is pretty cosy with wooden bed and mattresses.

Other facilities in the hut include a kitchen area where the cooking is done. There is a water container outside that is used to collect melt snow from the roof. There are also solar-powered lights in the hut. A radio in the hut which is linked to Fox Base, allows 24hrs emergency call. The same radio would have a daily forecast of the weather in the region at 6pm sharp. It is also necessary for us to report our presence in the hut to the duty personnel through the radio.

In the hut, there are certain unwritten rules and practices. For one, it is necessary to wash our dishes in warm water with soap to kill the germs. After which we would rinse the dishes in cold water. All the solid rubbish would be thrown in a bag while the liquid rubbish such as soup or washing water will go into a wooden box just outside the hut. There would be a bucket containing water and anyone in the hut is to fill the bucket with water if he sees that it is empty. It is also a good practice not to place the cup used for scooping water from the bucket anywhere other then in the bucket itself. The same practice goes to scooping of snow from a clean trash bag for melting when the weather is so bad that there is not enough water in the water container outside. Sometimes, the weather is so bad that it is risky even to go out of the hut to use the toilet hut, in this situation, there would be a bucket placed at the vestibule for peeing and another for shitting.

For the course, the guides would teach us as many things as possible. Even when we are stuck in the hut, there would be theory lessons and even practical lessons in the hut if possible. It has to be noted though that frequently, different guides teach the same skill but using slightly different techniques. But the practical lessons outside the hut prove to be invaluable for people like me who had never been on snow and ice before.

Mountain hut

Training in the hut due to bad weather(December 2002)

In the mountains, the weather is very unpredictable. We are unlucky as bad weather force us to stay in the hut for most of the days. We only manage to have 2 days of clear weather to allow us to practice our technical skills outside. In fact, we were delayed in the mountains for an extra day due to bad weather and the helicopter is unable to come up to bring us down. For that, we have to pay for an extra day for the guides which cost about S$100. As the pilot guide the helicopter by using his eyes without the aid of any sensors, it is important that low clouds do not cover the flight route. Thus if the flight is considered risky due to the presence of low clouds, it is customary to buy a bottle of wine for the pilot. Fortunately, wine is quite cheap in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a wonderful country to visit. It is also a good place for picking up technical mountaineering skills. Of course, weather would play a large part in determining how much you would learn from the trip. The guides that we have are very professional and they have tried their best to teach us the technical skills even when the weather prevented us from going out. They are also negotiable when it comes to the type of skills that we want to emphasize on. On the whole, it has been a positive experience for us and I would like to come back to the mountains of New Zealand again in the future.

Anchor on a steep slope

Building an anchor on a steep slope(December 2002).

Technical Skills
* Crampons and technique
* Front pointing
* Climbing steep slopes using crampons and ice axe
* Roping-up and glacier travel
* Traveling on snow slopes without crampons
* Self arrest
* Tying of different knots
* Prussiking
* T-slot snow anchor
* Assisted and unassisted crevasse rescue
* Different anchoring system
* Passing abseil system over a knot
* Escape from system
* Multi-pitch climbing
* Weather prediction
* Use of avalanche transceiver
* Preparing tent platform and tent pitching (Sleeping in it)
* Map reading
* Recognizing geographical features

Centennial Hut Information
Height: Approx. 2430m

Found on the North-West ridge of Mt Jervois in the Franz Josef Glacier neve

Grid Reference: NZMS 260-H34, G35,H35 864407

Glacier Helicopter : Squirrel
Cost : NZ$405 per flight
Capacity : 5 passengers + gears
Hut fee : NZ$18 per night

Built by New Zealand Alpine club in 1993.

Cost Breakdown
Description Cost Duration Remarks
Technical Mountaineering Course: Mount Aspiring Guides Approx. S$2000 per person 10 days Check with,
International Flight from Singapore to Auckland: Garuda Indonesia (2 Ways) S$734 2hr 40min to Denpasar(Bali) + approx. 5hr to Brisbane(Australia) + 2.5hr to Auckland Inclusive of Singapore airport tax
Domestic Flight from Auckland to Chrischurch: Qantas (1 way) NZD$78 1.5 hrs Booked a month in advance
Transport from Auckland airport to town: Airbus (Airport bus) NZD$12 30min It’s cheaper to go to town by private van if there is a group.
Transport from Chrischurch airport to town: Metro bus service NZD$2 25min Check out website (See below)
Transport from Chrischurch to Wanaka: Atomic bus NZD$50 Approx. 7hrs
Transport from Wanaka to Chrischurch: InterCity NZD$60 Check website below. Atomic bus shuttle should be cheaper
Accommodation in Auckland: Fat Camels NZD$20 per night Checkout: 10am Excluding NZD$20 for room key. Refundable upon checking out and returning of keys.
Accommodation in Chrishchurch: Startimes Backacpkers NZD$20 per night Checkout: 10am
Accommodation in Wanaka: Holly’s Hostel NZD$20 per night Checkout: 10am
Cost of food:
Cost of eating out Approx. NZD$7

Useful Informations
Metro bus service,

InterCity bus service, or

Technical Mountaineering Course, Mt Aspiring Guides,

New Zealand Domestic Flight,

Holly’s Hostel & Backpackers

71 Upton Street, Wanaka

Tel: 03-443 8187

The Fat Camel Hostel & Bar

38 Fort Street

Downtown Auckland

New Zewland

Tel: +64 9 3070181

Fax: +64 9 3070182



  1. #1 by Keith on August 15, 2016 - 12:20 am

    Guys, The info is a bit out of date, but still ranking on Google. Any plans for an update?

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