SNOW CAVING 2008
12 September 2008
Expectations and excitement for our snow caving trip were high after two fine weekends on the mountain and the range of antics students had got up to on our previous instruction weekends. We woke on Saturday to a nearly perfect day and set off filled with anticipation following snow cave ‘team talks’. Our excitement was quickly tempered as we plodded up the slope with heavily laden packs. Paul’s sweets and other treats got us to the ridge above the Pinnacles where we were greeted by extensive views over the Desert Road and a sheer drop to our intended snow cave site.
After instructions we lowered ourselves to precarious positions on the slope and began the digging race. Each team created strategies for effective digging, ranging from the ‘all for one, one for all’ method, to the ‘student’s only’ and the ‘individual time trial’ dig. The four-hour endurance test became quite a solitary pursuit with a wall of snow shutting off any sounds from the outside world. Regular team cuppas kept morale buoyant, along with lofty plans for cave design. Frequently dropped gear occupied some of the more energetic students.
Once the caves were dug the evening’s entertainment began. Five course meals, pirate raids, shared drinks and sing-alongs prevailed before all returned to their caves for a well-deserved sleep, and generally dry night. The early birds were able to enjoy a beautiful sunrise with spectacular views towards Mt. Ngauruhoe and the prospect of re-digging a path through the spin drift to the infamous toilet bucket.
After breakfast we ascended Te Heuheu, each step loosening crampons for some, and promising better views for others. After lunch on the plateau, groups divided and ascended the surrounding cliffs. This was the first opportunity for many to use their pitching skills on near-vertical climbs. As the sun began to lower in the sky we returned a little redder, sorer, but satisfied, to pack and make a late descent to the lodge.
A huge thank you to all the guides for their patience, enthusiasm, and the eclectic humour/ motivation techniques which they shared with us. It was a wonderful course which pushed everyone to their limits in one way or another. Hopefully there will be plenty of climbs to follow.