Introduction

A fantastic climb to the heart of an active volcano, this is an unformed route, and requires alpine experience and equipment.

Track overview

7 - 10 km return via same track

Walking and tramping

5 - 7 hr Expert: Route

Dog access

No dogs

Brochures

  • Summit routes (PDF, 205K) - description and route map illustration from the Walks in and around Tongariro National Park brochure.

About this track

Description

Ice climbing equipment and experience is important. Photo: George Taylor.
Be prepared for any conditions, as the weather can change without warning

The crater climb is only suitable for fit, experienced, and well equipped people who can make effective judgments about alpine and volcanic hazards. If you are unsure, travel with a guided party.

The unformed route up Ruapehu to the crater is not marked, and is in high altitude terrain - the crater lake lookout point is at 2672 m.

The terrain is rugged volcanic rock in summer, and snow and ice in winter. You must be confident finding your own safe route up and down the mountain.

The following descriptions are simplified route guides from Whakapapa Ski Area up to Dome Ridge, from where you can view the crater area. The descriptions are a guide only and not adequate as a navigational aid. Refer to Tongariro National Park map 273-04, or Topo50 map BJ34 Mount Ruapehu.

Knoll Ridge T-bar.
Knoll Ridge T-bar and summer terrain

Walking options

Option 1: Walk the whole way

Time: 7 hr return
Distance: 10 km

Begin at Iwikau Village, Whakapapa Ski Area at the top of Bruce Road, 6 km up from Whakapapa Village on SH48. Walk up through the ski area to the top of the Waterfall Express chairlift at Knoll Ridge. Return via the same route.

Option 2: Take the chairlifts part-way

Time: 5 hr return
Distance: 7 km

Take the chairlifts from Iwikau Village to Knoll Ridge (2020m above sea level). Begin the walk from there.

The chairlifts on Whakapapa ski area are open in summer from mid-December to late April, and during winter from late June to late October. (Note, the chairlifts are closed in autumn from May to late June, and in spring from late October to mid-December.) For information, see Whakapapa Ski Area on the Ruapehu Alpine Lifts website.

Routes to the crater

Dome ridge in summer. Photo: DOC
Dome ridge in summer

There are two standard unmarked routes from Knoll Ridge. The valleys between the ridges on these routes are lahar paths. If a siren sounds when you are in a valley, head for higher ground. 

Via Knoll Ridge

The most commonly used early summer route, when there is snow still present in the valleys, follows up the left-hand side of the Knoll Ridge T-bar line, and continues up the valley above the last T-bar pylon. At the head of the valley climb up onto the ridge behind Glacier Knob. From this point follow the narrow foot track zigzagging up the side of and long Dome Ridge.

Via Restful Ridge

The second route is recommended when most of the snow has disappeared in summer. From the top of the Waterfall Express chairlift travel to your right past the Knoll Ridge T-bar pylons and over to Restful Ridge. Stay on Restful Ridge as you climb towards the crater area. You will go up a series of rises. At the top of Restful Ridge there is a more open face. From this point follow the narrow foot track zigzagging up the side of and along Dome Ridge.

In winter either route can be taken relative to current snow conditions and avalanche risk.

Climbers on Tuwharetoa glacier. Photo: Dave Conley.
The area of Mt Ruapehu around the crater is a high risk zone

Dome Ridge caution

Dome Ridge is narrow and steep in places and can be very icy in winter conditions. Do not continue if you have to walk on ice and do not have an ice axe and crampons with you.

Venturing down into the crater area off of Dome Ridge is not recommended, as there is increased risk from both volcanic and alpine hazards.

Dome Shed houses seismic equipment used to monitor the volcano. It is NOT a hut or shelter for people to overnight in. 

Returning down the mountain

It is recommended to backtrack on your way down, taking the same route as you took on the way up. This minimizes the chances of becoming lost.

If you are taking the chairlifts back down from Knoll Ridge, remember that they close at 4.00 pm daily - and earlier if weather conditions deteriorate during the day.

Know before you go

Your safety is your responsibility. To have a great time in the outdoors, know before you go the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan your trip - volcano information, what to expect on the route, chairlifts
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather - winter and avalanche information
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

1. Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge, plan your route and the amount of time you expect it to take.

It's important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Have the right gear and skills required for the trip and always check the latest information about facilities you plan to use, and local track and weather conditions.

On the Mount Ruapehu Crater climb, be aware that:

Dome ridge and Tahurangi on Mount Ruapehu.
Dome ridge and Tahurangi (summit)

  • The route begins at 1630 m at Iwikau Village, and ends at 2672 m at Dome Ridge.
  • The entire route is on rugged and exposed alpine terrain.
  • There are no route markers, signs or formed tracks to the Crater Lake or to anywhere in the summit area. You walk through the Whakapapa ski area so the ski lifts provide some orientation until 2250 m, however you must be confident to find a safe route up and down the mountain.
  • In summer, the surface of the mountain is rugged volcanic rock.
  • In winter, the climb is a full alpine trip on snow and ice, and avalanche risk applies. Alpine skills and equipment are essential.
Volcanic hazards

Mount Ruapehu in eruption showing steam column, Tongariro National Park. Photo: J. R Keys.
Mount Ruapehu in eruption showing
steam column, Tongariro National Park

Mount Ruapehu is an active volcano.
Eruptions can happen without warning. The last eruption was on 25 September 2007.

