“A back is the best form of descent” Climbing weekend in Tongariro NP
Platform 9, a sunny Friday afternoon, November 6th. Scotty’s Subaru FlatBatt resolutely does not want to go to Tongariro. Not a good start.
We wait for AA magic while trainloads of commuters get the jump on us. Duly transformed, the car whisks the four of us to the Mangetepopo end of the Tongariro Crossing – maybe it does like the mountains after all? Sneaking past the DOC hut after midnight, we set up our camp far away from it and the track.
We wake to a fine day, the looming north-facing bluffs of the Mangetepopo valley, and some truly awful porridge. So it’s off to climb the classic Bomb Arete. Like many other routes around here, it was first climbed by Graeme Dingle & co. in the 70s. The 3-star route description talks of fist cracks, delicate moves, slightly overhanging corners and shallow gullies. Undeterred, we rope up in pairs. I climb immediately into a corner and faff around there, while Scotty sorts out an enormous rack of some 45 cams for his rope team.
Soon we are into it. Scampering up the aręte in the sun. After the 3 pitches, the Mangetepopo valley floor is a long way below and it seems like we are as high as South Crater. Time to walk down for some lunch.
The afternoon we spend scrappling up 40m cracks and flutes on the Lower Tuwharetoa bluff. Mostly vegetation with the occasional rock the way I remember it. Quite stressful really. Good on Sean for following me up! Mark may have been heard talking to Scotty about beaming up. By the time we reached the top a cool sou’easter was blowing so we rapped off, broke camp and retired to the Powderhorn for burgers.
Sunday morning, crack of dawn, more shocking porridge. However, today’s objective is a Girdlestone-Tahurangi traverse.
Last (first) time Scotty and I did Girdlestone it turned into a 13 hour expedition. This time, we are organised-as. Hitting the slopes of the Turoa skifield early enough, Mark sets a searing pace and we are on the Skyline ridge at 9am. Sean and I amble across the glacier bowl and start up Girdlestone’s south face (grade 2) while Scotty and Mark scurry directly up the Voie Normale (1+). A nice bit of solo climbing on firm snow in the shadows, a wee icy step to turn, no ropes needed. Why did we make it so hard last time? By 11 the four of us are sharing the tiny summit of Girdlestone. With a mouse!
Even in the hot sun we crampon along the classic ridgeline to Tahurangi, dropping west of the big gendarme. Feeling a bit stuffed, we rope up for the other major outcrop which I’ll call High Noon Ice Chute. This presents a cool bit of ice climbing and an unexpected opportunity to use a shiny ice screw for protection.
A quick snack and final ridge plod has us on Tahurangi (2797m) at 1:30 just when cloud closes in from the west. We don’t hang around. Getting off the summit ridge took about 10 minutes of down-climbing in visibility that seemed about 2 metres. When vision was restored, it was glorious bum-slides all the way to the High Noon express chair! As we slid on our backs, skiers and boarders plugged away from the hordes into the clouds, hopeful of their last runs, perhaps of the season.
By 3:30pm we are roosting at the Ohakune Fat Pigeon. Such an outrageous fast exit from the mountain doesn’t seem right. So we punish ourselves with flat whites, fresh water, newspaper reading and general gazing up at the sky. A classic weekend of Tongariro climbing!
- Party members
- Scott Miller (leader), Dave Grainger (scribe), Mark Hearfield, Sean Buchanan.