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Day 9: Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Home

April 19, 2010 2 comments

Thursday, 08 April, 2010:

That was incredible.  Seriously one of the best experiences of my life.

Sleep was fine in the car last night, though it was cold as all get out.  I had myself completely bundled in my sleeping bag with all the drawstrings pulled tight and still had to start the car twice to turn on the heat.

Still, woke up at 5:30 am and got to the car park in time for the 6:15 pick up.  I talked to the Danish girl, Astrid, that sat next to me on the bus.  She’s normally on exchange studying in Australia, but right now she’s visiting her boyfriend.  It turns out that her boyfriend, Anders, goes to Vic as well (my school) and actually knows the girl that lives next door to me.  I ended up joining them for the hike.

Photography

We started at 7:00 am.  It was decently cold, in the 40s, but the wind was brutal.  I had on windpants, as well as 3-layers on top, gloves, and a hat.

Togariro Alpine Crossing

The hike was easy to start, winding through the valley between the mountains.  The trail was flat with only a few misplaced rocks.  In parts, the path was raised about a foot off the ground on a long bridge-like structure, like you might see on swampy ground.

Walkway

As we started to climb up the side of the mountain, the terrain got tougher.  Luckily there were stairs for some of the steepest parts, but other areas were more-or-less rock climbing.  It really was starting to look like Mordor.  Volcanic rock was everything, some red and some charcoal black.  We were getting to cloud level, so it was getting foggy and misty.  I had to add a rain jacket to my layers to keep dry.

We continued further up through the rain.  It was starting to freeze on the ground, and rocks were getting slippery.  It froze around the leaves of plants, encasing them in a crystal clear shield.  Even on the ground, the ice formed in little needles, almost as if they froze around a blade of grass and the grass vanished.  I’m really curious what caused that.

Into Mordor

We passed up the optional climb to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom) since the weather wasn’t too promising.  We were having trouble keeping our footing here, and the climb to the summit was supposed to be much more difficult.

Still, none of us had ever actually climbed a mountain before, and we felt like we couldn’t leave satisfied without it.  We opted to climb Mt. Tongariro instead.  While the weather was no better, the hike was supposed to be easier, and it only reached 1,967 m instead of Ngauruhoe’s 2,287 m.

The Crossing

The hike to the summit wasn’t bad, though it did get windier and colder.  It seemed to start flurrying a little, but it was right on the verge, so it was tough to tell.  The ground got slicker and path less defined.  At one point, we were walking along a tiny, 6-inch wide path carved out of the side of the mountain, made of what looked like volcanic soil.  And when we actually reached the summit, it felt awesome.  I can now say I’ve climbed a mountain nearly 1.25 miles high, through the rain, snow, and ice.

Tongariro Summit

After we returned to the main track, it continued up for a bit, but nothing too strenuous.  We passed through a volcanic crater.  The ground was perfectly flat, and almost entirely had dirt.  There were a few rocks here and there, but no plants.  And because of the fog, it was completely flat as far as you could see.  There was no wind; it was completely silent.  I think that’s the closest I’ll ever come to being on the Moon.

On the Moon

As we crested the top of the track and started coming down, it became suddenly clear.  The sun shone out, and you could see a lake in the distance.  Steam rose from thermal vents further off.  And we could see other people on the track—lots of and lots of people.

The trail went down a steep soil path before winding through another crater.  It then came out on the side of one of the mountain, covered in grain-like plants.  The path wound slowly down, weaving between the grain fields.  The sun was getting hot, and I had to take off my jacket and put on sunscreen.

Valley View

The last few miles got tough.  The trail eased into a forest and was no longer interesting.  We were nearing the end, our feet were tired, and my pack was starting to feel heavy.  A few streams let into the forest, grey, much like the glacial streams down on the South Island.

Stone in the Grain

Finally, we reached the end.  It was 2:30 pm, so it took us 7.5 hours.  Not bad, considering the track and Tongariro Summit together were estimated at 7.5-10 hours, and we took 2-20 minute breaks for food.  Reached our highest point on Mt. Tongariro at 1967 m.  All said and done, an awesome hike.

I drove home, hoping to make it before dark.  Starving, I ate McDonald’s for the first time in at least two years.  It’s quite different here, using local, organic ingredients (since Kiwis won’t eat anything else).  And my Big Mac actually looked like what you see on the advertisements!

Power Lines

Got into Wellington around 6:30 pm and grabbed gas and groceries, which I didn’t have to carry up the stairs for the first time ever!  Unpacked a little, but mostly I devoured an entire frozen pizza and collapsed onto my bed.  I’ll sleep well tonight!

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Update: Next Morning:

Returned my car this morning, no problems (except for the little “Final Warning: Permit parking only” notice on my windshield this morning).  Final odometer reading for the whole trip: 1833.8 km.  That’s quite a trip!

View Trip Map

Also, returned my FM transmitter, which they accepted, no questions asked.

In the end, I’d say the trip was a success.  Though I had some down points, especially in the evenings when there wasn’t much to do, I seemed to make those work.  I learned to time my day with the sun and actually felt better about it.  And though the scenery wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped after the South Island, it improved as the trip went on, culminating with the Tongariro Crossing.  I’m glad I did it.

Full Set: North Island Trip (Complete)

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