In praise of Rangipo
Easter April 2006
On Good Friday, three of us took off for Tukino. Armed with great expectations of good weather and a key to the locked gate near the round-the-mountain track, we parked by a huge boulder near Christiana Ski Lodge.
Already the Desert Road had faded to a barely discernable thread, the power pylons a tiny wrack of spider web far below. Around us the stark remains of many an eruption lay scattered – black basalt or red husks of lava planted in pumice gravel or gleaming black sand. Any surviving plants looked small and scared, hiding from blasting winds in sheltered hollows. Above, the formidable crags from Girdlestone to Te Heu Heu were frosted white from last week’s snowstorm.
We plodded up through ice-worn lava bluffs heading southwest for Whangaehu Hut, tucked out of sight on the brow of a mighty canyon. Soon we were kicking steps in stiff, sugary snow, then cutting serious steps in the glazed, shaded bits. Two hours later we made it to the all-important steel marker pole under Clocktower, and gazed down on the little grey cube of Whangaehu Hut, battered but still standing after decades of outrageous storms and eruptions. Many incautious climbers have come a gutser on frozen scoria or worse on the way down to the hut. I carefully cut many steps.
That night the full moon lit the silent landscape into glaring snow draped with long black shadows, straight from Samivel’s ancient cartoons. Next morning I conducted a short but intense alpine instruction course in blazing sunshine: step-cutting, self-arrest, fixed belays and crampon use. (Vivienne wore our only pair.) The shaded slopes remained hard as boilerplate until we snuck over them at about 11am on our way back to Tukino ‘village’.
The next leg of our journey lay down to the northeast, across the desert towards the Waihohonu bush. Forty years before I’d climbed Te Heu Heu from the old Waihohonu Hut, via the 7-mile leading ridge.
Our way varied all the while, sometimes wandering through boulder fields, then scuffing along evenly graded pumice paths, or weaving around thickets of dense, multicoloured scrub. One minute we’d be scrunching over bleak weathered, barren desert, only to descend into sheltered gulches between rounded walls of impassable pumice. Islands of tussock, dracophyllym or hebe here are constantly being nibbled away by storms, their roots and stems bleached white and exposed by relentless wind, rain and frost. The desert can be bleak but never boring. The weather changes quickly from oppressive heat to bone-chilling wind, and back again.
Ohinepango Springs was a gladsome sight – the first running water in quite a while, welling up with huge force from a patch of welcome beech forest. We popped up our tent on a secluded patch of moss a few minutes away. There were deer tracks just everywhere. The only morepork didn’t stop us from drifting into a 12-hour sleep.
There’s something about camping at the upper limit of beech forests. They’re safe havens from the harsh upper regions, in this case the tawny tundra stretching up to the volcano – a garden of lichen, moss and thigh-deep scrub, sometimes separated by well-tended paths of water-settled pumice, gravel and black sand from the last ash shower. Seems like the only weeding – of pinus contorta wildings – has been quietly completed.
- Pedro, Vivienne and Edward Radcliffe