THE SCHOOLING

Getting into more serious ski mountaineering has always been on my list, but it was mostly ranked behind my freeride skiing and sport climbing. Last year, I decided that if I really want to get into ski mountaineering and become an equal rope partner on the mountain, it’s time to refresh some technical skills and learn the ones I’m still lacking. After some research on Google, I soon found what I was looking for: the ‘Alpine Expedition Course’ with Adventure Consultants from Wanaka, New Zealand. Managed by mountaineering legend Guy Cotter, Adventure Consultants is a world-renowned mountain guiding company with a legacy of climbing expeditions to the world’s highest peaks, and wilderness treks to the more remote corners of the globe. The also offer a comprehensive course Program in New Zealand, Europe, and North America.

A couple of months later, I found myself on route to the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka, where I had spent a couple of winter seasons four years earlier. In a way, it felt like coming home. Shortly after my arrival, I was on the way to the AC HQ. There I met the other course participants and my guide Jono Gillan, who was to become the funniest but also most competent teacher I could have wished for.

The crew: T.J., Denis and our guide Jono Gillan

The crew: T.J., Denis and our guide Jono Gillan

I was pleased to find out that we were a small group of only three participants: Denis, a successful and highly intelligent engineer from Brisbane, Australia, T.J., an officer in the U.S. navy who flies in F18F fighter jets and is trained to be as deadly as possible, and myself. After some slightly nervous first introductions, gear and weather check, comes the news: there’s weather coming in from the SW, we wont be locating to the Remarkables mountains in Queenstown today, but doing some rock climbing at Hospital Flat in Wanaka instead. Soon, I was climbing my first routes in leather mountaineering boots, a very strange feeling indeed. With his 90 kilos, T.J. seemed comfortable enough for me to belay him. T.J., Denis and I were checking each other out, trying to gage how we would fit together during the course. After all, we would be spending the next 12 days together, and in close quarters too. It soon became apparent though that we’re going to make a great team. Jono seemed impressed with our climbing level, which made us feel very good about ourselves.

Climbing in leather mountaineering boots takes some getting used to

Climbing in leather mountaineering boots takes some getting used to

Remarkables was on the plan the next day. With almost hyperactive energy levels, Jono shows us the ins and outs of correct crampon and self-arresting technique, and building snow anchors. Then it started dumping, so we decide to head down and cover some theory: roping up on the glacier and pulley systems. Especially Jono’s clear explanation of pulley system theory was incredibly valuable. In no time, I was building and combining 2:1 and 3:1 pulley systems with more clarity and confidence then I’d ever had.

Practicing pulley systems

Practicing pulley systems

Dumping at the Remarkables

It’s dumping at the Remarkables

That night, we cover how to plan food for an expedition and pack everything required for a full week spent in a hut in a very remote location. The following day, we drive towards Mt. Cook village, check into our accommodation for the night and head out to climb one of Jono’s favourite routes on Sebastapol Bluffs, the only crag in New Zealand with true multi-pitch within 10 minutes of the carpark. To challenge ourselves, we choose to climb in our mountaineering boots. Still feels weird.

On our way to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

On our way to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

At the crack of dawn next morning, we’re up and preparing to fly via helicopter to Tasman Saddle Hut. The weather report had been correct and finally the sky was clear. The flight over the 27 km long Tasman Glacier is awe-inspiring. I’m immediately struck by the seriousness of the mountains flanking the Tasman. Although not particularly high, they look like Himalayan mountains with their steep and heavily crevassed flanks and precariously balanced ice seracs just waiting to peel off the mountainside at any time. I begin to understand why climbing Mt. Cook is so dangerous.

Ready to fly to Tasman Saddle Hut

Ready to fly to Tasman Saddle Hut

Stoked for the heli!

Stoked for the heli!

The mighty Tasman Glacier

The mighty Tasman Glacier

Our home for the week, the Tasman Saddle Hut at 2300m, is perched on a death ridge with huge seracs on one side and a sheer, vertical rock wall on the other. Walking carefully over the icy snow, we carry all our supplies and gear down to the hut from the landing zone. But first, Jono tells us about an experienced climber who died here last year after slipping and falling to his death carrying a box laden with food down to the hut. We put on our crampons and carry only one item at a time. Then we gear up to make use of the remaining good weather. We head towards Hochstetter Dome while getting interesting insight to correct rope travel and route finding through glaciated terrain. Streaks or so-called “angry bird” clouds (at least that’s what Jono calls them) warn us of oncoming bad weather and we decide to head back to the hut, the Hochstetter Dome left unclimbed behind us.

