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Ruapehu

From Ride the Breath by Gerry Roach

Chapter Three – Cordillera Trascender – Journey

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand, 1968

Before opening her eyes in the morning, Barb asked, “How’s the weather?”

Peering outside I replied, “Socked in, but it looks light. We might be able to climb above the clouds. Let’s start and see how far we can get!” We felt our way up Ruapehu’s gentle lower slopes in dense fog, stopping when we reached the broad crater rim. We knew the summit was on the far side of the crater and that the crater contained a dangerous lake. We needed visibility for the summit climb, but the fog looked thin, so we waited.

After twenty minutes, a strong breeze flicked the fog away, and we squinted at the sunny summit. Thrilled that we might actually make it, we pulled on more clothes, started around the southern, serrated crater rim, climbed a steep slope, then dodged rocks festooned with ice feathers. On Ruapehu’s highest point, Tahurangi, we caressed the North Island’s highest point with our bare hands, then feasted on excellent New Zealand cheese. We felt lucky to snatch Ruapehu from the capricious spring weather.

On the way back, we took an easier route around the crater lake. Years earlier, people swam in this naturally heated lake, but it had become acidic and uninviting with a yellow sulfur scum floating on the cloudy green water. Occasionally, the water boiled and threw mud over the surrounding snow, and lava had even filled the lake. On another occasion, the lake proved deadly. On Christmas eve 1953, a barrier of volcanic ash gave way, allowing water to escape into the volcano’s depths. A huge flood rushed through a subterranean tunnel, then emerged into the Whangaehu River. The ensuing mudflow weakened critical concrete piers of a railway bridge near Tangiwai. A few minutes later, the Wellington express train plunged through the weakened bridge into the raging river, and a hundred and fifty-one people lost their lives. Honoring the dead, we gave the lake a wide berth.

Denali from Syzygy Summit Denali from Syzygy Summit


For the rest of the summer, Barb and I climbed and toured the Great Land. We backpacked toward Denali from Wonder Lake and climbed several small peaks. Vaunted views of Denali further shaped our inhalations.
Nevado de Copa, Peru Nevado de Copa, Peru


Class dismissed, I selected 20,351-foot Nevado de Copa for our first climb because its name meant pleasing in Quechua, it was easy, thirty-one feet higher than Denali in Alaska, and I wanted to break my altitude record.
Huascaran, showing our south side route Peru’s highest peak – 22,205-foot Huascaran; this view shows our south side route


The route was haunting in its beauty, and the route’s aesthetics focused our choice more than its difficulty. For me, it was not just the mountain that was art, but the route as well, and ultimately, every step of the ascent.
A snow-clad Mauna Kea from Hilo A snow-clad Mauna Kea from Hilo


We woke with sun on our faces, and lay in our bag watching in wonderment as a red dawn infused the lava and brought it back to life. Our journey was not a dream.
Mauna Loa from Mauna Kea Mauna Loa from Mauna Kea


‘My Kea quest can’t be over until Loa holds me.’

Barb added, ‘I guess we’ll have to do another trip around the world, Hub! There should be a continuing mission in every journey. These two peaks will stitch our two trips together.’
Ruapehu's nasty crater lake Ruapehu’s nasty crater lake


Our short visit to New Zealand had been pure, and we were reluctant to leave, but also knew that we still had much adventure ahead of us.
Kosciuszko, Australia's highest peak Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak


At 7,310 feet, Kosciuszko is the mild monarch of a mostly level land. Kosciuszko is in the heart of the Snowy Mountains that are the northern culmination of the docile Australian Alps. The Snowy Mountains are neither high nor rugged, but in compensation, the range offers vast tracts of hauntingly beautiful landscape.
Shimering midnight bergs Shimmering midnight bergs ahead of the Fuji


I marveled at icebergs shimmering under the midnight sun. Penguins dove into the sea to avoid the ship as it crunched through sea ice. On board, I made friends, ate seaweed, played games, read books, and learned how not to drink sake.
Antarctica's Tyoto Zan Antarctica’s Tyoto Zan


Always wanting more, I hoped that I would get a chance to touch the Antarctic continent and dreamed of climbing a peak there. Near the end of the trip I got my chance. On a fantastic field trip several of us camped on a rare ice-free peninsula and climbed 1,241-foot Tyoto Zan. My Japanese friends told me that I was the first American to climb this strange rock peak.

Photos from the Gerry Roach Collection

 

 

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