I watch as light leans on the mountains, an early morning embrace which I take a moment to photograph. Standing out here in the bitter cold, I shiver wearing every piece of clothing I’ve got. This is my first morning at Tukino on the wild side of Ruapehu, and the mountain is clearly emphasizing that I’m to pay my respects.
Admiring the views one last time, I turn my back on the biting southerly and head towards the summit – the first baby steps of my mountaineering career. The Tongariro National Park was a favourite of Sir Edmund Hillary in his early years, and it’s easy to see why this wild landscape makes the ideal training ground. Stark contrasts unfold below me. Snowy plateaus, icy waterfalls, chaotic valleys and barren lava flows sit side by side. Just 5 hours from Auckland or 4 hours from Wellington, this accessible wilderness area is second to none.
Placing one foot in front of the other, there’s nothing to interrupt my newfound solitude besides the crunching of snow and ice beneath my feet. Crampons scratch small steps into the mountainside and their miniature peaks, the only thing holding me there. Heavy breathing becomes rhythmic with my movement as I keep pace towards the promise of sunshine and warmth.
To either side of me the mountain drops away as I move from rock to rock along the ridgeline towards Whangaehu Hut at 2060m. With solid footing on andesite, I let a moment of vertigo grip me, a helpful reminder of where I am and who is in charge. I enquire as to the many peaks before me, and then commit to climbing each one in the near future. My excitement is hard to conceal. I’m a rookie mountaineer, but this is where I want to be.
Visit the Department of Conservation website to explore further.