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OUDC Club Trip

Lake Alta Ice Dive
Remarkables Ski Field, Queenstown

Check out some of the photos here

The trip to Lake Alta this year was one to remember. There were ten OUDC club members that went up to try their hand at ice diving, making their way to Queenstown by planes, trains and automobiles (actually just planes and automobiles but that didn't have quite the same ring to it...). Melita, Caleb, Connor, Luke, Tony and Greg made a late night dash to Q'town late on Friday, making it to the Kawerau Falls camping ground by around 10:30. The prerequisite bit of TV before bed was watched - the best on offer was an annoying pair of tryhard music hosts from Auckland (including one ex-Dunedin-kids-show presenter who shall remain nameless). The only upside to resisting the urge to hitting the off button was a trio of guitar-playing rock chicks calling themselves Growler. Why someone would name their band after their pet dog is beyond me, but eventually even they couldn't keep me awake and we called it a night.

The rain thundered on the roof all night, making curling up in a warm sleeping bag just about the best thing I could have imagined. All too soon though, six thirty was upon us and Melita set to making a racket in the kitchen that could have woken the dead. I stumbled out in a foul temper, not used to having my sleep so rudely interrupted. But the dishes had been done and the offer of a Milo averted what could have been a nasty scene. The rest of the crew got up and running in time to catch a few Saturday morning cartoons - I ask you, where would you be without Micky Mouse and 101 Dalmations for your morning laughs? Breakfast was a balanced meal of white bread, bacon, eggs and Sizzlers. Complete with Heinz tomato sauce that some of us had skillfully smuggled out of Alexandra KFC the night before. Good thinking Caleb. And with excitement levels rising and stomachs full of our grease intake for a week, we headed for the skifield.

At the base of the mountain, the snow had started falling and we were told we needed chains. Once these were fitted, we set off for the top, with Luke and Tony leading the charge in the scarlet cruiser. We followed in Caleb's Vitara, with me for one feeling thankful we had four wheel drive as the snowfall started to get heavier. Luke's impersonation of Possum Bourne meant he soon caught up with the lunchbox on wheels we had seen leaving the chain-fitting area some 20 minutes before us. We were all held up to snails pace as they crawled up the skiroad and refused to let anyone past. Finally, the inevitable happened. Round an icy corner, the lunchbox threw a chain and they stopped dead in the middle of the road. Luke went for the inside line but the ice was well formed already and he ran out of steam. At this stage the bus coming down the ski road hit the brakes to avoid the lunchbox and slipped into the gutter, coming to rest after leaving some paint behind on the roadside cutting. Caleb piloted the Vitara around the stuck vehicles and we all piled out to start pushing. We got Luke out of the way and stopped to fix one of his chains. Which was busted. It was undeniably broken. Just for the record. At this stage Russ from Divewerks in Christchurch came on through, got past the bus but faltered at the next ice patch and also got stuck up against the wall in the gutter. We started pushing, rocking, pushing some more when 'Look out!', people dived for cover and some clown in a CRV coming down the road decided he was going a bit fast and thought he better stop. So he hit the brakes and ploughed into the side of the Divewerks truck. Angry people got angrier and I thought Russ was going to get a can of whoop-ass opened all over him by the angry little man who through his own stupidity had just dinged his brand new CRV.

The best thing about the whole debacle was that one of the guys from the Cromwell Dive club caught it all on video. Quick thinking there pal. Gotta get a copy of that tape.

It was around this time that 'the Swedish chick' appeared on the scene. No one knows where she came from and to be quite honest, none of the lads really cared. Grateful was the adjective here, as she swanned around for a few minutes, then disappeared in one of the cars heading up the mountain. Connor and Tony very nearly got their tongues stuck on the icy road.

