At 4 am on the 28th of July, our group of two instructors and eight mountain newbies departed Auckland for Mt Ruapehu to undertake the arduous, exhausting, and absolutely epic weekend that was Beginners Snow School. We drove down to Taupo, stopping numerous times en route for coffee and red bull, and had a good brekkie where we discussed weather and avalanche conditions, and set out a plan for the rest of the day. We then continued heading down to the Desert Alpine Club at Tukino.
We knew there had been an overnight dumping of snow on the mountain and this meant we got our first taste of the action before we even reached the hut. The 4WD road up to the hut was covered in snow, requiring us to dig a path for the cars, and eventually walk the rest of the way to the hut. As we marched up, we practised boot packing and the instructors gave us advice for walking securely and efficiently on the snowy and icy sections. We made it up to the hut and headed straight back out again to maximise the day before the sunset. The snow was incredibly powdery and we learnt how to compress it and make ledges for our boots as we walked. We also checked out the snow conditions and learnt how to look at the snowpack to get a better understanding of potential avalanche risks.
On Saturday, we woke up bright and early and began heading up to Whangaehu Hut, frequently stopping in good spots to learn and practice our snow skills. We learnt self-arrest, avalanche rescue, and crampon techniques; all skills which we further honed over the next two days. The going was certainly tough in the powdery snow, so we moved up onto a ridge to continue ascending. This was much icier, with higher consequence and we worked together to find a safe and secure path to traverse the ridge, rewarding ourselves with lunch and a snowball fight at the top. We continued heading up to the hut, getting some amazing views of the mountain before heading back down to the Desert Alpine Club for a hot meal and some much-needed sleep (and perhaps a wee bit of shovel tobogganing).
Sunday was our last day on the mountain and we were eager to make the most of it. Aidan and Max had arrived at the hut the night prior and were heading out to do some ice climbing at Margarets Falls which we were keen to see, so we headed out early to fit in some more avalanche rescue, front pointing, and daggering practice before going to check out Margarets. Unfortunately, they had moved to Tascmaster for some mixed climbing, so we missed the show, but the disappointment didn’t last long when Dan suggested an “adventurous route” back to the hut. Of course, we all jumped at the chance and got to abseil down a ridge before heading back to the hut to pack up and head back to Auckland.
As we drove back to Auckland, we talked about the highlights of the trip, the skills we had learnt, and the future trips we were planning to use what we had learnt on the course. Overall, Beginners Snow School was an incredible opportunity to learn, gain confidence in the mountains, and get to know some awesome people. Thank you to Kiera and Dan for organising and instructing the trip!