Tongariro Volcano Hike
David and Raymond Coory
Friday, 4th Feb
Mysterious hut noises
It took me a long time to fall asleep last night. I was also awakened by occasional loud popping sounds during the night. Iíve heard these before in a hut at night. Raymond thinks they might be due to contraction of the timber. Some of the noises are quite explosive. Rather mysterious.
I also awoke this morning with an annoying dry cough and a hoarse voice. Maybe yesterday's funny water. Thankfully it soon goes away as we begin climbing, and my voice returns to normal.
I feel really energetic
As we set off this morning I feel really energetic. There is a nice cool breeze blowing. Very bracing. Down below us, the valleys and lakes are shrouded in a white mist cover with only the higher dark hills protruding up through the mist. The sky above us is blue and partly cloudy. Looks like the view from an aeroplane.
Like the view from an aeroplane.
An optical illusion at work
We first of all climb back up the long zig zag track we walked down yesterday. Rebecca left before us, using her two trekking poles.
As we climb, I notice again, that when looking at a mountain side face on, it can look almost perpendicular, about 80į steep and impossible to walk up, but when you get past it, off to one side and look back, the slope is nowhere near as steep. It reduces to a climbable 45į or even less.
There is obviously an optical illusion at work. See the two photos below.
Looking face on to a mountain face.
The same mountain face further on, looking back.
We reach Blue Lake again
After about an hourís climb we reach the top of the mountain and see the Blue Lake again. We also see Rachelís pack by the waterís edge, but no sign of her. Maybe she's gone for a swim. Some women trampers seem anxious to bathe, even if the water is freezing.
Blue Lake is regarded as sacred by the local Maoris, and swimming is forbidden.
Car sized volcanic rock
We pass a huge, car size rock that has no doubt been blasted out into the air from one of the nearby volcanoes. Must have landed with a thud.
This rock would have been blasted out of a volcano.
Huge, steep, scoria climb up Red Crater mountain
We descend from Blue Lake to the flat, brown sand valley floor we crossed yesterday. No sign of any other trampers yet.
As we walk across the valley floor I get another neck ache, just as I did yesterday. But it disappears again just as quickly when we reach the Emerald Lakes area.
Ahead of us looms the huge, steep scoria climb up Red Crater mountain. It is mid-morning and we begin to see the first of the day trampers coming down the mountain. I'm not looking forward to this tough climb.
Soon we are climbing up the 45į slopes. It is every bit as tough as it looks. About 20 steps in the soft, sandy black scoria and we have to stop and give our pounding hearts time to slow down.
A tough climb. It goes up and up and up.
Raymond again seems to be the fittest. I need three long swigs of water on the climb up. As we look down below us we see all three Emerald Lakes and the Blue Lake. (See earlier Day 3 account photo.) Beautiful.
Spectacular and massive red crater
Close to our left is the rim edge of the massive world renown Red Crater of this mountain. A sheer drop to almost certain death. Sulphur smelling steam obscures much of our view of the crater, but occasionally it clears and we can clearly see the other side of the crater. It looks spectacular, dark red, with streaks and patches of pure white. Here and there we see yellow sulphur patches.
The nearby rim edge (a sheer drop) and far side of Red Crater.
A steady stream of day trampers are now passing by us, edging down the steep track in small groups. Raymond and I are the only ones going up.
These trampers are all nationalities, Germans, English, Japanese and a few Kiwis, all speaking their own language. They are marvelling at the spectacular crater and lake views. Many are taking photos or videos.
I see one man with a tiny digital camera in his shirt pocket ,about the size of a pocket calculator. I think to myself that I should get one of those. It would be much more convenient than the heavy bulky camera we have with us. However Raymondís camera is very versatile and does take high quality photographs.
Eventually we stand at the top of Red Crater mountain and look down into the huge deep crater, with steam swirling around and sheer walls of red and white scoria. Quite dramatic. On the far crater wall we see a huge gaping fissure or vent.
View from top of Red Crater showing the
gaping fissure on the far side.
