Well I am off on my annual pilgrimage to the mountain.
The first day was very interesting, exciting, stressful and tiring.
The night before I left I went to bed around 8.30pm with the plan to get up and leave at 3.30am. As always trying to get to sleep when it is reality early and you are excited is always a challenge, I think I woke up every 40 minutes until midnight, before finally falling solidly asleep.
Also as always when your alarm goes at 3.15am in the morning it is always at the point where you are most asleep and absolutely do not want to get up. But I did, and had breakfast, put on my base snow gear, make sure I was fully awake, jumped in my car and headed for the mountain at 3.30am.
The drive out of Auckland was very good. I managed to cover 92km in my first hour on the road, which was very good time and probably the fastest that I could go without breaking the speed limit. My first sign of trouble was when I got around an hour and a half out and started to use my high beam lights on the open road. The problem was when I flicked them from standard beam to high beam the car stereo would cut out and cut back in. This happened a few times before I decided to pull out the stereo for fear of a serious electrical problem.
I made it down to Ngaruawahia where I headed for the turn off for the alternative and faster route south to Otorohanga as I crossed State Highway One my entire car died. Not a good feeling. I rolled to a stop on the side of the road, shut off the car and then went to turn it over and restart, it worked, first time, a little concerned by this I pulled into the BP station, went to the loo and grab a fresh fruit mix for a second breakfast. I waited there for around 15 mins for my car to cool and then set off south. To be on the safe side I decided to turn off all non-essential electronics on my car to see if that would sort out the problem with the high beams.
Unfortunately it didn’t. Twice on the road to Otorohanga my car cut out switching to high beam, lucky for me it came back almost instantly but not without first turning off all my dash, brakes, lights and power steering for a second, which is not a good feeling at 100kmh. To make a bad situation even worse around Pirongia I hit fog that was so thick that you could in places see more than 1 cats-eye in front of the car, and at best around 3.
The fog made me even more concerned for my safety and I came very close to deciding to head back inland to Hamilton to see if I could find a service station or something to get it checked out. In the end I didn’t but I did do one thing that I normally don’t do in worrying circumstances, I prayed. I am one who normally doesn’t think that situations that you get yourself in warrant prayers, but on the spot, there and then I think I said something like “God, I don’t normally do this to me, but it is really early in the morning, it is really foggy, my car is failing, please don’t let me break down in the middle of nowhere, and at 100kmh, it would not be very fun.”
I also turned back on my GPS unit so if I did break down at least I would have an idea of where I was. The final drive into Otorohanga became a case of counting down every km I got closer on my GPS after that. Once there I pressed on to Te Kuiti where my car did break down… Yay… Not.
I pulled into Te Kuiti around 6.15am where I parked to let my car cool down and for me to take a leak, and let my parents know I was safely on the road. All was fine until I hopped back into my car to continue the journey south. I turned the key, and nothing, no battery, no electronics, no nothing, not even the clock. Lucky for me I had parked on the main street and there was the local courier in front of me delivering the morning newspaper to the dairy. I quickly asked her where the nearest service station was, or if they knew how I could get my car jump started. The Mobil Station was 500m down the road, so off for the walk in the dark I went. Getting there I asked if I could get a jump, they asked where my car was I told them 500m down the road, they said stuff them walking back with me, handed me jumper leads and a battery and off I walked back to my car.
The car started first time off the jump and I drove back to the Mobil Station dropped off the battery and decided to head for Taumarunui, this time I decided not to use my high beams at all, by the time I had been held up close to 30 minutes so it was nearing day break anyway. Fog, frost, and a huge big rig continued to delay me on the road, by the time I made it to Taumarunui I decided to press on to National Park where I would make the decision of going up Turoa or Whakapapa. Arriving at National Park just after 8am I text messaged my mum asking for the snow report. The whole point of going down on the Tuesday morning was that it was meant to be a nice sunny day. Instead I had anything but. The snow report came back with the upper mountain on hold at Turoa so I decided to head up Whakapapa.
Overall it took me just over five hours to drive to Whakapapa, it should have taken four. If I had decided to go to Turoa I would have been more than an hour and a half later than my planned timing, as it was it took 1 hour 20 minutes longer then the same trip did last year to get down to Whakapapa. Showing just how much the fog, ice, and failing car cost me in time.
