Ascent to Mount Ngauruhoe-South Crater on 2008-05-08

Climber: Michael Kelly

Others in Party:Jenny
Date:Thursday, May 8, 2008
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Point Reached:Mount Ngauruhoe - South Crater
    Location:New Zealand
    Elevation:5249 ft / 1599 m
    Remaining Elevation:2254 ft / 687 m (51% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Having stayed the night before in our "Spaceship" camper in Whakapapa Village, we took a shuttle to Mangetepopo turnaround and headed out on the Tongariro Crossing. We followed the standard trail up to the South Crater on Mt. Ngauruhou. The first few miles are a gradual ascent over well-traveled ground, mostly consisting of crushed volcanic rock. After Soda Springs the character of the trail surface doesn't change, but the terrain becomes a steep ascent, a large part of which involves wooden steps. The first snow of the year had fallen two days earlier, and we began to have to deal with it for the last couple hundred vertical feet shy of the crater rim. Any thoughts of side-hiking "Mt. Doom" disappeared as we reached the crater and found it to be full of snow at least 18-24" deep. After a quick snack, hiking without crampons, we crossed the South Crater by following in the footsteps of previous hikers.

Once we reached the eastern edge, we began ascending the ridge up to Red Crater. At this point, the wind became a serious hazard. While the air temperature may have been in the 50's, 30 mph+ winds were fairly constant as we cleared the top and began to descend. The northern face of Tongariro had less snow, and the ridge was less sharp, but it was much harder to hold steady while going downhill. The famous lakes of the crossing were completely frozen over, so the ones we could see all appeared grey. Some of the smaller lakes, further from the trail, we did not see at all.

We got down out of the wind, and later, the snow, and reached the Ketatahi Hut and took a break to thaw and eat what was left of our food. The smell of sulphur was very strong at various points before and after the hut. From there we had great views to the north as we hiked through low scrub-like vegetation. Then, fairly abruptly, we descended into a temperate rainforest. Presumably due to the same storms that brought the snow, several streams through the forest had overflown their banks and we had to dodge around the official trail a bit as we made our way, finally, to the Ketatahi car park. We had both survived, but it was much more challenging than we had anticipated.

Crampons are highly recommended for anyone who tackles this hike with even the slightest bit of snow apparent from the base. They would have made us much safer.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2132 ft / 649 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2132 ft / 649 m
    Route:Tongariro Crossing
    Start Trailhead:Mangetepopo Car Park  3117 ft / 950 m
Descent Statistics

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