Learn skills to keep you safe in the mountains
Maximum of 4 participants per guide
Try before you buy - gear hire is included in the price
Enthusiastic UIAGM & NZMGA mountain guides
Heated, private hut with walk in/out access
Caroline Hut sits diretly opposite New Zealands highest ice face the 2000m+ Caroline Face
Intensive Mountaineering Skills Course
Technical alpine skills instruction for those who want to get into serious mountaineering
[Formerly called our Intermediate Climbing Course (IMC)]
Go beyond the basic skills of mountaineering and get into more serious alpine terrain! This course is an ideal refresher for mountaineers who already have basic snow craft skills and want to take it further. It provides a thorough grounding in all technical alpine skills. Put your skills to the test towards the end of the course with a climb of Turner Peak under your guide's expert supervision.
"I knew that this course was going to be challenging for me as I didn't have prior experience in mountaineering but staff at Alpine Recreation made me feel comfortable with choosing the IMS and this was fully backed up in the field by our guide Elke who was totally professional in all aspects of the course. I felt really well supported throughout the week and enjoyed the whole experience. I am looking forward to building on this experience to become more proficient in alpine areas, and look forward to doing another adventure with Alpine Recreation soon."
- M. Geyle, Australia. More client comments.
The Intensive Mountaineering Skills Course covers a range of mountaineering topics from glacier travel and crevase rescue through to mountain navigation and emergency shelters.
Our private Caroline Hut provides an ideal venue for practising the technical skills of mountaineering, and improving your confidence and competence to climb safely in the mountains. Good snow, ice and rock sites are within easy reach from the hut on the Ball Ridge, opposite the mighty Caroline Face of Aoraki Mount Cook.
Courses are scheduled from November - April and include an ascent of Turner Peak and snow and ice instruction on the Ball Glacier.
|Individual bookings||7 days||1:4|
|returning client discount (on individual bookings), if you have been on an Alpine Recreation trip before.|
|Private Course Prices (NZ$ per person)|
|1 Person||5 days||1:1|
|2 People||6 days||1:2|
|3 People||7 days||1:3|
|4 People||7 days||1:4|
- IFMGA/NZMGA certified mountain guide
- National Park fees
- Heated PRIVATE hut accommodation
- Local accommodation for any nights required during the course
- Free transport (Tekapo - Mt. Cook return)
- ALL meals (including snacks & energy bars) for the duration of the course
- ALL technical climbing equipment - this saves you up to $100 compared with other guiding companies!
Meals and accommodation before/after the course are NOT included.
+Minimum Numbers & Course Length
A minimum number of 3 participants is required to run this course (this only applies to individual bookings, not private course bookings). If less than the minimum number is reached, we will run the course you are booked on, with the following changes:
- 2 participants only - the course will be shortened to 6 days.
- 1 participant only - the course will be shortened to 5 days and an additional fee of NZ will apply. Alternatively you will have the option to reschedule to another trip/date or a full refund.
Due to the shorter length, the course start date will be flexible within the scheduled dates (this allows some flexibility for bad weather without affecting your travel plans too much). With a lower guide:client ratio, you benefit by being able to cover the course content in a shorter amount of time.
Our private Intensive Mountaineering Courses are ideal for groups wanting a thorough grounding in technical mountaineering. All levels of experience can be catered for with private groups.
Advantages of Private Courses
- Customized to your needs, experience and skill level
- A closed group of 1-4 participants with 1 guide, or up to 8 participants with 2 guides
- Your choice of dates, arranged to fit your schedule (subject to guide availability)
- Both of the following books are available for use at our private hut. Personal copies can be purchased at time of booking:
- Technical Manual covering course content
- Avalanche Awareness handbook
A course completion certificate is available on request.
Green : Minimum reached - guaranteed departure.
Orange : Only 4 or fewer places available.
Red : No availability.
♀ : Exclusive girls-only trip, with female guides.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to climate warming and associated loss of snow and ice, late season IMS courses (Mid February to end April) may be held on the upper Tasman Glacier instead of Caroline Hut. Please see Specialized Alpine Climbing Course page for venue details and aircraft prices.
She's on Spikes: Girls-only Groups
This season we're offering an exclusive girls-only mountaineering course! Join one of New Zealand's select few female guides for a fun week of alpine skills.
Dates: Look for the ♀ icon in the dates section.
The Intensive Mountaineering Skills Course is intended to provide a thorough grounding in technical mountaineering. Want to take it further? Follow it up with our Specialized Alpine Climbing Course. If you are after a mountain experience course and are not necessarily intending to become a serious alpine climber, we recommend the Introductory Mountaineering Course.