The Tasman Saddle Hut (2300m) is perched on a slippery ridge above big exposure

The Tasman Saddle Hut (2300m) is perched on a ridge above big exposure

The mountains around the Tasman resemble Himalayan mountains

Mt. Green, Tasman Glacier

It's good to revise proper glacier travel

It’s good to revise correct glacier travel

Weather is coming in fast

Weather is coming in fast, with the Minarets in the background

Forced to turn back, but still happy

We couldn’t summit Hochstetter Dome that day, but still happy

For the following 48 hours, 200 km/hr winds, freezing temperatures and 50 cm of new snow was the order. We tie in to a fixed rope to walk a few meters through the storm in order to use the outside toilet. I had to muster all my strength to be able to open the toilet door against the wind. Jono though doesn’t let us get bored. With the hut to ourselves, we spend a couple of hours cleaning the kitchen and disposing of left behind and out-of-date food supplies. Then we delve into practicing building rock anchors and crevasse rescue, as well as orientation, weather, and snow and avalanche awareness theory.

Tasman Saddle Hut is comfortable if you have it to yourself. Dress warmly!

Tasman Saddle Hut is comfortable if you have it to yourself. Dress warmly!

Tying into a fixed rope to get to the outhouse safely in a 200 km/hr storm

Tying into a fixed rope to get to the outhouse safely in a 200 km/hr storm

As soon as the weather breaks, it’s go time. Since it’s too dangerous to climb any peaks due to the extremely wind affected snow, we head down the glacier to some huge seracs and spend the day ice climbing and building ice anchors using ice screws and V-thread anchors. We climb until we are completely saturated from the dripping ice, arriving back at our refuge just before dark.

Ice climbing on the big seracs lower down on the glacier

Ice climbing on the big seracs lower down on the glacier

Jono and me

Guide Jono and me

The sunset just before getting back to the hut

Returning to the hut at sunset

After radioing through to base, we find out that more bad weather is on its way. After a quick meeting and with heavy hearts, our group decides to leave the Tasman in favour of doing some alpine rock in the Remarkables area, where the weather is forecast to be better. We still have one morning of decent weather to play with, so at 4 am we’re up and getting ready to reattempt Hochstetter Dome. Jono sets a furious pace and pushes us on as fast as possible towards the summit. We don’t have much time and we still need to get back to the hut, call the heli, pack all our gear and supplies together and carry it up to the landing zone before the weather comes in, and it was already coming in, fast.

Breathing hard, I hammer a snow stake into the hard snow, top clip with somewhat fumbling fingers and yell to T.J. that he’s on belay. T.J. charges up so fast I have to work hard to pull the rope fast enough through my belay device. Definitely using the Munter hitch on the next pitch. T.J. and I move fast and only speak when necessary, passing the other climbers ahead of us who had camped out in the snow. We finally reach the summit, pausing briefly to admire the view. We don’t linger long however, and soon we’re carefully retracing our steps along the very narrow snow ridge, belaying each other back down the icy ridge of Hochstetter Dome. After the ridge, we’re practically sprinting downhill through the knee-deep snow to get to the hut. Poor Denis is roped up with Jono and has to fight to keep up. We make it out of there just in time before the helis are forced to shut down due to a lack of visibility.

Making snow pitches using snow stakes for anchors

Making snow pitches using snow stakes for anchors

Descending back down from the summit of Hochstetter Dome

Descending back down from the summit of Hochstetter Dome

The evening is spent showering and cooking and eating lots of food. Heavenly! We admire the audacity and skill of the early Mt. Cook climbers at the visitor centre the following morning and then drive back to Queenstown. Although the weather has been tough, the mood in our group is excellent. Jono and T.J. are getting along famously, talking for hours about aviation and flying jets. There is much banter and joking, as well as sets of ten push-ups every time one of us said the word “mine”, which, in Jono’s case, was an awful lot.

Jono had to do a lot of push-ups in those weeks

Jono had to do a lot of push-ups in those weeks

Upon arrival in Queenstown, we check the weather again and are disheartened to find that it has worsened. Nevertheless, we decide to use the last days camping out in the Remarkables as planned. I’m keen to go over expedition camping skills, tenting, snow caving and bivvies too. Once again, we are forced to turn back on an attempt to climb Double Cone due to high winds, but it was still such a positive experience. We wrapped the course up with another day spent on Hospital Flat, where Jono teaches me the art of placing nuts and cams. It was a steep learning curve and that day I lead my first trad route, with much encouragement from the boys. Finally, we practiced some advanced self-rescue skills on rock including hauling and lowering, and felt very good about how far we had come indeed.