We descend the other side of the mountain
We now begin to descend the other side of the mountain. This turns out to be every bit as steep as the side we have just climbed up, but mostly without scoria. It is damp and slippery in places.
We pass a lot of day trampers still climbing up. Some are having a severe time and look quite distressed, especially the portly ones who would be carrying more fat around their tummies and bottoms than the 10-12 kg weight of our packs. I admire their courage, however they have little choice but to continue climbing. There is no turning back for them. The buses only pick them up from the other end of the track, not the beginning.
The path down the other side, towards the bottom.
I seriously doubt that many of these tourists had any idea what they were in for. However they will never forget their experience. (Later today we would see that this was their second major climb of the morning. The lower approachs to Mount Ngauruhoe, which they have already climbed, are just as steep and long as the Red Crater mountain path they are climbing now.
Another long flat plain
At the bottom of Red Crater mountain we come to another long flat plain. Like the other plain this one is also composed of brown sand, completely devoid of plant life. I get another neck ache crossing this plain also, but again it vanishes when we leave the plain. Weird. Raymond is not affected.
The long flat plain. Gave me another temporary headache.
Mount Ngauruhoe is ahead of us, and a little to our left as we walk across this plain. Our challenge is to climb this volcano this afternoon. It looks immense, dark, intimidating, and very steep. In the distance we can see two tiny ant-like climbers on the slopes. This mountain is the symmetrical one to the north of Mount Ruapehu that you see from the Desert Road in clear conditions.
Our afternoon challenge, Ngauruhoe. Looks intimidating.
We stop and rest at the base of Mount Ngauruhoe and sit on some rocks and have our lunch. The challenge of climbing a real mountain is quite exciting for us. I sense that Raymond, like me is a bit apprehensive. We are unsure what lies ahead of us.
We do not want to carry our heavy packs up the mountain, so we hide them behind some rocks. The sun is shining and the whole mountain is clear of cloud at present. Itís also warm, at least down here below.
I don't want to wear my OZ hat which can be hot, so I plaster sunscreen on my forehead and nose. Big mistake as I was to later find out.
I carry Raymondís camera in my little waist bag, and Raymond carries my small water canteen in his large trouser leg pocket.
Off we go
Now is the big moment. Off we go. We are not the only climbers on Mount Ngauruhoe, there is a girl far ahead of us, climbing alone. My male ego is a little taken back. I thought mountain climbing was a male thing, Sir Edmund Hilary and all that.
The start of our climb. Fairly easy so far.
We havenít gone very far when we meet two young fit-looking German climbers coming down the mountain. They tell us the effort is well worth while. I take comfort noticing they do not look too tuckered out. They are concerned that we donít appear to have any water with us. We assure them that we have some.
The climb gets tougher
The climb is not too steep to start with on the lower slopes, but it soon becomes very steep, and also slippery with sliding scoria. It is very hard work, for every three steps upward we slide one back.
Another German climber is coming down. He shouts to us to go further left, up onto the ridge where there are exposed rocks.
This is good advice and makes the climbing easier as we can use rocks as handholds and have surer footings for our feet.
I borrow Andrewís trekking pole off Raymond as he isn't using it. It makes the going up a little easier, but leaves only one hand free to hold on to rocks.
Over to our right is the mostly scoria slope that climbers descend Mount Ngauruhoe. Someone far above is coming down and is clumsily dislodging rocks that rapidly build up speed as they hurtle down the steep slope, bouncing in the air. Our German friend below has to watch carefully to avoid being hit and injured. Or even killed.
Up into misty cloud
We climb higher and higher for about an hour, stopping every minute or so to get our breath back and rest our pounding hearts.
The sky clouds over and soon we are climbing in misty cloud. We cannot see very far, just the steep scoria and rocks of the mountain stretching upward, and fading into the mist.
Up in the clouds, over 2 km high.
