Sarah's volcano climb
09 March 2008
Sarah decided to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is billed as the best one-day hike in NZ, an 18.5km (about 11 mile) walk up one side of Tongariro and down the other. It's said to be challenging, and this day it really was. Starting at 0630, the bus dropped me (and a few others from the campsite, who rapidly left me behind) off at the road end below Ngaurapoe. This is perhaps 1100m high. The first 100 minutes are pretty easy: a gentle climb through low bush developing into alpine bog. Much of the bog has a boardwalk across it, protecting the fragile plants. It was cloudy as we started, cleared for a short while, and then the clouds rolled back up the valley with a vengeance. Ruapehu shrugged off his duvet, rolled one eye at the sun and then pulled it back over his head. I didn't see him again all day.
From Soda Springs the climb begins. A long haul called variously the Devil's or the Giant's Staircase clambers up the first saddle. It is technically a walk, but there's a lot of scrambling involved. For me, it was very, very slow! But I got there in the end.
At the top of the staircase, there's a side track to the top of Ngaurahoe; it was very foggy at this point, and I felt I was getting exercise enough. So I set off across the South Crater. This stretch is as flat as a pancake and as devoid of life as any desert; by now I was high above the treeline, and only lichens were present. Mind you, it was so foggy there could have been forests out there and I wouldn't have known.
On the far side, begins the last bit of climb. This goes up bare rocks, made slippery by the clouds. Gradually the path narrows and narrows; as the cloud got thinner, I could catch glimpses of precipitous drops to both sides. Some parts of the path are slender walkways along the edges of the rocks. There are no ropes to hang on to, and it's not a place for people with vertigo. The wind was icy, cutting through layers of clothing; it seemed most unfair to be smothered with cloud but knifed by wind.
At the top is the signpost for the summit peak of Tongariro, and the pic is proof I made it!