Mt Ruapehu Ski-Tour
This trip was originally going to be an epic weekend traverse of all three volcanoes in the central plateau: starting at Ketetahi, summiting Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu and ending up at Turoa carpark - on skis. Trip leader Rob Hawes decided to call it off after reading the foul weather report for Sunday as well as being told by ski patrol that there was virtually no snow left on Tongariro, and that only thin tongues of snow remained in the gullies of Ngauruhoe. So we reverted to Plan B - day tours from Tararua Lodge.
The weather on Saturday was brilliant, with blue skies and no wind. Dave Grainger shot down Tennent’s Gully to pick up his touring rentals and met me down there after I trailed a groomer down the Rockgarden. We met Rob, Oliver Seiler and Gary Koornneef at Hut Flats to begin the tour. The first aim was to get to the crater by skinning up to the top of the Far West T-Bar and heading up the Whakapapa Glacier. While the others expended valuable energy skinning up the ski field, I whizzed past them effortlessly on the chair and T-bars, maximizing the use of my season pass, and then sneaking in a few downhill warm-up runs. Who knew touring could be so easy! At the top of the far West T-Bar I joined the others to skin up the Whakapapa Glacier to the Crater Lake.
It seemed that half the skiers and snowboarders on the mountain had decided to make a late-morning pilgrimage to the Crater Lake, partly to avoid the rapidly softening snow of the lower slopes, and partly to get away from the sorts of crowds that were now gathering at the top of the mountain. How ironic! In search of solitude, we traversed around Paretetaitonga and dropped off into the broad expanses of the Mangaturuturu glacier. While I hadn’t quite earned my turns, the others had, and I knew that the climb back up would be gruelling, so I savoured every second of the descent down this pristine aspect of the mountain. The snow had softened nicely and the skiing was almost effortless. However much we would have liked to continue the downhill run, we forced ourselves to stop, re-fitted our skins and headed back to the crater, which took about one-and-a-half hours. Back at the crater we devoured some well earned lunch and discussed where we would venture next.
“Down the Whangaehu!” Rob declared, so we traversed around Dome and Dave, Rob and I did just that, while Gary and Oliver (whose ultra thin, telemark-like skis were giving him grief on Mt Ruapehu's notoriously variable snow/ice) decided to head directly across the plateau to Te Heuheu Ridge. The Whangaehu glacier was a decent run: the snow was a bit softer than on the Mangaturuturu, and the view this time was of the Desert Road and the Kaimanawa Ranges. All too soon we were skinning back up, and the rhythmic sound of skis sliding against the snow was punctuated by my heavy panting - keeping up with Rob was a mission! At the top of the glacier we followed Gary and Oliver’s tracks and crossed the plateau to join them at Te Heuheu Ridge.
We had a quick snack before Rob headed out to determine the best way to ski down to the snow caves which some TTC AIC students and instructors had dug, down from the ridge leading up from the Pinnacles. The descent was reasonably straightforward (apart from a dodgy traverse above some bluffs that Rob keenly attempted and I perhaps foolishly followed), and we reached the two snow caves with enough time left in the day to give them a thorough inspection - and they looked great! The ski field had turned to slush by the time we returned to the lodge, but at least we had it all to ourselves. Back at the lodge I realised I had left my ice axe on the ridge above the snow caves - a true senior moment, which, at 19, I can only put down to the fact that I was associating with seniors at the time.
The weather on Sunday was, as the forecast had anticipated, unpleasant, but Rob and I decided to head out early anyway in the hope that we could get a few hours’ touring in before the weather truly turned to custard. We got to the top of the Knoll Ridge T-Bar by about 9.00am, but it was too windy and the visibility was too poor to continue to the plateau. Instead, we traversed to the snow cave site to check that my ice axe had been retrieved, and it had. On the way back down we passed some members of the AIC crew who told us about their night in the snow.
It was a great weekend at the lodge for our group ski-touring and the AIC instructors and students snow caving. Maybe next year we will get in that three-peaks traverse.
You can check out video of the ski-tour on the TTC Facebook Page, which Dave edited and posted.