Literally, since the day we decided to move to New Zealand, we’ve been looking forward to the Tongariro Crossing.  It’s touted as the greatest one day walk in the country and one of the top 10 rated in the world.  We knew we were out of shape and even a walk to the grocery store would be an exertion but we were so excited to view Mt. Ngauruhuoe (Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings) and the Emerald Lakes up close and with our own eyes.  For Steve’s 39th birthday, we finally carved out a few days to attempt the crossing.

Steve here. Notice how Cece casually drops my advanced age. I think she’s setting up the end of this story, in which she heroically carries my decrepit body over the finish line.

The walk requires 7-8 hours one way and is classified as moderately challenging.  At the completion of the crossing, we will have traveled 18.5km away from the car which requires hikers to arrange for transport back to their cars.

Steve again: for our American friends, 18.5km is about 11.5 miles. Which isn’t that far, unless you’re traveling 45 degrees upward or 45 degrees downward for most of it. But really, of the 18.5 kilometers, only the last 18 kilometers were tough. Okay, back to Cece…

We parked at the Mangatepopo Hut at 9:00am and began walking with a deadline of 5:30 to catch the last shuttle at the end of the trail.  Should we miss the shuttle, we would have the option of hitchhiking, spending the night out there or attempting to hike back the way we came.  We really, really had to catch that shuttle

The hike starts gently from Mangetapopo Hut to Soda Springs.  There’s even a lovely track.

Cece looks great in her cargo pants.

“If the lava comes, don’t bother running. You’ll just die exhausted.”


This walkway goes over a semi-marsh area that we otherwise would have needed Gollum to guide us through.

 

Here’s where that lovely flat track ends and becomes, what I now find out, is called “The Devil’s Staircase.”  We don’t have any pictures of the actual stairs because they don’t really look too terribly intimidating.  The reason being that the landscape hides the stairs from your view below.  You ascend the stairs, pushing yourself to the point of needing to rest assuming that you’ve reached the plateau, then as you come to the top of the stairs, you see just a few more to go.  And it goes on and on and on.  From Soda Springs to the South Crater, we ascended from 1400 to 1600 meters above sea level.

Cece’s totally right. It reminded me of standing in line at Disneyland. Every time you think you’ve reached the end, you go around a corner you see that you’re not going to meet Cinderella for another hour.

If only they had warned us more strongly...

 

See where I'm pointing? That's where we started. And we're only about 1/3 done.

 

At this part of the trail, you have the option of taking a 3 hour side track and summit Mt. Ngauruhoe.  We laughed at the suggestion of a 2 hour hike straight up the cone volcano while hikers ran, literally ran off to begin the summit.  We met our hero in the form a a tiny lady in her mid 70’s.  She not only summited the volcano, she also completed the entire crossing.  Solo.

This flat area is a gigantic caldera.

 

The punishing ascent rewards you at the sight of the South Crater and where the track flattens for a bit as you walk through what looks like dust or smoke but turns out to be wisps of clouds.  Perfect after working up a sweat.

View of South Crater and Mt. Ngauruhoe

 

This was the one of the scarier parts of the track and I started to have second thoughts about pushing forward.  I was fine with the physical exertion but not ok with the exposed “track.”  Do you see the track Steve is walking on?  Neither do I.  Do you see the steep drop off to his left?  It doesn’t look like much in this photo but I’m here to tell you we were high up and that was a steep drop off down into an old lava flow.  The track disappears and you’re left to follow shoe prints from previous hikers through damp sand and rocks.  There is no track because you often have to climb up and down small boulders until you reach the Red Crater.

It was at this time that Steve found out his wife is easy to anger when she is both sweating and terrified of falling to her death.  He had the misfortune of asking me for clarification on the glycolytic pathway and how it refers to the production of lactic acid.  He didn’t get his answer.

Yes, I know.  Let’s just get it out there so we can all stop snickering.  The Red Crater is very, ehm, Georgia O’Keefe inspiring.  Let’s move on.

I’m sorry, I want to be mature since I’m sharing the post with my lovely wife whom I love and respect. But… I can’t…resist…

I said let’s move on!

Red Crater and Mt. Ngauruhuoe

 

I'm still laughing about Mother Nature's vagina.

This is what the trip was about.  The Emerald Lakes can only be seen by hiking the crossing or by an aerial tour.  I wasn’t leaving the country without seeing them.  And now we were there, seeing them in person and about to have a picnic lunch right on the shore.

But you have to get down to them first.  None of the pictures we took can describe the track down to the lakes.  There is no path, no trail.  You are heading down a steep ridge of loose scree.  I’ve never walked on a track like this and it was horrifying.  I couldn’t turn around because it would be like climbing up loose sand.  I made my way down the path millimeter by millimeter by carefully shuffling my feet.  There is one narrow section of the ridge where it is completely exposed and there is a terrifying drop down into a rocky valley.  Meanwhile other hikers were sailing down the ridge and actually enjoying the thrill of sliding down the volcano.  Another hiker advised me to walk on my heals and use my momentum to slide upright down the ridge.  That got me over the proverbial hump and down the actual ridge.

Just about the halfway point.

See the highest peak at the center of the photo?  That’s the loose scree track we slid down.

The crossing then goes from the Emerald Lakes to the Blue Lake.

One last climb before we begin the descent to Ketetahi Hut.

Can you spot me?

 

That white stuff is steam coming from the ground. The ground is hot to the touch.

 

Ah yes, the steps leading down the volcano.  This is where our bodies began to give out.  For me, it was the lateral aspect of my right knee.  Steve’s hips slowed him down.  The steep descent down endless stairs seemed like it would be the easiest part.  People were bounding down them and we expected to be one of them.    We were both angry with our bodies.  Dehydration and fatigue we expected but we never gave thought to the strain on our joints.  That only occurs with old people who want sympathy, right?  I was reduced to going down the stairs sideways and slowly with frequent breaks for the last 3km.  Steve hobbled closely behind.

My hands done swole up.

 

We made it to the end at 4:30pm and Steve was done.  Me?  I was more worried about what my body would feel like in the morning.

Our next adventure?  The Manawatu Gorge walk…..

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