Alpine guide frustrated at casual attitudes – Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Truly awesome to see that the national media have picked up this story…the full text of Andrea’s story can be seen here with the current safety messages for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter here

We need to see more of the guiding community telling their stories and sharing their experiences on the Alpine Crossing as part of educating visitors to the Tongariro district.

Year-round this is a beautiful place, one of the only areas in New Zealand that you can explore an active volcanic, but it is always a place to be respected. Respected for its cultural heritage and because it is unforgiving towards to the unprepared, ill-informed and complacent…

One of the best sources of current information on the Crossing is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing app that was released this year…available in the Google Playstore and iTunes…is your life, and the lives of your family and friends worth a small fee…? We would hope so…

15871674_564913907048354_5369840645284961921_n.jpg

Get the app…

This pic is, of course of the Crossing in summer. In winter, this is what you will encounter:adrift fb winter 4.jpg

Know Before You Go

If You Don’t Know, Don’t Go

or

Go With A Guide

Field observations TAC 26/8/2017

Yesterday afternoon, I received this email from a  good friend who is an experienced guide in Tongariro National Park. The initial target audience was the visitor information centres around the Central Plateau – that audience has now grown…

To whom it may concern,

I am an alpine guide, currently working on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is my fourth season on the TAC. My primary duty of care is to the safety and well-being of the clients on my trip, however I am often asked by freedom walkers for information and advice. Far too many people recreating in Tongariro National Park are uninformed about the hazards on the TAC and are unprepared for the conditions they will encounter. In some cases, people are putting themselves in harms way or endangering those around them and I feel obliged to intervene. This is actually quite common, but most of us guiding in Tongariro see that we act as kaitiake for the people and the land and don’t hesitate to offer assistance. This is an ongoing problem and the number of people putting themselves in danger increases exponentially each season. This is a problem that many people involved in tourism, recreation, and the outdoors community in Central Ruapehu are well aware of.

I would like to make it clear that I am not against freedom walking the TAC in winter, but that I am against trail users getting bad advice or no advice, going unprepared, and exposing themselves to unnecessary risks.

I am writing this letter because of what I saw while I was guiding on the TAC on Saturday, 26 August 2017. The number of people walking the track in completely inappropriate gear with no clue and no humility was SHOCKING. People dressed only in sneakers and blue jeans, without rain jackets or warm hats and gloves. There was a much higher than average number of freedom walkers on the track that day. At a guess, I would say that there were a few hundred. Tongariro Expeditions were operating their transport only service that day, as well as a large number of groups both large and small providing their own transport.

It is my opinion that when transport only services operate in winter, the public is watching. They see “no risk” when in reality there exists a “low risk”. Understanding that difference is critical. It is also imperative that people understand the difference between a forecast and a guarantee. Weather in New Zealand mountains is unpredictable and rapidly changeable. I believe that the greatest danger to people on this day was the weather, and the perceived risk.

The forecast on Saturday 26 August 2017, according to Metservice, called for fine conditions and light winds. On paper, truly a beautiful day! My observations on track told a very different story. The lenticular clouds capping Ngauruhoe meant winds were much stronger than the 15km/h in the forecast for the Red Crater. Metvuw charts showed rain to the northwest of Tongariro, so I knew that those stronger than forecast winds would also bring clouds. In spite of the forecast I could see that we were in for a cold day, with no sun, strong winds, and white-out conditions. Which is exactly what we got. The Red Crater was being hit by 50km/h winds and the wind chill was hovering around -8. Cloud in the Central Crater caused poor visibility, fluctuating between 50 meters and 500 meters of visibility. These are challenging and hazardous conditions.

One unprepared (cold and scared) freedom walker was rescued (from Shelter Rock) by other hikers on their descent from the summit of the TAC and given extra gear and guidance back to the start of the track (Mangatepopo Car Park).  People were observed walking on cornices on the Red Crater, walking out onto the ice on the Emerald Lakes, onto the ice on the Blue Lake, and were advised of the dangers they were putting themselves into. Many people without proper attire continued to walk into worsening conditions in spite of warnings from myself, other guides, and members of a local tramping club.

Waikato Tramping Club was on their annual winter Tongariro trek and spent lot of time and energy trying to warn people of the risks involved in trekking in alpine conditions without proper gear or know-how. They attempted to turn around many people on this day that were unaware of the danger they were putting themselves in and unaware of the hazards on the TAC. I have reached out to the club and encouraged them to write a letter with their observations.