Gear discussions are lengthy and interesting

Gear discussions are lengthy and interesting

Our awesome snow camp at the Remarkables

Our awesome snow camp at the Remarkables

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The Remarkables

Jono up to his usual antics

Jono up to his usual antics

Eying Double Cone, the Remarkables

Eying Double Cone, the Remarkables

Weather can be difficult in New Zealand, but we were unluckier than most perhaps. But thanks to Jono and his huge efforts to pass on as many skills as he possibly could to us, the Alpine Expedition Course was still a big success. I learnt many new skills and gained a lot of confidence in alpine climbing techniques. Rarely have I laughed as much as during those twelve days, and I have made three new friends for life.

Lake Wanaka on the way to Hospital Flat

Lake Wanaka on the way to Hospital Flat

Climbing my first trad lead at Hospital Flat

Climbing my first trad lead at Hospital Flat

New downhill trail in Lech am Arlberg

Since I didn’t take off for Australia and New Zealand this year, I could finally start mountain biking this summer. I’m no talent on a bike by all means, but my skiing and snowboarding friends who kept telling me mountain biking is just like freeriding in winter had me intrigued. In June I pulled the trigger on the SCOTT Genius 30, a full suspension, carbon frame trail bike. To learn the right technique from the start I visited the BIKE Magazine Women’s Camp in Sölden with Karen Eller and the SCOTT Contessa team riders. I discovered that riding single trails toughens me up mentally – perfect training for the winter.

In August the Bergbahnen Oberlech built a downhill trail along the winter tobogganing track, directly behind my house. My initial excitement receded though after the first attempt, since I had to walk most of the way down. “It’s too hard” I thought, making up excuses of why I sucked. I was riding the cable car with tough and experienced looking boys and men, decked out in their gear, worn from regular use. It was intimidating, but I didn’t give up. Today I managed to ride the whole trail and only had to get off my bike once. I’m stoked!

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The steepest section of the new downhill trail in Oberlech

BIKE Magazine Women’s Camp

I just came back from 3 full-on days of riding single trails in Sölden at the BIKE Magazine Women’s Camp run by Die Rasenmäher. 25 women of varying abilities all wanted to learn from three times winner of the Transalp Challenge and biking icon, Karen Eller, and her team of coaches from the SCOTT Contessa Team. We rode some amazing and very challenging trails around Sölden, a favourite biking destination among the coaches. I was actually amazed I managed to ride the trails the coaches chose for us – I just started biking this summer – but the women in my group really motivated and inspired me. The two founders of Flowsister, a biking network for women, were also at the camp. If you’re looking for a fun group of women and friends to ride with make sure you check it out!

The top women's group with Karen Eller, Pic: Mia Knoll

Bali surf trip: a taste of summer

Knowing that I would be missing out on the European summer months once again due to my annual pilgrimage down to Australia, I decided I needed to treat myself to some hot weather and surfing action. And what better place to visit than Bali for a surf trip of 2 weeks? So off we flew to Denpasar, where we were picked up by our driver, Komang, and whisked away from the hustle and bustle of the city to the idyllic rice paddies of Canggu. Here we were to stay with friends of ours, very close to the excellent Pererenan beach break.

Rice paddies close to Pererenan Beach

For the next 10 days, our daily agenda consisted of surfing, checking the surf, eating, and resting. And boy did I need to rest, because 3 or more hours of surfing every day sure makes you tired.  For the first 4 days of our stay, we were blessed with small waves (well perfectly sized according to me) to get back into it after such a long break.

Weee look at me!

Weee look at me!

After that, Bali was getting hammered with massive waves, some of the biggest for the past 5 years. There was 1 day we couldn’t go out, it was just too big. Instead, we watched the cracks shredding wave after wave and the carnage of broken boards at the famous Padang Padang break down south.

Watching the action and carnage at Padang Padang

Watching the action and carnage at Padang Padang

Surfing the big sets at sunset, Padang Padang

Surfing the big sets at sunset, Padang Padang

With new inspiration, it was back to our local break where all I cared about was getting a ride on a wave.

I wasn’t always successful.

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But the hard work did pay off in the end.

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Dropping in!

Front side turn at the Rivermouth

Front side turn at the Rivermouth

My surfing buddies Nyoman and Jake

My surfing buddies Nyoman and Jake