Sunday, January 10, 2010

Didn't manage to knock the bastard off

Our attempt at climbing Mt Ngaruahoe wasn't as successful as we'd hoped. Although we are still alive, and that must count for something!

We just about postponed the entire trip as wind and rain were buffeting Wellington, and we figured it wouldn't be much better further up the country. Nevertheless, we hit the road straight after work, agreeing that if it didn't fine up by the morning we could explore Taupo instead.

It was dark and still pouring when we arrived in National Park after 10pm. The tent needed to be pitched (camping on the lawn was half the price of a dorm bed - and I'm on a budget). I scratched my forehead and decided that tent-pitching would be greatly helped if I was under the influence of a large glass of red or two. Hence, a quick trip across the lawn to the pub.

The rain had stopped by the next morning and the view of the mountains from the breakfast table was stunning. Inspired by this, and a weather report on the cell phone that read "showers easing and becoming fine by mid morning, gale force winds", or something to that effect, we jumped in the car for the 20 minute drive to the trail head. Obviously we skipped over the gale force winds part. Fine weather = fantastic! And what's a little bit of wind to a Wellingtonian.

There's meant to be a mountain there!

By the time we started the tramp, the cloud was closing in on the mountains. By the time we reached the top of the devil's staircase (read: an excrutiatingly painful accent up what must be at least a zillion stairs), the cloud were speeding up one side of the mountain and swirling around tornado-like into the crater below. We could barely walk straight - mostly due to the wind, but not helped by very wobbly jelly legs. This is the point at which you turn off from the Tongariro Crossing track and head up towards the Mt Ngaruahoe summit (after having walked about 2.5 hours already) - there is no set path, just a few poles marking the way for the first 10 minutes and then after that it's climb up any which way, preferably without getting yourself killed. We started along this path before deciding it just wasn't worth continuing. The wind was stronger than anything I'd felt before, the mountain was completely obscured by fog and we didn't want to be front page news by coming to a nasty end on the slopes of Mt Doom.

Instead we thought we'd scale Tongariro and then tackle Mt Ngaruahoe later in the day if the weather eased. So back to the Crossing track. This next part was fun - a long flat walk through a crater and with the wind behind us, pushing us along, we speed through it. After this, however, is a long and gruelling ascent up a ridge. The wind was absolutely terrifying. We tried to get some photos up the top. The photographee would crouch as low as they could on the ridge to prevent them from cartwheeling down into the nothingness beyond, and on the count of 3, jump up very quickly for the photo to be snapped, before hugging the ground again.

Later I read in the paper that the winds were 150km/hr on the mountain. That'd explain it! In the end the wind was too much to summit Tongariro either (turned back 30 minutes from the summit - exposed ridgeline + intense gales = death wish), but did get to around the half way mark of the Tongariro Crossing and ate our lunch (gripping it tighly with numb fingers to keep our sandwiches from blowing to the Americas) with a view of the Emerald Lakes and our bums being kept warm by the heat seeping up out of the volcano. Choice!

Then back to the car (we ran down the devil's staircase) and off to Tokaanu to soak our weary muscles in the hot pools. So a failed summit attempt but nevertheless a good 16km, 5 hour-ish tramp. The wind added to the excitement and it was awesome seeing the same place in such a different way (since last year it was sweltering, blue skies, not a hint of a breeze).

Of course the next day we awoke to the most gorgeous, clear day (see the final photo), but had already planned to return to Wellington for New Years Eve and so a second attempt couldn't be made. Another time. We did manage a swim in a river running straight off Mt Ruapehu. Cold is an understatement!

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