Friday, April 23, 2010

Tongariro II: Who Goes To Mordor Twice?

At the moment, Dave and I are in New Plymouth, a lovely little city on the Pacific Coast near Egmont National Park and Mt. Taranaki.  We jumped into the public library to use the internet.  Here's a recap of the past few days...

About a month ago, I took an “epic” trip to Tongariro National Park with my Earthwise Valley friends (read about it here, here, here, and here).  We climbed Ngauruhoe, the conical volcano (~2200 m) that was the inspiration for Mr. Doom in Peter Jackson's the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and part of the group climbed Ruapeho (~2700 m).  I didn't get to climb Ruapeho, and Dave didn't get to go on the trip at all, so Tongariro was the first stop on our New Zealand road trip.

Day 1, Tuesday, 4/20:  We had left Tuateawa late the previous day, so we woke up early and finished the drive to Tongariro.  After prepping our packs, we hit the trail around 11 a.m.  We took our time and enjoyed the great weather as we passed Taranaki Falls and then the Tama Lakes.

We got to the same basecamp where I had camped four weeks previous in the late afternoon.  There was plenty of time to scout out a flat tent site, sheltered from the wind, to set up the tent and sort gear, to dig a latrine hole, and to put together dinner fixins'.

The sunset wasn't as spectacular as the first sunset the last time I was there, but it was still very pretty.  Since we had arrived at the campsite so early, we were in the tent only an hour after dark (7:30 p.m.).  We stayed up talking until about 9:30 p.m, until we were able to doze off.  It was a cold and windy night.

Day 2, Wednesday, 4/21:  Summit day!

We'd set an alarm for 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. so we could get an alpine start to the day, but it was so cold and windy in the morning we didn't get out of the tent until 7:00 a.m.  Still, we were off and climbing by 8:00 a.m.  It was oh-so-windy and much colder than last time.  I was such a happy camper!

Still, it was pretty sweet to make the climb with Dave, who missed it last time.  And it turns out it was a good thing I went back—unbeknownst to me, I hadn't made it to true summit the first time.  Fixed that.  :-)

The descent wasn't too bad.  The same skiing through sand and pebbles, then downclimbing fist- or bowling ball-sized rocks.  We had time for a leisurely lunch at “base camp,” and then we set out for Whakapapa Village, our start point.  Clouds rolled in as we hiked out.

As we dropped into, and then below, the clouds, a light mizzle rain drifted down.  We took a different way back to the Village; it felt like we wandered for hours through a dark, wet, green forest of beech trees wearing thick blankets of moss and baby ferns.  After a burned dinner and a burned breakfast, a hearty pasta dinner prepared in a public shelter was heaven on a plate.

We drove up the road to Ruapeho a bit and slept in the van parked at an overlook.  It was COLD, and I woke up so many times I lost count.

Day 3, Thursday, 4/22:  Summit day...  again!  We prepared day packs and started the hike around 8:30 a.m.  I was so tired that I nearly turned back about an hour in.  For better or for worse or for stubbornness, I kept going.

There isn't a real track to the summit, but we had studied a topo and Dave had been to the rim at the top 3 years previous.  There wasn't any difficult climbing on the approach we selected, and we made average time (3 ½ hours to the top).

And then we got to top and peeked into the flat inner crater.  Neat-o!  But it's not done yet—still have to make the rim traverse.  Walk along a sidewalk-width, sandy path lightly etched into the scree of the rim, with hundred foot drop-offs on either side, while the wind attempts to grab your poles and your shoulders to throw you off your feet.  I was not a happy camper.

But I did it, and I saw Crater Lake in all of its frosty turquoise glow.

We took a different way down, sticking to the tongues of glacier that hand down the sides of Ruapeho.  Both volcanic and glacial activity shaped Ruapeho—a unique combination.

The way down was not a good time for me.  I was physically and mentally spent, at the end of what was probably three of the hardest consecutive hiking days I've ever done.  I know that I am a stronger-than-average hiker, and I can certainly carry my weight while backpacking, and I don't embarrass myself (much) while climbing...  but I had a hard time managing my frustration watching Dave skip over the rocks like a bearded human mountain goat, while I slipped and fell my way down the mountain.   Some couples fight over money or power struggles; Dave and I “negotiate” outdoor pursuits, which usually means that I have to keep my inferiority complex in check and he has to hold back a little to match me.  Good to know.

Overall, it was a great trip.  The weather was great, once we were above the clouds.  Dave got to climb Ngauruhoe, and I got to climb Ruapeho.  And now I can say that I've been up Mt. Doom not just once...  but twice!  Even if hiked while exhausted, frightened, frustrated, and with 60 km/hr wind gusts, the Ruapeho hike is probably the most spectacular one day hike I've ever done.  We saw practically no one on the mountains and felt like we had the park to ourselves.  It's awesome to fall asleep in a tent under a smattering of twinkling stars, high above the misty clouds, knowing that you're the only human for miles.

No comments:

Post a Comment