Mt Ruapehu, Skyline Ridge, New Zealand

November 11, 2007 / Grade II, snow & ice up to ~40°

After climbing Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, it's obvious we cannot leave without climbing the highest volcano of the North Island: Mt Ruapehu. Ruapehu is a large volcano with many summits, the highest of which is Tahurangi (2,797m); that's the objective.

We stop by the visitor center to consult the guidebooks about the route. We also talk to the rangers who half-try to dissuade us from going up. Ruapehu erupted just two weeks ago (a steam explosion that triggered large mud slides). One climber was very seriously injured when a flying missile of a rock blasted right through the door of a small hut they had taken refuge in during the eruption. Tragically, his leg had to be amputated as a result. The mountain is still on alert, with the crater lake hotter and more active than usual. The risk seems manageable though, as we will be in the more serious danger zone for only a hour or two, as we near the summit. Not the time to go on an extended exploration of the crater area though...

After a quick lunch at a café across from the visitor center, we leave Whakapa Village for Oruehene to get in position for climbing the mountain. Unfortunately, five minutes down the road, we hear some strange sounds... we stop bny the side of the road and get out of the van to take a look. We've just blown a rear tire. The poor thing is shredded to pieces (it is one of two wheels on that side of the rear axle). We pull off on a nearby parking lot to put on the spare. It takes us some time to figure out how to get the damn thing off for underneath the camper. After about an hour, we're finally on our way… better not blow another one…

Quick stop in Oruehene to buy some groceries at New World and prepare the packs for the next day. We then drive up the road to the Turoa ski area to take a look at our planned route. We end up parking right by the ski area buildings for the night (the ski hill is closed for the season).

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Mt Ruapehu -the highest volcano in the North Island- seen from the Mangatepopo trailhead.
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Camping at Turoa ski area.
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Map of Turoa ski area. Tahurangi (2,797m) is the highest summit of Mt Ruapehu.
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Tahurangi and the Skyline Ridge seen from Oruehene.
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Sunrise at the Turoa ski area with Taranaki in the background.

Our chosen route, the "Skyline Ridge" is a striking straight shot from the Turoa ski area to Tahurangi, Ruapehu's highest summit. We leave the camper at sunrise. The first half of the route is sort of boring and unappealing, as it weaves its way up the ski lifts, mostly through rocks and dirt, ending on gentle snow slopes to the top of the highest chair lift. There, we take a break in one of the ski-lift huts. We then make it onto the ridge proper, and the start of the real climbing. The ridge is exposed and very icy. We don't have a second tool and we almost regret it... We are wearing hanesses just in case, but the rope stays in the pack to the top. It's really windy and cold. The views of Girdlestone (a craggy sub-peak) and the plains are magnificient.

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The "Skyline Ridge" route ascends snow slopes above the ski area before gaining the ridge proper.
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Pretty apline flowers.
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Ascending the gentle snow slopes of the ski area.
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Taking a break inside one of the ski-lift huts.
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On the ridge proper.

Just below the summit, the angle eases and we soon stand on Tahurangi with great views of the summit crater. Party time! We shoot the obligatory summit pics and have a snack. It's our first "technical" mountain in NZ and we're just happy to be there. We don't stay too long though as it is incredibly windy.

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High on the ridge, looking back toward Girdlestone.
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The upper part of the ridge is steep and icy.
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Climbing up the steep and exposed ridge with Girdlestone in the background.
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The final mellow slope, just below the summit.
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Summit shot.

We pass another couple just below the gentle snow slope leading to the summit. They live in New Plymouth and climb Taranaki a lot. We ask them about the conditions on "The Mountain" (as it is often called) since it is our next objective. They say that the conditions are really good right now. We also ask them about climbing in the Southern Alps; they say they only climbed the NW Ridge of Mt Aspiring and that they used a guide. Weird! Anyway, the funny thing is that we would meet one of them again on Taranaki a week later!

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Looking down at the crater from the summit. Obvious signs of recent activity.
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Summit views (click here for movie).
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Going back down the gentle slope to regain the ridge proper .
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Descending the steep bit.
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Party of four on their way up...

We start descending the steep ridge. It's of course much trickier going down... but we eventually make it back down to the ski area, passing a party of four on their way up. From there, it's a cruise back to the camper.

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...approaching the ski area.
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Back at the camper.