New Zealand may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of ice climbing. With dramatic mountain landscapes and crystal clear water, most people come for the hiking in the epic landscapes... Or the bungy jumping. But come winter there’s some fun to be had for the adventurous. Ice climbing!
WYE CREEK ICE CLIMBING
There’s many places you can ice climb in New Zealand but for the most consistent ice with good access, a dose of adventure and jaw dropping scenery, Wye Creek is THE place for ice climbing!
Situated in the Remarkables range 40 minutes drive from Queenstown, a whole alpine playground awaits! Cascading waterfalls, frozen solid, surrounded by an impressive valley with jagged peaks, what more could you want! There’s even a ice cave to explore!
WANT TO TRY IT?
Almost anyone can try ice climbing! Even with no prior experience there are many guides and companies that run trips to Wye creek ranging from 2 to 5 days. So for an amazing experience you will never forget, nothing beats ice climbing in the mountains!
For some reputable guiding companies, check out these ones:
► Alpine Guides
► Adventure Consultants
And check out this post:
What Is Ice Climbing? And Why Do People Do It?
ORGANISING YOUR OWN TRIP TO WYE CREEK ICE
If you are a capable rock climber or seasoned ice climber and want to do your own trip, here is the information you need!
Oh, and if you have trouble making adventures like this happen, check out this post which could be very helpful:
Time of Year: July and August. Outside of these months the ice may not be formed well enough to warrant a trip and could be a waste if you've travelled many miles. If you are local or around for the winter by all means go earlier and later in the season to try your luck.
Flights: You can fly directly to Queenstown which can be expensive (but saves time) or fly to Christchurch and drive (6 hours or so) which wastes a day but is cheaper. As usual, when booking flights, clear your browser's cookies each time you check online as the price creeps up!
Accommodation: When not on the trip, stay at the YHA Lakefront hostel which is the nicest hostel in town. There’s a drying room for gear, plenty of space, and modern facilities. Prices start from $32 NZD per night for shared dorms.
Start of hike to Wye Creek: Remarkables ski field, top carpark. Start early (leave town 7:30AM) to get to the top car park and beat the crowds. Remember to allow time for putting on snow chains on your vehicle, something which should be practised before you go up there!
Car Hire: You can catch buses or hitchhike to the start of the hike in or you can hire a car and leave it in the carpark. Rates are reasonable in New Zealand. Check Rankers for the latest rates on all car rental companies. Remember that you will need snow chains to get your car to the ski field.
Gear Hire: Small Planet in Queenstown has some of the basic gear but for the best outfitting you will have to do the guided trips which supply really good quality gear. Bringing your own stuff is ideal of course! Small planet rents gear on a first come, first served basis.
Guidebooks/websites: Check out Climb NZ for the routes, or buy the ‘Queenstown Rock, Ice and Mountains’ guidebook which also has heaps of rock climbing routes as well, it's totally worth it!
Latest conditions: Join the Queenstown climbing club facebook group and either check for existing posts or just ask! You can also find others to go with this way.
Other stuff to do: When not ice climbing at Wye creek check out the dry tooling or if you come in August, attend the Ice and Mixed climbing festival. Queenstown has heaps to do!
GETTING TO WYE CREEK ICE
► 2-3 hours walk in, mostly downhill (based on a moderate fitness level).
► 3-4 hours walk out, mostly uphill (based on a moderate fitness level).
► Take/hire snowshoes or ski touring setup. Walking in without either will take you all day to get there and exhaust you.
► Make sure to check the avalanche advisory and the weather before going.
The minimum time I recommend for a trip is 2 nights. Walk in day 1 in the morning, get a afternoon climbing session in. Day 2 spend all day climbing. Day 3 quick climb and then walk out leaving around 1PM for best results (leave earlier if catching the buses down).
To get there:
Marching uphill from the Remarkables Ski field carpark, go to the top of the curvy basin chairlift. From there, go straight up to the saddle (as noted in picture) and then pick the best path among the rolling hills going downhill, keeping to the top flat ridge and not losing too much elevation. Make some good tracks for the way out!
The above map is for guidance only and doesn't show small detours that may be needed. Avalanche conditions exist so it is up to you to navigate there safely!
