Ben Dare, co-founder of the New Zealand Alpine Team
This year a keen group of climbers will fly from New Zealand to Peru to enjoy six weeks of high-altitude heaven. For some, it will be their first large-scale climbing expedition overseas and for the New Zealand Alpine Team (NZAT), it completes the cycle of turning trainees into fully-fledged alpine climbers.
Three years ago, Daniel Joll and Ben Dare chose the first crop of young climbing enthusiasts to become members of NZAT. They would be trained by a group of senior alpine climbers volunteering as mentors. Over the years, the students would learn to ascend different terrain and refine their skills.
No-one is better qualified than Ben to take on a mentor role, having been nominated for the prestigious Piolet d’Or in 2014 for his first ascent of Mt Suter, 2094m, in the Darrans in winter with Stephen Skelton. Ben says the scheme builds depth in the pool of alpine climbers in New Zealand. “We’ve gone from a group that we train to a group of people we’ll call and say, ‘the weather’s looking good – wanna come out and climb today?’”
The Queenstown-based climber says it raises the profile of high level climbing and allows climbers to learn from each other, far more than if just a handful of people were doing it.
Sponsorship enables members of NZAT to afford expensive climbing gear and expeditions. “The young climbers are in their early 20s – most of them are students or have only been working a short time – and we need to be realistic about that,” explains Ben.
Over time, Ben hopes when the current crop of mentors step down, those who have been trained will step into that role, but this transition will take time. “It’s likely a climber will have a three-year period being trained, a second three-year period helping out, and they’ll potentially step into a mentoring position in the third or, more likely, fourth period; it’s more like a 10-year plan.”
Last November, the group announced it had chosen six climbers to join the team for the second cycle after a rigorous trial, purposefully putting the youngsters under high levels of stress. Ben says the interest this time round was serious: “You could see the new crop had been training hard over the past six months specifically for that trial.
“We’re rapt with how the first rotation has gone, and this new group is lifting the bar to another level. I think the future’s really bright and I’m thoroughly looking forward to it.”