Despite the inclement weather, we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing through clouds and fierce winds and survived!
Check out the most epic climb over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
DAY 35 – Tongariro Crossing to Mangahuia Campground
Tom and I woke up on slopes of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the crossing passes many volcanic craters and ascends to great heights. We had camped around 1,200m (3,940ft).
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most popular Great Walks with thousands of tourists walking it daily. Due to the weather forecast, most tour companies had cancelled their trips today. The Danny and Tom expedition did not cancel.
We were on the trail by 6am and the smell of sulfur was in the air. Heavy fog was rolling in. I hoped we’d get some views.
Into the abyss we climbed. The fog and clouds were so thick we disappeared from the Earth. We briefly crossed a snowfield before climbing ever higher into the heavens.
I was disappointed that we couldn’t see anything. We had no idea where we were on the mountain. And then the clouds parted for a brief moment and we were standing right next to the magnificent Blue Lake. We were over 1,700m (5,577ft) high.
The clouds continued to shroud the view with brief pockets of sunlight. The terrain was a Martian landscape of red volcanic rock.
Here and there I was able to get beautiful, desolate shots of the moonscape. I was loving the adventure; Tom was not. The wind was forceful at these elevations and extremely chilling.
I stopped to put on my puffy jacket (I almost never wear my puffy down jacket because it’s too hot to hike in). My hands were so cold I kept having to put them down my pants to prevent frostbite. I threw my raincoat over my puffy and added my buff around my ears and face as the wind gusted at 55kmph (35mph).
Adorned in my warmest clothes (save for my shorts) I continued on. Tom has disappeared into the mist ahead.
As mentioned, this walk is very popular. So far we hadn’t seen a single soul on the crossing.
Farther on I passed the Emerald Lakes. They were beautifully green from the volcanic minerals or whatever science makes them that color.
A few brave hikers appeared ahead, having come from the other side and were now turning around, having seen the Emerald Pools and not wanting to go farther.
My next challenge was the ascent up to the highest elevation of the crossing, the summit of Red Crater at 1,886m (6,187ft).
I was pretty damn cold from stopping so often to take pictures and video. Now I had to kick it into gear and climb. The hill was steep with loose stone, almost like climbing a sand dune. The going was slow but warmed me up quickly. It took quite an effort.
I leaned into the wind as it threatened to blow me into the crater. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced wind this strong; it took some effort to stay on my feet.
Slowly but surely I reached the summit of Red Crater. The view was white as can be. It was exhilarating with the gale strongest here.
From the summit I descended into the South Crater and the tourists began to populate. The wind died down in the sheltered crater.
The trickle of people became hoards. Dressed in everything from full hiking gear to just shorts and a t-shirt, I could tell many of them would not be able to finish the crossing. The weather was too severe where I’d come from.
The landscape slowly changed from otherworldly to earthly with tussock and alpine grasses returning. The track was easy from here on out.
At last I caught up with Tom as the Te Araroa track branched off from the main route. We had completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!
We followed the track through easy bush on mostly flat terrain. After the excitement of the morning I found the rest of the day to be a bit boring, yet beautiful.
We continued on past great scenery and the mountain Pukeonake. Tom says this was used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.
Eventually we reached the town of Whakapapa where we stopped in an overpriced hotel’s cafe for coffee. Tom is driven by coffee more than anything on the trail. He also stopped to mend his blisters; his little toe has been giving him problems again and it’s frustrating. We’re five weeks into our hike and it’s disheartening that injury can still easily end a hike. Tom’s doing his best to rid himself of his blister blunders.
Outside of town the trail continued through more bush. We were certainly out in the wild. There were no towns or human development in sight and it actually felt like true wilderness.
We crossed large bogs and then some streams. The water was orange with iron oxide, a result of the volcanic geology of the area.
At long last we made our way to the Mangahuia campground. We pitched our tents and were glad that rain still hadn’t come. Starving, I had a gourmet dinner of two packs of ramen noodles with a dusting of instant potatoes, followed by chunks of cheese as a second course. Dessert was an entire dark chocolate bar as well as more cheese. Though the day had been cloudy, we still had some great views and a good day of hiking!
Day’s Distance: 35km (21.8mi)
Total Distance: 1,144km (711mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,856km (1,153mi)
It felt like we’d left Earth for another planet today!
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