Jack and I finally made it to Crater Lake on the last day of the Easter Weekend. We have been talking about walking up to the lake for years but have never quite been able to fit it in. We came close to reaching the lake while on a snow craft course a few years ago but ran of time-the weather was fine and the snow was becoming difficult and slushy. As autumn rolls in we knew our weather window for the walk without crampons would be closing very soon!
So off we went, making the journey a little faster with a sweet ride on the Sky Waka. The Sky Waka is only a couple years old and the newest addition to the Ruapehu Mountain that keeps interest alive during summer and the shoulder seasons. It took about 3 hours off our journey from the Ruapehu car park and just like that we were out of the clouds and on a very sunny but very chilly mountain. The view from the Sky Waka is awesome and you get a birds eye view of all the historical tramping and climbing huts.
There is a very swish base building at the top of the Sky Waka that serves a $6 coffee and average food if your interested but Jack and I had been well warned and headed up with our packed lunches. We started our climb via Restful Ridge the classic summer option just over from the T Bar. The primary navigation tool these days is our I-Hike app and as the route up to Crater Lake is unmarked this became very useful as did some helpful rock cairns. Occasionally Ngauruhoe would show the tip of its cone as fluffy clouds drifted over the base of the mountains. We definitely had the weather on our side up here but the higher we climbed the stronger the wind got and we found ourselves buffeted by strong, angry bursts of gale.
A few times we had to brace ourselves, almost loosing ourselves to the gale. But sure footed we reached the Dome and the wild expansion of the Summit Plateau and Cathedral Rocks. Its a different world up here and reminded me of Star Wars country, Utah maybe, definitely Mars. The air suddenly was thick with sulphur meaning the active Crater Lake must be close. Dry colours and hues of purple, brown, red, orange litter the landscape along with the dirty late summer ice laying thinly on the vast plateau below us. Two girls in short shorts suddenly appear at our sides shivering and pointing “Is that the way to Crater Lake?”. Its always interesting when we get asked for directions while tramping. We suddenly feel responsible for someone else’s journey. What if we give them the wrong directions? Jack, wearily points up to the mound of Dome “Its over there” The girls look unsure and Jack shows them our location on the I-Hike app. The girls thank us and promptly disappear in the opposite direction. Why ask? I wonder. The wind gives us another swift blast and we hoof it over the Dome and towards a lonely distant marker pole. Gritty volcanic dust gets blown into our eyes and I wonder if we should turn around. But we are sooooo painfully close! We preserve clutching our trekking poles and finally see the swirling clouds of our destination. Crater Lake.
The surface is an incredible heady mix of grey water and steam clouds that constantly dance under the power of the wind. Its mesmerising-almost hypnotic but we can’t linger. The temperature has dropped to freezing and the wind won’t quit. We see the two young girls making there way over Dome, their legs wind burnt and bright red. We take a few photos for them before heading out almost running back to over the Dome blinded by the wind and its relentless grit firing straight into our eyeballs. Lower down we finally get some reprieve, back along the calm and sunny Restful Ridge. Its been an amazing day and we pause for lunch looking out towards Ngauruhoe its cone still just visible above the clouds.