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Saturday, 14 September 2013

Tukino Ice

August came and passed, with its usual barrage of stormy unsettled weather. The mountains took a buffeting, and so it was the time of year for bush runs and multi-sport adventure. During August my inov-8s clawed through the steep & rugged trails of the Pinnacles, Te Aroha, Pirongia and the Waitakeres. Now into September, fine spells hung around for several days at a time... we were relieved at first, but worried when we realised... the ICE IS MELTING.

Saturday 7th Sep, our band of three headed to the eastern side of Ruapehu to salvage the white gold. Jason Horrocks, member of the NZ Alpine Team, and Justin Loiseau, party member for the Great Southern Alps Traverse, accompanied me for a weekend of climbing on the waterfall ice of Margaret's Leap and alpine rock of the Southern Bluffs.

Access to the crags at Tukino is excellent - once you have managed to ascend the often rugged Tukino Mountain Road. Within twenty minutes we were at the foot of Margaret's Leap, an impressive 40 metre high curtain of ice that forms reliably for most of winter. Our only slice of bad luck - recent snow still hung onto the ice, making for some insecure stances and loose axe placements. The challenge was to keep weight on the feet. But for the crux of a WI3 line that we ascended, a bulge forced you to completely trust your pick placements in the ice, hanging on the arms for a short while in order to find higher footholds. Adrenaline on full burst. 

It was great training placing ice screws on lead, emphasising how important it is to thrust in the screw shoulder height to ensure a solid first bite through the crust, before screwing in full-bore. Ice screws don't last forever as we discovered - before committing to a second abseil on the equalised two-screw anchor, I noticed the ice had melted around the bore of the screws... The wall was now dripping under the heat, it was traumatic to witness the ice melting so visibly, so we retired with two exciting ice pitches in the bag. 

On to the Southern Bluffs, a band of rock below Margaret's Leap, we eyed up Pillier Francaise, a grade 3 two-pitch mixed route up the left buttress. The rock was compact and surprisingly solid, compared to the choss-piles lying in the Whangaehu Valley. Grade 10 rock was not a challenge in itself, but a good place to start leading mixed routes on gear. Climbing rock in crampons and ice axes is a skill that can only be practiced in the mountains, as sharp metal scratches the precious limited rock resources of city crags.

Finding good anchors was difficult, but with perseverance I set up an adequate anchor for each pitch using only nuts. All great experience in the mountains. Three to a rope, we were only marginally slower than a pair, and topped out on dusk, revelling in the coming of Sunday's westerly storm. We escaped back to the car before the storm hit full force... A fantastic day of climbing on Ruapehu's wild side with good friends.

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