When you get to the top of the Wye creek waterfalls (which are covered in snow), put on your crampons if you are new to using them, and look for a rock cairn and trend left (facing downhill) and head south under the first rocky bluff, and then downhill. It looks steep but going down the obvious gully from the top, which initially looks mellow, actually gets super steep! This should be the only navigational challenge on the trip. Take care here!
The Wye creek campsite is located roughly HERE. The ice areas will be pretty obvious!
To exit, retrace your steps. If the weather sours or retracing your steps is not an option, you can exit via the Wye creek valley track following the creek downstream and hitch a ride back to the ski field. This takes a long time however (4-6 hours) and is best saved for the times you really need it.
1) You might find information on the internet about taking the chair lifts if you ask the attendants nicely, well, this no longer works, they have tightened their workplace health and safety and no longer offer this.
2) Taking a helicopter is also an option, but is quite expensive. Extra fees are also added and you have to organise it with DOC (Department of Conservation). Expect it to cost $1000 each way, and you can fit 3-4 people per helicopter to split the cost.
MY TIPS FOR A WYE CREEK ICE CLIMBING TRIP
► Placing screws.
Place at the hip level! And always be in a comfortable position! On the initial half rotations, tap the ice out if it is freezing inside before going for the good ‘bite’.
Watch this excellent short tutorial on the ice climbing technique:
► Swing with the wrist and relax the grip!
Smashing those ice tools with all your might feels fun, but it's a good way of wasting lots of energy! Take your time, place the tools well, and swing with the shoulder and wrist. Let the weight of the tool dig in with a flick right at the end. Also relax those hands and fingers! Shake them out regularly. You'll save energy which in turn will make you climb better.
► First time? Don't lead straight away!
Take your time and try it on top rope first before committing to a lead. Pre place the ice screws before trying your first lead. There is one rule in ice climbing- the lead climber MUST NOT FALL. Broken bones can result from even a small fall!
► Setting up top ropes
At Wye creek there are plenty of options for setting up some top ropes. You can usually scramble up the side and a few places have anchors or you can set up your own if you know how. You will usually always find others around, so say hello and ask them if you have any questions. Everyone is really friendly.
Aside from some obvious things you should take on a overnight trip, I am just going to point out the items I feel are worth mentioning that you may not be sure about, or could be different to what you imagined.
Be sure to take a 4 season tent rated for snow and high winds. In New Zealand, it will come at some point, so be prepared! Make a wind break a foot or two away from the tent with snow/ice blocks and build it 2 feet high minimum for extra protection. The higher the better. If you know high winds are expected, put the time in and build it HIGH!
► Bring a snow shovel
As well as being part of your avalanche kit, it's good to have as you will need to level off a spot for your tent. Be sure to set your tent up first before climbing! You don’t want to be doing it at night!
Make sure you have a good stove that can handle wind and the cold temperatures. Then also make sure you have the correct fuel mixture so you aren't burning all of your gas on day 1! Use MSR ISO Pro fuel (can be bought locally from Macpac Queenstown) and the MSR Reactor for best performance in gas canisters or use a white fuel stove like the MSR Whisperlite universal.
► Bring the right sleeping bag.
Make sure to bring a winter rated down/synthetic bag. Don’t skimp on this as sleeping cold is not pleasant and can be dangerous.
► Sleeping mat
I also highly recommend a warm sleeping pad, especially since that's where a lot of our heat gets lost. I use the Sea to Summit Ultralight insulated mat. You can add a cheap foam mat ($5 from most variety stores) to boost the warmth.
► Pee bottle
Bring a pee bottle for those late night leaks. It's worth it. A big gatorade bottle or old nalgene bottle works a treat. For ladies, you can use a She-wee or Go-girl into said pee bottle. Results may vary and it pays to practice. At least you don’t have to get out of the tent!
► Warm gloves
Bring a few pairs of warm gloves. Ideally and at a minimum, 2 outer pairs and 2 inner liners works great. Get thinner dexterous ones for the actual climbing, and nice thick puffy ones for belaying and hanging around camp.
Dehydrated meals are good in saving weight, but can lack sufficient calories. If you want to use them, take some extra healthy oils to add to it and boost the calories. It’s also worth making sure you have plenty of hot drink options, you'll be more inclined to stay hydrated that way. Oh, and treats like chocolate are good too!
Climbing ice at Wye creek is a fantastic trip that should be on everyone's list! Nothing beats being around the mountains, camping in the snow, and smashing some ice! So get out there and make it happen!
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