Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mt. Ruapehu up and over, dbBrad Te Araroa freestyle!

A very exciting 24 hours!

As I contemplate the weather, the terrain, the different legs of the Te Araroa and my ego, I'm slowly changing my rules of the Te Araroa. While I really want to hike the entire two islands, I'm just not keen on walking for 3 days on the road and then spending only 6 hours in a park like Tongariro. So I'm doing what I call
Te Araroa Freestyle!

Tongariro and Ngauruhoe courtesy of NZ tramping
So below is a quick version of my deviation from the Te Araroa trail and even from Tongariro Park 'around the mountain' track as I do a solo up and over of Mr. Ruapehu.

At the top of the ski resort above Whakapapa I get the only view of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe that I'll see on this trip. Never did see the top of the mountain-guess I'll have to watch 'Lord of the Rings' again since it was filmed there!
For 3 days I sat up at about 15oo meters waiting for the weather to break. It had to. I was determined to get a view of something after weeks in the midst of mist!
Somewhere in Pirongia park is this rock. Intense fog and rain defined my tour of the park but I borrowed this image from New Zealand Tramper.
Having just spent 3 soaking wet days in Pureora which followed a wet and anti climactic tour of Pirongia where no view was ever to be had, I was banking on a change in weather. It just had to get better!

Tongariro mountain from below. Looking at the steam from Ketetaki side.
The weather changed, from bad to worse. Gale force winds, sleet, white out conditions and lots of rain. On the second night I decided on a hut. Bored, I traveled 10k to another hut for the third night. The weather still didn't break.
dbBrad and snow on the Te Araroa trail freestyle version.
So I did the Tongariro crossing in 120kmp winds and 10meter visibility. Didn't see a darn thing. I had a hiking partner for the day and he did the kiddy crawl (hands and legs) for about 200 meters across the top in an effort not be blown off the mountain.

dbBrad up in Tongariro Park and can't see a darn thing.
Soaking wet, cold and tired after 3 days of mother nature's wrath, I headed down to the ski lodge in Whakapapa and got a room, a hot shower and a warm bed and a home cooked meal. I ate pork roast...and then threw up at 2 oclock in the morning. Joy! I did get a free breakfast out of it!

Mr Ruapehu summit and Crater Lake.
The next morning I awoke to crystal clear skies but by the time I got my camera and a cup of coffee the clouds had rolled in. I lingered in the warm halls that morning and about 11am I was in the lobby, backpack on, looking at a poster of the mountains when in walked Helen.

Hut in January at top of Ruapehu.
Helen was headed up the road, had mountain knowledge and being a guide, was current on the weather conditions. It looked like clearing was in the cards so I decided I'd head to Ohakune via the top of the mountain and down the other side.

Ruapehu hut, frozen with high winds and mist. Jan 2011, Te Araroa freestyle.
At 3pm I started hiking up the Whakapapa side of Mt. Ruapehu and arrived on top about 6:30. My luck had finally changed!!

Ruapehu summit as seen from the hut.
The clouds broke during the hike exposing views of the other mountains and the valley below. Stunning, beautiful and magical.

Ruapehu summit in January as seen from the hut.
I decided to camp out on top of the mountain and over the course of the evening the clouds filled in leaving me the only one in New Zealand with my head above the clouds. I could see several hundred kilometers in every direction and nothing but clouds, not even the other near by mountains.

Ruapehu hut above the clouds.
And that's where I slept. Right on top of the mountain. In the middle of the night the stars were amazing. The sky was clear of clouds and the temperatures were cool, very cool and the air was crystal clear.

Ruapehu sunset as seen from the hut
As it turns out, the freezing level was a bit lower than expected. The snow that was soft and a bit slushy the evening prior was hard as a rock in the morning. I ended up postponing my decent for an hour and a half and had a cup of tea while the sun softened up the snow.

Beck helicopters does all the precision air lifting for low impact construction sites like the one at the ski resort above Ohakune. Thankfully Steve the owner was on site and volunteered his son in law, the pilot, to drop me off down the mountain.

But after that is was a fast decent. glissading and rock hopping down and around the mountain towards Ohakune, or at least towards the ski resort above. Perhaps I was going a bit too fast and not paying attention to the mountain around me because all of a sudden the snow just dropped off in front of me.

dbBrad 7 days after a fall on Ruapehu. Bumped but (no pun intended) okay!

I tried to arrest my slide and broke my pole. I tried again and broke it again. Unable to get a purchase on the hard snow I slid down the mountain at 25-30kph and slammed into the rocks at the bottom. I got up slowly and found myself very sore, bleeding in a few areas and unable to move my left leg. Somehow I managed to work my way another k around the mountain to where Beck Helicopters were pouring concrete for a new ski lift and Steve Beck, owner of the company and helicopter, gave me a ride down the mountain.

Special thanks to Helen the guide and Steve the Helicopter owner and all the amazing Kiwis I've met who have helped to make this trip special.

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