Climbing Ruapehu has been a goal of mine for so long.

When I was a little kid I remember looking up from my toboggan (on a little slope below Happy Valley)  and thinking I should walk to the top of the mountain. I figured it couldn’t be that hard.

When we finally got up there, on the 10th of March 2012, it didn’t disappoint at all! It was the most epic day I’ve had.

Ruapehu on a bad day (the 1995 eruption).

Ruapehu is so big it’s not so easy to point out the top, it has seven major peaks.

The trampers summit is Dome Ridge at 2672 metres. Peak Bagging counts that as a successful bag. Beyond that you’re supposed to be an experienced climber with all the gear.

The true summit is Tahurangi. It stands at 2797 metres and is on the south side of the mountain so is usually climbed from the Turoa ski field.

Our official goal was Dome Ridge, but if it looked clear we were keen to see how much further we could get.


Ruapehu Summit Topographical with tracks

The red line on the topographical map shows the route suggested by Peak Bagging (it assumes you will take the chair lifts and miss out on the bottom half of the climb). The blue line shows (roughly) our ascent and the green line shows our descent.

Up through the Whakapapa ski field

We set off from the road end at the Top of the Bruce just before 7 AM with the sunrise just striking the tops of the mountain. (We had camped nearby the night before, setting up our tent after dark and breaking it down before dawn.)

Mount Ruapehu Pinnacles in Cloud

A thick band of cloud came down the mountain as we climbed, but we were so happy it was clear the rest of the way up.

Whakapapa ski field in summer

We made good progress up the Whakapapa ski field, passing the cafe in about an hour and a half. The jackets were all getting stuffed into the packs by this stage.

Ruapehu Snow Cave

Zac down inside a snow cave.

Mount Ruapehu above the ski field

Behind me you can see the top of the ski field. In the background is the cone of Mount Nguaruhoe which is a similar height to the top of the ski field at about 2300 m.  We cleared the top of the ski field just after nine o’clock or in a bit over two hours.

Mount Ruapehu

The week before our trip we had a “weather bomb” sweep over the country and dump a snow cover right down the mountain. By the time we got there it was the perfect amount of snow left to make it fun without being enough to slow us down.

Mount Ruapehu The Summit Plateau

We came up on the Summit Plateau. Here we are walking around the side of Dome Ridge.

Mount Ruapehu Pyramid Peak

Big country up here. Looking at Pyramid Peak from the South end of the Summit Plateau.

Crater Lake and Tahurangi

Finally! The enormous crater lake. To the left of the photo is Tahurangi, the true summit of Ruapehu.

Reading around the web I couldn’t find any account of trampers making it to the true summit from the Whakapapa side (there is some talk about it on Tramper), but from what I did read we decided to attempt it by crossing onto the ridge south of Paretetaitonga and following it along.

Mount Ruapehu Glacier \" title=

On the glacier on the north side of the Crater Lake, crossing over to the ridge.

Towards Tahurangi

Pushing along the ridge, it got progressively more difficult. There was ice in the shade and you had the choice of lose rocks and scree or slippery snow on the increasingly steep slope.

The ridge to Tahurangi

It got to the point where a slip would mean fairly certain death. Josh and I decided we’d rather live to fight another day. The others pushed on another 100 metres or so and made it to the sub peak before Tahurangi at 2757 m. You can see point on the topo map above. (I’ve seen a name for the peak somewhere but I can’t find it again.)

Tahurangi true summit of Mount Ruapehu

Here’s the a photo Zac took of Tahurangi from the peak they got to, before they turned back. Still quite a long way off. We’ll be back when we’re better prepared and trained.

Ruapehu Emergency Shelter Dome Ridge

The weather was packing in, so I was glad we turned back while we could still see. We went up to the Dome Summit. Apparently this emergency shelter (picture by Daniel Stuart-Menzies) is the highest building in New Zealand. A man lost his leg in the 2007 eruption when a rock smashed through the roof and trapped him inside.

Knoll Ridge

We headed back along the Dome Ridge. There’s a bit of a trodden track just here from the peeps who take the guided tour to the top.

Whakapapa ski field in summer

Back down through the ski field. The descent above the ski field involved a pretty fun amount of sliding on snow!

Whakapapa in summer

I was well and truly limping on my bad foot by now.

Ski trail map at the Knoll Ridge Cafe

Taking a look at the trail map at the Knoll Ridge Cafe.


All up, the best day out!

Video to come at some point.

Photos by Zaccai Foster and yours truly.