I am passionate about the outdoors. I love Tongariro. I love creating safe experiences that are fun and memorable. If I can, I want to help more people come home safe and happy after a day in our mountains. I am reaching out to your organisation with my field observations because I believe that we are allies in this goal. I have provided below descriptions of the hazards, risks and consequences that are common on the TAC in winter, as well as the MetService forecast for the day. I personally observed people exposing themselves to each of the hazards below on this day. It is my sincere hope that this letter is useful in some way.

Thank you for your consideration,


TAC 26 aug 17 - 2TAC 26 aug 17

Below is a list of some hazards that exist on the TAC in winter. I have omitted to speak about avalanche hazards, as the Backcountry Avalanche Advisory does an excellent job of detailing the risks and hazards on a daily basis.

Walking on cornices

-large cornices exist around the rim and summit of the Red Crater. There are many others throughout the TAC but these are the cornices that are easiest to walk onto without realizing what you’re doing

-the risk is that by walking onto a cornice you will cause it to break and you will fall

-the consequences of breaking a cornice are VERY HIGH and potentially life-threatening, as you would fall 50+ meters and likely be buried in snow from the falling debris

Walking on the ice covering the Emerald Lakes

-the lakes are not well frozen and are currently thawing, so the risk of breaking the ice and falling into the lakes is VERY HIGH

-consequences of of falling through the ice into the lake are SERIOUS and potentially life-threatening, as both drowning and hypothermia are likely outcomes

Walking on the ice covering the Blue Lake

-the risk posed by walking on the Blue Lake is precisely the same as the Emerald Lakes, but the consequences are higher, as the size and depth of the lake would pose much larger problems for rescue

Not having the appropriate gear

-sunglasses, warm hats and gloves, boots, rain jackets, and intelligent layers are a must in an unpredictable alpine environment such as the TAC. To venture out unprepared is to risk frostbite or hypothermia, or in the case of not having sunglasses you are risking snowblindness

Not having the appropriate equipment

-at the very least it is necessary to carry a topographic map and compass (and know how to use them), the risk is that you will get lost. Poor visibility and featureless snow-fields (such as the Central and South Crater) create navigational challenges. Additionally, the summer track is generally considered unsafe in common winter conditions and an alternate track exists, many people aren’t even aware that they may encounter more than one track and this creates confusion

-often it is necessary to carry (and know how to use) crampons, ice-axe, and helmet. Without this gear you risk sliding down steep and long icy surfaces. Sliding can carry high consequences.

The feelings expressed here are shared by many of us who live up here: as much as we want people to come here and enjoy this wonderful location, we want them to do it safely.

Many of our visitors – and not just the international ones – don’t have any frame of reference for the hazards of an alpine environment…the closest many of them will get is watching Cliffhanger or Everest in FullHD with the woodburner fully cranked up…

Know Before You Go

If You Don’t Know, Don’t Go…

…Or Go With A Guide

 

Know Before you go; if you don’t know, don’t go…

‘Tis the season…for inexperienced (in New Zealand conditions) and poorly-prepared trampers to ‘walk’ the Tongariro Alpine Crossing…and every year Police and volunteer rescue teams put themselves at risk to rescue these wallies

Last week, this brochure was released to get the message to national and international visitors to Tongariro National Park. That message is really quite simple:

Know before you go:

Know the weather AND ground conditions

Know what to do in alpine conditions

Know what to do in avalanche terrain

Know what to do when the plan goes wrong

If you don’t know: don’t go – or go with a guide…

 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing_winter 1Tongariro Alpine Crossing winter 2

A lot of the information online and offered by staff in the hospitality line is well-intentioned but ill-informed. Many people, especially those off the mountain or not ‘mountain’ people, do not understand the hazards of the Crossing in winter, or during bad weather. Many think it is just a case of ‘giving it a go‘, of ‘going harder‘, or just ‘will-powering’ themselves over the snow and ice. Others think that it is more important to promote ‘tourism’ at all costs…

“…the trampers were lucky to escape with their lives…”

“…not sticking together caused the group to inadvertently separate…”

“…All their clothing was wet…they didn’t have it in waterproof packing…”

“…they didn’t call for help until it was very dark and one tramper was unable to walk…”

We don’t say these things, we don’t make the Crossing sound dangerous to scare visitors off, to try to keep the place for ourselves, to discourage commercial operations in the Park.

