Expedition Training Course | Summer 2018-19


Learn the skills to climb expedition-style in New Zealand's Southern Alps for your Seven Summits mission .

The Mount Cook region is a great training and proving ground for mountaineers. Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his successful Everest and Antarctic expeditions here, and some of the worlds most successful climbers and guides began their climbing careers at Mount Cook.

The peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook area offer huge vertical scale, steep glaciers, and fast-changing weather - all at relatively low altitude. 
The skills you learn here will take you safely into any alpine region in the world; from NZ to the Seven Summits and beyond.

Expedition Course Objectives

This 8 days course will prepare your for high-altitude expeditions, or committing, long mountaineering trips, anywhere in the world. You'll come away with:

  • Ability to plan and prepare for expedition-style trips
  • Camp management skills
  • Decisions making skills
  • Awareness of most types of mountain terrain
  • Good level of alpine climbing ability

You will also learn about your own capabilities, and ability to live in the mountains and to accept their ever changing conditions.

Advantages of training in the Mount Cook Region:

  • Himalayan vertical scale
  • Relatively low altitude - no issues with acclimation
  • Ease of access by aircraft
  • Extensive glaciation - 70% of the area is under permanent ice and snow
Your Course Guides

Dave McKinley (Alpine Guides Guiding Director ) designed the Expedition Course specifically to prepare adventurers for high altitude expeditions.

Dave's experience involves many successful seasons climbing and guiding in the Himalayas, Patagonia, and beyond. His climbing resumé includes Everest, Manaslu, Denali, Aconcagua, and many other serious expedition-style peaks.

Guides for our Expedition Course are selected for their international experience, and you can be assured of climbing with a professional with expert knowledge of expeditions across the globe.

What You Will Learn

We will focus your alpine training on the skills needed for longer-duration, logistically involved expedition style climbs.

Instruction topics covered on your course include:
  • Equipment, what to bring and how to use it
  • Trip planning and preparation
  • Camp management skills: tent camping, and emergency shelter options
  • Crampon and ice axe technique refinement
  • Rope skills - including “fixed” rope techniques and alpine self-contained rope craft
  • Mountain weather and snow conditions analysis
  • Navigation
  • Decision making and risk analysis at altitude
  • Glacier travel techniques
  • Anchors on snow and rock



Price and Inclusions

Cost: NZ$3,850 per person

The course fee includes:
  • Guiding fees
  • Alpine Guides Technical Manual (92 pages) 
  • All meals (including snacks and energy bars)
  • Aircraft flights in and out of the mountains
  • Hut fees (as required)
  • Local transport 
  • A range of technical equipment 
  • Local accommodation for any nights necessary during the course 

Maximum and Minimum Bookings

All Expedition Courses are limited to a maximum of 8 participants. The maximum guide to participant ratio is 1:4.

Minimum Bookings

We guarantee to run the course you are booked on, with the following modifications:

  • One person only: We shorten the course to 6 days
  • 2 people only: We shorten the course to 7 days

We think that shortening courses with low numbers, rather than cancelling them is the best service we can offer. This minimises any affects on your travel plans, and still provides a great mountaineering experience.

Smaller teams can cover instruction topics more quickly and efficiently than a larger group. There is a better chance to climb bigger peaks.

Reporting Details

Expedition Courses begin at 08:30 and finish at 17:00 on the final day. Please report to Alpine Guides office in Mt Cook Village 

Experience Required

Late summer conditions on the Upper Darwin Glacier - Expedition Course.

Previous alpine climbing or rock climbing experience is not required.

The most important prerequisite is a high level of aerobic fitness, and the ability to carry a backpack.

As we fly the course in and out of the mountains, extended heavy load carrying is usually not required - only when moving base camps.

Read more about fitness for mountaineering.

Aircraft Use

The course will fly into the mountains before setting up base camp. We also fly out at the end of the course. This avoids a rugged 2 day walk with heavy gear.

All flight costs are included in the course fees.

Read more about air transport.

Base Camp Accommodation

As part of course training you will help set up and maintain a working base camp (BC). This will be your working and living space for the majority of time in the mountains.

Our tent camp will be backed-up with snowcaves that you will help build and maintain. All cooking gear, utensils, and fuel are provided by Alpine Guides.

See the Expedition Training Course equipment checklist for details on gear supplied and required. 


Base Camp Location

Your base camp will be in the high mountains on a glacier, usually in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park (around 2,000 metres elevation). The locations we use feature moderately graded snow and ice peaks, crevasse fields, and seracs.

Our main camp venues are:

  • Murchison Glacier
  • Darwin Glacier
  • Tasman Glacier

These locations are slightly east of the Main Divide. It is often possible to be out climbing here when parties at West Coast venues (just kilometres away) are hut-bound due to bad weather from the west.

Mountain Hut Use

The Aoraki Mount Cook region has a network of excellent mountain huts. If weather conditions become so severe so as to hinder training, your course may use a hut for part your trip. Your base camp will be located within a half-days travel (on foot) to a hut.

Read more about mountain hut living conditions.

Course Daily Organisation

When dealing with the dynamic mountain environment we work around prevailing weather and snow conditions, to provide the most comprehensive coverage of all course topics.

Day 1

After meeting your teammates the first part of the day involves a comprehensive gear check, and organisation of equipment and clothing. Food, tents, cooking equipment, ropes and technical equipment need to be prepared for flying in.

Weather and snow conditions will be studied and discussed. In any mountaineering objective planning is the key to a successful trip.

Early afternoon we will fly deep into the Southern Alps to your base camp location. Aircraft access quickly gets us in to the high alpine terrain we will work in for the rest of the course.

Given the right weather conditions we will set up an expedition style BC ("Base Camp") using tents and/or snow caves/natural shelter features.

If the weather is considered too limiting for learning progression, we may spend some time based out of alpine huts.

Day 2 - 7

With BC set up we will combine learning and instructional sessions with getting out there and experiencing the alpine environment - and climbing some peaks!

The syllabus will cover many of the “base” skills needed for safe and successful mountaineering anywhere in the world. Throughout the course your guide(s) will be evaluating weather and conditions. Course theory and practical sessions are tailored to the weather/conditions.

You will cover cramponing, anchors, fixing ropes, rope craft and more. We will also introduce some of the specific technique found on the highest peaks and longer expeditions: fixed lines, “arm wrapping”, etc.

Instructional days will begin at around 07:00. When climbing on good weather days you may have “alpine starts” - as early as 04:00. Most day's activities will have you out for 8 to 10 hours.

Day 8

We pack up BC that morning and fly out of the mountains early afternoon. After breaking down and returning gear the course will finish with a few drinks and meal at a watering hole in Mt Cook Village.

Private Expedition Training Courses

If the course format, or the dates do not work for you, contact us about arranging a private course.

Private Expedition Courses can be arranged at any time over the summer months (October - April)for groups of 2 or more people. You can choose dates, duration, and tailor the content to your specific requirements (subject to guide availability).

Equipment and Clothing

Please let us know what gear you need to rent - including any equipment supplied free of charge.

Choosing your clothing | Seasonal Variation

Our gear lists cater for all eventualities. Sometimes you may not require everything on the equipment list. Weather and conditions when your trip starts will help determine what is needed.

Temperatures, weather, and snow conditions will vary. The program is designed to work around these changes. 

Read more about seasonality, weather, and snow conditions here.

Make a Booking

We require a deposit of NZ$1,000 and completed booking form for each person.