It is also becoming cooler due to height, and a cold wind has begun to blow. The heat of our climbing exertion cancels out the chilling effect of the wind, but it is a sobering reminder of how dangerous a mountain can be. Raymond and I are just wearing short sleeved summer shirts. The danger is brought home more forcefully as we see another German climber coming down through the mist, fully equipped, even with snow goggles.
Steep and rather dangerous in places
Some parts now are very steep, and rather dangerous in places.
As we climb higher and the air becomes thinner, we more easily become breathless. We are over two kilometres high (about 7000 feet) in the clouds of the sky.
Raymond is not getting ahead of me today. He said later he was surprised how quickly he ran out of breath in the thin air.
We climb and climb, but the mountain seems to go on endlessly. Soon a fine wind-blown rain starts. This is pleasant in one way as it keeps us cool from the heat generated by our vigorous climbing. However the cold wind has now become quite strong.
A stinging eye from my sun screen
Then all of a sudden my left eye begins to sting so badly that I cannot open it, and it waters profusely. It is hard to see.
Evidently the sun screen on my forehead is running down into my left eyes from the rain. I use the back of Raymond's T-shirt to try and wipe the worst of it away. This helps a bit, but it is some time before the stinging subsides enough to give me some relief so that I can open my left eye and see properly again.
The skin below my eye is also stinging and my self-confidence is beginning to evaporate.
A sheet of slippery white ice
We catch up to and pass the girl at this point, which is a slight boost for our male egos.
We have been climbing for about an hour and a half. Visibility is now only a few meters in any direction. How easy it would be for a climber to lose their way in such conditions.
However only up and down are relevant on this steep mountain, and there is no mistaking up. Some larger rocks now give us occasional shelter from the strong rainy wind.
Suddenly ahead of us, on a not so steep section, we see a sheet of white ice. This is quite unexpected and spectacular, but very slippery. I take a photo then we climb around it.
Slippery white ice.
We eventually reach the red rocks and scoria of Mount Ngauruhoe's upper slopes. But it seems as if the top is never going to come.
We continue to climb and climb, but the mountain just looms on above us, through the wind blown mist and rain. My thirst is quite relentless and I soon exhaust my share of the water.
I begin to wonder what I am doing in such a hostile environment. How much more pleasant it would be, sitting out on the lawn in the sunshine of Tauranga.
We stand on the summit
We slog on, and the rocks become even redder and suddenly we are standing on the summit.
Actually the summit turns out to be a narrow rim of a huge deep crater. Although we can see very little of it in the dense cloud. It falls away in a sheer drop before us. We cannot see the bottom, nor can we see the other side of the crater. What we do see looks spectacular, rather like Red Crater.
Sir Edmund Coory at the top.
I am annoyed at the cloud. It hides the crater from us, and I am sure the views of the surrounding countryside from the summit would be marvellous.
We take shelter behind a large rock to get out of the cold wind and recover our energy. The rain now stops.
Effect of raw food diet?
Raymond has brought along some of Mumís fruit cake to celebrate with. I make an exception to my temporary raw food diet on this special occasion and we have a piece each.
To my surprise the cake tastes intensely sweet, as though it had twice as much sugar as normal. Although on the night before our walk, in our motel room it tasted perfectly normal.
All my food has tasted over-sweet during the last two days, except for fruit which has tasted absolutely delicious. I am beginning to believe that most of us might have far too much sugar in our diet.
Life at the top
We are soon joined at the top by the girl we passed, and another older English male tourist who appears from nowhere. He is aged about 40 and tells us he is trying to see the whole of New Zealand in five days.
Raymond finds a surprising amount of insect life in the large rocks at the crater top of Ngauruhoe, even a dragonfly and a cicada.
How did a dragonfly get up here?
We would like to explore the crater, but it is far too dangerous in the severely limited visibility. Sheer drops are evident everywhere. Plus we are pretty well exhausted after our climb.
The next problem is to find a way down the mountain that isn't too steep. There are no formed or marked tracks on the upper mountain. None of the four of us have been here before. We need to find the scoria slope that we saw coming up.
Which way down?
