Climbing Girdlestone, Ruapehu
Sunday November 8 2008
Girdlestone Peak stands at 2658m, just south of Ruapehu’s highest summit Tahurangi (2797m). For us three AIC grads (two 2008, one 2007), it would be the first climbing trip without AIC instructors present.. No stabilisers - the first real test of our fledgling trip planning,, route selection and snow climbing skills.
We started up Turoa skifield on a glorious spring day. Not a punter to be seen. We reached the top of the High Noon Express chairlift just as it started up for business! Soon we were looking across the perfect untracked snowy bowl of Mangaehuehu Glacier to Girdlestone Peak above. Seeing no crown walls, we picked our route across the glacier, wondering if we might step into a hidden crevasse or bergschrund at any moment. Fortunately there was no sign of these hazards.
Our chosen route was the 300m climb (Grade 2) up the southern face. Here we practised pitch climbing for the rest of the morning, eventually reaching an icy outcrop halfway up the climb, where we lunched in the blazing sun.
From here up, the even snow slope gave way to outcrops as it began narrowing to a ridge. We swung our ice axes into the chunky ice surface, finding the blocks looser and more challenging as the afternoon wore on. Communication became difficult with too much distance for us to hear each other’s climbing calls - we learned that leading out with all 60m of rope was actually slowing us down.
Ascending a sastrugi chute to the expected summit, one by one we rounded a corner, only to see the ridge continuing to a small icy step and at least another 50m of climbing. It was getting late but the weather was still fine. We turned the step, placing the odd ice screw for confidence and finally topping out at 5.30pm. At last we stood on the tiny top of Girdlestone Peak, its three sharp ridges dropping away to incredible plateau views, and many of Ruapehu’s other summits just to our north.
After tentatively downclimbing to the col joining us to Tahurangi, and finding a tiny bergschrund to step across, it was plain sailing all the way back.
After 13 hours on the snow, sun just down after a glorious sunset, we left Turoa skifield as we found it – completely empty!