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Going Backcountry on Raupehu

blast from the past issue 187

At the start of this season, my brother and I decided to fork out a bunch of our hard-earned cash on some backcountry ski touring kit… avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, skins, ice axe, crampons, touring bindings etc.

Like many North islanders, we learned to ski on the magic Mt Ruapehu and subsequently spent season after season shredding the rock garden and tenants valley, popping airs off every foot high snow covered rock we could find, feeling like kings of the mountain, eventually graduating to the upper mountain, every weekend was a new adventure discovering our new favourite run.

Fast forward a couple of decades, on a really warm first Sunday in spring, with the snow quickly melting, were standing in the car park feeling like kids again, with our new toys heading on a new adventure. This time however it involves a lot more slogging up than shredding down as we forego the lifts instead opting for manpower. Our plan for the day is to ascend via broken leg gully onto the upper pinnacles ridge and topping out on Te Heuheu summit followed by a super fun ski decent back to the where we started.

We set off late morning from top of the Bruce, staying wide trying to dodge the barrage of on coming beginner snow ploughs, as we skinned up the rock garden, along hut flat, under the express and into the bottom of broken leg gully.

Away from the crowds of the ski field, this is where the adventure begins. In high winter broken-leg gully is a pretty mellow ski run but with the warm temperatures a lot of snow had disappeared and cracks were starting to appear in the snowpack, with the unnerving sound of a stream running beneath, fed by waterfalls cascading off the surrounding cliffs and rocks tumbling off the pinnacles above as the ice that held them in place melted.  We moved quickly to get out of harms-way but were stopped in out tracks at the top of the gully by a steep mix of rock, soft spring snow and patches of ice resisting the heat of the sun. At this point, the skis came off and we clambered out on foot with the aid of axe and crampons.

After a quick lunch-break we kept moving and before long we were above the lift line staring excitedly up the gut of the un-tracked Te Heuheu valley. From here we slogged on up the skyline and on to the upper pinnacles ridge where we got our first bit of exposure with some incredible looking terrain to the east and passing cloud adding to the electric atmosphere we were really starting to feel alive.

As we gained in altitude the temperature started to drop and with it the snow quality really started to improve and the anticipation of the run down started to build. We had still had a fair way to go however and there were still two rocky bluffs to negotiate, both with a classic Ruapehu mixed bag of ice, dust on crust, rock and kneedeep drifts.

The exposure here was amazing and the magnitude of this incredible snowcovered volcano and the quality of the terrain really came to light, it hit me like a brick at that point I started completely frothing, I wanted to ski everything I saw but new it was impossible, there is way too much, literally a lifetime of epic skiing waiting for anyone willing to put in the effort to go out and get it.

 

Now with the last two obstacles behind us and my little fit of childlike excitement out of the way we packed away the axe and crampons for the last time and were back In touring mode for one last push to the summit.

 

After four hours of climbing, we were there, standing at 2732 metres on Te Heuheu the second-highest peak on Ruapehu, soaking it all in. the gob-smacking views to the south confirming what we already knew, with peak after peak of epic skiable terrain Mt Ruapehu really is worldclass..

 

The run down you ask?

A leg-burning, 1000m vertical of the sweetest whakapapa spring corn you can imagine. If you want to know more than that you’re gonna have to ski it for yourself…

 

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