NZ Mountain Film Festival: Steve Fortune

Steve Fortune is one of New Zealand’s most respected mountaineers, and has scaled many epic peaks around New Zealand – and the world. Passionate about the future of climbing in New Zealand, Steve is a founding member of the New Zealand Alpine Team – a group of the country’s most elite climbers who dedicate their time to mentor the next generation of Kiwi alpinists. The NZAT has also partnered with Macpac to create our premium technical range – the Alpine Series. NZAT climbers not only play an integral part in the design process for this gear, but they also take prototypes and test them out on some of the world’s harshest alpine routes.

Steve is also a founding member of the Expedition Climbers Club – a group of climbers who aim to make expedition climbing more accessible to New Zealanders. They run events, training groups, and also organise expeditions for members – the first of which will take place over the coming weeks. Steve Fortune and 11 others are heading to Cordillera Blanca, Peru. This trip also serves as the final expedition for the first mentoring intake of the NZAT.

When he returns to New Zealand, Steve will share his story, and recount the group’s epic adventure at the Wanaka edition of the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival in July. Here, Steve shares with us his thoughts in the lead-up to the Peru expedition – and highlights the gear the team will be taking.

Expedition Climbers Club trip to Cordillera Blanca

The Expedition Climbers Club (ECC) and New Zealand Alpine Team (NZAT) are running a trip to the mountains of Cordillera Blanca, Peru, from May 27 – July 3 2016. The ECC runs the Remarkable Ice and Mixed Festival every year in Queenstown, and any funds raised during the festival helps to fund an annual trip open to any club member, or anyone attending the festival. 12 people are going, with a wide range of abilities and experience. We will share travel logistics and a basecamp in the mountains, then will split into teams of two or three for a variety of climbing objectives. From our basecamp a number of beautiful peaks with a wide range of difficulties up to an altitude of 6400m are available.

Steve Fortune in the Alpine with his Pulsar Hooded Jacket MensThe trip also doubles as the final expedition of the mentoring group of the NZAT. A number of young climbers have been part of the mentoring program for 3 years, with training trips involving  big wall rock climbing, ice climbing and high altitude mountaineering. This trip will be a chance to put all those skills into practice and establish solid climbing partnerships, by climbing together on routes of their choosing. NZAT mentors will also be going, with the goal of climbing classic, or new, hard technical routes of their own. We are going with a number of goal routes in mind, but will be flexible to change plans once there due to current weather, route conditions and health and strength of team members.

There is a good history of New Zealand climbers going to this range and establishing significant routes. However, as climbers normally work in teams of 2 or 3, it is unusual for a group of this size and diversity to go on expedition together.  We plan for this to be the first of annual trips to different locations round the world run by the ECC. We see a number of advantages to this approach to group expeditions. It is less daunting and easier to manage for less experienced climbers to go on a trip like this with a number of more experienced climbers to get advice from. There is a greater sense of camaraderie with a larger group, and a more social and fun time at basecamp on downtime. There are more potential skilled partners to team with if someone falls ill, plus a stronger group to help out in case of emergency. By going to an area with a range of different possible objectives, there is no pressure to go on a previously stated objective if conditions prove poor or unsafe. Route choice is determined by good mountain judgement, not by pressure of funding grants.

We are expecting a wide range of conditions that can swing wildly during the course of a day, from blistering sun to frigid cold when the sun goes down at altitude. Technical climbing at altitude puts a premium on light-weight, versatile gear and clothing systems. This will be an ideal place to use the gear Macpac designed in conjunction with the NZAT, including the Alpine Series Pursuit Pack, Prothermal Hoody, Fitzroy Softshells and Pulsar insulated Hoody. We will also have the opportunity to test prototypes of the next generation of gear, including Polartec Neoshell Shell Jackets and Polartec Alpha insulated jackets.

Some harder routes will require bivouacs on route, requiring lightweight but warm sleeping systems. For these we are taking prototype 2 person sleeping bag-quilt systems provided by Macpac. These weigh the same as a single sleeping bag, but can be shared by 2-3 people in a light single skin tent, or our custom-made 2 person bivvy bag.

In basecamp, comfort takes a higher priority than weight, and we plan to use more standard sleeping systems, including an Epic 400 Down sleeping bag, insulated air core mat and the Aspiring Alpine Tent.

Be sure to catch Steve Fortune in Wanaka at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival on Tuesday July 5 2016. For more info, or to get your tickets, head along to the Mountain Film Festival’s website.