So the four of us walk along the crater rim until we see what looks like a place other climbers have gone down. We are right, and soon we are on the soft, loose, red scoria slope down. The loose scoria is mixed with large rocks.
This is better than climbing, for every two steps down, we slide three. The danger is, that it is easy to get off the main narrow scoria trail and dislodge surface rocks. These go tumbling down the steep mountainside to the great danger of anybody below you, as we had seen coming up. So we had to take extreme care.
The slope is so steep that your feet continually slide out from under you and you land on your bottom.
You need to break your fall with your hands, but I found this painful to my hands, and it caused abrasions because of the roughness of the rocks and scoria. So I took to holding a flat stone in each hand to break my fall and protect my skin.
This abrasive scoria is also hard on boots as they are continually buried in it and sliding at speed.
An experienced Tauranga climber advised us to take old shoes or old boots for this climb, but we didn't feel like lugging these around in our packs so we used our regular boots. However they seem to be enduring the punishment OK.
Raymond is in high spirits now and greatly enjoying the sliding progress going down the mountain. "Like surfing," he says.
Iím not quite so happy. My boots have filled up with scoria and it has started to rain again and my other right eye is now closing up and stinging like mad. Again I use Raymondís rain-saturated tee shirt to wipe it and reduce the stinging.
Our climbing speed above average
We can feel the air getting warmer as we rapidly descend.
Raymond says that it took us only one and three quarter hours to climb the mountain (although it seemed longer). Normally it takes two hours. We feel pleased about this.
It normally takes an hour to descend.
It would probably be possible to run down the mountain in half an hour, but it would be extremely dangerous due to the steepness, and there are rocks and boulders everywhere to fall onto. It would be easy to overbalance if running and be injured.
We finally get to the bottom and find our packs safe and sound.
It is a great relief for me to take my flannel and wipe all the sun screen off my face, and towel it dry. Both eyes can now see clearly. However it had been quite a severe reaction and caused a red rash under both eyes that lasted a week. Pharmaceutical products cause much suffering in this life.
Another long, steep, mountain descent
It is still raining so we put on our rain gear and I also clear the scoria out of my boots.
I feel happy now and we head off along the main track towards the Mangatepopo Hut where we will stay tonight.
We soon come to another huge, long and steep mountainside descent, extremely rugged.
It would be an arduous climb coming up. No wonder so many of the day trampers earlier today looked so pooped.
I am sure most of the tourists who do the Tongariro Crossing donít know what they are getting themselves in for. I am surprised the walk is so popular. However I suppose there is a great deal of satisfaction in completing such an arduous walk, and the sights are world class.
Down on the flat again
We finally get down on the flat again, and it stops raining.
The day walkers have to climb this mountain
in the background, and then another one.
The track now is often a boardwalk over what must be swampy land in winter. However there is still a lot of craggy rock lava around. But much of it is now growing grass, especially on the hillsides.
It is now easy walking and we feel elated at having climbed Mount Ngauruhoe.
Grass beginning to grow on volcanic lava hillside.
More yuk water
I am thirsty and we have no water left. So I try filling my canteen with water from the clear mountain stream running alongside the track.
But it tastes yuk, just like the water I tasted two days ago in the tops of the mountains. I canít drink it so I tip it out again.
Looks nice but tastes yuk.
After about two hours walking we are greatly relieved to finally reach the Mangatepopo Hut where we will stay the night.
It is only about another three hours to Whakapapa village.
I had earlier thought that maybe we could carry on and save ourselves a day. But by the time we get to this hut I am weary and don't feel like another three hours on the track, or even three minutes.
My leg muscles and knees feel as if they have done a weekís walking non-stop. Raymond doesnít show any enthusiasm for carrying on either.
The Mangatepopo Hut
This final hut is quite modern and attractive. It even has a nice lawn around it.
I fill my canteen with fresh rainwater from the roof tanks and drink it dry, delicious.
The Mangatepopo Hut.
There are about six young German trampers in the hut. All silent and reading books.