- Crampon and ice-axe skills
- Alpine rock, snow and ice climbing techniques
- Glacier travel
- Crevasse and improvised rescue techniques
- Rock, snow and ice anchors
- Belay systems and techniques - pitched climbing
- Terrain analysis and route selection
- Mountain navigation
- Mountain weather and forecasting
- Avalanche awareness and hazard management
- Emergency shelters
The course will be tailored according to the needs of participants and the weather, snow and ice conditions at the time. In November-December when there is still lots of snow cover, crevasses will be filled in and there will be very little exposed ice or rock. January-April, when snow has melted back, good alpine rock and ice climbing is more readily available. For climbers who already have considerable rock experience the focus will be on snow and ice skills.
Weather permitting, participants will have the option to spend a night or two in an open bivvy. We provide extra equipment such as a cooker, bivvy bags, sleeping mats, etc. at Caroline Hut.
Kaitiaki Peak 2222m/7290ft, Turner Peak 2341m/7680 ft.
Bad weather options
Caroline Hut makes a good classroom as it is warm and cosy and well equipped with instruction material - there is still much that can be covered on a hut day and your guide will keep you busy.
Venue: Caroline Hut
↑ Caroline Hut is an ideal venue for mountaineering instruction courses.
Caroline Hut is the only guide/operator-owned mountain hut in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and is available for the exclusive use of Alpine Recreation parties. It provides a high standard facility for professional instruction.
No aircraft required: the hut can be reached in 4-6 hours' walking from the road end and can be accessed in most weather conditions, maximizing time spent in the mountains.
Private facilities: uncrowded, clean and with a guaranteed bunk. Spend more time learning skills than managing your camp!
Comprehensive climbing equipment and instruction aids at the hut enhance the quality of instruction. This includes a solar-powered iPad which can be used to complement field instruction.
Great location: Caroline Hut sits at 1820m on Ball Ridge, directly opposite the stunning Caroline Face of Aoraki Mount Cook, with ready access to alpine rock, snow & ice sites.
Fully equipped with firewood, gas, solar lighting, satellite phone, Department of Conservation radio, sleeping bags and nonperishable food. A wood-fired stove provides good heating and drying facilities.
Endurance, Agility & Technical Difficulty
↑ Exposed, rocky sections of Ball Ridge - you need to be sure-footed, well-coordinated and have good balance. Photo: B. Boucinhas
Endurance: Grade 4 - "Very Challenging"
A high level of fitness is expected. Fit people will still need to train prior to undertaking this adventure. Ascents of 1200+ vertical metres are likely. Expect 10-12 hour days or longer, carrying a 10-12kg backpack. Early alpine starts may be required. Expect some discomfort due to long days and exposure to elements. Must be dedicated and used to long days in rough, untracked terrain.
Agility: Grade 4 - "Advanced scrambling agility"
Committing and challenging for experienced trekkers. Sustained concentration and focus required for difficult sections. Exposure to heights or large drops likely. Confident footwork and scrambling over rough, loose and steep terrain required (eg. pulling yourself up on vegetation, clambering over boulders). Crampons and ice axes required for crossing moderate snow slopes (≤ 35°), alpine passes and/or glaciated terrain.
Technical: Grade 2 - "Introductory Mountaineer"
In-depth crampon, ice axe, self-arresting and climbing skills instructed by guide. Basic rope skills, knots, abseiling, anchor placement, belaying skills instructed if applicable. Ability to apply skills with coached practice and demonstrate proficiency required to progress to next grade. Prior rock climbing experience beneficial.
+Trip Difficulty Ratings explained
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For the Intensive Mountaineering Skills Course you need to have extensive hiking, backpacking, tramping or bushwalking experience. The route to Caroline Hut crosses rough, untracked alpine terrain and traverses snow, scree and boulder fields.
Please see this photo gallery for examples of the terrain to and from Caroline Hut.
Regular hikes of at least 8 hours' duration involving significant vertical ascent are recommended as preparation for this trip. All trips to Caroline Hut require a solid level of fitness to cope with the mountain terrain. Early season (November-December) you are likely to encounter soft snow even below the hut. If you have never walked in deep snow before, then the best way to prepare for this is to walk through sand dunes or somewhere where there is loose sand, where you lose a good percentage of your momentum with each step. Mid to late season (January - April), when the snow has melted back, you will encounter firmer snow and loose scree (rock) slopes. The best training for this is to hike over smooth rock slabs and along rough, stony riverbeds or beaches where there is an uneven surface, where you have to watch your foot placement.
Participants for an Introductory Mountaineering Course need to:
- have a high level of fitness (able to climb 300 vertical metres per hour with a 12kg pack and hike/climb 8+ hours a day without difficulty)
- have extensive hiking, tramping or trekking experience
- be able to walk/scramble over steep, rugged, untracked and exposed terrain
- be sure-footed, well-coordinated and have good balance
- have no fear of heights or problems with vertigo
Preferable (but not essential):
- basic rope, crampon and ice-axe skills
- rock climbing or mountaineering experience
↑ Aerial photo of Ball Pass and Caroline Hut.
