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Heels 1974

Tongariro - Queens Birthday Weekend

page 31

Tongariro - Queens Birthday Weekend

I think I must have a mental block about boots. I have already-forgotten them twice because I don't want to wear them for travelling -but now I'm running down the hill with them in one hand and my pack nearly winding me at every step. I only just manage to catch the bus and by 6 o'clock I'm at the station - by about 7.30., on the way to Tongariro. Once there, I drop my torch in the dark and lose the others; re-assemble the torch and miss the turn-off to the hut. "3 minutes to Mangatepopo Hut" the sign said, and surely I've been going for 5 or 10? So, after some rather pathetic yoo-hooing, I turn back and soon meet a small, patient search-party with torches. The hut is full - we are by no means the only club in the area. Someone has a hammock and I resolve to get one myself.

In the morning we all toil up to the saddle (between Ngauruhoe and Tongariro) in the sunlight, with a detour to look at the sulphur springs and chunder the occasional boulder. It's a sort of leap-frog game as each group stops for a rest and is passed and then overtakes again. Colonel and I aren't hungry at the top (even Wharry's rapture's over his food can't tempt us) so we leave the others eating and set out across South Crater. The poles stretch across a desolate lunar landscape... through puddles...Colonel is alarmed at the prospect of wet feet -his boots leak - so we make a sharp left turn and followed soon by the others, cut directly across the crater and up a rather icy, scrappy slope to meet the poles again at the top of the ridge. Some of us notice the absence of any flowers whatsoever - the only vegetation is lichen, alpine mosses and grasses and little hardy creeping plants. But there are some beautiful delicate frost crystals in shaded places - destructive as always we enjoy the crunch of walking on them, and of course there's more gleeful boulder chundering. Wandering across Central Crater towards Ketetahi Springs we come across a steep-sided crater and some energetic people write V.U.W.T.C. in the bottom of it, to much yelling of instructions from the rest of us ("Left, left!" "Stand on the full stops and smile!" "The C's too curly!") Eventually we reach Ketetahi Hut which is overflowing so we pitch tents or decide to sleep on the floor. The 'overflow' outside have brought wine and sing loudly on the slope behind the hut.

Well, Sunday is ours, and some set off immediately to soak in the hot springs - another group of us go a bit further in the opposite direction to see the Sulphur Lagoon. The rock-chundering potential is tremendous and I become a coat-hanger for all cameras and lenses - we even discover a crater which echoes and the noise is like a Western. Although the lagoon is a mere puddle, some go down to explore - the rest of us head back to the hut! I very soon get bored with sitting around and three of us set off for Oturere Valley (towards the Desert Road), arranging to rejoin the others at Mangatepopo on Monday. We pass Blue Lake and investigate the Emerald Lakes, which look very sulphurous and horribly bare of vegetation. There's a cold wind at this height so we wrap up warmly and descend into Oturere Valley - which was fascinating! From high points it looks vast, a great expanse of hollows, grey sand and weird boulder shapes - again, no trees but there are mosses and lichen, a little hebe and a little curly-leaved dracophyllum. We can see marker-poles stretching into the far distance but as we go we realise the scale is deceptive and the whole valley really quite small. Some interesting boulder problems distract us, huge lava chunks and beautiful hard basalt - but the rock is too cold to climb for long. We agree that a Mexican page 32on horseback wouldn't be out of place, or an Apache ambush, or something.

Every now and them we glimpse more poles winding into the distance but we reach the hut quite suddenly and a sign saying, "5½ hours to Mangatepopo, 3½ to Ketetahi, and 4 hours to Waihohonu "(round Ngauruhoe towards the Tongariro Chateau.) The hut is very noisy, there are dozens of Venturer Scouts and some others from Ketetahi. We find a room to ourselves though and the Scouts,although rowdy,are very helpful. In the morning there's fine snow whisking about on a cold wind, and a light coating on the ground. The hut is empty and clean by the time we leave. The scouts have gone down to the Desert Road, and we decide to abandon our idea of going around to Waihohonu and go back the way we came - a known quantity...actually it turns out to be quite different - we meet a very hungry party (with iced-up beards) coming down, having spent the night by Blue Lake where, they said, it was too windy to make Dinner or Breakfast. When we reach Emerald Lakes ourselves we see why. Everything looks quite different, the tops are shrouded and look cold and ancient and remote, those poles that haven't collapsed in the strong wind have grown icy fringes on their lee sides. Progress is slow, we can hardly stand up and Colonel edges us round the old track so we avoid the full force of the wind. We are disgusted to see glimpses of blue sky over Ruapehu, in fact everywhere (it seems) except here.

The stream beside Mangatepopo looks beautiful, ice has crept in lacy patterns inwards from the banks. In the hut we find 4 of the others, highly pleased with themselves because they'd come over the night before, avoiding the snow and wind, and with shameless lying kept a whole bunk-room to themselves although the rest of the hut was bursting! While we're eating, Frank suddenly leaps up and says Ngauruhoe's erupting! Very exciting even though there is no lava or car-sized boulders, just clouds of steam and gasses. Still we agree, when travelling home in convoy of Frank's and John Black's faithful engines, that for one weekend hot springs, superb boulder-chundering, snow and an eruption, is not bad going!!