Landscape photography is for the most part a comparatively non dramatic activity … usually . But certain places that we want to go to and the timing can quickly produce some challenges . Rough surf , rain , wind and in this case – an  alpine environment .

This story highlights the need for preparation and planning when embarking on a early in the morning alpine climb for a sunrise photography opportunity … in this case the Tongariro Alpine crossing on the Sunday morning of Labour week-end [ New Zealand public holiday ] .

The preparation/planning  involved the usual camera batteries charged , memory cards empty etc . Thermals and all clothing needed for a spring assent with food etc .

Our very experienced guide Craig [ aka Spud ] – made sure we were prepared for a early morning start – 2.30 kickoff . And we knew there would be a wind chill factor = extra thermals or layers . Would not consider a sunrise at the top with-out a guide and will say now that we could”t recommend Spud any higher – top notch . He also runs the Schnapps Bar at National Park village – just the best food .  [ Thats a shameless plug by the way ]

The morning was a bit chill but not a breath of wind at National Park . Yay … off to the start of the track .

Never having done the crossing before and doing the climb with head-lamps meant that the climb was perhaps easier because you don’t see where you will end up … you just focus on the steps in front of you . So the first parts were not so bad but with 9 kilos of camera stuff on the back had some weight to carry .

The misty cloud appeared about a hour and a half into the climb . The thought was that it may clear as we climbed so onward .

A break for breakfast and the rest of the thermals and jackets on at the 3/4 stage of the climb up  set us up for the rest of the uphill part but lots of cloud now and the wind was getting up .

It hopefully will be clear for the sunrise just over the summit but looks like a blow at the top Spud reckoned .

Onward …

Wow … by the time we got to the edge of the red crater the wind was just starting to really throw us about … getting a bit hard in the gusts to stand up . The wind chill we figured was close to minus 18 to 20 … brrrr . Really was not nice at all .

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The sun was just up now but visibility was 20 or 30 meters at the most . Ice covered the rocky ground so care had to be taken walking let alone braving the wind buffeting us about . And still hadn’t finished the climb to the summit . That was a bit tricky as it was just blowing like crazy and we could see the sides of the crater where the wind wanted to blow us … meant a sort of sideways walk into the wind on our left shoulder but not to far as it dropped away down a scree slope on that side too … nothing to stop ya and couldn’t see the bottom in the cloud . Reached the narrow point with a chain and wire rope bolted to the rocks to hold onto as we made the summit … wow , what a blast … literally .

Spud made us crouch right down to get over the last exposed knoll and down into a small semi sheltered trench … nice . But not done yet .. next the scree slope down a narrow ridge which he said some people have trouble with as it drops away on both sides . Lucky we couldn’t see far anyway . No mind over matter .


The emerald lakes appeared and a chance for one or two shots .

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Well … so much for the sunrise . Bummer then .

This is the camera bag the tale started from … all the white stuff is ice  . We were looking just the same all over . Had to break the ice off the tripod so that i could use it . Just all frozen and not the best to grab with bare hands … take my word for it ! This is after i cleaned it up a bit . Only a few minutes for pix making with-out gloves on . Just way too cold and to get fingers warmed up again was just so painful like you wouldn’t believe . Oh and the camera … it was just fine . It was ice on the outside , not water . None got inside so all the gear was perfect and camera started up just fine to . It was the human element that was a bit slow .

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Apart from that this really showed up the need for preparation and planning . You can’t always get the weather gods to do their thing but if you are not prepared you are buggered … literally !

What showed up this fact was when we made our way down after the Ketetahi hut we encountered groups making their way up wearing jeans [ big no no ] , family groups with young kids and just lots unprepared  . Spud was advising otherwise …

So the next photog session you head off to chase the light … make sure you prepare .

May not have got my sunrise photos but that is a work in progress .

Muzz .

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