Mountain Experience Course
The Mountain Experience Course (MEC) is Alpine Guides' introductory level mountaineering course. A perfect starting point for people developing an interest in the high mountains and in traveling and camping above the snow line. The MEC is for people with a background in hiking/tramping/bushwalking. No prior knowledge of rope systems or climbing is required. All the “technical” climbing equipment is supplied, and the cost of the course is kept down by not relying on aircraft access. Apart from the great outdoor learning experience, we aim to climb at least one peak, or cross an alpine pass - or both.
One of the strengths of the MEC is the extremely flexible structure. The MEC uses Mount Cook Village area and numerous exciting locations in the surrounding mountains. Every course will be slightly different as we choose the mountain venue depending on the weather and snow conditions at the time.
What You Will Learn
The safe enjoyment of the mountain environment depends upon good judgment, technique, and equipment. Our professional IFMGA/NZMGA guides will help your develop skills, through the practice of climbing on snow, ice, and rock, and spending time in the high alpine environment.
Course topics include:
Equipment, what to bring and how to use it
Alpine camping/bivvying/snow shelters (if conditions allow)
Snow skills: including using crampons, ice axe and self arrest
Basic first aid
Rope and rock climbing techniques
Climbing on alpine snow, ice and rock
Awareness of terrain/route finding
Depending on the course venue some glacier travel may be involved - along with relevant instruction.
The most important prerequisite is a high level of aerobic fitness. The MEC is not about classroom lectures but getting "out there" and gaining knowledge of the alpine environment by "doing it".
With all travel being on foot, the ability to carry a moderately-sized backpack (for several hours) is required. A background in bushwalking/trekking is ideal. Previous alpine climbing, or rock climbing experience, is not required.
You must be able to continuously carry a pack of up to 15kg for 4-5 hours
You must be comfortable on uneven terrain
By the end of course you should:
Be able to camp above snow line/construct a bivvy
Be confident on uneven/loose alpine terrain
Be confident traveling/climbing on snow and ice
Have basic rock climbing/rope skills
Be able to cross alpine passes/climb moderate peaks with confidence
Be ready for a more advanced climbing course, like our Alpine Skills Course (ASC)
Season: Spring and Early Summer
The MEC runs through October to December. At this time of year snow is still easily accessible on foot. Later in summer, conditions may be dryer. Earlier than October there may be too much snow in the mountains for easy and safe travel on foot.
If booking from late December, please see the Core Mountain Skills (CMS) course, our 5-day introduction to summer mountaineering.
Mountain Expereince Course Details
+ Aicraft Use
When conditions allow, and we have 2 or more participants, helicopter access may be used to access more remote or exceptional venues.
These locations are all possible to walk out from inside the course dates. If a flight out is requested this will be an additional chage. You guide will fully discuss the potential venues and implications of walking/flying into the mountains at the start of the course.
+ Course Itinerary
Dynamic mountain weather makes fixed itineraries impractical. The MEC is designed to work around changeable weather and snow conditions.
The MEC is split into two main parts:
1. Village Section
- Introduction to the area and plans for the week
- Equipment - what to use, how to pack for the mountains
- Climbing Mt Sebastopol: moving on loose terrain, scree slopes, ridge travel
- A full day of rock climbing instruction, including rope handling skills, abseiling, learning basic knots and hitches.
We normally (but not always) spend the first night in Mt Cook Village
2. Alpine Section
The MEC’s alpine venues include Mueller Hut, Mount Barth, Ball Pass, Sefton Bivouac, Twin Streams, Whale stream and Barron Saddle. amongst others. These areas provide a range of alpine terrain and opportunities to train and climb peaks on snow, ice, and rock.
Most locations are either within walking distance, or can be walked into after a short drive from Mount Cook Village.
Mueller Hut area - allows access to the Annette Plateau, with peaks like Annette (2,235 metres) and Mount Sealy (2,557 metres) close by.
Ball Pass - Cross the classic alpine route from Tasman to Hooker Valley. Climb Mount Rosa (2,161 metres), or Mount Turner Peak (2,338 metres).
Barron Saddle - A remote mountain venue at the hea dof the Mueller Glacier
Twin Streams in the Ben Ohau range is renowned for great alpine rock and allows access on to peaks like Mount Dark (2,496 metres).
Whale Stream, also in the Ben Ohaus offers a great mix of hiking, rock climbing, scrambling and long ridges.
Mount Barth (2,456 metres). A glaciated peak in the Ahuriri Valley, just over one hour south from Mount Cook. This offers a great location for snowcraft, bivvying and ridge travel.
During the course we will include map reading and navigation topics, study mountain weather and look at basic snow safety and avalanche awareness. Each day’s activities can have you out and about for at least 8 hours.
On any nights not based at a hut you will be creating a camp site. This can be as few as one, or up to 3 nights. This may be a tent, or a bivouac.
For bivvying in the mountains you will require:
- A good quality sleeping pad (supplied - or bring your own)
- A sleeping bag, and sometimes (but not always) a bivvy bag
Modern 3-season sleeping bags with breathable water-resistant shells are ideal for alpine camping in fine weather. They can eliminate with the need for a further layer (a bivvy bag).
We supply tenats and bivouac bags free if required.
Your guide will provide cooking stoves and fuel Each person will be expected to carry a share of food and cooking equipment, and to assist with preparing meals. We provide eating utensils.
+ Maximum and Minimum Bookings
Maximum Bookings: All courses have a maximum of 8 participants. The maximum guide to client ratio is 1 to 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 4 full days
- 2 people only: We shorten the course to 5 full days
We believe 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.
If your course is shortened we may move the start time of your course, but within the scheduled course dates. If your course is shortened we will discuss this with you well in advance of the start date.
+ Why take a course at Aoraki Mount Cook?
Because Alpine Guides is based in Mount Cook National Park, you will not be driven for hours to and from your starting point. We are right amongst the action.
The course price includes aircraft access and exit flights to maximise your time in the mountains.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park offers:
- Some of NZ's highest peaks (some over 3,000 metres) from NZ Alpine Grade 1 through 3 and beyond.
- Snow and ice, mixed, and alpine rock peaks to test your mettle.
- Ice climbing on the glacial seracs in summer.
- More settled weather than the neighbouring West Coast
+ Snow Cover Variation
Because we usually walk in and out of our training venues, MECs use locations over a range of altitudes (750 to 2,100 metres). At these elevations there is a mix of permanent and seasonal snow.
The amount of snow cover and depth you encounter will vary with the course venue, the time of year, and because of major prevalent weather patterns (like La Nina/El Nino).
"Early Season" October to mid-December
- Expect snow underfoot from approx. 1,600 metres
- There will be less exposed rock
- Less distance to travel to reach snow instruction venues
- Less exposed hard ice
+ Private Courses
Private Mountain Experience Courses can be arranged at any time from October, through December, for one or more people. A private course allows you to choose the dates and duration, and tailor the content to your specific requirements.
+Footwear for the MEC
The MEC requires fully-shanked alpine boots. If you do not own appropriate boots we have these available to rent.
We supply a range of crampons, which fit practically all boots. Rock shoes will be provided if required, but bring your own if you own a pair.
+ Equipment and Clothing
Please let us know what gear you need to rent - including any equipment supplied free of charge.
Our gear lists cater for all eventualities. Sometimes you may not require everything on the equipment list your guide will help you sort though your kit at the start of your trip. Weather and mountain conditions when your trip starts will help determine what is needed.
Temperatures, weather, and snow conditions will vary. The gear list is designed to work around these possibilities.