We say this because we want visitors to come here, enjoy themselves and leave safely.

We say this because we don’t want our people putting their lives on the line for rescues that are unnecessary; being dragged from their beds or jobs at all hours because of good intentions and poor information…

Don’t become a statistic

Know before you go

If you don’t know, don’t go

…or go with a guide…

 

Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study

Last day of July, three and a half hours til August (at the time I started typing) and I realise I haven’t written anything all month…

DJI Phantom

Unmanned aircraft is a subject that I thought I had moved on from but this report popped up in my inbox this evening…only a couple of days after I spoke with a couple of clowns flying a large drone over the Chateau Golf Course in Whakapapa Village. They pleaded ignorance of both National Park and Civil Aviation Agency legislation relating to flying drones in or over the Park but really? You don’t buy and operate a big drone like that without knowing the law.

That law is quite simple:

It is illegal to land, take-off or hover an aircraft in, from or over Tongariro National Park. A drone (of any class or size) is regarded as an aircraft. Any exceptions must have prior formal written approval from the Department of Conservation.

The land-owner’s prior permission is required before a drone can be flown over private land; or the permission from the mandated controlling authority for public land e.g. the local council or, for the Park, the Department of Conservation.

 In addition, rescue helicopters can and do enter the Park at any time of day or night, from any direction. Even on a clear day, the setting sun can obscure vision to such an extent that a pilot may not see a drone in time to avoid it.

airfield 4km

CAA Rules also prohibit the operation of drones within 4km of an airfield, that is 4km from the closest boundary of an airfield. For Whakapapa Village, that 4km limit takes you to just above the bridge over the Whakapapanui Stream. It means that you can’t fly your drone:

at Discovery Lodge (which has its own heli-pad in any case) or

at the camp site at Mangahuia, further along SH47 towards National Park Village, or

over Mahuia Rapids just along 47 in the other direction or

on the Tawhai Falls or Mound Walk trails that come off SH48.

Those who say that a small drone wouldn’t do any significant damage to an manned aircraft should read the report that I received this evening. You can find the report, Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study, here.

It is sobering reading: even a small (think Toyworld) drone can cause considerable damage to a light aircraft or helicopter, particularly the windscreen and tail rotor. Any components ingested into the engine may also cause unneeded excitement for the pilot and passengers of that manned aircraft.

the bits that hurt

The bits that hurt…

In a way this report is quite gratifying as it supports the work that I did for the Air and Space Interoperability Council and subsequently NATO on the hazards of small unmanned aircraft sharing operational airspace with manned aircraft.

If you own a drone of any sort in New Zealand, you do need to read Part 101 and Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Agency Rules, and the note RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft. You won’t, of course, because you think you have an ultimate right to do whatever you like in the Park…that’s alright…but don’t be surprised if guides or Rangers just snap your pic and send it directly to CAA for action…

You might think it’s great your drone will follow your phone as you rip down the slopes at Whakapapa or Turoa…on a ‘good’ day in winter, there may be a half dozen or more rescue helicopter flights on to the ski fields or around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often in restricted visibility: that’s hard enough without the pilot having to worry about some goon operating their drone illegally.

Similarly, around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, no one wants to be subjected to mosquito-like totally annoying whine of your drone…nor should should pilots have to look out for them as they approach for a rescue – when you’re too dumb to hear the helo coming in and dump your drone…

What we really need are a few good prosecutions to drive this message home BEFORE we have an accident…

Aviation Related Concern

To report an aviation safety or security concern, that may include complaints, or allegations of suspected breaches of civil aviation legislation, call: 0508 4SAFETY (0508 472 338) available office hours (voicemail after hours), or email: isi@caa.govt.nz.

Pictures, video, rego numbers are useful information to back up your complaint and hopefully lead to a successful prosecution. Ignorance of the law is no excuse…

Carry a big stick…

TACAPP

Further on the safety message aspect of this post and the comments, a local crew has just released a new app that comprehensively covers the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Mt Ngauruhoe side trail…yes, you have to pay for it – a whole $2.99 – but it is worth it as both a top reference to the walk and as the one stop shop of what you need to know before you set out…

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.greattrailsoftheworld.tac

The World According to Me...

