I planned to do a quick two hour hike before setting off for another part of New Zealand, but it was hard to leave Mt. Doom behind, especially when the weather was so fine. I started out on the Soda Springs trail, the first leg of the famous Tongariro Crossing, reportedly the most spectacular day hike in the country. At least in summer.
In winter most of it is snowed under and you’re supposed to go in a group with a guide and wear crampons. I refuse to use any equipment that sounds like a combination of cramps and tampons. Plus it ain’t cheap.
When I got to Soda Springs, I saw that the Tongariro Crossing continued in a snow-free zone for a while, really well-maintained. I kept going. I ended up doing about a third of the trek, getting up to the top of the saddle between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Doom. I really wanted to keep going, but up there it was indeed too snowy and slippery without much room for error on a narrow, steep trail. Plus I noticed some low, fast-moving clouds rolling in.
It’s never a comforting thing when hiking in the mountains to see fast cloud cover moving in and realize you’re standing above it.
As I descended the trail, I passed a young German guy. He asked how it was further up and I told him about the tricksy snow, and then pointed out the clouds. He looked at them and said “you’re right, I did not notice them. How much time before they arrive?”
While I was glad I helped out a fellow hiker, I thought wow, anyone who’s asking me for mountaineering advice is in big trouble.
He ended up going a couple hundred meters or so more, to about the point I’d said “this is ridiculous” and also turned around.
As it turned out, the clouds moved through as quickly as they’d shown up, and while the summits were obscured for a while, by the time I got down to flattish ground it was brilliant sun. No regrets, though… I ended up doing about eight miles instead of the four to and from Soda Springs and had an amazing time. It was late enough in the season that it wasn’t too snowy but the spring melt hadn’t begun in earnest yet, so it was barely muddy. And the trail was really nice, with lovely new wooden boardwalks over the boggy bits.
Plus there were numerous photo ops with Mt. Doom, which revealed itself in all its glory for the first time since I’d arrived a few days ago. Tongariro came out of hiding too, and even shy Mt. Ruapehu, its multi-cratered summit usually cloaked in cloud, made a guest appearance.
I heard another hiker talking in the communal kitchen tonight about trying to do the Tongariro Crossing from its other end, getting to the top where all the crater lakes are and seeing nothing, because they’re all covered in snow at the moment, and then having to turn and go back down the same way because he couldn’t find the trail.
I hope to do Tongariro in summer, or at least late spring when I can see not only the scenery but exactly where I’m putting my foot (I went knee-deep into the snow a couple times near the top trying to find the path). But for now, I am amazed and humbled and tickled silly that I tread across the shoulders of Mt. Doom.
Dude! Mount Doom!
Karl at the trailhead; the volcanic hazard warning map… both the Tama Lakes trail I did the day before and the Tongariro Crossing are alllllll red, heheheheh; Karl does his best Gollum impression (not a very good one, to be honest); me on the trail… Sam and Frodo would have had a much easier time crossing Mordor if they’d just stuck to the boardwalks!; the TOILETS OF DOOM!; looking back on the old lava flows as I start the climb; part of Mt. Tongariro as seen from the trail (trail visible in the snow at right); as close as I’d get to Mt. Doom… the point at which I turned back; me and my Doom; Doom in the distance (the saddle at left is as high as I got on the Crossing); Mts. Tongariro and Doom, and a shot of Mt. Ruapehu for good measure.