New Zealand – Tongariro

[su_quote cite=”New Zealand Travel Log – Stijn van Drunen”]The alarm is early, it’s only 6:15 when we are awoken by it. Today is perhaps the day for us to attempt the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and I’m excited about it even though the weather isn’t looking perfect for it. Breakfast is served between 6:30 and 7:30 and the shuttle will, if at all, go at 8:00. It’s a fully cooked breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns and beans. At breakfast the latest weather report rolls in and the wind will and has quieted down a bit. It would be okay to attempt the crossing and we decide to go for it even though rain is expected and visibility won’t be too good.

Radost is a little scared and so am I. It is a serious affair but we are well prepared with lunch, bananas and enough to drink on the mountain. The hosts reassure that if for whatever reason we would decide to turn back they’d pick us up and they also keep a list of the people (eleven in total) that are going up the mountain in case of emergency. At 8:00 we are loaded up in the shuttle and we set off for the starting point of the crossing.

There’s a bit of rain when we start walking but our raincoats should be good enough and our pants can deal with this amount of rain. The wind is behind us so it all doesn’t bother us too much. The way to the Soda Springs is not too steep but heavy snowfall at some point slows us down a bit. At the Soda Springs there’s the last toilet before really heading up the mountain and a sign indicates that yes, we are really going to attempt an Alpine Crossing which is not for the faint of heart.

The rise is steep, many stairs and steep bits slow you right down but with a lot of stops along the way we make it to the top. There’s not much rain but the wind is brutal the higher we get. What’s even more worrying is the snow that is beginning to fall when we near the top. Out of the wind it’s not too bad but once you get to the more exposed bits it really hits your face. Even more worrying at this point is seeing the first two people of our group return. They went up to the Red Crater but didn’t dare to attempt to cross it. There was a ranger that didn’t say they shouldn’t but surely hinted against it. We decide to proceed as we’ve made it this far.

When we attempt to cross the valley towards the Red Crater the weather turns for the worse. Strong wind is blowing hail straight in our faces and in the complete white surroundings we can’t see far if we could even lift our heads and look straight forward. Looking at our feet we try to make it from path marker to path marker but there is no shelter anywhere to wait the weather out a bit. Eventually we concede. It’s simply not safe to continue as we’d only get higher and the weather doesn’t seem to get any better. The mountain has won this time and we decide to turn back.

It’s in total almost as far as just going all the way. Turning back at this point will eventually result in 16,5 kilometers but at least we know the previous kilometers will only get better and get us more out of harm’s way the further we go. Eventually we catch up with the other people of our group that also decided to turn back and three more of our group also join us later back to the starting point. Out of eleven only four have pushed on through. We don’t feel bad about it and it was the wise decision.

Getting back is a long way to go and the wind and rain are not letting us off easy. Never in my life have I been so thoroughly soaked. Not a single thing on me remains dry, everything is damp and soaked through and through. The rain jacket does a good job but it only results in wetter pants. The raincover of my backpack protects the back of the backpack but not the part touching my back which gets all the rain from my jacket as well. At some point the water gets through my pants and starts dripping from my legs soaking up my socks making my whole shoes wet.

After a gruesome walk we make it back where our shuttle is already waiting for us. We feel miserable but at the same time good about ourselves. We attempted it and pushed it further than we thought we would and there’s no shame in staying safe. Back in the motel we get out of the wet clothes and hang it all to dry. A warm shower brings you back to life after feeling cold through and through and we have earned a relaxing afternoon of just sitting under the duvet.

The heating is turned up and we cook some noodles as a dinner. Today was a day that will long be remembered. I feel sorry for putting Radost through it all but in the end it has been an experience that will stay with us. Maybe it’ll even be a saying “At least it’s not Tongariro bad.”. We turn in for the night a bit earlier than normal, feeling absolutely exhausted.[/su_quote]

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