Ascent of Mount Ruapehu on 1993-11-12
|Others in Party:||(Ulrike)|
|Date:||Friday, November 12, 1993|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Location:||New Zealand|
| Elevation:||2797 m / 9177 ft|
Ascent Trip ReportAfter a quick breakfast of cereal in the Ohakune Youth Hostel, I found Ulrike, the German skier/cyclist, and we piled into my little Suzuki car and I drove over to the guy who rented telemark skis. Unfortunately, his biggest boots were way too small for my huge feet, so my plan to ski up to the summit was off. I decided to rent regular gear and hike up.
I then drove up the steep road to the base lodge of the Turoa Ski Area on Mt. Ruapehu. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, and after we rented skis and bought lift tickets (total for gear and ticket was NZ $60/US $33, a very cheap day of skiing), I got my pack with my ice axe and we rode a chairlift up over snow-free terrain, and then a T-bar to the top of the ski area, at 2325 meters. The summit of Ruapehu was only 472 meters (1550 feet) directly above me, so I somehow attached my skis to my pack, told Ulrike I'd meet her at the main restaurant/lodge at noon, and started hiking up the steep summit cone.
There was a guy doing the same thing, so I followed his footsteps at first. The surface was very icy, with a few inches of new snow cover the only thing making crampon-less climbing possible, but I was getting good footing in my clunky ski boots. The guy above me finally stopped and started skiing down, and shortly after that a huge bank of thick clouds suddenly--in the space of a minute--rolled in, turning a bright sunny day into a whiteout.
Undeterred, I plugged on upward, my biggest problem being that my pack was not designed for holding skis at all, and they flopped around badly. The clouds sometimes looked like they might clear, and once or twice I could see enough of the terrain around me to see where I was--I climbed towards a ridge on my left, but then the white-out conditions returned, and it started snowing heavily as I gained the ridge.
However, I felt that my ridge was the rim of the mountain's volcanic crater, a judgement my altimeter confirmed, so all my hard climbing was done. I could barely make out the ice summit pinnacle to my right as I faced the crater, so I left my skis jammed upright into the snow, and, with my ice axe, started climbing to the actual summit. It wasn't far, but there were some steep, icy sections, especially one near the top, and I was thankful for my axe and hard ski boots, with which I was able to really kick the ice hard and make rudimentary steps, impossible with leather hiking boots. After some effort I was standing stop Mt. Ruapehu, highest peak on New Zealand's North Island, 2797 meters (9177 feet) high.
Only trouble was that I was also in a howling blizzard--it was a total whiteout, the wind was roaring, and the snow was piling up at a visible rate on my pack. After taking a couple pictures, verifying my altitude with my altimeter, and eating some candy, I climbed down the summit pinnacle, a difficult task which would have been impossible without using my ice axe as a constant anchor. Back at my skis I rested again briefly, and, alarmed at the continuing snowfall, quickly put them on, took one last picture of myself in the white, snowy fog, shouldered my pack, and began skiing down towards the ski area.
Fortunately, the tracks I had made while climbing up were still plainly visible in the snow, and I skied very slowly, following them faithfully, since I knew where they led. Without them, I had no idea where I might wind up--over a cliff, perhaps, or far, far away from the ski area. I was skiing on the ice underneath the new snow, not the best conditions, but the new snow was enough to get a purchase on for turning and the occasionally stop. As my upward footprints became faint with all the falling snow, I could hear the noise of the T-Bar below me, and soon I was back on the groomed trails of the ski area.
I skied down to the restaurant, and walked in at 11:50 AM to meet Ulrike, who had been worried about me, given the deterioration of the weather. I was amazed to find that my descent from the summit had only taken 20 minutes--even in these conditions, skis were an incredible timesaver. I had a big, hot lunch in the warm, crowded restaurant, chatting with Ulrike and a guy sitting near us, and then she and I went out to do more skiing. We did about five runs together in a raging, howling blizzard, using the two T-bars running as lifts, but the utter lack of any visibility, the ripping wind, and the icy/clumpy snow all made us bag it pretty quick. I retrieved my pack from the restaurant where I had stashed it,we took one last run, and then downloaded on a chair that took us below the storm clouds to the parking lot.
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