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Sloggs' Travel Blog A journal of my travels in 2008 & beyond...

The Tongariro Crossing!!

NEW ZEALAND | Thursday, 15 May 2008 | Views [4938] | Comments [1]

The stunning 'Mt Doom', part of the Tongariro Crossing

The stunning 'Mt Doom', part of the Tongariro Crossing

Today I walked the 18.5km Tongariro crossing, and the extra 2km Tongariro peak walk. I completed it in about 7.5 hours, with lots of stops for photo's, water and food. It is difficult to explain just how good this was! The Tongariro National Park is huge, and the crossing goes between two of the three mountain peaks in the range, and up over them into the huge craters inside. I went with an organised company who drop you at one end, loan you any kit you need (and send guides with you when it is really bad weather) and then collect you the other end to take you back to your accommodation. This time of year the mountains are topped off with snow, and the path to the peak summits were said to be too risky to take on without full mountaineering gear. On the drive out there I met 18 year old Phil from Nottingham on the bus, who was very grown up for his young years. His trip started out in India, which is a hell of a baptism for a first time traveler! During the walk I met James and Zoe at the midway point, who were walking this together. James and I ended up taking the Tongariro peak walk and the whole descent together and caught up with Zoe later in the walk. I also met another Singaporean on a big walk, a chap called Nicola, who I stormed up the second part of the Devils Staircase with and across the first big crater together.

Like the other mountain walks I've done, this one had changing terrain all the way. The beginning worked through an area called the Soda Springs and were covered with little streams which flowed all through the rocky pathways. There were lots of big steps and gravel paths. Once through that area you are presented with a stunning view of the now famous Mt Ngauruhoe, which is the mountain used by Peter Jackson as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The shape is instantly recognisable of course! To one side of this is the thinly tipped Mt Tongariro and to the southern side is the immense Mt Ruapehu, which is picture perfect. To climb up to the midway point of the walk, you have to ascend the aptly named Devil's Staircase. This thing was pretty savage, and not until about a third of the way up did I get the energy I needed to get up there. The rest of the climb was a blur, head down, drive on... After this climb you walk through the first huge crater, the Red Crater. This was frozen mud, which had preserved foot prints in it from previous walkers' endeavours. It wasn't too hard to walk on as it was at least level. The next big climb came the other side of the crater at its ridge. Atop of this was the welcome sight of the midway point sign. It wasn't actually midway on distance, but the hardest climbing was over with. It is at this point that you can choose to take the walk to the summit of Tongariro. The bus driver warned against it due to the snow being hard and icy, and the path to the top is pretty tricky, one slip and you're dead were their words! A few guys went off to take the walk on, and after a chat with James we decided to go and take a look. If nothing else, the view fron the top of the first point on that walk was going to be better, and it was clearly gravel and rocks to that point. Once we got there we could see the first guys almost at the peak, way in the distance. The peak was not much higher than where we were currently stood, but the mountain top was long and thin and rose all the way to that point. We saw the ledge that the bus driver was worried about. I meant to take a picture of it, but forgot, although it does appear in one of my pictures on facebook as a thin 'vein' along the mountain side which is completely covered in snow. I went to take a look at it and very quickly decided that I would not be going this way! There was a trodden path of footprints in the hard snow, but the ledge was no more than a foot wide and once you left the first few steps behind it was about 60 meters long, running along the mountain side, either side of the ledge the slope was shear and at an angle of about 45 degrees... basically, one foot wrong, or one foot hole that is loose and you're dead. Full stop. Simple as. There was another way around to the peak though, and at first it looked very hard work, but not dangerous. You could go straight over the top of the point, which involved some climbing over rocks, but with no danger of huge falls! Once we got over these, there was a nice easy flat path all the way past the dangerous ledge! James and I went for it, followed by a few more, and we were soon at the summit. It felt like more of an achievement than it might have given easier conditions. Before we took some pictures for each other, we noticed the two guys that went along the perilous ridge on their way back, along the same route! One of them was on all fours, it was that bloody scarey... silly boys! The view was good, but not worth that much risk!

Once we got back to the midway point (which seemed to take lots longer than the other direction) we stopped for some lunch and water. Slightly further along the track was a peak which was literally steaming hot. We sat and wamred (actually burnt!) our backsides for a few minutes. The view from here over the other side was a spectacle, we could see the Emerald and Blue lakes below, whos colours were stunning. There was also a completely frozen lake in between these... bizarre! The walk from here wound us down through the valley the other side, which included forest, open hill sides, and flooded walkways and streams. The further along we got, the less talking there was as it was getting tough on the feet and knees for everyone and we were just concentrating on lifting our feet for each step! On the bus back I sat back next to Phil who I'd been chatting to on the way out. We talked the whole hour plus back to town while the whole rest of the bus pretty much slept!

When I got back to camp I went straight up to the 40 degree hot pool on site and had a soak for hal an hour and stretched my aching legs in there. After a hot shower and a big bowl of hot soup, I went to bed about 9:30pm and went to sleep immediately!

Today was a spectacular day and one of great reflection for me. I enjoyed it immensely, so much so that I might do this walk again when I come back before I leave New Zealand. (Although it will be completely covered in snow then, so will be done with full cramp-ons and picks! Much harder)

See my stunning pictures on facebook...

Tags: mountains, the great outdoors, walking

 

Comments

1

Just completed the Tongariro Crossing on the weekend. Dec 6 2008. Fantastic!
I have done a lot of wilderness travelling but this was perhaps the best one day trip ever! Spectacular despite the large numbers of trampers. The long distance spreads us out and is not an issue.
A must for any New Zealand traveller!

  Tim Dec 10, 2008 5:45 PM

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Me with the kids at Cawaro Village School during the Vitika Trek

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