Over the Mountain and Through the Woods

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, December 9, 2013

We got to National Park last night and found out there's one thing almost everyone does when they are here: hike the Mount Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's a 6hr 20min hike that started near the bottom of one side of the mountain, continues over the top of the mountain, and ends in a large forest. We did some research on it and decided since we were only here for one night, we would take the challenge. Jason started making phone calls to shuttle companies about renting some waterproof equipment and hats and gloves. Some of the companies told us that the weather would not be so nice today so they are only running one shuttle instead of the 4 or 5 they usually do. This did not deter us! We found out that the hostel we were staying at also offered a shuttle service and it was running at 7:15am. Great! We were also able to rent (or hire as they call it here) warm hats, gloves, and extra jackets. Perfect! We woke up extra early this morning to pick up protein bars, sandwiches, and water for our hike. Excellent!

Finally, it was time to go. We got onto the bus with our many layers of clothing.  The bus dropped us off right by the starting point just before 8AM and it was time to get going on the 19.4KM hike.  We were told that we were 1,100 meters high where the bus dropped us off and we would hike to 1,800 meters where we (weather permitting) would see the "red crater".  Then, we'd hike down to 700 meters to wrap up the hike.  The bus would be meeting us at the finishing point at 3:30 giving us 7 and a half hours to complete the jaunt.

When we started, the weather was reasonable.  It was windy here and there with the odd bit of rain, but overall, not too bad.  We were told the first hour or so would be fairly simple and it was. We walked along a path and were even a bit hot with all of our layers, so we undressed a bit. It seemed like we had barely been walking when we saw the sign that said we completed 1 KM. Only 18.4 more to go.  This would be a breeze, right?  WRONG!

After about 3 or 4 KM and an hour walking, the hike became more challenging.  Gone were the manmade paths.  Now it was time to climb walking along a narrow muddy path and consistently climbing rocks both big and small.  The odd time, we even had to walk or jump over a stream. We went up what's called the "Devil's Staircase" which is a 45 minute steep climb up wooden stairs.  This was definitely a challenge, especially for Garyn and her breathing.  And as we were walking, the conditions got much worse.  It was suddenly really cold and rain was coming down. It was also extremely foggy to the point where we couldn't see more than a foot or two in front of us.  The wind made it all the more challenging since there was nowhere to hide from it.  The higher up we got, the worse the conditions.  Along the way we saw people turning around.  One of the hikers said that since the conditions were getting worse and it would be tough to see the Red Crater at the top due to the fog, it was pointless to keep walking.  So, we kept walking!

At one point during the extreme wind, I accidentally took us off the path.  It was Garyn who realized something wasn't right and we retraced ourselves until we saw other hikers and carried on the proper way.  As we got closer to the top, the final ascent to the top of the mountain was completely rock.  This likely would have been challenging in good weather conditions, but with the strong winds, rain, and cold temperatures, it made this climb extremely difficult.  Around this time, we were wearing all the layers we brought and the rain soaked them all.  Nothing we had was waterproof and we were so drenched that our clothing now had extra weight to it making each step even heavier than it was before.  When we finally got to the top, it was an accomplishment, but since the conditions were so fierce, we were in no mood to celebrate.  And as far as the view went, there was none whatsoever for us since all we could see in front of us was fog.  To see what the top of the Tongariro Crossing looks like, we had to type it in Google just like anyone else not crazy enough to walk in the conditions we did.

After reaching the top, we began to make our way down in what was one of the most challenging parts of the hike.  We were on the edge of the Red Crater, which was only about a four-foot path widthwise and completely covered with tons of volcanic ash.  The descent was a steep one and we basically slid the whole way since we couldn't grip anything with our shoes.

While the rest of the hike was longer in terms of distance, it was a bit easier since we were done with our big climbs and the lower we got, the more favourable the weather conditions were. Having said that, we were completely soaked, cold, and tired, so we definitely weren't in the same shape we were at the start.  There were some more challenges including needing to run through a stream towards the end, but we knew we were close to the finish line.  The last hour or so took us through a forest and then sure enough, we hit the end in a time of 5 hours and 48 minutes.  The climb should take about 6 or 7 hours, but we suspect that includes stopping along the way to rest and/or eat and also includes taking photos, which we didn't do much of.  Ideally, we would have loved better weather and to see the beauty of the climb, but we were only here for one day and in retrospect, we think it was better to do the hike with challenging weather than not at all.

When we arrived at the end it was nearly 2PM and the bus wasn't coming until 3:30.  We were completely drenched and while the sun popped out once in a while, it wasn't doing much to keep us warm.  Garyn was shivering like crazy and waiting for the bus seemed like it took forever. Ultimately the bus came and drove us back to the hostel where we took a hot shower and left to drive 4 hours to Wellington - our final stop on the North Island.  


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Shawn on

Sounded like your hard work paid off big time. Well done to the both of you especially considering the conditions!

Meiling on

What an adventure! Proud of you...

Dr. S on

Sounds like the trip of a lifetime so far... Keep enjoying!!!

jasonandgaryn on

Thanks so much Shawn! It was a challenge, but we are glad we were able to complete it!

jasonandgaryn on

Meiling, thanks so much! I think we are proud of us too! Haha
Hope Adam is doing well!

jasonandgaryn on

Thanks Dr. Silver. We are having a blast!

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