Heading up the Bruce Road the electronic signs showed that the road was open and clear, and the ski field was open. Like all electronic signs the reality was anything but, within a few hundred metres of going through the gate it started snowing, and heavy snow too. I had two four wheel drive jeeps in front of me, and another two behind, one of the jeeps in front of me started to struggle as the road got very slick, me in my 2wd without chains was just laughing at my luck how much more crazy could this drive get? To ensure I made it to the top I deliberately left the slick groves that the vehicles in front where laying into the road and tried to pick up the grit on the road that had amassed on either side of the groves, it worked and five or so minutes later I was at the top of the road.
Getting out of my car I headed up to the top of the Bruce and got my passes and rentals and up the chairlifts I went. My timing could not have been better I managed to get to the top of the first chairlift just as the upper mountain Waterfall Express chairlift opened, straight onto that and higher still I went, off that and up the waterfall T-bar. Straight to the top of the mountain. Initially the trails down the mountain were very icy because the snow had melted slightly and then refrozen, a common issue on Ruapehu, however throughout the day this became less of an issue as more and more and more snow feel turning most of the mountain into a beautiful fresh powder paradise.
At 10am I grabbed a hot chocolate at the new temporary knoll ridge cafe, it is very nice inside, but still is a complete shame about the arson of the old cafe.
While I was in the cafe a little bit of cabin fever set in an I decided to write an ode to snow:
Snow drops keep falling on my head
But that doesn’t mean my hands will soon be turning blue
Skiings just for me
Cause I’m never going to stop the snow by singing
Because I’m skiing
Nothings worrying me
The thing that amazed me the most about the day up the mountain was the lack of people. It is the middle of the school holidays and there was many kids about but very few other people, the lift lines were short and this means less people to crash into on the trails. The other thing that you learn very quickly is no matter how good you think that you are getting there will always be a six year old kid that is better than you.
The two most enjoyable runs of the day was going down the left hand side of the Waterfall T-Bar for the first time (the side nearest the Pinnacles), and going/falling down the Waterfall Black Diamond Trail around five times. The Waterfall T-Bar had some of the best powder on it, and was out of the wind for most of the day which made it great for carving up. The only issue was visibility at times down to only a few meters which meant hitting rocks and snow banks became a small issue at times. The Waterfall Express Trail was very popular and I found going down the Waterfall itself was the easiest way of avoiding the crowds but it still had a lot of rocks in it which made it a bit of a challenge, and after that heading straight down the waterfall near the chairlift towers rather than taking the “easy-way” down trail.
At around 3.30pm I decided to leave the mountain around 30 minutes earlier than closing because the visibility was becoming really poor, my goggles kept on icying up, and I was beginning to get quite tired and had to make it to Wanganui, on the last few runs of the day I managed to crash badly twice which are still hurting today (Wednesday), the first was hitting a small rock or drift on the Waterfall T-Bar and going face first into the snow and getting a frozen ear as well as my legs tangled in each other. The second was heading down the Rockgarden run to make it back to the base area and trying to avoid a fallen snowboarder where my evasive action caused me to fall very hard onto my shoulder and hand which is still hurting today. I have also managed to bruise my legs in a number of places (no idea how).
Today’s skiing was a good test for my new equipment and it all past beautifully. I was decked out in polypro thermals from Kathmandu (as always), and was for the first time using my Kathmandu Neptune long sleeve top, it is a blend of virgin wool (sports wool) and polyester and is very light weight, I was also using my Kathmandu Zinal mid-layer for the first time, and my Wild South Soft-Shell for the first time skiing. The four layers worked beautifully and at times I was so hot that I was sweating given that it was snowing all day it is a testament to the quality of the gear that these companies make. I was also using my Gyro Helmet and Outdoor Research Gore Windstopper facemask for the first time and these were also brilliant, almost everyone on the mountain was using helmets and facemasks, which was needed given the wind was making the apparent temperature close to -20C.
The trip from the Top of the Bruce down to Wanganui was a dream, I managed to make it in 1 hour and 45 minutes which is super quick for the Paraparas. Transit have done a lot of road works over summer near the Ratehi end of the road which has made it wider and a lot more smooth, there are still a number of really tight corners and steep bits, but it appears that some of the worst sections have been fixed. Other good news this morning is that my car appears to only have a lose alternator belt which cost $10 to tighten, thanks AMT Auto Electricians in Wanganui, so hopefully I will not have many dramas coming back to Auckland tomorrow.
Footnote: If anyone else has trouble with their car when switching to High-Beam it is probably the cars electronics overloading. I was right to turn off the stereo and air con and the like, but my mistake was to switch off my car completely when I stopped. Turn off all your electronics but leave your car running on the side of the road for a few minutes before turning it off, if your electronics are overloaded it will drain your battery and it will not be able to recharge, turning everything off will give the car a bit of time to recharge.