Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tongariro Alpine Crossing March 14, 2009

By the numbers: Seven hours, 19.4 km (12 miles) ascending to 1,886 metres (5,905 feet), 800 of which we actually climbed around and across three mountains, stunning jade-green lakes, rust-red craters, moonscape, and alpine tundra fueled by 10 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, six plums, five apples, a dozen really good homemade peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies (NYTimes version of Cook's Illustrated recipe) and a bunch of neon sour gummy worms (among other things). Just our party of 5 (including my Kiwi friend Margo) and another 1,500-odd trampers doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, named one of the best one-day hikes in the world. Oh and the weather could not have been more perfect. The experience was truly a highlight of my life -- and I think the boys would agree.

The shuttle bus to the start of the hike (tramp in Kiwi-speak) picked us up at 6:55 am and we started on the trail around 7:30 am well fueled with coffee and bagels (yes, I found some decent ones here). It was quite lovely to be up there so early -- although we were far from alone...

as you can see by the long line of hikers in front of us heading for Mount Ngauruhoe, best known for its cameo as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movies.

Mount Ruapehu bathed in early morning sunlight. This is our closest ski slope too -- about two hours from home here in Wanganui.

The boys all bundled up at the start - it was cold with a sharp wind in places. Thank heavens for our good friend Margo, who came with us, and had piles of extra gloves, hats, etc for us to borrow. (Not to mention that she found us a perfect apartment to stay in for the weekend and arranged all details. We're in a bit of travel-planning overload.)

The weather on these mountains is notoriously changeable and can be quite dangerous with visibility going from good to zero in the space of an hour, but Margo had efficiently arranged for perfect weather too.

Mount Doom with a recent dusting of snow, very early this year.

We came from down there!

Me, in red, and Margo, in orange a few hikers back. This uphill chunk at the beginning was not a piece of cake, but it was a good work out. The diversity of ages, levels of expertise, and languages on the track were quite amazing. (Margo got into a nice chat with guy in front of her about his sexy legs...although, ostensibly, she was asking him where he got his legwear.)

Despite growing up less than 90 mins from this hike, Margo had never done it. (She does point out that she lived thousands of miles away in London for 30 years but I still gave her grief, of course.)

Across moonscape, up rocky hill.

As we climbed higher, the volcanic formations and rocks were fantastic, not to mention the views of terrain. I wished for a 360 -degree lens.

Halfway through, shedding layers, staying motivated through strategic deployment of snackage and the awe-inspiring views.

On a clear day, you can see Mount Taranaki, which is about 80 miles away - as this picture managed to capture.

The first view of the Red Crater - one of those sights that photos water down from their true-life brilliance.
Nikko snapping away - the boys were truly impressed by the grandeur and diversity of the landscape we covered.

The Red Crater with Mount Ngauruhoe behind.

The Blue Lake.

Descending, very gingerly, the skree (very loose gravel) to the Emerald Lakes. Alex and Mark followed the example of some who merrily ran down the hill, ignoring the fact that one poorly placed step could send you somersaulting down the precipice.

Margo, almost at the end of the skree, which must account for her smile. Although those gorgeous lapis lakes might have something to do with it too. (It probably wasn't the strong smell of sulphur that arises from the craters around the lakes.)

This actually captures the color pretty well. They are just breathtaking. Their vibrant color comes from the minerals in the volanic earth and they freeze in the winter in that hue.

Looking back from whence we came. Red Crater, backed up by Ngauruhoe, and then Ruapehu, which is incidentally quite an active volcano with the last major eruption in 1996. (In Maori, the name means "pit to explode.")

Specks on the crest to the right are hikers at, I believe, the highest point of the hike at 1,886 meters. Yes, we were there.
White gentian flowers like this one were blooming along the lower track in many spots, although the alpine plant life is relatively sparse and not very colorful. Apparently, most alpine flowers are yellow or white because their pollinators - moths, flies, and beetles - do not have the same eye for color as do butterflies and bees.

View on the descent of Lake Rotoiara and then Lake Taupo in the distance.

The last hour in the sunshine but still some wind. It was gorgeous, but a little anticlimactic said the boys.

The steaming Ketetahi Springs on sacred Maori land passed on the way down.

A final view as we near the end framed by the omnipresent flax seed pods - the leaves of the plant were used in traditional Maori weaving of baskets, rugs, and capes.


Becky said...

Melissa -- This is so breathtaking. Your words and photos capture the experience so well. Really wish I could be there to experience it with you!

Beth said...

This Tolkien fan thinks the Mt. Doom pictures are very cool. Thanks for making that connection.