Well, after Black Friday, the weather cleared to reveal a brand-new day. I had slept over at AJ's with the tramping group. My cellphone alarm rang, Amy was nearest:
"Amy! Turn off the alarm please" Nothing.
So anyway, I got up and turned off my alarm and started getting myself ready while annoying others to the extent that they would rise from their warm beds. The time that we used to prepare for our departure for the mountains was ponderous and dragged on, but eventually we hit the road for Ruapehu.
The weather held well as we arrived at the waistline of the mountain, and after finding the trailhead, we grooved to eighties music while munching on our lunch. For all of us, the feel of treading on fresh snow was a unique experience. We saw strange ice phenomena, like water bubbling under sheet ice ("Are they small fish?"), murderous icicles, snow on dirt-dry dirt (theories abound), frozen ripples on frozen puddles and ice crystals aplenty. Through all this we were permanently backed by the imposing sight of Ruapehu, while Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and even Taranaki watched from a distance. Xin played detective with animal tracks, AJ played hitman with snowballs. My big task of the day was the re-animation of a weta. AJ happened across it quite accidentally. It had been half-submerged in ice and looked lifeless. But from my biological studies, I declared it could be revived. Some doubted it but my pleas for an effort, for the sake of science, was met with action. The ice was broken, sawn and soon we had a block of ice with a weta in the middle.
Our group trod forward until we arrived at the hut. We set up, and started a fire. I set up the weta for defrost, first in the sun, and then with the slowly warming pot-bellied stove. While this happened we got digging into the food and drink: And discovered AJ is a sucker for punishment having carried a 3L bottle of apple juice all the way there. In an act of altruism, Edwin and I relieved him of his burden. Likewise, I relieved Edwin of the burden of his mini-twix bars.
Night closed in, and with it the cold and a group of DOC workers who were staying a night at the attached room. Our fire stopped it appearing cold and heated water. The food was simple but as with all tramping food, it was good. Stargazing was the event for the night. Never before will you see the stars so clearly, a clear sky, at altitude (as there is less atmosphere). But the coldness meant that it could only be enjoyed briefly. With only candlelight, the time felt late (even at the modest 7pm) and sleep beckoned most of us. And in our nice warm room we all passed into sleep (some faster than others).
At what might have been 5am I awoke to find, for the first time in my camping life, that I was cold in my sleeping bag. Amazing! I was wearing just polyprop but I should have been warm! So after a loo-break, I put on my full tramping gear (less boots) and found a nice warm thought. My feet never recovered though. No-one's feet felt any warmer than freezing and the prospect of putting on wet boots was not a happy thought. I got out to discover the liberated weta had moved 90 degrees and stood on the sponge I had placed the ice on, contemplating. I was right! Breakfast porridge tasted wonderful but nor did that warm my frigid feet.
We threw together our things, packed and prepared for our homeward bound journey. One of the DOC workers came in to fill a pot of water and casually mentioned that we would have a few river crossings, "well... one." After depositing the resurrected weta, we departed and indeed did come to a stream. AJ demonstrated a wonderful slip-pirouette on the ice with his crossing. A more reliable crossing was found upstream. But was that the river? No! The next stream had to be crossed. This time AJ found a good method, but that just meant him and Xin were the only ones spared a boot-full of cold water. And after that we finally arrived at the river! After a lot of effort to find methods, we got across.
Then it was the plow onward to the cars and that was our Ruapehu odyssey.
One peculiar coincidence was that I met three of my students on the road up Ruapehu on the way there. I knew they were going to be in Taupo but to have them pull up next to you is uncanny.