We eventually got moving again and regrouped at the skifield workshop where the snow groomers were picking up our gear and ferrying it all up to the lake. We met up with Bob and Michelle from Dive HQ, along with the rest of our OUDC team including Brian who had flown up with two others Friday night, and Brad who had driven the Bottom Bus over from Dunedin. But about those groomers. As far as boys toys go, those are things are right up there. Several hundred horsepower and a skifield for a playground. In a word - damn. We loaded some of the gear, then most of us headed for the chairlift. At the top of the first tandem chair we waited for our ride to come and pick us up. Someone threw a bit of snow at someone else, they returned it, then in keeping with human nature, war began. The snowcat came back for us and we piled on. While Tony and Luke waited for the next run. Didn't work that out till later - they skived off into the lift control shed and hung out with one of the lifties. Who had some passing resemblance to 'the Swedish Chick', who by now, only an hour later had taken on temporary legend status.

The snowcat ride was arguably the highlight of the trip - yeah the diving was cool but just getting up to the lake was something else. How much fun are those machines... At the lake edge, the gear was unloaded and we had to ferry it out to the middle on foot. They used to drive the groomers right out to the hole in the ice but they stopped that after one broke through the ice one year and the driver soiled his seat. Cleaning the cab was a bitch so the snowcats aren't allowed on the ice anymore (or something like that).

We set up a tent next to the hole in the ice for getting changed in and to keep out of the snow and wind. The snow was from half to a metre deep over the ice, which was another six to eight hundred millimetres thick. The hole had frozen over a little overnight but we soon broke the layer and cleared most of the floating ice away. While we were waiting for the rest of the gear to arrive, some of us got a little bit silly and starting throwing the idea around of doing a naked swim. "Hey, how cold could it be?" "We're getting in there anyway." "I've heard water that cold numbs you so you don't even feel it." "I'd do it if the price was right." These were some of the words of wisdom being handed out around the edge of the hole. Brad got brave and said he'd do it for $500. Then Caleb reckoned he'd do it for $200. A bit more bravado and bull shit, then Brian Grant wandered up, heard what was going on and make the big call; "Bugger it, I'll do it". The hat was passed around with Russ making sure everyone had paid - he wasn't going into that water naked but if some other silly bastard was, well, the least we could do is make it worth his while. A minute later there was a bit of commotion at the tent and Brian rumbles out the door in a his BCD. Nice look. No stopping to think about it, he jumped straight in, not caring to avoid the ice still floating in the water. He wasn't in there for long and he dragged himself out and headed for the tent again, his bare ass matching the snow quite nicely. There will be one or two photos of that particular act of madness gracing photo collections all over the south island. Top effort Brian.

After all this excitement, the dive was next. There were two buddy pairs in the water at a time and with regs getting iced up and people having trouble with buoyancy, it took quite a long time to get everyone through.

Thank God for my drysuit is all I can say. There were some interesting characters up there. One of the older guys there climbed out after his dive and immediately burrowed into his pack for the whiskey and lit a foul smelling cheroot. He spent the rest of the day looking after one of the safety lines, puffing on his cigar like Captain Haddock ('blistering blue barnacles Tintin!'). Luke won the Hard Man award for diving in his 5mm wetsuit ('It wasn't even cold. Just the finger with the hole in the glove...'). Well done Luke, but what were you thinking?!

Describing the dive is tough - it's a pretty awesome thing, and while the vis is incredible, it is very dim in there since the only light is coming in through the hole. Caleb and Connor had a bit of trouble with buoyancy control and went straight to the bottom ('mud, mud and more mud') while most people stayed shallow and checked out the air bubble patterns under the ice and tried walking upside down. It's harder than one might think... Check out the photos here.

The snowcat ride back down was another highlight - I want a drive! The rest of us were ferried down individually on snowmobiles. Awesome! There was a huge barbeque down at the groomer workshop and we made the most of the great spread the Cromwell club put on for us. Top marks to the organisers for a truly memorable trip.

We set Melita onto the chain hire people and she came back having got our chain hire for free. How does she do that? Then the trip home, on a high, discussing the rumours about April and praying the photos from the dive come out. I'm going back next year ... anyone else keen?