New Zealand ice climbing

Ice climbing is great in New Zealand. Many people don't realise that with the right location, frozen waterfalls are not as daunting as it might seem.

There are many types of ice climbing.  Some people climb high into the mountains and follow the thin veins of snow and ice that exist year round at higher elevations.  This type of climbing is usually called  “alpine climbing”.  Liquid water is rare at these elevations and ice is usually formed from snow that is hardened by the elements.

Other people wait for the early winter conditions where ice forms at lower elevations.  This lower elevation ice is often called water ice or waterfall climbing. Cold nights and warmer days combine to freeze otherwise free running water into frozen curtains of hard ice.

Beginners as well as more experienced climbers enjoy waterfall ice.   Similar to top roping at an indoor climbing wall, waterfall ice can be “top roped” or more experienced climbers can learn to lead climb.

In New Zealand this type of climbing is limited the June-August when the low angle of the sun keeps temperatures cold.  While we do not get ice down to roadside like some other countries, with a little searching, New Zealand has some classic water ice routes.

The trick is to find a hut to base your climbing out of. Since most water ice is located in remote valleys and always on steep south facing walls (the shady side in New Zealand), camping in tents in these locations is a cold business.  Returning to camp after a big day ice climbing it is good to have some warm shelter where gear can be dried out and cold bodies regenerated.

Since backcountry huts tend to be located in more sunny and warm locations, finding a sheltered base to ice climb is a rare and beautiful thing in New Zealand. Huts operated by the New Zealand Alpine Club tend to be at higher elevations far from the water ice.

Black Peak Hut is operated by Aspiring Guides in Wanaka and is one of the few huts that is close to the ice.  Being a private hut it offers the comfort of hard shelter without the inconvenience of arriving only to find the hut full.  At least some of the hard work is taken care of since the hut is stocked with sleeping bags and food meaning there is no need to carry heavy packs.  It is the little luxuries like real coffee that make "roughing it" a little easier.