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June 2014 Issue
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Spectacular traverse

The sun sets as a climber walks the final section of the Crater Lake traverse. Photo: Fraser Crichton
8-10hrhr from car park (shorter if  you take chairlifts up the mountain)

Crater Lake traverse, Tongariro National Park

A traverse of Ruapehu’s Crater Lake is a spectacular and unique alpine trip involving an arête and an exposed face on the North Island’s highest volcano.

It’s a challenging day’s climbing – perfect for those graduates of an alpine instruction course who are looking for a first climb.

It’s a hard slog from Whakapapa Ski Field to Ruapehu’s Summit Plateau and the lake. The circumnavigation is best done anticlockwise, beginning from Dome equipment shed where gentle snow slopes beneath Paretetaitonga are followed to a point below 2797m Tahurangi from where a broad ridge leads down to the sulphurous smelling Crater Lake outflow. This is where Ruapehu’s periodic lahars flow from, but the crossing is normally straightforward.

A devilishly narrow arête stretches ahead from here; the smell of brimstone and sulphur wafting overhead. Falling from the arête would mean a tumble into the lake and the exposure is heightened by the dark shadow of the lahar-tracked Whangaehu River falling away to the right and the Desert Road 1500m below.

At the end of the arête there’s a steep descent to a col below Pyramid Peak, 2645m. In poor snow conditions this can be a noxious scramble of a descent on loose scoria and rubble. From the col traverse right onto the steep, shaded south face of Pyramid Peak. A rope and some ice screws may be welcome here – blue ice sticks out close to a rock ramp and the slope kicks back steeper for a pitch. It’s not dissimilar from the feeling you get on one of the big faces down south; intimidating and uncertain. The final pitch zigzags up a steep ramp and out into the sun on the summit of Pyramid Peak.

From the summit a long ridge with a red tower of rock halfway along leads back towards the equipment shed and the completion of the traverse.

Fraser Crichton