Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Skiing Tapuae-o-Uenuku

Tapuae-O-Uenuku (or Tappy) in the Kaikoura Range of the northern part of the South Island is the highest mountain in New Zealand outside of the Mt Cook region. It's where Ed Hillary cut his teeth on climbing and carrying heavy packs whilst walking in rivers and through thick vegetation. Steeped in history and with a location which means it breaks up the drive when headed south to other mountains, Tappy is actually a very worthy destination mountain in itself, with a memorable approach, cool terrain and a very isolated atmosphere when on the upper parts of the mountain.

Skiing Tappy is all about the approach, the ski to hike ratio is so lob-sided that only the ignorant or foolish would even contemplate it. After a 50km drive up the Awatere Valley I parked on the side of the road and given the late hour, bivvied by the car ‘til first light. The route up to the mountain follows the Hodder River for 22kms and 1000 vertical metres of hiking along the river bank on polished river stones and repeatedly wading through the fast flowing river which ranged in depth from knee to crotch. I soon lost count of the number of times that I crossed the river, but going off other trip reports I’ve read, 80 crossings each way sounds like the average. To make things more interesting a few landslides in the past few weeks had created small dams in the river which were extra deep.

The Hodder River- one river crossing down, 79 to go!

After about 40 crossings the doubt was starting to creep in... 
 The river itself alternated between broad, braided sections and steep gorges which required walking directly up the river itself. Travel was slow and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t beginning to doubt whether all the effort would be worth it.  So after 6 hours of walking in wet shoes it was a relief to reach the Hodder Huts at 1500 metres. I spent the rest of the day uneventfully reading and listening to music.

Finally at the comfortable huts, my home for the night
Beautiful sea of clouds at 7am looking down the upper Hodder drainage
At 6.30 the next morning I was back in my still wet running shoes and moving again. After one final river crossing the uphill in loose scree began in earnest. By 7.30 I’d reached the snowline just below 2000 metres and quickly changed to ski boots and crampons. From here it was all smooth sailing. A good re-freeze overnight made for a fast and easy ascent up the final 900 metres.

Mt. Alarm and Mitre Peak- great ski terrain if you can be bothered to carry your gear in.

view from the summit
Another view from the summit. That's the South Pacific lurking below the clouds

The snow was firm, but edge-able.

Selfie at the start of the out hike
 I was a little too early to get the snow in its perfect corn state, and impatient to wait around for it to soften up. So I skied the firm slopes back down the way I’d come, and changed back in to running shoes for the long walk back to the car. There is loads of potential for steep skiing in this area. If I was to come back, it with be with more food so that you could be based at the huts for a few days and explore all of the opportunities on offer.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcome to Gnarvik

With the ski season winding up here in New Zealand and reports of snowfall on the peaks in northern Scandinavia, my stoke for getting back to Narvik for the winter was already sky high. Add to this Norrøna's short film released today to promote their new line of baggy jackets for ski fashionistas and I'm left champing at the bit.

It was filmed over a few days last April in the area immediately surrounding Narvik, and showcases the many reasons I choose to live in Northern Norway. Enjoy it.

Welcome to narvik from Norrona on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ruapehu Grand Slam

After a week of good melt-freezes the corn skiing season is in its prime here on Mt. Ruapehu. A lap on the Mangatoetoenui Glacier yesterday afternoon convinced me that now was the time to link together all six glaciers on the mountain into one fantastic, circular traverse.

We started the day with a chairlift ride over the barren lower slopes, and then a shot of espresso and a slathering of sunscreen at the ski patrol HQ. At 9 we started skinning on firm snow up the slopes to the saddle between Tukino Peak and Glacier Knob. A quick skate across the summit plateau brought us to the top of the Mangatoetoenui Gl. and its easterly aspect was already slightly softened by the morning sun and offered up some brilliant first turns for the day.

Mike hiking the last section to the saddle.

turns down the upper Mangatoetoenui

From here a short skin back up to Cathedral Rock was followed by descent of the Whangaehu Gl. on firm snow before wrapping around a ridge into the Crater Lake drainage. As we skinned up the drainage a barrage of rocks from the rapidly warming northern slopes of Mitre Peak reminded us that spring was well and truly upon us. Our route up the large basin was well protected though and had a perfect firm surface for crampons.

Mike skiing below Cathedral Rocks
Skinning up the Crater Lk. drainage
And booting up towards Mitre Peak.
A short walk up the ridgeline towards Tahurangi and we were ready for skiing the stunning Wahianoa Gl. which combined ripe corn with expansive views over Girdlestone and the remote SE corner of the mountain.

Mike starting down the Wahianoa Glacier with Girdlestone in the centre of the picture
After a bite to eat we booted up to the broad col which separates Girdlestone from Tahurangi and stood above the Mangaehuehu glacier, our fourth for the day. Firm rime on this shadier aspect made for the worst skiing on the traverse, so rather than descend down the fall line we opted to traverse above the Turoa ski resort towards the Mangaturuturu glacier. The skiing here was more sun softened corn and we enjoyed a great line down to the lower cliff bands before our final skin back up to the Pare Col.

Mike above the Mangaehuehu glacier with Girdlestone peak in the background

Skiing the Mangaturuturu glacier
Skirting around the Crater Lake we looked over at the points we had passed a few hours earlier, amazed with ourselves for not having completed this terrific ski tour earlier in the winter. The last run down the Whakapapa glacier and back to the ski area was also on fantastic snow. Our total trip time 4:32, left me thinking that we ought to have milked a few more turns on the Wahianoa and made the day a longer one.

Another view of Crater Lake

Mike on the last descent of the day back down to Whakapapa.

This traverse confirmed my long held suspicions that ski touring on Ruapehu is all about the spring corn: just when the crowds are thinning out, the skiing is at its absolute best. Looking forward to the final few weeks on the mountain and some more great spring skiing!