Ruapehu, Summit New Zealand’s highest volcano – Crater Lake DIY Adventure Guide

The following describes our own route up to Ruapehu’s Crater lake, dome ridge summit. It is an unassisted route (requires no chairlifts) and allows for the current renovations to the Whakapapa ski-field, which at the time of trekking blocked the more common route – we completed this route in summer and can therefore only speak to that season. Good luck.


This is fairly straight forward. You are able to park your own vehicle for the day at the Whakapapa ski-field and walk to the start of my mapped route.

What clothing/ footwear will I need?

Even in the height of summer, summit temperatures will likely be in the low single digits, if not negative, so don’t be fooled by blue skies at the base. There’s also a really reliable thermal wind to deal with, however I’ll get into further down the post.


I wore a pair of Lowa Tibet GTX boots and strongly advise something with similar rigidity and support. These boots have a full 5mm PU shank, which really came into its own on the loose tephra that blankets the majority of the climb. Madison once again took it on in a lighter pair of shankless boots and didn’t suffer for it, so it can be done, however if any climb benefited from a shank it was this one.

Lower body

No river crossings required, therefore shorts and a good pair of gaiters will suffice.

Upper body

Summits are unique in that they require almost two completely opposing upper outfits. You’re going to want something extremely lightweight and breathable and with a decent UPF rating on your way up. As the more you sweat, the more water you’ll have to bring to compensate, and extra water means extra pack weight, and nobody wants that. However once you arrive at the summit, you’ll want to be able to shed that sweaty shirt, wipe down with a micro fibre towel, and don something a little warmer; perhaps a merino by icebreaker, along with a down mid layer (800 recommended), and a gtx outershell just to shed that howling thermal wind. A beanie will also keep you feeling comfortable in these potentially changeable conditions.

What food should I bring?

I burnt 2964 calories over the 9 hour mission. Whenever a day trip gets anything near or above 3000 cals, I suggest you bring at least 2000 worth of food to push you through, then compensate for the deficit upon descent. A couple OSM bars, some crackers with plenty of peanut butter and a bit of scroggin should set you right. However, if you’re not stressed on weight, then bring a back country cuisine and munch it overlooking the crater lake for a truly satisfying experience.


There are a few options for insitu water sources: snow (requires melting) or glacial run off on your way up to the summit. We are unsure about quality of these sources; however there are various hydrothermal vents near the top, each spewing sulfuric material out onto the mountainside. Whilst this is a neat feature to behold, it is often indicative of the presence of metallic sulfides and thus a very low pH is likely. We therefore advise you to bring your own. I got away with bringing 3L, as our food didn’t require hydrating.

Maps and GPX files

Recorded via Garmin Fenix 5x – ultra trac enabled

Click here to download the gpx file.

I struggled to find a route posted anywhere else, however a verbal description can be found here.

How physically difficult is it?

At the time of measuring this I possessed a moderate-high level of fitness. It is a difficult day walk with approximately 1100 vertical meters worth of climbing. As such we only advise people to undertake it if they possess good leg strength and are comfortable spending 5+ hours at an elevated heart rate.

Heart Rate Vs Elevation Plot

Average heart rate: 113 bpm Max heart rate 179 bpm

Time spent in heart rate zones 1-5

How technical will it be?

In summer the route posted here is difficult, yet non-technical. It requires no specialist gear. However be advised that if you’d like to make it to the spires jutting above the crater lake, crampons and an ice axe will be required, even in the height of summer. We are planning a winter accent this year so stay tuned for the upcoming ice guide.

Warning: Thermal wind (Anabatic)

You might be wondering what on earth a thermal wind is. Well in a nutshell; as the sun heats up the mountain face throughout the day, the now warm face begins warming the air surrounding it. This air warming is most pronounced at the top, where the air was initially the coldest. This newly warm air quickly becomes increasingly buoyant and begins to rise leaving a low pressure zone at the summit. This low pressure zone draws higher pressure air up the sides of the mountain. At Ruapehu, this can often bring cloud racing up the side of the once clear mountain. Therefore, be warned that starting out with blue skies does not guarantee visibility will remain clear all day. Taking a GPS device with our route pre-programmed in will allow you to backtrack on yourself in the event you experience a white-out.

Anabatic wind bringing cloud up the flank of Ruapehu

Enjoy the battle up to the summit and be sure to comment if you found this useful,


3 Comments on “Ruapehu, Summit New Zealand’s highest volcano – Crater Lake DIY Adventure Guide

  1. Hey, good on you guys… Information is power and you are empowering others with this information and your honest account of your adventures.


    • Thanks Bronny 🙂 that’s our ultimate goal with this whole thing! Looking forward to making better guides and creating funner blogs as we move deeper into the wilderness!


  2. Pingback: The First Chapter: Colca Canyon, Peru – Pathless Woods

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