Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ice climbing in Tukino

Woke up at 4:30 this morning to head over to Tukino with Ryan for some ice climbing. Driving over in the light rain and strong winds we were both a wee bit sceptical about the prospect of even making it on to any ice. Knowing how notoriously fickle the weather is here and some being curious about what Tukino was actually like, we figured there was no harm in driving over there- worst case scenario we'd get some beta for next time.

Getting out of the car in the murky twilight of dawn we were nearly blown off our feet by the wind. As we stood there bracing ourselves against the gale and joking about getting back in the car, a fellow poked his head out the door of one of the lodges and called us over. It was Terry the hospitable manager of the small ski field inviting us in for a cup of coffee. We joined the crew inside: warming up, chatting with the staff and generally being shown just how terrifically friendly and welcoming the club ski field scene is here in NZ.

With the wind starting to ease we headed over to one of the main ice gullies, a mere 15 minute walk across the valley. By the time we were standing at its base we were almost completely sheltered from the wind and the ice was in surprisingly good shape.

Ryan leading the "Left Gully"

Ryan on the disconcertingly titled "Bowel Wobbler"
Despite a few downpours of rain we had a terrific morning climbing a few of the gullies on the northern bluffs. My stoke for climbing was rejuvenated as was my faith in the alpine start, and not least of all I got to see my first NZ club field and fondle my first 'nutcracker'... Will definitely be back here in the not too distant future.

Tukino obscured by the swirling mess of clouds as seen on the drive out on the 4WD track

Friday, August 2, 2013

TAC x 2

The famous hiking trail I mentioned in the previous post is something of a local institution: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC). Last year there were something like 65 000 people who completed the one way 19.4 km route. Its the main tourist draw card for the region and there are hostels, hotels, guiding agencies here in town named after it.

After yesterday's confirmation that skiing conditions were not really in, I decided to focus today's effort on something that this area can deliver on a world class level: trail running. Specifically a double crossing of the TAC: 39 kilometres, 2250 metres of vertical and about 1/3 of the trail being above snowline.

It was windy!
The trail is really well maintained, to the point of having elevated pathways through areas which are prone to erosion. Its all very runnable, but the shear amount of vert. involved in the return from Ketetahi and the utter lack of vert training I've done in the last two months meant that I ended up walking quite a bit of that section.
In the end I squeezed in at a little under 5:05

Another view of Ngauruhoe

The track follows the obvious ridge from the right up to the skyline (Red Crater)

Pretty views down to Lake Rotoaira before a long descent down to the Ketetahi carpark

The only forested section of the track for a few kilometres around Ketetahi

At the end of the run I got some nice views of the always pretty Mt Ruapehu and the Whakapapa ski area

A neat little profile of the track stolen shamelessly from here

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Skiing Ngauruhoe: a taste of Doom

A few months ago when I first got word of the job down here in NZ I immediately started scouring the internet for some info on ski touring in the area. Within minutes a peak called Ngauruhoe was in first place on my to do list. Its a proud little volcano on the northern end of Tongariro NP, beautifully symetrical and with a relief of around 1400 metres above the surrounding plateau its a local icon. It might just have become the world's most recognized mountain profile since being used as the filming location for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.

Ngauruhoe as seen from the slopes of Ruapehu a few weeks ago.
After over a month of waiting for a day off work to coincide with the right conditions (ie. winds less than gale force, visibility more than 20 metres), I headed up yesterday. Its been a few weeks since the last snowfall, and in the interim we've been enjoying spring like temperatures and a blazing sun, so conditions were a little "summery". 

 After a little over an hour of walking from the trailhead along a nicely maintained track (apparently the most popular day hike in NZ), past the Soda Springs and up most of the Devil's Staircase I reached a continuous band of snow and swapped out running shoes for ski boots and booted straight up. The ascent was uneventful save for one close call with a falling rock the size of a small canteloupe. About 2:15 after having left the car I was on the summit rim, I took my time wandering around admiring the wildly rimed up snow surface and spying a few ski lines for the next time I come back when conditions are a little better...

The crater
More summit crater

Rime in all shapes and forms on the upper slopes
 The skiing was teeth chatteringly firm on the upper slopes and dissuaded me from vague plans I had for doing a few laps. Instead I went to Turangi for a meat pie. It was good to have finally made it up this iconic peak and scoped a few lines which I look forward to skiing in the next few months.

Post ski: snus in lip, and hiking towards a meat pie.