…or to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt “Tread carefully and carry a big stick“…two concepts directly related to my summit of Mt Ngauruhoe yesterday…

SCF9964

This is Stick. Stick is a little miffed that it missed out on going up Mt Tongariro last week, but that’s kinda what happens when you hide away in a dark corner of the garage. Stick is way more useful than lightweight aluminium walking poles which are too flimsy to brace your weight against. Stick is also really good as a counter-balance and a brace when descending scree slopes…

SCF9924-001

Tuesday and yesterday offered the best weather windows for another go at Ngauruhoe; yesterday had the least wind and Tuesday was off the list when I remembered that I had to speak to a visiting Duke of Edinburgh group from Karamu School. The day opening with a beautifully clear sunset that boded well for the day’s adventure.

Mt Ngauruhoe…

View original post 1,607 more words

If I could…

DSCF9445.JPG

On the trail to Oturere Hut

…what would I say to any one venturing into Tongariro National Park for a day walk or an overnighter..? I had been thinking about writing something like this after my Brutal post yesterday but this comment on my Carry a Big Stick post from my last excursion up Mt Ngauruhoe pretty much made the decision for me (thanks, Rob!)…

I would start with the weather. I would say to only check the Metservice forecast for Tongariro National Park. There may be other sites and apps that may tell you want to want to hear but only Metservice has trained meteorologists in the analytical loop. The Metservice forecast for the park is only for five days: three in detail for Whakapapa Village at 1135m and Red Crater at 1868m; the last two days in outline.

DSCF8941.JPG

Snow in December

Updates are issued each day around 7-30AM and around midday: each update may be quite different from the forecast it replaces. Do not expect the actual weather to always conform to the letter of the forecast. In the end it is your decision to carry on: if you think the conditions are taking you outside your comfort zone (perhaps too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too slippery i.e. icy, too cloudy, etc) stop and think about what you are doing and review your options…

The weather here is very changeable so sometimes even the five day forecast is subject the swings of extreme: unlike the South Island which has long mountain ranges that keep the weather pattern relatively stable, our weather can not only switch just like that but can also manifest itself as radically different micro-climates in close proximity to each other..a couple of years back, two inches of hail were dumped at Mangatepopo without even darkening the blue skies over Whakapapa Village…

Regardless of the forecast, be prepared for four season in one day: a good thermal layer and a good wind- and rain-proof layer, gloves and beanie but also sun hat, sunglasses and sunblock; good walking shoes or boots – not jandals or heels; enough water, at least 1.5 litres, for the day and enough food for the day: good snacky energy food…

So what if something happens…?

In New Zealand, cell phone coverage generally follows the highways : Tongariro National Park is sandwiched between four highways and enjoys reasonable but NOT PERFECT coverage – a lot may depend on the specific model of phone and your service provider – if you need assistance, for example, you are lost, injured or assisting someone else, dial 111 and ask for Police – in New Zealand, the Police are responsible for all off-road rescues. Even if it is an injury: if you are off the road, ask for the Police!!

Three safety questions

Regardless of whether you are going out for a day or overnight, there are three questions you need to ask yourself:

Does someone I trust know what my detailed plans are? Contrary to some myths, this does not have to be someone in New Zealand. It is better that it is someone you trust at home than some bloke you met the night before in the backpackers.

Does this person know when I will contact them after the walk to say I am OK? Ideally this would be no later than the night you finish the walk. If your trusted person is overseas, be very clear about whose time zone it is that you will contact them.

Does this person know who to call if I do not return? If they are in New Zealand, they should dial 111, ask for police and say that they have  a friend or family member in Tongariro National Park on the XXXX walk, that you did not contact them when expected and that they are unable to contact them. Information that it is good for your trusted person to have ready to pass onto the Police:

Your DOC booking number if you are booked into one of the huts or campsites. If you are just on a day walk, where are you staying that night?

Your car registration number. This allows Police to check cars parked around the Park and also to check to see if you may have left the Park and then been involved in an accident somewhere else.

Your cell number – written out not just as a number in an address book: for when the Police ask for the number.

Your Personal Locator Beacon ID number, if you have one. If you do not, especially if travelling on your own, a PLB can be rented for about $10 from various locations around the Park.

Any medical history you or anyone in your group may have that may affect your ability to complete the walk and/or that may be useful for a search party to know.

