Mount Ruapehu crater lake in Winter

Trip Report: Ruapehu Crater – 19.09.21

My arrangement with Adrift Tongariro is such that I’m only called on as an assistant guide for larger groups that, for safety reasons, require more than one guide. With Auckland still in lockdown, Sunday’s group was relatively small which meant I had the day off. So what do I do on days off? Climb mountains of course.

Until this weekend, Debs had yet to climb Mount Ruapehu this winter season so it is was the perfect opportunity for us to spend some quality time on the mountain together.

Whakapapa Ski Field

We left the top of Bruce Road at around 7.15 which was fairly late by our standards, but still early enough to miss the crowds. The only people we encountered were the tireless mountain crew who were out preparing the slopes for the day.

Whakapapa ski patrol

The Sky Waka opened early that morning so we only just managed to avoid the bulk of the crush at Knoll Ridge before heading over to the top of Delta Chair and then directly up to the right of The Gut.

Whakapapa ski field

As forecast, the morning started with some low cloud and clear blue sky above. “Look, there’s the top of Mount Taranaki.” said Debs.

Mt Ruapehu snow slopes

While technically I wasn’t guiding, I still had an Adrift radio which meant that I could keep in touch with Stew and his group who were some way behind us. You can just make them out in the photo below.

Mt Ruapehu winter
Mt Ruapehu winter

For many people doing this climb for the first time, the slow steady slog up this valley (Whakapapa Glacier) is the hardest part. It’s only another 200m of elevation gain to the point where you can actually see Crater Lake. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but they would have been climbing for around three hours just to get to the glacier.

This is usually when the first “how much further” questions start to arise. My standard response is to point to the saddle ahead and say “just up there”, knowing full well that it’s another hour of steady climbing.

Mt Ruapehu in winter
Mt Ruapehu in winter

While I enjoy spending time up around the crater, my favourite spot on this entire climb is just above the Far West T-Bar. At around 2380m there’s a plateau where you can relax and take in the spectacular view of Pinnacle Ridge with Mount Ngauruhoe behind. After meeting up with the group on the glacier as they made their way up, we headed down to this spot in the hope of taking some photos.

Mt Ruapehu in winter
Mt Ruapehu crater route

As predicted, high cloud was starting to come in from the west and with low cloud still hanging around below, I decided to shoot a time lapse. Here is the result.

After about 45 minutes of shooting, we were packing up the camera and getting ready to head back down when the rest of the group appeared, smiling and happy – they’d made it to the crater.

All in all then, a successful day for Stew and his group and another great day on the mountain for Debs and I.

Mt Ruapehu winter
Mt Ruapehu winter

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