Today, the assault upon Ruapehu, the largest of the North Island’s mountains. Dave, Val + I (the assault crew)met at some ridiculously early hour, had breakfast, + then were off. It looked for some time as tho’ we would have to walk all the way up to the end of the road (some 7 kms) but eventually managed to catch a ride. The journey up to Crater Lake was a comparative piece of cake, with Mike as our guide. I suppose experience has lent him the ??, but once again he picked us out a route up to the top which was relatively easy. Over the first section, I was bloody weary, + frequently lagged behind, but gradually I picked up resources of energy, + was able to keep up. We stayed on higher ground for most of the way, meaning more climbing + rather less just plodding uphill. So, quicker than we anticipated, we were on top of one of the mounds at the top of the mountain, + looking down into Crater Lake. Up until now, we had had beautiful sunny weather, so it was really quite a sight up there, a contrast brilliant white + sparkling blue, with the milky lake beneath us. We even had the benefit of plunder found along the route, one ski + one ski-pole. The ski was of no value to us, , so we left it stuck in the snow at the top, but the pole proved handy as a walking-stick, so we hung onto that. We made at this point what proved to be the mistake of attempting to skirt around the lake in order to climb Ruapehu’s true peak. It was more difficult than it looked, kicking steps in the snow, + scrambling across the side of a steep slope. Val had a lot of trouble at this point, her shoes not providing her with any grip, but she struggled on with a lot of spirit, + after about an hour the 3 of us were on the other side of the lake, just below Ruapehu’s peak. Val + I decided that it was too steep + difficult for us to attempt to scale, but Mike gave it a whirl, + he says, got within 25 feet of the summit before fast-encroaching cloud forced him back. The weather was starting to look ugly at this point, so we lost no time in retracing our steps, moving now at a greater pace. Reaching some shelter, we paused briefly for some lunch, but no sooner had we got underway again than the clouds closed around us completely, making a white blanket all around us. It was very, very disturbing, relying on part instinct + part memory to keep us moving in what we thought was the right direction.
Very much to our relief, it lifted after about 10 minutes, enough for us to see the peaks + choose the right way out. There were 3 phases to our descent. At first we slipped + scrambled down some mud + scree – not a pleasant way to travel, + slow. Then we moved on to the remaining snow-fields, which once we had learnt the knack of moving, was fast + fun. At one stage we were all fair hurtling down, almost skiing without skis (tho’ Val did still have the pole), but when the snow ran out, we had to clamber down the rock. We were becoming tired by now, + slowing in any case, but were even worse off when we discovered we were too far round the mountain, + were separated from the ski-village by several steep gulleys, which sooner or later we would have to cross – we left it till later. What slowed us even worse was me slipping on a stone + turning my ankle. It hurt like hell, but Mike was swiftly to the rescue, binding it with an elastic bandage. With the ski pole I could manage to move fairly comfortably, but as I said, it slowed us a lot.
Even when we were close to the village, we seemed to have to scramble down + up a good half-dozen gullies, + finally we landed back at the car park, tired, tired, tired. All the cars were gone, even tho’ we had been the first to reach the crater, but it was our fortune to catch the Wellington Catholic Trampers Club (I tell no lie) who had been working on their hut, just as they were about to depart in their mini-bus, + they were kind enough, Christian enough I suppose, to squeeze up enough to fit us in.
We hobbled from the motorcamp immediately around to the Skotel, changed + descended into their hot-pool. It was filthy + wonderful. It’s nothing more than a big bath, of course, but that’s why I like it – I like baths. A shower next, + while Val started to cook dinner, Mike + I dealt with the pile of dirty clothes. A fine meal, after which we hobbled in to the TV room. There were some good programmes on, especially a play about Disraeli. And then home. I have not been so tired for a long, long time.
Quite an adventure, by our standards, and good to have Mike to push us just a bit more than we would have done on our own. And clearly it was worth it, with a real sense of achievement, added to by the exhaustion we felt upon our return. And my ankle, of course, though there waas no lasting damage there.