The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Yesterday, I completed a 19.4 kilometer (12 miles), seven hour hike over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing! It’s said to be New Zealand’s best day hike and I can see why. It was 1°C / 33°F (!!!) with strong winds, and it is definitely the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. Alarm clock at 4:30 am, meeting for the shuttle at 5:25 am, and starting walking at the crack of dawn 6:30 am. Alpine Crossing complete at 1:30 pm. Gnarly!
6:30 am, the sun is barely peeking up past the horizon and I’m hiking. I’m not much of a morning person, so agreeing to this level of activity so early in the morning was surprising even to me. Starting as early as humanly possible is ideal for the Tongariro Crossing, because you want to complete the ascend before the day warms up. Also, literally hundreds of people do the track everyday, so we got most of our walking time shared with only a few from our shuttle. The crowds don’t pour in until later in the morning.
The first couple of hours of uphill were exhausting, especially because I have asthma. Upon reaching South Crater, you get a long while of flat ground which is nice to regain energy because the next section is a doozy. This section of the hike resembles what I imagine Mars looks like. Volcanic rock with no signs of life. Much different than most hikes either of us have done before at home, it’s so barren and empty but still astonishing!
The uphill battle to reach Red Crater was terrifying. The winds were so strong that every single time I lifted one leg to walk forward, the wind would push my leg over in front of the other criss-crossing, making it incredibly difficult to hike up the boulders and loose rocks on this vaguely termed “trail.” At several points, there were ropes or chains attached to the boulders to help pull yourself up because it would have been near impossible otherwise. I was actually shaking with fear, thinking if my leg criss-crossing at the wrong time, I’m falling down this sharp cliff to my doom. But – I made it. Red Crater was an impressive sight to stagger up to see, too.
Once you reach the highest point of the trail, you reach a steep (really steep!) decline overlooking the Emerald Lakes. This part of the trail is like sand filled in with gravel, so as long as you walk sideways you won’t slip and slide too much, your shoes will just sink many inches with every step. The Emerald Lakes are just as bright and impossibly colored in real life as the photos. They also smell of sulphur; you can see the steam from nearby hot springs seeping through. Past the Emerald Lakes is Blue Lake- equally brilliant and brightly unreal blue.
Past the lakes, you have finished the vast majority of the ascent. The crossing is a one-way trail, and the most popular route actually has significantly less uphill than downhill (although the uphill section is rigorous enough). From here, you will pass another hut with restrooms (the only others are near the beginning of the trail), and you’re on a gradual descend for the next three hours… So many stairs. So many hairpin turns and zig zagged paths. It seems truly endless. A note worthy sight is the hot springs that pump out surprising amounts of smoke (below). From afar, we thought it was a miniature volcano eruption.
At the end of the seven hours- my feet ached, my ankles sore and my calves were dead… But I’m so happy we decided to do the crossing! And I’m so thankful Shaun was there with me to go slow, hold my hand, and carry the heavy stuff 🙂
The Finish Sign below with happy and exhausted faces!
What we packed:
- 3.5 liter water
- Two chicken wraps
- Beef jerky
- Multiple nut bars
- Bag of roasted nuts
- Two protein bars
- Two apples
- Two Powerades
- Sun hats
- Digital camera
- Film camera
What we wore:
- Hayley – skin tight spandex pants underneath thick black cotton pants, work-out top, cashmere sweater, thin long sleeve shirt, magenta North Face raincoat shell, overtop hooded raincoat, tall socks, Nike running shoes.
- Shaun – t-shirt, thin flannel, hooded rain jacket, beanie, shorts, sweatpants, sunglasses, thick socks, Nike running shoes.