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The Great Adventure

In the Shadow of Mount Doom

NEW ZEALAND | Wednesday, 3 December 2008 | Views [572]

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(What is a journal about New Zealand without a LotR reference, eh?)

Today we woke up at the crack of dawn to do the Tongariro crossing, the best day hike in New Zealand, which cuts a track in between two volcanoes, Mount Tongariro on the one side and Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) on the other.  We set out on our journey with positive remarks about the weather (“looks to  be a really nice day for it”), followed by not so positive remarks on the weather (“Is really cold up there with winds about 55 kph, so… not really a good day to do the crossing”), followed by the silver lining of “this should lift after a few hours and turn out to be a really nice day in the afternoon.”  Alpine weather being hard to predict, and usually nothing at all like the regular weather (in Taupo it was sunny and clear), I just hoped for the best and started on the hike.

I suppose I should have seen the warning signs when we reached the carpark and could only see ten feet up the mountain.  At that point, that was assuming there even was a mountain, which we could only guess was a vague northish direction.  We ventured forth into the fog.

At first the hike was quite pleasant, the fog adding a mystical, ethereal element to the hike, and hiding the crowds in the haze.  We hiked through a barren landscape of grasses, moss and shrubs until we reached the first major ascent.  The air grew steadily colder and wetter and we saw a large number of people, many of whom were wearing rubbish bag ponchos, who had presumably turned back.  At this point I myself grew frustrated with the poor visibility and the fact that the clouds were evidently not going to lift after all.  After we had leveled off for a while and found ourselves on a flat muddy stretch that almost resembled a beach, we came to the conclusion: ‘I think we’re in a crater.’  I’ve always wanted to walk into the crater of a volcano, but I’d like to know for sure if I have.  We climbed higher as the pockmarked, pumice-scattered landscape grew devoid of plant life and became foggier, colder, wetter, and windier still.  The mountain fell away on both sides of the trail, and we may have been straddling the summit, or there may have been craters on either side, I had no idea.  When there was a particularly steep slope I pondered ‘I think that’s Red Crater to our right’.  At that point, everything became a crater, and every slope disappeared into an endless abyss.  About fifteen minutes later and, ‘no, I think that’s Red Crater’.  Then we came right to the shores of the Emerald Lakes, which looked so beautiful in photographs they were the reason I wanted to do this hike.  Unfortunately, they were so fogged in that it wasn’t until we were right up next to them that we could see them, though the smell of sulfur was a good indication we had been getting close.  ‘Oh, there’s Emerald Lake,’ I said.  ‘Oh, there’s another one.’  I checked the map.  ‘Oh, there are three!’  We never saw the third.  We walked a short while longer and decided we were in another crater, then began our descent.  I was taking a picture when Ross exclaimed ‘Blue sky! Blue sky!  Look quick before you miss it!’  I didn’t look fast enough.  Eventually we made it below cloud level to discover it was still a very nice sunny day.  We turned a corner and were unexpectedly plunged into a forest, which made for pleasant walking until we reached the end of the track.  We caught the bus to the backpackers in the National Park, and as we pulled in and unloaded our bags, both mountains peeked out to say hello and within the hour there were no clouds in sight. 

Tags: bad weather, crater, hiking, mountains, north island, tongariro, volcanoes

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