Frodo had it soooooo easy. Sure, he was barefoot, and being sabatoged by Gollum, all the while carrying an evil ring that was driving him mad. Still, I think my hike today may have been harder.
But let me start from the beginning....
A friend I met my first week in Auckland, Tim the Brit, is here in Taupo for a few days.
Totally irrelevant side note: it seems I randomly see him all over the place - newmarket, the coromandel, and now here. Funny how that happens with backpackers.
Since today was my only day off this week we decided to try to do the Tongariro crossing, despite the fact that the day was windy and the weather not so great.
Tongariro has ben actively smoking so part of the trail is closed off and inaccessible, but it's still possible to hike more than halfway and see the emerald lakes. Sounded like a great day hike.
So, we were on the road at 5:20am. Boistering ourselves with positive phrases like, "at least it won't be sweltering hot". And "it will probably clear up near the summit!".
|Volcanic lava flow and stream|
We started the actual hike at 7am and it was quite pretty as we hiked along streams and waterfalls through a narrow valley.
The river bed and rocks were dark orange from the volcanic algae. There was a constant mist hanging over the hill tops.
Next leg of the hike, was a trip up the devils staircase, a pretty steep climb where I wheezed my way 450 meters up and over really cool lava fields.
About this time, we started to see several people coming back down the trail. These people had decided to turn around and not complete the trek. As we reached the top of Devils staircase, I could see why so many people were coming back down. The weather had definitely taken a turn for the worst!
As we reached the beginning of South Crater we came across gusting winds and mist that had other hikers hunkering behind boulders for shelter.
We decided to keep going and got sandblasted in the crater.
|South Crater - take a gander at the panoramic view- what a clear day! Haha|
Next part of the journey, Red Crater Ridge. A 200 meter climb on a ridge with a deadly fall on either side. At this point people were stuck. The wind had gone from pushy gusts to 45 mph gales. The terrain left very little wriggle room for a misstep. I continued another 150 ft or so....
Then the wind blew me and I lost my balance, as I reached out to grab onto a rock..... Nothing happened. I was so numb with cold that my arms and hands had become useless. When I tried to reach out with them I was rewarded with nothing but extreme pins and needles pain.
We were only 20 minutes from the summit... But I knew I had reached my physical limits. To do anything but turnaround would be foolhardy. I wished Tim luck, told him to carry on without me, (actually I shouted into his ear to be heard over the wind) and started making my descent.
Getting off the ridge was sketchy. It involved intermittently grabbing onto boulders and hunkering down, then making a mad dash for the next "shelter" whenever the wind "lulled".
On my way, I picked up a stray hiker who had turned around while the rest of her party continued. The situation was so dangerous, I didn't want her going down by herself.
The next 2 hours were probably the most miserable of my life. I was once again sandblasted through the crater, the mist turned into a downpour and soaked me completely.
|South Crater aka Sand storm crater|
I've never been so cold in my life. My body went from hot pain, to numbness. Back again several times. I was in a bit of a rush, and downhill has never been my forte...
I ate mountain.
I tripped hard. My hands were tucked into my armpits for warmth and completely useless anyways. I barely got my arm out before I took a bite outta rock.
I heard my teeth hit the rock. It sounded like 2 coffee cups clinking together.
I was so numb. I felt nothing. I didn't know if I was hurt. It took a lot of effort to get my arms to pick me up from the ground. Fearing the worst, I opened my mouth and waited for blood/teeth chunks. I drooled some blood, felt my intact teeth and was super grateful! Lucky me, my lips had cushioned the impact.
I finished the descent a little dirtier, bloodier and definitely less dignity. Heh heh.
When Tim returned he told me he thought he had made it to the summit, but he couldn't see anything. The wind was so bad he had to crawl across the ridge on his hands and knees so he wasn't blown over the edge by the wind. It might not be the hike we had in mind, but I was really grateful for the epic opportunity. Nothing like brutal misery to remind you of the simple physicality of your existence. I definitely felt hyper aware of my experience- no sleep walking through that unforgettable adventure!
I plan on returning, in better weather and owning the Tongariro crossing!