Quite a day today! It is our big chance to attempt the Tongariro Crossing. We had been hearing reports on this hike for the last three days from backpackers who trekked through the rain. This morning the rain has finally let up, and even though we are checking out of the hostel and bound for Wellington tonight (about 4 hours south), we start considering it. Now, everyone has been taking this hike very seriously. It’s 19.4 km (12 miles round trip) and climbs 2,600 feet to get to a 6,200 feet peak. They leave at 6 or 7 in the morning with rain gear, food, extra clothing, and tons of water, and usually don’t finish until after 3. I was a bit intimidated and nervous. Mark, however, has a different perspective. “All that advice is for the fat f**ks who are out-of-shape candy asses. We can just run the whole thing in shorts and T-shirt, and maybe carry a water bottle in our hand.” Does that sound like Mark or what?
We get to the trailhead just before noon, hours after the last hiker started off this morning. I wear a light running jacket (the one you sent me for Xmas years ago, Matt. I wear this thing all the time, by the way!) and carry a balaclava in case the winds get bad at the top. Mark is just wearing little dolphin shorts, though he’s got a shirt tucked out the back of his shorts just in case. We find some plastic coke bottles and fill them with water, and at the last minute shove some slices of white bread into my pocket, just in case. I feel very ill-prepared!
It’s 6 miles to the highest peak (Red Crater), and I don’t think I’ll make it that far, so I’m aiming for the South Crater (4 miles up). So we make a plan to run our own pace, Mark aiming for the Red Crater peak, and me meeting up with him on his way back down at the South Crater. I lose Mark right away but I’m trucking along. The first 3 miles are relatively flat, which is a great way to warm up. Suddenly the sun comes out—totally unexpected—and Mt. Doom is revealed in all its glory. I am impressed. It’s such an intimidating but beautiful mountain, and I have a view of it the whole time.
I start passing hikers and the grade increases. I switch back and forth from running to walking for the next 45 minutes. Then, at an hour in, I reach the South Crater. I’m shocked it was so relatively easy. I see the Red Crater up above, and decide to keep going. The trail to the Red Crater is on an unprotected ridge and the wind is blowing. But every step is rewarded with amazing views. Just before I reach the summit I see Mark above me. He is surprised to see me, but really happy. We summit together and enjoy the amazing Red Crater, the Emerald Lakes, and of course, another great view of Mt. Doom. It’s totally exhilarating.
I’m anxious to hear Mark’s perspective. I’m hopeful that his ego was knocked down a bit after such a long climb, and that maybe he has more respect now for the Kiwi guidebooks. Hell, no. He loved the trail, but is barely winded, and as usual, thinks he’s king of the world. Oh, well!
The run down is easy (though hard on the knees) and I officially complete my longest run ever. We are both pumped as we drive down to Wellington, ready for our next adventure (which, luckily for my aching legs, won’t involve any hiking for a few days)!