A draught was pushing its way north from the southern end of the lake, infused with invisible white teeth of ice, a cold that bites into your skin and makes your shoulders turn inwards on themselves. Blind to the eye but perfectly visible to smell and touch, it was snowing in the south, and the grey, cold drizzle falling in Taupo felt only a degree or two off the same.
I shot out of work and into the cold. It was quarter to five as I ran into Hunting and Fishing; I needed a polar fleece and I left with two. I had signed up for a beginners Alpine Course with the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Central Plateau section, and was not sure I had enough warm clothing. I quickly did my last minute shopping, and visualised myself a few hours ahead, trudging through knee deep snow above The Bruce to our lodgings. I was amped and excited.
That was the plan, but at that stage I didn’t know the first rule of mountaineering. “You make a plan, then you see what the weather is doing, then you make a new plan”.
Driving up the snowy Bruce Road in the warmth of my car, I arrived at Whakapapa Village at 8pm. Once parked up I wrestled for space with my steering wheel as I negotiated six layers of clothing onto my body which including two pairs of thermal undies, my new polar fleece, a down jacket, and overall hard gortex shell. Soon emerging like an overfeed caterpillar, I waddled my way down to the Tussock Tavern. And there I stayed, we stayed, myself and the rest of the alpine wannabes, stripping layer upon layer off, getting drunker and drunker. No one was going to get up the Bruce Road that night.
As it turned out we didn’t arrive at our lodgings at the luxurious Waikato Ski Lodge until almost noon the next day as we had to wait until the Bruce Road was sufficiently safe to negotiate. Meanwhile the sun shone bright and there was no need for my new polar fleece!
Our first day of activities consisted of ice axe handling skills, including self-arresting from all manner of positions, so we enjoyed throwing ourselves down snowy embankments like WWF wresters; backward, head first and upside down. We practiced walking efficiently in the foot holes of others and walked in crampons (you have no idea how excited I was to use my crampons for the first time!) We also learnt to climb icy embankments using the German Technique, the American Technique, not to mention movie favourite, the French ‘Piolet Traction’.
Our first day ended with a leisurely hike in the hills as the sun dipped in the distance behind Mt Taranaki, a magnificent sunset and a hearty meal of spaghetti bolognaise, red wine and cheese cake followed by a movie on avalanche assessment and rescue.
Pschyed for a full day hiking, we hit the slopes again at dawn while the snow was still nice and hard for walking on. At a steady pace, and practicing many of our newly learnt techniques we made the Crater Lake and summit plateau in time for lunch.
With the only casualty being the sunburnt insides of my nostrils it was all too soon time to go home.
Overall a magnificent trip with some incredible people. With special thanks going out to Marcus B, Marcus D, Mike, Scott and Elliot for the fantastic weekend – you were awesome!