Have you ever wanted to do one of those commercial-style tramps, where your gear is ferried forward for you each day so you only have to carry a day pack, and you get to stay in luxury private lodges overnight? Well, we had a taste of what it would be like early in February when we did the Tongariro National Park three peaks trip.
We arrived at the Ketetahi road-end in the bus sometime after midnight, Wayne at the wheel, after dropping various other punters off at various other places. After dropping us off, Wayne and Jeannine had planned to go on to the club lodge where they were staying for the weekend; however since it was getting late they decided to camp at the road end with us and head around to the lodge the next morning. It didn’t take us long to realise that this meant that we wouldn’t have to carry sleeping bags and so on with us the next day, and we could travel with light day-packs while Wayne and Jeannine ferried our gear around to the lodge for us. (Of course, that did rather commit us to reaching the Lodge the next evening. The next morning I kept my bivvy bag with me, just in case….)
Next morning we were away early and reached Ketetahi hut in good time, with me rather sorrowfully passing the hot springs by. (It’s not often I’ll walk past Ketetahi Springs without stopping for a soak….) To save weight we hadn’t brought a primus with us, so we stopped in at the hut for a welcome morning cup of tea. Then it was off up the track towards the top of Tongariro.
As the track began to sidle towards the saddle we left it behind and cut directly up onto the flat top of North Crater. Here it clagged in completely as soon as we arrived, but after a few navigational blunders which saw us initially travelling at right angles to where we wanted to go (something to do with Phil adding instead of subtracting 23 degrees on his compass…) we found our way across to the other side and up onto the trig on Mt Tongariro. Here, to my surprise, Ann and Jenny produced sarongs from their packs and posed for a photo!
After a quick stop we dropped down into South Crater; then it was the big grunt up to the summit of Ngauruhoe. I hadn’t done this in summer in years, and was soon reminded just how tiring the loose scree was. I finally reached the top some time after the others, immensely thankful that I was only carrying a day-pack, and wandered around the outer crater rim to the highest point, only to find Ann and Jenny this time decked out in formal evening dresses (with tramping boots incongruously protruding out underneath!), and drinking out of wine glasses! A party of stunned Australians had apparently passed by just before I arrived and complimented the “ladies” on their appearances!
After lunch it was off down the far side of the mountain, heading towards Tama Lakes on a compass bearing in the clag. The descend was slow and painful, picking our way down the large rocks and loose scoria. Sidling around a bit, Phil found a band of fine soft scree which made travel a lot faster and easier. Once off Ngauruhoe we clambered up to a little saddle and began sidling around the side of Upper Tama lake. The sidle got steeper, so Keith and I clambered up to the ridgeline and followed along the top, beating the others who had continued with the sidle.
Reaching the Tama Lake track, it was decision time. It was late in the afternoon – did we have time to make it to the Lodge acoss country, or should we take the track out to the Chateau and head up the road, which would be easy to follow in the dark if we didn’t make it all the way by nightfall (and where we might even be able to hitch a ride)? There was a bit of umming and ahhing, then we decided to go for it. It would be a close thing, but it would seem like cheating, we agreed, if we headed out to the road.
Three hours later saw us picking our way carefully along the ridgeline behind Happy Valley heading towards the Wakapapa skifield in the last dim, faint traces of twilight, unable to see more than a few metres in the dark and uncertain exactly where we were. Then I recognized Mead’s Wall looming up in the darkness and regained our bearings. We’d done it – and just in time: it was completely dark by the time we reached the door of the Lodge, to be greeted with music on the stereo and Wayne’s greeting of “so yah finally made it, yah old farts!”
Next day saw four of us heading off up Ruapehu in clagged-in conditions. Ann looked at the weather and decided to stay behind – an unfortunate decision because we soon emerged above the clag and into brilliant sunshine. A wander up the shrunken remains of the Wakapapa Glacier took us to the Col overlooking the crater, and from there we followed the ridgeline around towards Tahurangi. A couple of downward detours were necessary to avoid bluffy bits, and the last little bit up to the summit was a bit steep and scrambly, but soon we were having lunch in the sun on the top, with great views out over the crater and the whole surrounding summit area of the mountain. After lunch we headed off down towards the Turoa ski-field. I was glad I had decided to bring my iceaxe and crampons with me, so while the others picked their way slowly and carefully down the rocks and scree, I was able to get out into a long tongue of old, hard snow in a gully and descend hundreds of metres with ease. Eventually we reached the buildings of the skifield and were able to follow down the track to the carpark. After a brief rest in the sun the bus arrived to collect us and end the trip.