It is quite important that your trusted person does not fall into the trap of ‘Oh, I’ll just give it another couple of hours’ or ‘I’m sure they’re OK, I’ll call in the morning‘. If they do not hear from you when they expect to and cannot contact you they should make the call.

If your trusted person does not speak good English, it is a good idea for you or them to write down what they want to say in English so they can just read it out (www.translate.com is your friend)

If you are the trusted person for someone, don’t waste time playing amateur detective trying to find someone. Under New Zealand law, companies and agencies cannot release information on who may be booked with them or not. All you are doing is wasting time – call the Police and let them do this.

Mt Tongariro Summit Back Route April 2016-005.JPG

New Zealand is a beautiful place and we all want everyone to come here to enjoy it but…

We don’t close things if they might be unsafe: we rely on visitors to make informed decisions against their own experience and equipment. If in doubt don’t…

Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook or hear in the backpackers about what is or is not doable…

Take responsibility for your safety and that of your friends and family…

Have a Plan B…and C and probably D…

There is no view worth a free helicopter ride…

Brutal

dscf0650

My temporary office/shelter at Soda Springs, about 1200m ASL

A few weeks back, work was pretty slow, so i decided to go for a walk up to Red Crater to check the ground conditions: even though the rest of the country might have been enjoying Spring, Tongariro weather is always changeable  and even now, almost into December, the forecast promises gale force winds and snow to low levels…

metservice-tnp-27-nov-2016

The original forecast for my day in the Park looked quite nice but turned for the worse overnight…I almost gave it a miss but decided to go up to see how many people also decided to ventured into the mess…I’m always interested to learn where our visitors get their information from and what decision process they apply (or perhaps not) when deciding to venture out into the Park when the weather is less than its best.

The first leg up to Soda Springs was quite pleasant, drizzly but not really cold and just a light wind. I made good time as they were only a very few people on the trail – a stark change from the ant farm of a decent weather day…a few hundred metres short of the Springs, there was a distinct temperature gradient and the light drizzle changed into a quite brutal sleet shower: not pleasant at all. It was clearly snowing further up and I didn’t see much point pressing on…

dscf0651

A guided group preparing to head further up the trail – going with a guide in these conditions adds an extra layer of safety

A group of three that I had passed on my way up stopped for a chat. They had checked the forecast before departing but were unaware that the first morning update comes though about 7-30. The previous forecast had been for nicer weather and improving as the day progressed: the guy leading them had fixated on this improvement and was expecting this ti happen as they worked their way up the Crossing. One of the girls only had a light jacket and was only wearing tight-fitting track pants: it wasn’t hard to see the early signs of hypothermia…dragging feet, slurred speech, diminished motor control…. I suggested that perhaps they might to turn back and get her dried off and warmed up…

I walked back with them to make sure they made it back alright. The guy, Eric, was quite a good bloke and we chatted on that walk back: Chinese he had attended high School in Hamilton and had considered himself reasonably experienced in the New Zealand bush: many weekends he and his fellow boarders had been dispatched  on bush tramps and walks. He was quite annoyed that no one at the lodge they were staying at had warned them about the weather or told them to wait until the morning update before checking the weather.

As we descended towards Mangatepopo car park, and away from tat temperature gradient, the weather warmed up and Eric’s friend improved along the way. Misinformation about conditions and hazards in Tongariro National Park is common. Where information does exist it is more often of a tourism promotion ‘ happy happy joy joy’nature and less of the simple easy to understand bullet points that should be shaping visitor expectations from the time they first consider visiting New Zealand.

All’s well that ends well and Eric and his friends came in the next day to say thank you for the assist.That notwithstanding, there have been some gnarly rescues in this area of the Park, most of of which have been caused by the rescuees aspirations getting a head of their capabilities…

Come visit but be safe…

Disaster | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

Source: Disaster | The Daily Post

…sometimes the measure of success is how well you respond…

That was my parting shot in The magnificent seven ride again…, the tale of a 2011 pub crawl against a backdrop of NATO’s Libyan ‘intervention’ and the  lone wolf terrorist attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July 2011.

