The most important question when trying to decide whether or not to do something that oozes idiocracy is as follows:
“So are we going to do it or not?”
Low and behold, that very question was asked when myself and five others craned our necks upwards to marvel at the peak of Mount Ngauruhoe. Otherwise known as Mount Doom, the name couldn’t have been more fitting as we watched wispy clouds mask the summit of our future escapade.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is already almost a 20 km hike and takes about six and a half hours to complete, whether or not you are about to climb a volcano that is 2.291 km high. I was overly clear about my disdain for the idea of climbing this thing, but Clemens, George, Reed, Justin and Leo were all convinced that the hike was achievable. I was the odd one out.
“We can do it in about one and a half hours,” said George. “Look, there are already people up there.”
After a verbal pact was agreed upon for the others to supply me with water and sunscreen, I digressed, made a hat out of my GoPro head strap and swim trunks, and started to carry myself over the volcanic rock that lay at the base of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) most coveted landmark.
My mindframe for the first few metres surrounded the possibility of potential danger and how imminent the probability of injuring myself was. But much like the other stupid things I’ve done in my life, there was something eating at me that I couldn’t reprimand.
Standing at the base of the volcano, it looked more narrow than a banana with great posture. It looked unclimbable. And there was a pressing attraction because of it.
The beginning was quite easy, apart from staring at how much longer we had to go until we reached the top.
About half way up, I was able to start appreciating what this group of newly-acquainted friends had set out to do. The scenic view, friendly banter, and support made the adventure worth it.
Further up the volcano, we crawled sideways across soft terrain, trying to get to the hardened volcanic rock. As soon as I started crossing, my legs couldn’t dig in any more and I started to slide down. Gravity was relentless as I grasped onto anything I could. Justin, who was up just a few metres above me, started coming down fast and managed to dig in right before he crashed into my head. At this point, I was more worried than an Italian grandmother who isn’t sure if you’ve eaten dinner or not. A slip from Justin would have meant a good ol’ fashioned barrel race to the bottom followed by a car race to the nearest hospital, whereas a slip from me would have meant the same thing, except Justin would be laughing at me on the way down. Leo raced back down to grab my arm and yanked me through the gravel, and I managed to scout a solid rock out to grab hold of. With the help of my reach I helped guide Justin through the terrain.
Just like that, it became a group practice. Something that, no matter where we all end up in life, we can always associate New Zealand, Tongariro, hiking, LOTR, or anything else of the sort with, each other.
Ah yes, life.
Time and climbing were wearing us all down. The only thing keeping my motors running was knowing that I couldn’t live with myself if I gave up. I think it was much of the same for the others. “Are we still trying to get to the peak?” asked George slightly rhetorically – we knew there was no other way.
And after a long two and a half hours, we were inches away from the pinnacle of Ngauruhoe, and at the peak of an extraordinary adventure.
Victory cries, a group picture, and a lunch break were had on the edge of the volcanic crater while we enjoyed being kings of the clouds for a while.
As we looked down on the ant-like people walking the carved path, we couldn’t help but to feel euphoric as we knew we were doing something that not many people have the courage, or opportunity, to do.
In the distance we could spot Lake Taupo settled beneath the clouds, and if we turned around we were staring at Mount Ruapehu. The valleys of the dried up mountains and neon coloured sulfuric lakes were a sight held only by a few people who adjacently joined us on the adventure.
I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, that is not a common sentence you hear every day.
On the way down, we let the rocks slide into our shoes as we surfed through the gravel. If we took a few tumbles, it just meant we were getting to the bottom faster. We celebrated at the bottom and despite our insufficient water supply and resource levels, we finished off the last 15 km of the hike and enjoyed every dehydrated second of it – excluding the one time when I said, “I’m officially not having fun anymore.”
This was a feat that was magnified by spontaneity, lack of preparation, and experience. This was my first hike, Reed just bought his first pair of hiking boots before leaving home in San Diego, and Leo was sporting some sweet New Balance kicks whose last function would be to climb up a volcano.
You can only ask people of one thing in your time on this planet – to experience life with you. And that’s just what we did.