NZAT Trials 2016-2019

The New Zealand Alpine Team is made up of a group of elite climbers who dedicate their time to mentor the next generation of Kiwi alpinists. After receiving a number of applications for the next intake of “students”, the team held their trials last weekend, putting the hopeful applicants through their paces in a series of activities that tested not only their climbing skills but their fitness and ability to deal with stress and pressure in challenging situations. 

Among the experienced climbers and NZAT members was Jaz Morris, who caught up with us to tell us how the applicants got on.

It was a wet weekend in Queenstown - but that didn't stop the applicants giving the NZAT trials their all.

It was a wet weekend in Queenstown – but that didn’t stop the applicants giving the NZAT trials their all.

On the 17th – 18th of October we held the NZAT trials for the 2016-2019 intake for the New Zealand Alpine Team. Nine candidates are competing for three-year mentored positions in the NZAT, and eight of them came from all over New Zealand to meet in Queenstown for a weekend of cardio, climbing and mental assessments. It was the first time we’ve held trials, having selected the 2013-2016 team based on mountaineering CV and interview alone. We think that the trials were a great way to objectively analyse the applicants, all of whom are climbing at a high level already – and we reckon in a few years the standard for the trials will be even higher!

One lucky climber (currently in Australia) will be personally put through the wringer by NZAT Mentor Dan Joll when they meet up across the ditch in a few weeks.

The NZAT is run by the Expedition Climbers Club (ECC) as a way of encouraging the development of NZ alpinism. Before the NZAT trials, six current members (including three mentors) met the applicants for a debrief and introduction at ECC President Ben Dare’s place in Frankton. The applicants were told to pack for a weekend of mountaineering, including boots, rock gear, ice tools and rope, plus all their food. After getting to know each other they were abandoned in the wilderness near Queenstown where they endured a rather wet night camping out. 7am the next morning we picked them up for the first challenge, assessing cardio fitness with pack-carrying and a hill-run.

The team slogged gear in the rain from Queenstown up the Skyline Gondola track (about 500m vertical). After dumping packs, they were told to walk back down and then start a timed run all the way back to their packs. Sarwan Chand dominated the running challenge in a little over 22 mins, with Conor Smith in second a minute or so later. As people arrived, the news was broken that they were only halfway – from there they had to grab packs again and walk up another 500m vertical to the saddle near Ben Lomond. This section was timed too, and after a tactical error by Sarwan (leaving boots at the top of the Gondola and having to retrieve them from 1/3 of the way up) Conor arrived at the top first. Chris Sillars came in second and Gemma Wilson in third, although Sarwan had the fastest time from the Gondola to the top.

The trials were a real test of fitness for the applicants,

The trials were a real test of fitness for the applicants,

After walking down from Ben Lomond it was time for some dry-tooling challenges at the ‘Den of Iniquity’ crag near Kelvin Heights. Some of the team were more experienced at this than others, but all put in concerted efforts making on-sight attempts at an M6 and then an M8 route. Dry-tooling means climbing rock with ice tools, and M8 routes usually overhang completely with tenuous tool placements and big, dynamic movements required. David Chen made the best effort on the dry-tooling with Michael Eatson in second. Josh Cumberland, Conor and Chris did well, and both Gemma and Pet put in good efforts despite a couple of big falls! Following this challenge the applicants walked to Jack’s Point to another crag where they were timed on ropework challenges including prussiking and trad-anchor set-ups. The day ended about 10pm when the guys were dropped off at Wye Creek to camp in the rain for another night.

7am on Sunday and the weather was horrendous for the walk up the Main Wall at Wye Creek. Here, we tasked the applicants with sending ‘The Mission’ (grade 16) in their mountain boots, climbing the off-width crack-climb ‘Smellie Crack’ (20), a slab sport route (18) and a trad route (18). More rain after a night out in the open didn’t seem to affect the climbing quality much, as Conor did really well with fast ascents of all the routes, including a blistering 6 min 30 ascent of ‘The Mission’ and 5 mins 50 sec on ‘Smellie Crack.’ David, Sarwan, Michael and Chris also did really good times on the climbing challenges, David finishing ‘The Mission’ only two seconds slower than Conor’s time. Josh put in a good efforts on the challenges too, but Pet Steiner-Grierson was laid low by a nasty illness. Gemma showed grit to finish off ‘Smellie Crack’ after big falls (seven of them!) near the top of the route, as well as onsighting the trad route. Did we mention that all of this took place in intermittent heavy rain, hail and freezing wind?

We reckon all these challenges tested the applicants really well, and maybe in ways they didn’t expect. We aren’t just looking for who’s the best climber now – we wanted to see who showed a good attitude, performance under time pressure, and to get a sense for how the guys would gel with each other and with the existing team members. In a fortnight or so (after Dan climbs with Alastair McDowell) we will announce the successful applicants, based on climbing CV, performance in the trial and discussions with the mentors. All those who trialled will become great NZ climbers and we look forward to climbing with them in the future!

Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for all announcements about the successful applicants.

Macpac is stoked to partner with the NZAT to design our premium technical range – the Alpine Series. For more on team and the Alpine Series, check out our recent blog.

Photos by Jaz Morris