And now, what you've all been waiting for...
Or, more appropriately, Mt. Ngauruhoe (pronounced "na-re-HO-ee").
The famous mountain sits along the Tongariro Crossing, a well-traveled trail that makes up part of the Great Northern Circuit, one of the Great Walks that we’ve talked about in other posts. The Crossing is a high alpine route that passes through some of the most spectacular terrain on the North Island, topping out around 1850 meters (~5500ft). Mt. Ngauruhoe itself, famous -- of course -- for its role as Mount Doom in the Lord of Rings films, towers above the track at 2291 meters (~6900 ft). The trail also offers stunning over colorful alpine lakes and traverses the stark, barren volcanic landscapes used to craft the forbidding world of Mordor.
Charlie, Jonathan, and I left the Tongariro Holiday Park around 5am, just before first light, and as we reached the northern trailhead for the Crossing, a cold rain began to fall. We climbed through an eerily quiet forest as the rain clouds settled in above us and the temperature began to drop. Above treeline, where the wind whipped across us, we took refuge in an abandoned hut to discuss whether it was safe to continue upward. This is the unglamorous part of being in the mountains: shivering in a drafty hut with goat poop on the table and trash in the corners, doing pushups to stay warm.
With only a few kilometers to go before the high point of the trail and another hut (a maintained one) waiting for us on the other side, we decided to make a go of it.
We soon warmed up again as we made the steep climb to Blue Lake, and as we rounded a corner into the large crater, the rain lightened and the clouds began to lift. Though not exactly ideal, our wet weather did have its upsides: When the sun is shining, tourist buses bring hundreds of novice hikers to flood the trail in a giant train heading north. Our rainy forecast had caused park rangers to cancel the bus services and by the time we saw another hiker, we had nearly reached the trail's high point. In total, we saw maybe 50 people on the trail that day, which seemed like a lot to us until we saw photos of the trail from the day before. When the sun was out, the crowd was -- quite literally -- 10 times as large.
The climb to the Crossing's high point is steep and scree-covered, but it offers phenomenal views out over the Green Lakes, which stand out in seafoam against the reddish volcanic soil. As we reached the top, with Ngauruhoe looming above us, the clouds that had shrouded the summit all morning cleared away. We had a glorious, if suitably moody view of Mount Doom and the Red Crater.
We had intended to summit Ngauruhoe, but with storms brewing for the afternoon, we decided to play it safe and head down off the mountain. But obviously not before we did some LOTR reenactment...
Ngauruhoe may have achieved international infamy as Mount Doom, but when you see it in person, it's actually dwarfed by a massive neighbor, Ruapehu. With a little window of time to spare before our date with the Whanganui River, we decided to trade a summit of Ngauruhoe for two days circumnavigating Ruapehu on the Round the Mountain track. More on that, coming soon!