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Heels 1970

Sunburn, Snow Blindness and Lightning Conductors

Sunburn, Snow Blindness and Lightning Conductors

Via cut steps in the Mangawekas and assorted V.W.s, the mixed party arrived in dribs and drabs at the Hutt Valley tramping club hut on Ruapehu, in November 1969 on a Friday night, just after finals.

Grey mud and ash from the June eruption relieved the drag up the Whakapapa the next morning. Snowcream had been applied early, as the day was fine and hot. Four of us roped up beneath Paretetaitonga and took two lines up to the top. While belaying Noel a full rope length above me, words of 'if he falls off now...' floated up from the dots on the Whakapapa below. From the top, periodic breaks in mist revealed a beautiful emerald green coloured crater lake and a magnificent mountain.

We followed the other two - Keith and John - down and along to the nerg between Pare and Tahurangi. Soon an icecliff barred further progress along the ridge crest, so lacking etriers, we were turned to the sides. The other two went around on the Ohakune side, but we decided on a crater 'face' sidle. The small schrund that I discovered by falling in to waist level, made it a little difficult to get back to the ridge, but with Colonel and his party page 7 watching, during a break from their snow plod beneath us, we finally made it.

Tahurangi loomed up, with various interesting routes thru the ice, which joined up on top where, in a white out, ice screws and scrog were tasted. Like fools, we supposed that, since it was misty, snow cream was unnecessary. Colonel and co. arrived soon after, one of them having tried to escape by sliding down towards Blyth. One or two shins were barked, going down the ridge towards Mitre. However, we were attempting a circumcision, so on crampons we glissaded down in safe snow towards Pyramid. Colonel had decided to return via the plateau, so only the four of us were ... 'Suddenly there was a large explosive sound' (and several brown lumps appeared on the snow). A temporary clearance revealed a placid lake, but some storm clouds - only thunder, thank God. So the four of us started chopping on the Desert side of the slope, under the discontinuity on the Pyramid ridge section of the crater rim. Many small rocks falling from the ridge didn't make the hard ice any softer and thankfully we crawled onto the steep slope under Pyramid and front pointed up to the ridge and Pyramid. We steered a course for the Dome - Pare saddle in a white-out in tiring soft snow. Peasantville was regained on the saddle, but there was no sign of Colonel and co., so we started on the descent.

In the Whakapapanui, electricity could almost be seen, as ice axes began singing in harmony with each other. I forgot all statistics of static electricity and started sprinting straight down in a desperate attempt to get rid of an overriding sense of exposure. Soon after we reached the hut, Bryan andLesley arrived from the South face of Te Heuheu and Pinnacle ridge, telling tales that made our hair stand on end - as their's did. (Have you ever heard of a rock concert with the rocks supplying the music?) Nearer dark, Colonel and co. returned, having negotiated the plateau in a white-out, by removing goggles and keeping the smell of sulphur on their right.

Lethargy was shattered later that night, as the sound of Blind Faith, Dylan and Paul Jones drowned the snores.

Faces were red the next morning, but some were in fact yellow, from horrible oozing blisters and raw skin. Colonel was in pain and blind as well as sunburnt; - and 'Murine' helped little. Wharry looked like a lobster with white war paint, as he had a single plaster across his nose. Still, suitably draped with handkerchiefs and mosquito net, several people took advantage of the fine weather and departed for higher ground again. Keith and John gained the final 9000 footer and Noel and I almost wiped out on the Pinnacle ridge flank, during a glissade that wasn't. After examining the mud damaged ski kiosk we returned to the hut and thence to the top of the Bruce and in various cars, home.

Party:- Bryan Sissons, Lesley Bagnall, Keith Jones, John de Joux, Bob Norman, Noel Sissons, John Keys, John Atkinson, Gerald Purvis, Euan Robertson.

"It was as if an angel had flown round the horizon of mountain ranges, and lighted up each of their white pyramidal points in succession, like a row of gigantic lamps burning with rosy fires".

George Cheever. *