Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Mountain

Listening to: Gramsci - Object

We went up to the mountain last weekend for the annual Upper Hutt College staff ski trip
When people round here talk about going to 'The Mountain', there is only one mountain they are referring to. Mount Ruapehu, the active volcano that along with its siblings Ngauruhoe and Tongariro dominates the central North Island.

I've had a lifelong fascination with volcanoes, possibly due to living in Rotorua at a young age and being exposed to plenty of evidence of what goes on beneath our feet. There is just something very primordial about volcanoes and their ability to change the face of a landscape overnight. I like the notion of mountains that can remodel themselves, and can create new landforms on a timescale that is visible to us puny humans. The older landforms around the volcanoes date back over a million years, but the youngest are less than 3000 years old, practically yesterday in geological time. To the Maori people the volcanoes were living and sentient things, with emotions, families and stories to tell. I like the legends; they add an extra dimension of personality to an already dynamic landscape.

I love visiting this area and seeing eternal creation and destruction at work. Ruapehu's last spectacular eruptions were in 1995 and 1996, but the most recent minor one was only a couple of years ago. Whenever I'm around my attention is always drawn to them. They are like slumbering beasts, capable of both great beauty and cataclysmic violence. I'd love to see an eruption from a safe distance, and each visit to the area is always tempered by the remote possibility that today might be the day they awaken. I rue not taking advantage of the fact of being a student during the spectacular but relatively benign eruptions of the nineties and taking the time to drive up and see them in person.

We were blessed with three days of calm and clear weather over the weekend, unusual for this time of year, but great for photography. Click on any pic to enlarge.

Night shot of Mt Ruapehu under a full moon, viewed from the south (Ohakune) side. About a two minute exposure on a very cold night....
Ruapehu from the east (Rangipo Desert) side. Ruapehu is thought to have once had a large cone like Ngauruhoe near its peak, which has been lost to erosion.
A dormant volcano photographed from the slopes of an active one. Mt Taranaki (last erupted around 200 years ago, expected to erupt again sometime in the future) in the early morning sunlight as seen from the Turoa skifield carpark on Mt Ruapehu, about 80 miles / 130 kilometres away.
Mt Ruapehu's shadow reaches toward the horizon as the sun rises
Mt Tongariro (left) and Mt Ngauruhoe / Mt Doom from the Whakapapa access road. Ngauruhoe is a youngster at only 2500 years old, and last erupted about thirty years ago. It stands on the remnants of a similar but much older volcanic cone dating from around 260,000 years ago which has gradually been eroded away.
Mt Taranaki from the Whakapapa skifield on Ruapehu, with the shoulder of Hauhungatahi, a vent of Ruapehu but a small mountain in its own right in the foreground.
Looking toward the north from atop a breccia lava flow near Whakapapa. The rocks are incredibly abrasive. Touching them with a bare hand felt like the rock was adhering itself to my hand, a bit like velcro.
Mt Tongariro and Ngauruhoe from the north. Tongariro is more of a collection of small vents and craters than a single entity, hence its flat appearance
The Desert Road along the eastern side of the mountains exposes layer upon layer of volcanic fallout in its cuttings, exposing thousands of years of volcanic eruptions to view. Since in winter they don't see any sun, ice can persist for days.
One of the visible layers is from the nearby and somewhat apocalyptic Lake Taupo eruption of AD 168, which covered the entire area with a layer of ash and pumice up to 5 metres thick, the atmospheric effects of which were noted by both the ancient Romans and Chinese, and is one of the largest volcanic eruptions to have occured in recorded human history. To put it another way, the amount of tephra ejected from the lake during the eruption was more than double the amount of ejecta from the Mt St Helens (1980), Vesuvius (AD 79) and Krakatoa (1883) eruptions combined.
The different layers erode at different rates. When driving through as children a favourite game was to try and see profile faces in the silhouettes of the cuttings as we went around corners.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great pics. I'd like to see these things in person someday. And being a geology geek I very much enjoyed this post in general. Thanks!