Chapter 3: Winter 2019 adventures with the WTMC

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On a higher plane, above the clouds, Mt Ruapehu

This blog post is about two winter adventures with the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club (WTMC), one up Mt Ruapehu and one a lot closer to home up in the Tararuas. The mountain is, in equal measures, a place of otherworldly beauty, as well as the ultimate struggle and hostility; without a shadow of a doubt winter and the snow expand this continuum in both directions manifold. I have found it to be a deeply enriching experience and am particularly grateful that I have had the good fortunate to experience it on several occasions this winter season.

Paretetaitonga, Mt Ruapehu,  16 – 18 August 2019

I only made it on this trip because someone higher up the list dropped out. Thank you, drop out stranger. 

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The iconic New Zealand Alpine Club Ruapehu Hut

Friday, 16 August 2019

We leave Wellington on Friday evening. It’s a five plus hour drive and we make it to the well-familiar Whakapapa ski area car park around 11pm. We are staying at the Tararuas Tramping Club (TTC) lodge — thanks fellow mountaineers for being such great hosts — which is a 40 minute walk from the car park up the ski field. We put our gear on, without any delay, and set off for the lodge. Optimistically, I decide that I should be okay not putting my semi-waterproof pants on and just stay in my highly absorbent trousers. The weather is a bit messy and it turns out that it’s wet too which I only notice because I get a stream of icy cold water run down my back five minutes into the walk – burr. It’s dark and it takes us some back-and-forthing before we find the turn leading to the hut. By the time we get there, it is well-past midnight and I’m soaking wet so first thing on my agenda is to get warm again, so I jump into a boiling hot shower. Yup, that’s a real shower, with hot water. The luxuries of mountain lodges so much more plush than tramping huts.

After we have all sneaked into dry clothes, over a cup of hot tea we all agree not to have too early a morning as the weather forecast is less than promising which makes summit of Paretetaitonga out of reach.

Saturday 17 August 2019

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In a whiteout, fellow mountaineering buddies striding with confidence

In the morning there are no changes on the weather front so summit is totally off the cards for this trip. This is quite a theme for alpine trips I am starting to gather. However, we have until after midday before showers of one discrepancy or another kick in so, Erik, our leader for this trip, suggests that we have a little wander outside before the weather turns.

After breakkie we are off to the all too familiar now delta corner, which is just around the corner from the NZ Alpine Club Ruapehu hut. Although there is very little viz and some wind, the weather is infinitely better than last time we were here. I get minimally wet which makes a massive difference to my ability to actually enjoy the walk. Once we make it to the NZ Alpine Club hut, we bump into the snowcaving crew from some weeks back who are hard at work building an evacuation construction, linking the back door of the hut with a snowcave. All I’ve got to say is that the enthusiasm and skill of this crew is a whole new level.

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The NZ Alpine Club Ruapehu Hut, aka The Winter Palace

The NZ Alpine Club  hut is out of a fairytale sight, all encased in snow and ice. We have a break inside the hut entrance. I head straight into the dry room which is blissfully toasty. In what feels like a few moments, and definitely not enough to dry out some of the wet patches I have accumulated, we are on our way down which is quite uneventful. Then within half an hour of our return the weather turns into a wet mess. Good timing.

Sunday 18 August 2019

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The Pinnacles by Whakapapa ski field

We wake up to a most beautiful morning, clear skies and barely any wind, at least around the TTC lodge. We can actually see what is around us. And is it beautiful! There is so much more snow since last time we were here. This weather is a most precious gift so as soon as breakfast is over we head off for a wander up the mountain. This time we go over the ridge by the Sky Waka Gondola. We get to the well-familiar NZ Alpine Club hut in under an hour which is half the time it took us to get there the day before. Absolutely astonishing! It is such an easy, pleasant walk, with a lot of stunning views just to keep us awestruck. We get to check the progress the snowcave people have made and that is also nothing short of impressive. These guys are not kidding when it comes to snowcaving. We carry on in the direction of Paretetaitonga for another hour and cover a decent amount of elevation, and as higher we get the more we receive in the way of wind slaps. However, we get a massive compensation in the way of  views as they are only getting better the higher we go.

So this was real fun, the only time so far I could honestly say, cross my heart, that I had fun. I always knew that these Alpine walks could be a lot of fun but now I have got the proof too. It is highly good weather-dependent, though, which seems to be an exception in this environment.

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Descending, with Fiona charging ahead

Although we didn’t not make it to the summit this was a mega awesome, useful trip as I got to practice before a trip to Taranaki which to my greatest and deepest disappointment  got cancelled due to bad weather conditions. I have got to wait until next season, I guess. Anyhow, one of the leads for the cancelled Taranaki trip, Erik, kindly offered an alternative closer to home. The Kapakapanui loop in the Tararuas.

Kapakapanui, Tararuas, 7 September 2019

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Kapiti island, where the sky meets the ocean

So we ended up going to the good old Tararuas as a substitute to the cancelled Taranaki trip. Always sure to provide a good steep climb up and descend down.  This walk started with some river crossings which was refreshing. I had a pair of aqua shoes for this purpose which was pretty neat as I kept my tramping shoes dry for later. Good tip, Erik, thanks!

The track goes continuously up for a couple of hours and a bit but I didn’t find it particularly strenuous or technical. It’s quite pleasant actually with the typical Tararuas enchanted forest tree scenery.

The Kapakapanui summit is at 1102 meters above see level so just about high enough for a little bit of snow. There was a tiny bit of ice and snow at the top so this just about made it count as a snow adventure. Sort of. The views at the top are nothing short of spectacular, with Kapiti island to one side and the snow capped Tararua ranges to the other. It is in fact rated by the DOC as one of the best viewpoints in the Tararua ranges. From what I have seen of the Tararuas so far, I agree with this claim wholeheartedly. We were extremely lucky as when we got to the top it was completely still, not even a single knot of wind. What there was a lot of though was mud which made things a little slidey on the way down. Nevertheless, it was a great day out. Thank you, Erik, for organising!

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The Tararua ranges, all covered up in snow

This is blog post # 12 since I started this project (12 posts in 12 months) about 11 months ago. I have enjoyed the blogging a lot, not only the writing but also the idea generation, the doing and above all else the personal exploration and self-reflection. It has taken me places for sure. I will carry on until the end of the full 12 months so that’s one more adventure, hopefully. I am also thinking of continuing it in one way or another but this is still on the drawing board and I am excited to find out how it will come out and where it will take me next.

 

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