Weather: cold, cloudy and windy ... especially on the top of the mountains
MP3 track of the day: Windy City – Doris Day
Today I was going to walk the 'Tongariro Alpine Crossing', New Zealands best one day hike … or so it said in the brochure ($55 it cost me so it better be good). This required getting up stupidly early to catch the 6:20am bus to the start of the walk. The weather reports said that today was supposed to be a fine day with little cloud and great views, and this was confirmed by an English friend I had just met waiting for the bus, his name was Richard.
The drive took around a hour and a half and then we were at our starting point, 1150 meters above sea level. The clouds were really close in and you couldn't see much at all; this was different to the weather forecast everyone had herd so the lady driving the bus radioed for an update; it said that the day would begin cloudy but brighten up late morning, when were due to hit the summit.
Richard and I walked together and chatted along the way; it was very cold and I was wearing my fleece, coat, hat and gloves which I hadn't seen for a month. We set ourselves a good pace and was soon near the front of our group, only an American was in front of us, charging into the distance. Due to the cloud there wasn't much to see and so we really plowed through the walk. We made it to the Soda Springs in the exact same time as the sign posts said we should; I took off my fleece (as I was too hot) and had a drink. We soon continued and made it to the Devils Staircase; an area with what seemed hundreds of stairs forever climbing upwards. Forty-five minutes of strenuous climbing was in front of us and all around the winds were picking up, so it was pretty cold.
I heroically managed it up the last stair and was confronted by our first crater, the South Crater. Well my map said it was a crater, I couldn't see far enough through the clouds to see the edges of the crater, however walking through this flat desolate land was pretty amazing and, with all the snow, I did think that I could have been on another world. There was a footpath that branched off here to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe, however we were told on the bus that both mountains (Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, which was further into the walk) were far to dangerous to climb as there was still too much snow; the lady even said that you would probably die if you attempted the climb so that kind of put me off.
Next up was probably the hardest climb I've ever done. 'Not too difficult' my information sheet said; we were confronted by a snowy assent that turned into a rocky climb. Add to that 70km winds with a ice-chill that put frost on your clothes and it was really difficult I can tell you. Both Richard and I were pretty exhausted halfway up but we kept going as there was no cover from the wind on this side of the mountain. Slowly, with every effort of my aching muscles I got to the summit of the crater.
Up here we met the American who had legged it into the lead at the beginning of the walk; for some reason he had waited up here to make sure others from our group hadn't decided to turn back when confronted by this bombardment of mother nature … why he decided to wait at the summit I don't know, as there was no cover and he must have been frozen.
As soon as we made it to the summit of the red crater we were descending down inside it. It wasn't long before the craters outer walls were shielding us from the worst of the wind, however we still couldn't see much in front of us as the clouds were still very low. Again the red crater, with snow on the floor and white cloud all around, had this ethereal feel to it which was pretty spooky. Only briefly did the clouds subside for us to have a look around; however it was gone before most people could take out their cameras.
After this it was all pretty much downhill from here. We had only been walking four hours yet we thought we were at least 2/3 of the way through this eight hour hike (I think it's because we didn't stop for photos that often due to a) the cold and b) the fact you couldn't see anything). For the next part of our epic hike we were confronted by some small narrow snow ledges, which had the mountain on the left and it's steep snowy side to our right. One false move to the right and that was it, you were sliding all the way down the mountain and that would have been curtains for you. It was pretty scary I can tell you, especially now that the wind had picked up again.
We made it through and were now descending pretty rapidly; we had now gone so low that we were out of the clouds and we had our first view of the valley below us … which was nice. At 11:50am we had made it to the final hut on the walk where we stayed for 30 minutes to have some lunch. French couple were also in the hut and so we chatted as we ate. Even though we were in a hut, I was starting to get cold and so we decided to pack up our stuff and prepare for the 'final push'. A one to two hour walk that was pretty easy going; first you were climbing down what was left o the mountain range and then we descended into a rainforest. Within the rainforest I saw my second beautiful waterfall whilst visiting New Zealand.
At 1:50pm we had made it to the car park; six hours it took us with probably an hours worth of breaks … so not bad for an eight hour hike. The only problem was that our bus wasn't due here until 3:30pm and so we chatted to all the other people who had made it down the mountain safely. I met a couple who were doing a months traveling for their honeymoon and they seemed very nice (the guy was recounting a bus ride with a driver called Ben, who would just stop off along the way to see bird sanctuaries, wooden posts and tell the passengers the most random facts … some of which weren't entirely true … it all sounded hilarious and I want to get this driver for one of my bus journeys).
The time flew by and soon the bus pulled up. On the bus I tried to get some sleep, as I was shattered, but it didn't really happen. Once back in Taupo it was 5pm; everything seemed so mundane compared to what I had just done … an iron man six hour hike through the wind, snow and craters. Sure we didn't get to see a lot, which was gutting, but I still enjoyed myself and I found out that I had walked where part of 'Lord of the Rings' was filmed (I had walked up mount Doom … and if I was Frodo I would have told Gandalf he could stick it).
My final acts for the day was to get something to eat followed by packing my bag to move onto Wellington in the morning; however the most important thing was to have another early night as I was shattered.
P.S. I've now been traveling for over a month; yes indeedy the 6th Sep 10 was when I took my flight to LA ... where has the time gone? This first month seems to have gone faster than my first month in Canada ... and in Canada I had done a lot more in that time, weird hey!