Mt Tongariro Summit Back Route April 2016-013.JPG

Five years later, those are still true words although I see response from a different perspective now…once, response was force projection, rapid deployment, targeting; now response is something we manage every day…

Today’s prompt is disaster…the biggest disaster to hit this region in the last 2000 years was the Taupo eruption around 182-300AD, depending on whose book you read. Of course, if disaster strikes and there is no one there to suffer from it, is it really a disaster or just a large scale natural event..? I mean, we’re talking seriously large scale here: the biggest explosion that the world has experienced in the last two, possibly more, millenia.

When we talk eruptions here, it is always in the context of when, not if: we know that the three volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro – will erupt again. The iffy bits are when exactly and how much…questions that can only be answered after the fact. Predicting eruptions is much like predicting earthquakes: often we can see a shift from what’s considered normal, maybe an increase (or decrease) in gas emissions, a cooling (or warming) of a crater lake, more (or less) volcanic tremors: but what it means is very difficult to determine.

Because prediction is problematic, a lot of resource goes into response. The timelines are pretty tight. A lahar (big volcanic mudslidey thing) coming down the western side of Ruapehu will hit Whakapapa ski field in about 90 seconds…that’s not enough time to check your phone  for directions, call a friend or update your Facebook page about the big black shadow coming down the mountain…part of the disaster response on the ski field is to ensure that people know what to do beforehand…

Further down the the hill, residents of Whakapapa Village have a whole twenty minutes to evacuate everyone from the danger area along the Whakapapanui Stream, essentially the Holiday Park and the housing area across State Highway 48 from the Chateau. Twenty minutes doesn’t sound like much time but after a fortuitous (probably didn’t seem like it at the time) series of false alarms in 2015, Whakapapa residents know they can do this at nine at night, in winter, after dinner and maybe a few beers.

Untitled.png

There may be no warning. An eruption may occur on a beautiful blue sky day, or in the middle of a black, freezing, sleeting, icy night. Luck ran twice when the Te Maare craters erupted in August 2012. Lucky once because an eruption at 11-30PM meant there were no walkers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as rocks hammered down onto the track. The biggest of these weighed three tonnes, enough to hurt if it landed on your toes. Lucky twice because, even though it was night, the bunk room at Ketetahi Hut was unoccupied as a rock slammed through the roof.

It’s been many years since we have had a disaster in Ruapehu – some tragedies, yes – but the last real disaster in terms of loss of life and damage was probably Tangiwai in 1953. Once of the reasons that we haven’t had any real disasters since then is our ability to respond. The March 2007 lahar had potential – it was certainly much larger – to be as deadly as its 1953 predecessor : that potential was mitigated, some might say neutered, by a effective well-planned, well-practised response. In fact, between exercises and false alarms, the disaster response was so well-practised that when the main event event occurred, it all seemed a bit boring…

So, when  you visit our maunga, take a moment to read the signs and be aware of what’s happening, what might happen around you…if you’re here for your fifteen minutes of fame, don’t let it be in 5000 years when some alien archaeologist chips you out of the remnants of the great Whakapapa Lahar…

Carry a big stick…

…or to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt “Tread carefully and carry a big stick“…two concepts directly related to my summit of Mt Ngauruhoe yesterday…

SCF9964

This is Stick. Stick is a little miffed that it missed out on going up Mt Tongariro last week, but that’s kinda what happens when you hide away in a dark corner of the garage. Stick is way more useful than lightweight aluminium walking poles which are too flimsy to brace your weight against. Stick is also really good as a counter-balance and a brace when descending scree slopes…

SCF9924-001

Tuesday and yesterday offered the best weather windows for another go at Ngauruhoe; yesterday had the least wind and Tuesday was off the list when I remembered that I had to speak to a visiting Duke of Edinburgh group from Karamu School. The day opening with a beautifully clear sunset that boded well for the day’s adventure.

Mt Ngauruhoe (thrower of rocks) is technically ‘only’ a vent on Mt Tongariro but because it is now higher than its parent and such a prominent feature, it is counted as a mountain in its own right. Don’t be fooled however, it is still an active volcano and carries with it, its own unique hazards: it is very steep (a consistent 30 degrees), very smooth and covered in loose rock.

