You’ve heard of those worldwide treks where they’re so dangerous and long but you’re so intrigued that you want to do them yourself, right? Those difficult things you put yourself through so that you can be able to say you did it?
The Tongariro Crossing was that for me, although I didn’t know it at the time.
I’d heard of the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand while I was researching things to do for my trip here. I saw that it was also the spot where Peter Jackson filmed the Mountains of Mordor, so naturally I dove in head first with anticipation of completing it. The nerd within me needed to see those astounding mountains floating inside the clouds.
Little did I know, that it’d be one of the most difficult and rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished.
Now, this hike is pretty dangerous and not for the faint of heart by any means. You have to be physically fit enough to endure the conditions and need to have the proper attire and gear needed to be able to even begin the trek.
That being said though, there were some kids on it who did stupendously and finished it without any problems. And an elderly couple that slowly made their way through the climbs. So, I guess it depends on how you see this hike. If you have the right attitude and a cautious demeanor, you’ll do just fine. And there was really only one point where I thought to myself that I could probably die right here and now. But we’ll get to that bit later.
Rowena and I started out our hike all dressed and ready. I in my new North Face hiking boots, mountain range leggings and both of us in a go get ’em attitude. We only had one pack between us with our 4.5 liters of water, nuts, fruits and protein bars for lunch. And warmer clothing for the higher points. Altogether I’d say the pack weighed about 17ish lbs – not smart on our part. It just added to the madness of completing the crossing.
We start out on the trail and immediately within minutes end up passing a couple of people – so we were feeling pretty great at this point. Keeping in mind, this was just the flat bit to begin to actually hike. We shouldn’t have had such pride at that point. Within the next few minutes, two guys ahead of us turned around to ask over their shoulders where we were from. They were two guys who’d met at their hostel right before doing the crossing and had decided to do it together for the most part. We tell them all about how I’m American visiting her in Kiwi Land and how we’ve never done this hike before.
By this point, the ground has started to slowly rise. Already, the sun is beating down on us and we’re sweating through our clothing as the first few steps of the trail begin to climb the first set of hills. At this point we stop for a bit of water.
We set our packs down at the edge of the cliff.
And Andrea, one of the two guys, accidentally knocks his and it starts to rapidly tumble down the hill we’d just climbed.
As he yells at it to stop, we all watch while all of his belongings race down to the bottom.
But immediately, Andrea races down the hill himself to rescue his precious pack. We all stand watching as passersby gaze at him with sympathetic looks and faces that seem to say, “Thank God that wasn’t us,” and I don’t blame them. But Andrea rescued his pack with ease and within minutes we were back on track.
Thank goodness it happened while at the beginning and not on one of the mountains we were to climb later.
After getting back to trekking the crossing, we begin to climb again. So many stairs. It was a struggle just to put one foot in front of the other. So obviously, Rowena and I were stopping every couple minutes. Did I mention you need to be in shape? Yeah, no I’m definitely not apparently. After about the 5th stop, we tell the guys to go on ahead because we’re just slowing them down. They refused. They kept motivating us to go on with positive spirits and repeating to us that we could do it. They were definitely inspiring.
At this point, I thought to myself that it’d be so easy to just turn back.. All I have to do is go back down.. And it’d be okay.. But that’s not who I am and I knew I had to finish this. It was something that began as a mega nerdy thing I just wanted to do but it had already turned into something much more.
Finally, we convinced the guys that they really should go on without us because we knew that Rotem, the other guy, wanted to climb Mount Ngauruhoe – otherwise known as Mount Doom to me. And that climb itself is an extra 3 hours added to the hike that already by itself is 6-8 hours long. Reluctantly, they agreed and left us well wishes and smiles as they hiked their way away.
We were left to finish this thing on our own. This thing that we’d just begun. This thing that was already testing me to my limits.
At this point we were a little over an hour in and only halfway up the side of the mountains. It all seemed so impossible to accomplish. But we powered through. With taking turns with the pack and going on at our own slow pace and many encouragements to each other, we made it to the top.
The top of the first bit.
There was still another mountainside to trek up.
But we’d made it this far.
We weren’t turning back.
At this point was the opportunity to climb Mount Doom. It was something I’d been prepping for and planning for for months and it was finally here.
And I didn’t do it.