If you are on the mountain when an eruption happens, you could be in danger - especially if you are in the Summit Hazard Zone.

We recommend not going beyond the Dome equipment shed, or anywhere inside the crater basin within 400 m of Crater Lake. Approaching this area, and hiking or climbing on the upper slopes of the volcano, is at your own risk.

We also strongly advise against camping anywhere inside crater basin or on the summit plateau.

Check for current alerts at the top of this page, or contact:

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 7 892 3729
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
 
Chairlift operating dates

The chairlifts on Whakapapa ski area are open in summer from mid-December to late April, and during winter from late June to late October. (Note, the chairlifts are closed in autumn from May to late June, and in spring from late October to mid-December.) For information, see Whakapapa Ski Area (external site) on the Ruapehu Alpine Lifts website.

2. Tell someone

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

3. Be aware of the weather

On the Mount Ruapehu Crater climb, be aware that: 

  • Alpine weather can be highly unpredictable - it changes very quickly and often without warning. Be prepared for the weather to close in during the trip - and if it does, come back down the mountain.
  • Clear weather is necessary in order to navigate and not become lost - there are no route markers, signs or formed tracks; there are many bluffs/cliffs on the mountain that become unseen in poor weather.
  • Heavy rain, strong wind, and snowfall on Mount Ruapehu can occur with little warning - at any time of year. Sub-zero temperatures are normal in wnter - and possible in summer.
Winter conditions

Dome ridge in winter. Photo: DOC.
Dome ridge in winter

During winter months snow and ice covers the route and avalanche hazard applies. Walking and/or navigation is more difficult.

Alpine experience and equipment (crampons, ice axe, avalanche probe/shovel/beacon) and navigation/route finding skills, are essential during this period.

The avalanche advisory gives you not only the current avalanche hazard but detailed information about the current snow and ice conditions.

Talk to the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre about current conditions on the mountain before you go.

Avalanche hazards

Avalanches most commonly happen during winter and spring from July to October, and are more likely during and after heavy snow falls. They can also happen earlier or later in the year if there are heavy snowfalls. Remember, snow can fall at any time of the year on Mount Ruapehu.

Check the avalanche advisory before you go. If risk applies, carry a transceiver, shovel and probe and know how to use them. If the risk is 'considerable' or above - don't go!

Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) on Ruapehu

ATES provides an indication of avalanche risk on the basis of the angle and shape of the ground, and the number of avalanche paths. Some routes on simple terrain exist on the northern side up to the Summit Plateau area. Approaches from all other directions and onto the summit of Ruapehu involve travel through challenging and complex terrain.

Ski areas

Avalanche control work on the ski areas is done to make the ski areas safe while they are open for skiing. Outside of normal open hours and when the si areas or parts of them are closed, avalanche hazards may exist in the closed terrain. During those times you need to take the ATES classification and avalanche danger level into account when travelling in them

Iwikau village

During periods of high or extreme avalanche danger outside of ski area operating hours or when the ski area is closed, avalanche hazard can exist at times near some club lodges and on the access routes to others. You should stick to roads, groomed tracks and stay off of any steep slopes during those periods.

More information:

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. To do the trip you need to be reasonably fit and have good equipment to cover all possibilities.

On the Mount Ruapehu Crater climb, be aware that:

The Crater climb is a challenging unmarked route. It is only suitable for hikers with above average fitness, and high level backcountry skills and experience (route finding, navigation and survival skills). If you are unsure, go with a guide.

People have met with tragedy because they were either inexperienced or ill-equipped to handle the conditions they encountered. Do not climb above your level of experience. Turn back as soon as you feel uncomfortable with the weather or route conditions.

You can expect:

  • In summer: rugged volcanic rock terrain. Some sections are steeper loose scree, but often you are walking/climbing over larger rocks - which can be unstable.
  • In winter: snow and ice. Snow conditions can be soft or hard ice. Avalanches are possible.
  • To walk/climb up to 7 hours on rough volcanic rock or ice and snow, carrying a pack and equipment if applicable.
  • To find your own safe route - there is no markers or signs on the mountain.

Lost? Don't panic!

  • Try to retrace your steps to the last point where you recognise the route.
  • Stay together - don't split up the party.
  • If you can't find the route, and visibility allows, head for the best shelter that you can find (any building, the leeward side of a ridge, a large rock). Then stay in one place. Make your position as conspicuous as possible.

Remember, it's dangerous and not recommended to travel in 'white out' conditions or in the dark.

have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario.
Take enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario

5. Take sufficient supplies

You must be self sufficient: be sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario.

Take an appropriate means of communication such as a cellphone and/or personal locator beacon.

You can hire a personal locator beacon

On the Mount Ruapehu Crater climb be aware that:

  • Cell phone coverage is reasonably good
  • Topo50 map BJ34 – Mount Ruapehu, or Tongariro National Park map 273-04 are relevant

More information:

Nature

Mount Ruapehu is the highest of the three andesitic volcanoes at the heart of the National Park, standing at 2797 metres. The mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Volcanic activity in the zone started about 2 million years ago and is on-going today.

Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are two of the most active composite volcanoes in the world. In 1995 and again in 1996 Ruapehu erupted in spectacular fashion sending clouds of ash and steam skyward and mantling the surrounding snow fields and forest with a thick film of ash. Smaller eruptions are a more common event, and can happen without warning on Mount Ruapehu.


Related links

Contacts

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 7 892 3729
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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