SCF9925

It was pretty brisk at Mangatepopo car park with the normal number of Alpine Crossing walkers milling around. The sky was clear, and the sun beaming down but the temperature was barely above zero…the best way to keep warm: get moving…

Many walkers were way over-dressed and already shedding layers in the first couple of kilometres…a number, by Soda Springs, were already quite oblivious of their surroundings and had to be asked to allow faster walkers past…I don’t really see the point of doing a walk like the Crossing if you are going to zone out before the end of the first leg…

SCF9929

A decent frost crisped up parts of the track lying in the shadow of Mt Tongariro, a good reminder that winter is drawing closer and with it, winter ground conditions. Although there was quite a bit of frost on the board-walks, they weren’t slippery but that won’t be too far away…DSCF9893

I made good time up to the top of the Devil’s Staircase, about 90 minutes. At this sign, turn right…in summer ground conditions, i.e. no snow on the ground, a trail has been worn from the sign towards the base of the volcano.

SCF9963

We’re not kidding!!

Because the sides of Ngauruhoe are so steep and smooth, any rocks knocked loose – and many of the surfaces aren’t that stable to start with – can roll hundreds of metres, picking up a lot of speed along the way. On my way up, I saw two torso-sized boulders crashing down the scree slopes: if they collected anyone on their way down, the results would be serious injury and a free helicopter ride…

SCF9938

As this peters out, a series of blue and orange track markers indicates the route to the beginning of the real climb…

The trick to a safe and successful ascent of Ngauruhoe is to work your way up the solid rock formations, avoiding the scree slopes as much as possible: they are really hard work going up and unstable to such a point that upwards motion, slipping and sliding, will generate lots of mini rock slides.

As a very young volcano, a lot of the rock on Ngauruhoe is very rough and sharp and this is more pronounced the closer to the summit that you get. Hard shell gloves are a good idea – your nice wool Icebreaker gloves will last about five minutes – and I’ll be digging out my leather shooting gloves before I come back up here.

Another incredibly highly recommended piece of kit for Ngauruhoe is a climbing helmet. Unless you are fortunate to strike a day when you have the mountain to yourself (unlikely to occur with decent weather conditions), there is a consistent trickle of small (and not so small) rocks coming down from climbers ahead of you. In addition some of the rock faces on the way up are quite steep with potential drops of a few metres: you may be the best rock scrambler in the world, the that mightn’t help you if you get wiped out by someone less experienced ahead of taking a tumble.

climbing helmet

Something like this…

…and, no, I didn’t wear a helmet myself…something that a. my school group from Karamu School called me on when I caught up with them at Soda Springs on my way back and b. that I intend to do something about before I return…I only saw one group up there with helmets but lots of near misses…

Stick was really useful as a brace on the ascent and there was only one time where I needed to use both hands for climbing…everybody that I saw with walking poles struggled with them: they are too flimsy to be used as a brace and, more often than not, tend to just get in the way: you do need at least one hand free for climbing. I carried a set of poles up for a young American lady who had come expecting a walk not a climb and who was reduced to throwing her poles ahead of her as she used both hands to climb…

This young lady had also been left behind by the rest of her group which is pretty untidy – if you start as a group, you go as a group and finish as a group – more so, when she did not have any water on her. I carry heaps and was happy to share, bolster her confidence and encourage her to the summit but she was not prepared for this sort of activity and was having a pretty miserable time – which defeats the whole point of doing things like this…

SCF9943

It took me about two hours to the summit: spectacular views!! But all that rock is very hard and very sharp with a some big potential drops of the unwary or unsteady of foot..

SCF9948

The top of the cloud was sitting around 1400 metres but all the good stuff was visible, looking here across Red Crater to Blue Lake; lower centre, you can see the Tongariro Alpine Crossing heading up towards its highest point of 1868 metres, and the trail to the summit of Mt Tongariro. climbing off to the left…

SCF9939

There are active vents (fumaroles) on Mt Ngauruhoe and steam was clearly visible from this one on the summit: you can just make it out at four o’clock from the left-hand figure on the skyline…

SCF9949

Without wanting to repeat myself, this volcanic rock is hard and sharp…about three steps into my descent, I slipped and slip a couple of metres and have some nice skin to grow back on my left wrist…slow and steady is the way…

SCF9956

The easiest and safest way to descend Mt Ngauruhoe is down the scree slopes to the west of the rock that you climbed up on. Avoid the rocky surfaces: they are not very stable and you WILL set off rock slides!! Stick to the channels of already disturbed scree where there are less rocks.