The steep trek up the mountain itself is highly dangerous but on this day the visibility was so low and minimal that it would have meant almost certain death for me. We went up the side a little bit so that I could say I climbed part of it and also so I could take photos with the ring on the mountain. We even filmed me throwing the ring off onto the side of the mountain and saving all of Middle Earth.
That part was great. But the fact that I wasn’t able to go all the way to the summit was actually devastating for me. We met a girl on her way down on the part we’d climbed who told us she’d only made it halfway before having to turn back. She said that there were rocks falling all around her and that she literally feared for her life trying to get down.
So I unfortunately wasn’t able to climb Mount Doom and my heart is a tad bit broken but I can still say that I hiked the Mountains of Mordor.
Anyway.. After climbing back down the part we’d climbed, we were at the part of the hike with the Red Crater. A massive stretch of flat crater land in the exact middle of the three volcanoes. Oh yeah, did I mention that these were actually highly active volcanoes we were climbing? Yeah, volcanoes.
The Red Crater bit was beautiful and the perfect opportunity to take some deep breaths before having a bit more to climb. We took in the view from within the volcanic mountains and I couldn’t help but be thankful for such an opportunity.
But soon that easy part was over and it was time to start climbing again. Granted, this part was a much shorter climb than before but I think it was much more dangerous. It was so cloudy and misty up that high that the ground was wet and it was hard not to slip. This was the part where I actually thought to myself that I might die. The ground itself was slippery and to the right was rising red rock and to the left was a sheer steep drop off onto jagged red rocks below. I actually feared for my life in this bit. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at once.
However, here I am writing this for you, so I’m still alive and didn’t fall down to a painful death below.
We successfully made it through the slippery rocks without falling (although I did slip a bit far down at one point).
We’d reached the summit of what we would climb.
We were on top of the world!
Our pack had slowly begun to lighten up because we’d been drinking lots of water and had just stopped for lunch so the trek itself was only going to get better. We’d made it through the hard part. Now all there was to do was to go back down.
Sounds easy right?
The first part of the down bit was a steep walk down through ash on a narrow trail that had steep drop offs onto rocky edges on either side. So again, we had to go slow.
But then I started treating it like skiing and I got the hang of how to walk in the thick ash and I basically started skiing down the mountain. Pretty cool.
And at the bottom was the best part. Three massive blue and green pools resting all nestled in the heart of the volcanoes.
And guess what! As we were stood gazing at the pools I happened to look back over my shoulder and saw none other than Andrea coming up behind us! He’d apparently climbed a part of the smaller mountain, Mount Tongariro, and was now on his way down as well, while Rotem was still climbing Mount Doom. So Andrea had gone up an extra mountain and then come back down in the time it took us to do the normal trek. Awesome.
But it’s okay, because at least we were still going!
Andrea actually told us that he thought we would have turned back because it was so overwhelming. He was pretty impressed that we were still going. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing but.. I’m optimistic so I’ll take it as a compliment.
We ended up finishing the hike with him by our side. We hiked those many miles back down through a winding wooden road that led to a hut to rest near. The up bit was hard yes, but going down wasn’t easy either. It was a steep way down and I could feel my knees getting shaky with how unstable the way down was becoming.
But again, we kept going.
..it started to rain.
Good thing it was at the end because I was the only one who didn’t bring a rain coat. But I’m the type who likes to dance in the rain so I didn’t mind.. I just held my face up high and smiled as the rain drops fell upon me. It was quite beautiful. But it also could have been pretty dangerous if it had started raining while we were still at the top and I hadn’t had a rain coat. So note to other travelers: make sure you have a rain coat!
Luckily for everyone else though, the rain only lasted a little bit before we then entered the forest at the bottom of the mountain that led to the exit. Shielded under the trees, the rain didn’t really come into the forest, so all was dry for the most part.
The forest was so green and vibrant and beautiful that it was the perfect way to end such a magnificent accomplishment.
All three of us reached the end together and did it in less time than we’d previously believed. Under 8 hours! Woo! And Rotem made it safely to the top of Mount Doom and back again, according to a message from Andrea later the same night.
We did it.
I could now say that I hiked the Mountains of Mordor.
But more importantly, I could now say that I’d persevered through the hardest thing I’d ever begun and I finished with a smile on my face.
I’d completed the Tongariro Crossing.
And I’ll never look back.