We meet the hut warden, a Canadian girl this time, aged about 26. Her name is Robin Lindsay, a very pleasant girl and nice to talk with. She is one of the few DOC full-paid wardens.
Raymond and I walk down to the nearby river to explore, but there is not much to see. So we return to the readers in the hut.
I decide to have a read myself. The sun has come out again, so I take my book and sit out on a sunny wooden deck around the side of the hut to dry out my damp clothes.
After our long walk in the rain the warm sun is very pleasant.
At one point, out of the corner of my eye, I see what looks like a rat peep out from under the hut and then quickly scurry back again.
Our evening meal
Time seems to drag for while. We delay having our evening meal as Raymond has no pot to boil water with.
We wait until the others have done their cooking, but none of the Germans volunteer a pot, and Raymond doesn't feel like asking. So in the end I ask Robin the hut warden if Raymond can borrow a pot off her. She willingly agrees and hands me her little kettle.
So Raymond prepares his dehydrated meal, and I make some more raw porridge, which again tastes over-sweet.
Yellow-backed orb web spider
I mention to Robin that Raymond works for Te Papa museum. She asks if he might be able to identify an unusual spider she had recently seen and taken a photo of. I replied that he probably could.
Later she brings her digital camera out to us on the sunny wooden deck and shows us the picture of the spider. The spider looks very spectacular indeed. It is brown and large and has a bright, garish yellow splash on its back.
Raymond remarks that the spider book in the museum is the size of the telephone directory, but he thinks the spider might belong to the Orb Web family.
NZ yellow-backed Orb Web spider.
Eva from Slovakia
Another group arrives at the hut. Two shapely girls, in the company of a large kiwi bloke about 30, wearing an All Black T-shirt. He looks like an All Black too.
He later tells us his name is Wayne and that he is a Waikato farmer. They are going to do the Tongariro Crossing walk tomorrow morning.
One of the girls is a quiet but attractive blonde. The other is a very attractive, dark-haired girl who could easily win a beauty contest on looks. But she seems hyper-active, loudly talkative, and rather annoyingly laughs out loud all the time, somewhat neurotically I decide.
Sunset from the hut.
Later, during a beautiful sunset, this girl comes outside to ask me a question and we have a discussion together on the deck.
She tells me that her name is Eva and that she is from Slovakia, which used to be called Czechoslovakia, but she now lives in Hamilton and works for the Chamber of Commerce.
She is Catholic and has been to Medjugorje, which is similar to Lourdes. A spirit claiming to be the Virgin Mary appeared there to a group of children in 1981, and still appears on a regular basis to some of them and gives messages.
As she told me of her religious experiences there and how she had enjoyed a sweet spirit as she prayed (forming her hands in the attitude of prayer) she quietened right down and became quite spiritual.
Evidently she has been having emotional problems of late and said that she found it hard to love herself. I probed a little and found that she was estranged from her father back home in Slovakia, who was evidently the old school disciplinarian type.
When I served as a bishop I discovered that a daughter-father relationship problem was a major factor in young women suffering from depression.
I spoke to her about the need to humble herself, and to mend the broken bridges and heal the relationship with her father. She seemed greatly relieved to hear this and promised most enthusiastically that she would do her best.
Eva becomes a delightful and friendly personality
After this discussion, her personality seemed to improve out of sight. The loud laughing stopped and she became a delightful and friendly personality all the rest of the time, very well-balanced.
She reminded me of Marie at her age, lively, pretty and personable. Of course my Sweetheart is still lively, pretty and personable.
The same sunset later on.
(The following morning Eva looked radiant. As she was leaving the hut for her hike, she flashed me a big smile, gave me the thumbs up sign and called out. "Iím going to do what you said.")
She also told me the previous evening that she planned to go and live in Wellington. When I told her that my brother Raymond lived there, she went and got his name and address. I heard from Raymond about two months later that she had contacted him there.
Inside the Mangatepopo hut.
(The camera card developed a few problems at this
point and we lost our colour for a few photos.)
Next day Saturday 5th
Back to beginning