BALL HUT & CAROLINE HUT ROUTE CHANGES
The intense and prolonged rainfall of 1-8 December 2019 caused significant damage to the traditional route to Ball Hut and Caroline Hut across Husky Flat. Significant damage was also sustained on the east Hooker Valley (the traditional route taken after crossing Ball Pass). Alternative foot access routes to Ball Ridge and from the East Hooker Valley back up onto the Mount Cook Range and descending back to the Tasman Valley have been successfully established, and Alpine Recreation guides are familiar with the ongoing changes to the routes. The current foot access to Caroline Hut takes approximately 2 hours longer than traditional route up Ball Ridge and is through rough and challenging terrain (some sections involve pulling on steep vegetation, clambering across loose scree and negotiating large boulder fields). Please see this photo gallery for examples of terrain. The new loop over Ball Pass and Mabel Col is comparable in time to the traditional East Hooker route, but spends more time in alpine terrain. If you are unsure whether your fitness and agility are sufficient, please contact us before booking your trip.
8am on the first day. Meeting point is at Alpine Recreation's Edelweiss Lodge, 8 Erebus Place, Lake Tekapo. If you have requested a pick-up from your accommodation, please be ready for pick-up at 7:50am.
5-7 hours trekking, 5.5km distance, 1200m ascent.
You'll meet your guide and once everyone in the group has arrived, your equipment will be checked. Any items of equipment that you have been unable to provide yourself will be provided free-of-charge. Good leather climbing boots are available if you do not have your own. All technical mountaineering equipment is provided (helmets, harnesses, slings, carabiners, rope etc.) but you are welcome to bring your own if you have them.
Drive to Mount Cook (about 1 hour), transfer to 4WD vehicle and drive as far as possible up the old Ball Hut Road, parallel to the Tasman Glacier. The effects of glacial recession are very evident as we hike beside the lateral moraine. Climb 850m steeply up onto Ball Ridge and to Caroline Hut at 1800m, perched right opposite New Zealand's highest ice face, the Caroline Face of Mount Cook.
Your guide will choose one of two routes (Waterfall direct or Cove Stream) depending on conditions and weather. If snow conditions are firm below Caroline Hut, you are likely to be introduced to crampons and ice axe.
In addition to our personal clothing, the crampons, ice-axe, helmet and harness, we will be carrying some fresh items of food (e.g. bread, fruit, vegetables, meat). The hut is stocked with nonperishable food, mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags, cooking and eating utensils, gas and firewood.
After reaching the hut there may still be time to practise some knots.
Access to Caroline Hut on Day 1 is subject to safe snow and weather conditions. The professional judgement of your guide will take into account all factors, including client fitness for the conditions. Please see our Bad Weather Policies.
Ball Hut Road → Caroline Hut: Elevation profile
Snow and ice instruction on the Ball Glacier or near Ball Pass, ascent of Kaitiaki Peak. For rock climbing and abseiling practice there is good quality sandstone on Ball Ridge near Caroline Hut.
Practise various kinds of belays and anchors, and how to select a good route. Good cramponing techniques are emphasized, likewise knowing different methods of self-arresting and choosing the right methods for the conditions. You can be lowered into a crevasse and climb out again, practising steep ice climbing with front-pointing. Weather assessment will become second-nature. For climbers who already have considerable rock experience the focus will be on snow and ice skills. Please see the Course Content section for more details.
On a clear night, the group may opt for an open bivvy - a good chance to learn how to manage setting up camp and sleeping under the stars. Additional equipment for this option is provided at Caroline Hut.
When your guide thinks you are ready for it, you will climb Turner Peak - a good test of your technical skills.
Depending on group preference and weather conditions, there are several options to return to Mount Cook village:
- the quickest option descends directly to the Tasman Valley to spend the rest of the day doing some multi-pitch rock climbing at Sebastapol Bluffs. There is a good choice of longer or shorter routes, which the guide will assist in selecting, according to the skill level you have reached.
- a good test of the mountaineering skills learnt during the week, is to cross Ball Pass and return to the Tasman Valley via Mabel Col or Mt. Rosa.
- an easier and quicker option than crossing Ball Pass (and a good test of route-finding skills) is to return via Cove Stream or Ball Ridge.
Finish back in lake Tekapo at about 6pm. Those electing to continue with our Specialized Alpine Climbing Course can stay overnight at Unwin Hut (NZAC) at Mt. Cook (own cost), or return with the guide to Tekapo.
Caroline Hut → Ball Pass → Ball Hut Road: Elevation profile
Continue onto our Specialized Alpine Climbing Course (SAC) to extend yourself with more technical climbing. Our low guide-client ratio on these courses allows you to push things further and may even include a climb of a 3000m peak!
All of your equipment will be checked during the gear check at our office at the start of your trip. Any equipment you need to borrow from us will be issued by your guide.
Alpine Recreation provides helmets, harnesses, crampons and ice-axes. Outdoor clothing, packs and boots can also be provided at no extra cost if necessary. Please see the equipment list for further details.
→ Intensive Mountaineering Skills Course Clothing & Equipment list.