I headed to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in a Jeep with a teacup Yorkie on my lap trying to snuggle it’s nose into my jacket and go back to sleep. 6am was a little earlier than we all were used to waking up. Our original shuttle had some issues, and the noble woman who ran the campground decided that it was unacceptable for me to wait and took me herself.
Mount Doom loomed in the horizon. At least, it did after I wiped the condensation off the window.
I had been warned by many Kiwis not to underestimate the hike, each one citing the story of the poor Indian fellow who died a few weeks ago. Apparently, he and three of his friends decided to go in poor weather conditions, against all warnings. They ended up getting separated, and the man’s t-shirt, jeans, and old tennis shoes were no match for the negative temperatures.
I was overprepared, bringing a gallon of water, many layers, and food to last two days, determined not to be the next warning story.
We got to the starting point of the hike (Mangatepopo parking lot) just in time to see the sun crest the hills adjacent to Mount Doom.
The hike is 19.4km start to finish.
The first section of the hike is an easy walk on well formed paths through fields of yellow. There were four of us out that early, including a German woman and a couple from France. We leapfrogged back and forth depending on who was taking pictures of the landscape at that moment.
After about thirty minutes, we reached the first uphill section of the hike. There were already people at this section, some eating, some resting, some staring off in the distance. I continued onwards and upwards, going on autopilot. I passed a group of seven early twenty-somethings opting to explore New Zealand on a hop-on hop-off bus. The leader of the group, a young Irish fellow, was determined to completer the hike in record time, much to the chagrin of those stuck keeping the pace.
Eventually the trail leads into a snowy section (at least in October). We walked along the snow between a few beautiful mountains.
A short trudge in the snow gave way to another steep uphill section that led to a red crater, as well as the highest point of the hike.
A precarious and loose downhill slide gave way to three beautiful lakes, the first of which was still covered in ice.
I took a break and ate the many snack bars which I brought with me. I had meant to pack a lunch the night before, but the decision to hike had been made the day before, and I got distracted talking to some interesting people at the campsite.
After this point, the trail meanders up and down more through snow and rock, and eventually leads to the last downhill section. You cross down yellow fields built into a hillside, which lands in a cabin and the first bathrooms for miles. Afterwards, a green forest that seems a little out of place given the previous landscapes.
When I arrived back at the campsite, the Swiss girls left me a beer to celebrate finishing the hike. They were long gone, but I really appreciated that beer.
I also checked my email and saw that I was supposed to report for my first day of work today. Whoops.