Another chance to sharpen up the ice axes and the crampons on one of Debbie’s highly organised snow days on Robert Ridge, Nelson Lakes National Park. I had already missed out on another ‘walk in the snow’ with the same destination, so this time I wasn’t going to say no.

The week before Debbie and friends went up the mountain to explore the likelihood of snow having vanished altogether after all the rain we had in the Top of the South and yes, patches of snow were still holding hands.

The forecast wasn’t great. Blustery gale force SW winds were likely to hammer Robert Ridge and as we know, boy, it can be so windy there. Snow flurries down to 1000m with occasional sunshine. Minus 5 degrees with a windchill factor of another 2. I was expecting a cancellation email from our leader, but no, it was all happening. I trust Debbie’s forecast interpretation, whatever models she uses.

Winter woollies, over trousers, jacket, 2x hats and gloves, a potential layer build-up of 5 in total, hot drink, chocolate and of course lunch all packed the night before. Had to drop the dog off at a friend’s place on the way so not much time to do any revised packing in the morning.

There they all were, all twelve of them, listening to instructions at the Badminton Courts car park at 7.20 am. Rather fresh-looking bunch of people dare I say it. Impressive! Tom was still eating his breakfast, no doubt ripped out of his bed by his Mum Leah at the last minute.  Highly organised as usual, I shared the back seat with Tom, a box of freshly made muffins, apples, crisps and whatever foods to keep a young lad happy.

Arriving at Mr Robert car park, fitting crampons with the help of Brian and Debbie, ready for the experience of walking on icy snow. You certainly don’t want ill-fitting crampons and having to adjust these in freezing and blustery conditions on the top of the Ridge.

Leaving the car park, twelve of us, consisting of younger and slightly older, about six different nationalities walking the zig zags, keen as mustard to get to the top. And yes, the forecast was correct. As soon as we left the beach forest, any conversation became challenging as the wind hits you in the face while you ponder over a last-minute clothing adjustments, made possible in the wonderful and convenient shelter a bit further along the track. Over trousers, extra hats, gloves and more layers were added to hit Robert Ridge in the full force of the wind. Blustery gale force winds indeed. At one stage some of us had to hold on to a convenient post. I think a weight belt should have been added to our gear list! Grabbed onto Will for support. Brian had the right idea and set the example of leaving the actual track and staying away from the edge of the ridge. That SW wind surely gains momentum blowing across the valley floor up onto that ridge!

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We had arranged to meet in the old Mt Robert ski field lodge. Debbie is a member and holds a key to give us a chance to have our lunch inside the lodge, or is it a hut? I was really surprised to see a big kitchen, very large tables, a cosy corner, many bunks in another room, ‘flush’ toilets using a bucket of water and even rooms to have a shower using either gas or your solar shower. In summer of course!

Looking around the hut, mementos from the past are very visible. A ‘members board’ on the wall name the founder of the Nelson Ski Club, Eric Chittenden in 1944 and members who were winners and achievers of races and cups, probably consisting of a few generations. An old, out of tune piano with keys missing, a bass guitar made of a wooden box all indicate an era of family fun on a ski field that once had up to 700 members and five ski tows. Remember that to get there, you had to walk for 1 1/2 hours, lugging up all the food yourself. A ski week with four children anyone?

The ski field closed in 2003 because of lack of snow and the change of the school year from a 3 to a 4 term school year. Lifestyle and traditions long remembered by certain members who still own the lodges.

Check the skiing at Mt Robert. “What is a Whistling Willie?”

A talk by Brian Renwick on mountain safety was very informative and interesting. Do wear sunnies in the snow!!

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Everybody had fun walking around in crampons and using their ice axes appropriately in the snow. Cutting steps, points of contact of feet and ice axe, planting your feet and self-arrest. It’s actually quite amazing how easy it is to walk on hard snow once you get the hang of it all.

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In the meantime, the wind had dropped a few notches and the return trip was enjoyable. What a wonderful day with equally wonderful people:

Sarah, Christina, Esther, Leah and Tom, Alex, Christina, Will, Maral, Maaike and Annette (scribe)

Thank you to Debbie (leader), Brian (trainer) for a great day in the mountains.