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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Round the Mountain Ruapehu

The Round the Mountain track circumnavigates Mount Ruapehu, one of the most predominant volcanic cones in the North Island. Its a stunning journey through sub-alpine terrain and now one of my favourite tracks in New Zealand.

Ruapehu's shining peaks of Paretetaitonga, Tahurangi and Girdlestone

NEARBY TOWN/CITY: Whakapapa Village, Tongariro National Park
EXACT LOCATION: Walk up Bruce Rd, past DOC info centre, past Shelter. Whakapapaiti track begins down lane to the right off Bruce Rd.
TIME TO COMPLETE: Elite-12hrs; Weekend Warrior -16hrs+; Non-stop tramping–20 hours
TYPE OF TRAIL RUN: Loop. Best run anti-clockwise, starting/ending at Whakapapa Village. This way you tackle the tough “Goat” section first on fresh legs, and finish on the easy, board-walked “Tussock Traverse” section over Tama Saddle.
DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS: Sub-Alpine, technical, remote
START GPS: Latitude -39.20316060 S, Longitude 175.53980827 E
FINISH GPS: Same as start
BEST MAP/S: NZ Topo50 BH34, BH35, BJ34, BJ35 (Mostly on BJ34)

Early start at Whakapapa Village

RUN IT: The best time to run the Ruapehu circuit is between October – May, as this is an all-day affair you’ll want to maximize daylight hours, and being a remote alpine environment, bad weather can also make this run dangerous. Plenty of food, thermals and a wind/rain-proof jacket are essential. Water is not so much an issue, you can fill up at each hut (spaced roughly 2-3 hrs run apart), and also in the clean streams and rivers. Ruapehu’s eastern side is particularly remote. Once you pass Ohakune Mountain Rd and venture into the desert, you are miles away from civilization. In good conditions however, this all adds to the experience!

Boardwalk by Mangaturuturu
Begin your run before dawn and head along the Whakapapaiti track, through lush Beech forest and crossing several bridged stream crossings until you reach the Whakapapaiti Stream. You will cross to the west side, where you make your way through muddy tussock lands, re-cross at the forked section of the stream shortly before reaching the hut. About 2 hours in, you should wake up the trampers and invite yourself in for some morning coffee fresh off the primus.

The Waterfall face
Southern Ruapehu - Mangaehuehu
Continue on the trail and you’ll soon intersect the Round the Mountain circuit track, and begin “The Goat” section – steep, gnarly gullies will work you up and down, but with any luck, stunning views of Paretetaitonga will inspire you onwards. The trail swings you down a spur where you pass the pristine Lake Surprise, descend a steep gulley to Mangaturuturu hut. Follow the boardwalk to the river, cross, and the trail continues to the left, towards the Cascades waterfall. This steep waterfall face is a tough and long climb which may have even reduced Sjors Corporaal to a power-walk.

Dropping into the great gulley
Endorphin-fuelled fun across the Waihianoa Glacier

Jog down Ohakune Mountain Rd for 3km, and reconnect the track at car park to your left. The section to Mangaehuehu hut is a well groomed trail, and features a 39m waterfall – Ruapehu’s highest. Soon after, you negotiate a 3-wire bridge crossing, and some interesting sub-alpine running through alpine herb fields. Refill your bladder here before heading into the wilderness that is the Rangipo desert. The trail turns into a poled route shortly after leaving the hut, so a compass would be useful in low visibility conditions. The Waihianoa glacial valley is spectacular; stop for a moment to take it in. Then blitz the descent and carry your momentum up the following, grueling, ascent. Apart from this workout, climbing is moderate. Dig it in - follow the undulating traverse across barren desert towards Rangipo hut.

Rangipo Desert - 20km to go
Crampons not necessary when you have Inov-8 BareGrip 200s!
Once you reach the Tukino Ski field road you are on the home-straight, only 27km of fast running remains. The landscape is vast and exposed - the never-ending rocky horizon and your growing fatigue will make progress seem futile. Now is a good time for some energy gels to raise your sugar levels and morale. Resist the temptation of a hot meal at Waihohonu Hut; you will never be able to leave! Instead cut the corner to the west and clip onto the Tama lakes track and begin the (barely noticeable) ascent to Tama Saddle. Switch on the headlamps, and finish strong along the easy board-walked track. Listen out for the gushing Taranaki falls, and flickering lights of the Chateau…

You’ve done it, a complete circumnavigation of the North Island’s most predominant mountain. “One does not simply walk into Mordor… one simply runs!”

Ruby running in the rain

POST RUN GOODNESS: The Tussock Bar. Drive 50m past Chateau, on the left. This bar/restaurant is an absolute jewel after this epic mission. I highly recommend ordering a plate of Volcanic Wedges, with extra bacon & cheese. Victory is yours!

Self transcendence at the end of the 13-hour journey
A complete circumnavigation of Ruapehu's vast flanks is a great achievement

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