The New Zealand Alpine Team: Inspiring the Next Generation of Climbers

From the top of the world’s tallest peaks, to some of the toughest rock faces you can find, the New Zealand Alpine team is at the forefront of climbing in this country.

Made up of some of New Zealand’s top alpine climbers, the team dedicates their time, experience and knowledge to mentor the next generation of alpinists. The goal – to pass on valuable knowledge and skills that would otherwise have taken many years to acquire.

This week we spoke to young recruit Pete Harris and NZAT member Daniel Joll about the team’s incredible mentorship programme.

Pete on the top of Half Dome

The New Zealand Alpine Team is a new concept for climbing in this country – it is borne of a desire to support and encourage young Kiwi alpinists looking to improve their mountain skills. The team has developed a successful programme that offers young climbers the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only do they have the chance to climb alongside alpinists they look up to and admire, but NZAT’s students also have the opportunity to undertake three years of intensive training, including trips and expeditions all over the world.

Members of the team and their friends have recently been visiting Yosemite Valley in Carolina, tackling some of the most difficult climbs in the world, including ‘The Nose’ on El Capitan. NZAT member Daniel Joll has been mentoring young climber Pete Harris who was selected in 2013 to be part of the NZAT programme.

“The idea for the North American trip is to give Pete a good grounding in all the skills required for aid and big wall climbing. He’ll spend two weeks with us in Yosemite before we head to Squamish, so we’re going to have a run up some of the valley classics including El Capitan routes, Half Dome and the Sentenal – an amazing experience for Pete, and for me as a mentor,” says Daniel.

Pete says the trip so far has been quite challenging – but that’s not unexpected!

Dan and Pete. Belay Selfie – off the plane, three hours sleep and part way up a 16 pitch chimney route.

“Before I even stepped on the plane, I knew Dan would be planning on throwing me in the deep end the minute I made it into the valley. Sure enough, I got a message whilst on the train that we’d be climbing the Steck-Salathe the next day. After a bit of research, I was fairly confident I’d survive. Little did I know what was in store for me,” laughs Pete.

The Steck-Salathe is a truly classic route – often regarded as a rather staunch 5.9, it is defined by the pitch known as ‘The Narrows’. The Narrows involves climbing up a chimney – a crack in the rock face that’s wide enough for climbers to fit through. On the Narrows, Pete and Daniel had to climb straight into a 20-metre-long chimney that was only just big enough to fit into without a helmet, rack, backpack or anything else attached.

“At the bottom of the pitch, I gazed upwards into its depths, with only the hint of sunshine coming down from the top, and fear truly gripped me. Milo Gilmour stepped up, and led through the chimney. Even on top-rope, progress was slow, involved much swearing, and very little movement through the claustrophobic constriction,” recalls Pete.

Nevertheless, the group eventually made it to the top, and so ensued a fairly uneventful walk down, followed by a rest day to nurse wounds and prepare for the next few days.

Since then, Pete’s also climbed Half Dome along with El Capitan’s East Buttress and Zodiac – classic climbs.

One of the most memorable moments of the trip so far happened on the East Buttress route. Pete had acquired the first two pitches – a remarkably enjoyable chimney with an exciting stem, and a stretch at the top to catch the belay. Getting through the crux, Pete got stuck in the 5.6 finger deep crack in a groove, and was left completely unable to move, with his feet hopelessly dangling beneath him. Eventually aiding through this, he reached the top of the pitch to encounter the biggest plight of the route: a horde of ants.

“Never have I seen ants like this. The ground, the tree and eventually the rope and myself were literally swarming with ants. Attempting to continue with the next pitch to get out of their vile grasp, I couldn’t climb with the affliction of incessant ant bites.”

Belaying the other climbers up to his point, Pete noticed their derision turn to disbelief at the sheer volume of ants. A hasty transition got them to the next ant-free pitch, where hundreds of dead ants quickly littered the area.

“We were haunted by the stench of Ants for the rest of the day,” shudders Pete.

Pete topping out on Zodiac – El Capitan Meadow Below

Pete and Daniel will soon head for Squamish, and then onto the Bugaboos to round off the trip. Daniel says the trip is extremely valuable for young climbers like Pete, and is a great example of what the NZAT Programme has to offer young climbers.

“Pete is really in his element out here, and it shows. I really enjoy seeing young climbers like him develop and build on their skills, and I’m sure he’ll continue to grow as a young member of the team.”

Macpac proudly sponsors the NZAT to provide gear and clothing to the team so that they can continue to tackle some of the toughest climbs in New Zealand, and the world.

As part of our ongoing commitment to produce premium technical mountaineering gear our design team collaborates with the NZAT on our Alpine Series range to incorporate specific design features required of gear and clothing that is tested by the team in the world’s harshest environments, delivering peak performance in all conditions.

Check out our Alpine Series range.