SCF9954

Stick was really useful for bracing myself on the scree…this is soft and loose…if you are wearing ankle boots or runners/trainers (really?), gaiters would be a good idea as you will be sinking into this stuff up to and over your ankles. Don’t be an idiot and leap your way down the scree slopes: not only are you kicking loose a lot of loose material that hazards those below you, but if you strike a fixed rock beneath the surface, you are likely to lose your balance and become your own rock slide…you can descend quickly and safely without being an idiot…

Be aware of your surroundings…I spent a lot of my descent time watching behind me for rocks knocked loose by other people…not everyone calls ‘rock’ when they set one loose…think a couple of steps ahead as to where you will go if a rock comes in your direction…

Mt Ngauruhoe Summit climb April 2016 -026

…and finally back on the trail just before the junction with the Alpine Crossing…I was tempted to carry on up to Red Crater, across to Mt Tongariro and come back down the way I went up last week but I didn’t fancy descending down through that cloud on an unmarked trail…

Mt Ngauruhoe Summit climb April 2016 -028

A final shot from just short of Mangatepopo car park…perversely the view was clear with that little cloud rolling in in the time it took me to get out my camera…

Total time was about 6 1/2 hours but that includes a decent break for lunch, assisting the young American lady and stopping to talk to groups along the way. My total walking time, with just breather breaks would have been in the region of 5 1/2 hours…

Insights

  • Gloves – a good set of well-fitting leather gloves will save you skin
  • Helmet – may save your life.
  • Decent sturdy footwear – not runners! Consider gaiters to keep the scree out of your boots/shoes.
  • If you must take walking poles: either take only one of have a backpack that will let you carry them if you don’t need them.
  • Tread carefully: be sure you are stepping onto firm ground before you transfer your weight…
  • Jeans make the climb – and it is a climb not a walk – hard work. I was comfortable in shorts and an Icebreaker T-shirt all day BUT I had good clothing for cold/wet weather on me if I needed it…

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS – YOUR SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!!!

It was disappointing to observe the number of people who were physically and psychologically unprepared for Mt Ngauruhoe…many thought it was just a walk and struggled with the climb and the height – one loud American complained the whole way up about his fear of falling – others got up all right but had no idea how to get down…here’s a hint: it’s easy to climb UP the rock; climbing down the same way is not nearly as easy and you’re making people still coming up work around you…

This, I think, puts a lot of the responsibility back onto us locals to ensure that we are setting visitor expectations appropriately in all our contact with them, and through our websites, and social media engagement…Mt Ngauruhoe is not a place where ‘just do it’ is a good or safe philosophy…

 

 

Fog | The Daily Post

Today’s one-word prompt: Fog.

Source: Fog | The Daily Post

Clouds can form at many different altitudes. They can be as high as 12 miles above sea level or as low as the ground. Fog is a kind of cloud that touches the ground. ~ SciJinks

These one word prompts from WordPress always strike me as quite lazy: if the muses can’t be bothered putting any effort into the prompt, I feel less inspired to apply myself to any response…all too often my response is graphic (graphic imagery-wise, not graphic colourful in the semantic sense!) but while I am set-a-foot for the next week or so, I’m determined to write something once a day, even if it is not in response to that day’s prompt….

Fog here, just is…it is more common than not in the morning, often beautifully so, filling in the low ground and giving rise to impressions of great inland lakes, around which the road skirts – or sometimes descends into…

Raurimu-010

On the mountains, it is common for fog to form rapidly, catching out the unwary walker or climber. Often visibility will deteriorate to a point where the next marker pole on a track is no longer visible; or the landmark you are using as a point of reference of exploring off-trail just disappears…

DSCF9856

It is actually quite cool to be sitting up high and watching clouds and fog form in front of you, or below you…often around mid-morning as the sun burns off dew on the rocks from the previous night, the water vapour created will only rise a few metres and then drift off, slowly (sometimes not too slowly) thickening into a thick mist…

DSCF9864

Sometimes it is only a matter of minutes before clear skies are obscured, and navigation is hindered + it is cold in the cloud as well: another trap for the unwary…

DSCF9865

…and from there to here, on the summit of Mount Tongariro, where walkers are wisely waiting for the fog to clear enough for the poles marking the trail back to Red Crater to be visible again…it normally doesn’t take too long…best to wait than to wander off and find you cannot see any sign of civilisation when the fog clears..!