The three of us set off on Friday night so that we’d be down at Whakapapa bright and early to attempt the Northern Circuit in one day. Last time I was there it took Dad, Ruth and I three days, so this time our plan was ambitious, but achievable given the right circumstances. I now have my Aarn balance pockets attached to my MacPac so I was doing a full gear test on this trip.
We set off from Whakapapa at 7:30am in mist and cloud. The path was quite wet and surprisingly overgrown for one of New Zealands’s “Great Walks”. It was the vegetation encroaching on the path that really got us wet, with the leader absorbing most on the first pass. It took us only 2 hours to reach Mangetepopo, very good considering the condition of the track and the list time of up to 5 hours in bad weather. From there we tackled the Devil’s Staircase and the weather got worse. We were most of the way up when it became obvious that continuing was foolish. The TrailWalker, for which the ladies are training, would definitely be called off well before it got to that stage. I however don’t have that option. If I get to Oregon and the weather is bad, I had to get through because it won’t get any better. Wait a few days and you’re just a few days further into winter. So while they went back to shelter in the hut and think of a plan, I went on.
At South Crater the wind stopped. It was almost pleasant for a few hundred meters but the ridge on the other side was something else. It was a real fight to get up to Red Crater. I passed two other groups debating returning as they were buffeted about by wild winds. I reached the edge of the crater and was momentarily proud that I’d battled on but that didn’t last long. I couldn’t see down the other side at all. Not only was it far too cloudy, and rainy, to see anything, but it was too windy to get anywhere near the edge. Every step I took along the path sent me two steps the wrong way. I’ve never been outside in wind like that and to be at the top of a mountain, in biting rain and gale force winds was insane. So I roared! I roared at being beaten, roared at being young and fit but still unable to continue with a simple plan, and roared at the wind because there was no-one else mad enough to be up there that could tell me to be quiet, or look at me in a funny way, then I turned around and fled.
I overtook the two groups on the way down, both were glad to see that I was safe and that they weren’t wimps for turning back. If the crazy solo mountain man can’t do it, then why should they? Rachael and Tania were at the hut and keeping warm. I returned to the trail and found one of the groups was getting a shuttle to take them back to National Park so their driver helped me out. He got me to the Whakapapa road and from there I was going to walk the 6km but three nice Slovakians picked me up and I was at my car a few minutes later. It didn’t take long for me to get the chance to repay the karma as there was a couple in the same situation as me, trying to hitch back to their car at Mangatepopo, a 7km gravel road where no-one should be going at that time of day. But I was so I gave them a lift, got the ladies and returned home. I’ll try again another weekend.
Thanks to the datalogger and GPSVisualizer here is a profile view of the hike. It shows the low walk from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo (9km), then the climb to Soda Springs before the near vertical Devil’s Staircase, flat across South Crater and then up to Red, which is where I turned back.