Another travel related post before more of these start making their way into this site. This one was just a regulation hike up the mountains with a guide, albeit in winter and in complete alpine conditions..There was nothing bizarre, overly adventurous or anything crazy about this one, but it was still worth a write up as it turned out to be one of the most exciting hikes I’ve done in this beautiful country of Aotearoa.
Mt. Ruapehu is NZ north island’s tallest peak at about 2797m or 9100ft above sea level…
In my entire time in New Zealand so far, I’ve completed the Tongariro Crossing 5 times. And for those who know, Tongariro Crossing is one of the top 100 one-day walks in the world. Every time I completed the crossing, the very next thing that would run on the mind would be to do the crossing that very winter or hike up Mt. Taranaki in New Plymouth. The latter is something I’ve not done till date. It’s one of those things that crosses the mind but never ends up being chased. Something of a feeling very similar to wanting to do a half marathon, the minute you complete a 10km run !! Every single time !! And from nowhere life takes over, until the next year when you sign up for another 10km run again. This cycle kind of plays itself in a repeat mode isn’t it? I bet this has happened to a number of you reading this as well.
Back to Mt.Taranaki, yes it’s something still pending and am not sure I’d do it anytime soon before I leave this country. May be I’ll come back for it someday. And at times after the Tongariro Crossing, I’ve even gotten carried away and thought about hitting up the base camp that very summer. But after 5 times of doing this it appeared that coming back to Tongariro during the winter came much easily & sooner than any of the other promises made to self. And as luck would have it, crossing the Tongariro in alpine conditions actually came as a bonus when we were actually signed up for a guided alpine hike to hit the Mt. Ruapehu Summit.
Alright now coming to the real deal, this story dates back to July 2017, I’d signed up for a guided alpine hike to go up the summit of Mt. Ruapehu, along with a couple of friends. We arrived on a Friday evening to the National Park and checked into our accommodation. After grabbing a quick bite we hit the sack fairly early in anticipation of some high octane excitement the next morning. However as the day dawned and when we turned up to the hiking centre, after a lot of discussion the hike up the summit was called off for that day due to high winds and low lying clouds. Though the weather appeared alright from the base, apparently it was risky going up. We were told to not go up Mt. Ngaurahoe either as it was deemed unsafe. Instead the guide postponed our hike to Sunday morning with an assurance that we’ll go up the summit for sure. Now what do we do given we had an entire day free at our disposal? We made our way to the base of Whakapapa and thought we could go look at a waterfall which was only a couple of hours away from the car park. About 30 mins into the walk, we neither felt the wind nor watched any dark clouds hover over us. So what do we do? We quickly get back into the car and drove to the starting point of the Tongariro crossing track. We thought we’d go up a little; if it got any riskier we’ll make our way back without much fuss. And thus we set off !!
When we arrived at the Mangatepopo car park, it must have been around 10am or so. We couldn’t have picked a better day to head up. Initially we thought that we shouldn’t tire ourselves too much as we had a big day the next day. We decided to go at the most until the Devil’s staircase and turn around. That would be a good 2-3hr walk back and should have given us enough warm up for the next day. And so when we did reach Devil’s staircase, it turned out to be such an amazing day with little to no winds at all. The sun was bright and shining, the skies were blue and not a soul in sight. Usually on any given day there are at least 500 – 600 people, if not more, doing the Tongariro walk but that day there turned out to be none. Everyone probably were heeding to the warnings of the experts and stayed off the track, unlike us. We continued past the Devil’s staircase and kept going until the South Crater. The flat part after the Devil’s staircase was just stunning. It was covered with snow, nice and calm and not a single foot print. We weren’t equipped with any crampons and it wasn’t needed either. It wasn’t even cold and we could have walked in our shorts and jandals if we had to. After going past the flat south crater, we thought of going until the Red Crater but it was almost past noon at the time and given there was a slightly riskier hike to go up to Red Crater we turned around. We were very tempted to detour and go up Mt. Ngauruhoe Summit but without the right equipment we listened to our inner selves and started descending back to the car park via Soda Springs. By 3pm or so we were back in the car and couldn’t be more excited about what had just happened. The weather gods completely were on our side and let us have all the excitement of being up there that day. Some photos at the bottom of the post.
Now to the last paragraph (or may be one more) and to the actual story of conquering the Mt. Ruapehu summit. That Sunday turned out to be best day for hiking up the mountain, all season. However the catch was that our guide who was supposed to take us up along a certain path hadn’t gone up Mt. Ruapehu for almost 5 years. He always had been guiding people up Ngauruhoe all those years. This meant he wasn’t 100% sure of the route we were going to take. We still trusted him and so did another Russian couple who all were now a part of our little big group. We drove up to the base of Whakapapa ski field, wore our backpacks & crampons on and instead of going up the chairlift (which was an option) we decided to manoeuvre our way up through the ski tracks, tackling all the oncoming skiers and snowboarders. There were some parts of the track that made us question our decision of going up the summit. Particularly one part where we were on solid ice, on a 40 degree angle and we were on all fours with a backpack !! One slip and we’d be rolling down about 60 feet, nothing serious. Probably not a life and death situation but definitely could break a bone or two. Along the way we did stop for a quick lunch break on one of the ridges. The views were breath taking to say the least. To be on a part of the mountain in alpine conditions and with not more than a handful of people and with untouched snow, was an out of this world experience. And about 4hrs after we started the hike, we made it all the way to the top of the summit…Only to find 2 other guys who were there already with their snowboards, ready to do some cross country snowboarding !! How amazing !! We managed to spend a good amount of time at the top and clicked loads & loads of pictures. Surprisingly there was uninterrupted cellphone network if any phone calls were to be made and as luck would have it, I wasn’t able to find anyone to talk to or share my excitement. The feeling was so exhilarating that I wanted to do a video call with whomever I could reach out and eventually got hold of my brother in India who was 20000kms away to tell him that I was atop the snow capped mountain, the summit of the tallest mountain in New Zealand’s North Island.. Not too high, just about 9000ft above sea level !!!
After a good half hour or so at the top, we started making our descent. Like most activities, getting down was a breeze !! We stopped by several times to look at the summit at one end, Mt. Ngauruhoe at another and Mt. Taranaki at a distance, given such amazing weather. Guess what happened then?? An hour or so into our way of making it down, surprisingly we were lost. Our guide didn’t realise he had taken all of us down the wrong path and when we reached the end of it, it was actually the edge of a high rise cliff !! We had to make our way back up for about 30 minutes and rejoin the right path. Phew !! That was a mini mission in itself. Now by this time we were all so tired that all we wanted to do was to get to the top most chair lift so it could take us down and ease our legs. But ?? The last chair lift was about 20mins away from closing down for the day and we were nearly 40mins away. Knowing we couldn’t afford to miss it and that if we did it would add another hour to our descent, we pulled ourselves and made our way as fast we possibly could. The weather was so awesome that the snow had softened down so much that we could sink in at least till our knees with each step. We didn’t give up though. Kept pushing ourselves and the guide made it sooner than the rest of us to the chairlifts. He made sure they held it off for us and thankfully they did. Within 10mins we all made it and parked our bums on the chair, to be taken down !! Now that feeling was more awesome than being atop the summit.
And when we made our way down, we drove back to the Bach. Relaxed in the jacuzzi for a good couple of hours and then it was time to hit the pub for some good old medium rare steak and pint of lager !! Couldn’t have finished it off any better. What a day it had turned out to be !! Something that we’d take to our graves no doubt.
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