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Tongariro, 1st Edition

20 July 2010

A guide for climbers and ski-mountaineers

Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club

“Let’s be clear from the outset: volcanoes are not generally favoured by climbers. When H.W. Tillman sailed for Jan Mayen Island in 1968 he remarked off-handedly, but definitively: ‘It is an old volcano and therefore not very interesting from a climbing point of view.’ Despite the violence of their origins, volcanoes are formed mainly by gravity. Rock, lava and ash roll downhill until they come to rest. Volcanoes, in short, are rarely very steep. The high peaks of the central North Island are no exception…” This is how Richard Thomson starts the introduction to his climbing guidebook to Tongariro.

The oldest national park in New Zealand, Tongariro has probably a lot more to offer to trampers than to climbers. Even the highest peaks described in this guidebook are really tramping peaks rather than proper climbs, at least in summer. And yet, considering the fact that it is a volcano, Ruapehu offers an amazing variety of real climbing: long easy ascents on snow in winter, ice-climbing on frozen waterfalls, and rock-climbing on lava cliffs in summer.

The guidebook includes three mountains (Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu), but really it is the latter that makes up for 99% of the climbing routes.  After a section on general information about the area, an interesting chapter on the geology of the park and a brief climbing history, the guidebook proper is divided into three parts: alpine routes (including climbing on water ice), ski-mountaineering and rock climbing.

The route descriptions are accompanied by a large number of high quality photographs and photo-topos. Recommended routes are indicated by a star. The guidebook uses four different systems to rate the difficulty of the routes, depending on the nature of the routes themselves: the Mount Cook grading system for mountaineering routes (grades 1 – 7), the water ice (WI) system for water ice routes, a ski-mountaineering grading system in common with the NZAC’s New Zealand Backcountry Skiing guide, and the Ewbank system (1 – 30+) for rock-climbing. Most alpine routes in the region are quite easy (grade 1 to 2+), and the guidebook deliberately gives “generous” ratings to facilitate greater differentiation between climbs. A 2+ on Ruapehu will thus generally be easier than a route with the same rating on Mount Cook. 


Thomson, R. (2006) Tongariro: a guide for climbers and ski-mountaineers. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 168 pages

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