Forming rock-solid relationships

Camping in a tent on the frigid slopes of Kosciuzsko National Park was a foreign venture for Private Isobel Burgoyne, whose only previous alpine experience is snowboarding.

CAPTION: Army Alpine Association members survey their route before a climb during the Army Alpine Association annual skill development carnival Rock&Ice23 at Kosciusko National Park, NSW. Story and photos by Corporal Michael Rogers.

“You ski out of the lifts right into a café, and it’s all very comfortable” she said of her snowboarding adventures. This latest experience was less comfortable, but only “at times”.

The Army Alpine Association (AAA) annual skills development carnival, Rock&Ice23, was held from August 26 to September 10 and attended by more than 50 personnel from all services.

Private Burgoyne said the first week, held near Blue Lake, and focused on alpine climbing and back-country skiing was interesting and beneficial.

“I learned a lot, not only from the leaders, but from my fellow group members because they were quite experienced”.

CAPTIONAn Army Alpine Association member climbs an ice wall at Kosciusko National Park, NSW on August 29.

Participants spent four nights in the back country, where they skied, built snow shelters, undertook avalanche awareness training, and practised crampon and ice axe techniques, alpine climbing and navigation in low visibility.

The second week was spent at Mt Arapiles, near Horsham developing rock-climbing skills. One group practised on-anchor/top-rope climbing while others practised traditional gear placements and lead climbing.

CAPTIONNavy officer Lieutenant Michael Conway conducts bouldering, with Lieutenant Mitchell Robertson spotting at Mt Arapiles, Victoria on September 6.

With nearly 12 years’ climbing experience before joining the Army in 2020 as a medic, Private Burgoyne mentored new members during the carnival.

She said helping a fellow climber complete their first traditional lead climb was a stand-out memory.

“It’s been about two years since I’ve really climbed properly, and I feel like I’ve found my community again, but it’s just within Defence, you know, a community within a community,” Private Burgoyne said.

CAPTIONRAAF officer Flight Lieutenant Nalana Merannage at Mt Arapiles, Victoria on September 6

Rock&Ice Officer in Charge Major Lyle Dahms said while skill development is the focus, building camaraderie is just as important.

“It’s an opportunity for a large number of the climbing community to come together, get to know each other and share experiences in arduous conditions to build that sense of connection with each other, and share their love of climbing.”

Major Dahms said the activities exposed participants to physically and mentally demanding situations.

“People are really excited about the opportunity to come together, meet other people, and spend time in the back country with other peers across the ADF. There’s a lot of people already looking forward to Rock&Ice24,” he said.

The AAA was established in 1975 and has conducted expeditions all around the world, including climbing Mt Everest.


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