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June 2011 Issue
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Are we having fun yet?

Fun times descending the Mangatoetoenui Glacier. Photo: Alistair Hall

It’s a good question for this time of year – snow is dusting the tops of most mountain ranges, huts are more fridge than welcoming abode and it seems the only people happy about the drop in temperature are skiers. There seems little to cheer on the humble tramper.

But as Paul Hersey points out in our feature on getting above the snowline this winter (p36), trampers and climbers can also have fun when the weather turns more extreme. We just don’t necessarily know it at the time. For instance, there was the time I camped out on the Summit Plateau of Ruapehu in -15°C temperatures. Was it fun? Hell no, worst time of my life in fact – or so I thought as a I silently cursed my tent buddy who hogged the limited tent space and made the most of the insulating properties of my Therm-A-Rest while a I shivered crammed against the ice-encrusted tent wall.

Sleep came in fits and bursts that night and by morning I was grumpier than the Grinch. Numb fingers that simply refused to buckle on my crampons frustrated the living daylights out of me and had me swearing ‘Never again’. My one consolation seemed to be the fact my tent-mate had forgotten to put his boots in his sleeping bag overnight and now they were frozen solid and proving impossibly uncomfortable to wear.

With the sun shining we made an early morning trek across the plateau to the Crater Lake. And that’s when all the horror of a freezing, cramped night was vanquished. All around was the most amazing winter view – Ngauruhoe decked out in a cloak of purest white, patches of wispy cloud hovered over the Central Plateau and over to the east, the snow-dusted Kaimanawa Ranges provided inspiration for more trips further afield. It was stunning and only got better when later that morning we cramponed our way down the Mangatoetoenui Glacier in pristine conditions.

It was a brutal and painfully cold night, but not even that could stop the fun for long.

Put up with some discomfort this winter – and even our five winter trips to try (p40) will barely register on the discomfort metre – and I’m sure you’ll also see tramping is just as fun in winter.