The Crossing, Luge Tracks, and the Next City

There are certain points in life that become etched in the mind. These can be moments so unbearable that you can hardly breathe, ones so full of joy and wellness that you feel you’ll burst, and nearly everything in between. While it’s foolish to assume that all good moments will become ones that will stick in your memory forever, there can be a hope for such things. This past week has been packed full of moments such as these (ones of the good variety).

Over the weekend, and where I left off with my last blog post, I decided to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a few friends. This 19km trek is known for the stunning scenery that it provides, and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. The morning began at 5:00 with a two hour drive through the mist and fog from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park. We started on the trail just after 7:00 with a stunning amount of other hikers and worked our way through the rocky terrain and up hundreds of stairs before coming to the base of an active volcano called Mt. Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt. Doom from Lord of The Rings). We discussed summiting the behemoth before us, and unanimously decided that we would forever regret not climbing it.

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of hiking up sand and scree will understand me when I say that literally every step up that volcano was “one step forward, half a step back.” There is no path to the top of the mountain, instead hikers must content themselves with whatever way looks the most stable to them. A procession of wary climbers made their way with us up to the top, stopping every minute or so as someone above shouted “ROCK!” while a rock would come careening down the mountainside towards us all. This may sound like a poor way to spend the day, but I wouldn’t trade that climb for anything in the world. The rough climb was rewarded at the top with incredible views of brightly colored lakes that ranged from the bluest blue that you can imagine, to bright green pools that hardly seem to be possible. Spending a few hours at the top of the mountain eating and talking (and warming ourselves by standing in the steam vents that shot out of the mountain) is a moment that I hope will stay with me forever.

I’m sure you have all heard the saying “what comes up, must come down,” and so it is with climbing. We were all a bit cautious about the descent of Ngauruhoe since it was such a loose and crumbly climb up, yet there was one crucial thing we had forgotten about climbing scree up a mountain…

You can literally sprint down the mountainside on the descent.

Scree running is something I have wanted to do for quite a long time, and this was a chance that I was not about to pass up. I’d run through scree on a few occasions, but nothing on this scale. After the first 20 meters or so of crab walking my way down past a few large boulders, I finally hit the scree and sand of the mountain that had so frustrated me on the ascent. I figured that if I was going to make quick work of getting down the mountain, I may as well go all out. I ran down that mountain as fast as I could, passing many other climbers as they walked carefully with the ground sliding beneath them. I regret that I didn’t time my descent, but what took seemingly forever to climb took mere minutes to get down. Was sprinting down an active volcano a foolish thing to do? Possibly, but sometimes foolish things must be done. While the rest of the hike was insanely gorgeous, I will always associate the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with that mad dash down the side of a volcano.

The rest of the hike was beautiful and took us until around 5PM. We arrived at the car, and drove back to the start of the trail to pick up the car our friends had driven us over in. We hiked 32km that day with the addition of Ngauruhoe (plus a few random trails on the side), almost 20 miles, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

The Crossing wasn’t the only adventure in store for this week though. Two friends drove down from Auckland to hang out on the farm with Nate and myself for a few days earlier this week. It’s Nate’s birthday on Friday, so we decided to celebrate a little early and go do something special. Rotorua Skyline is an adventure area just outside the city that Nate and I had been eyeing since we got to the area. We bought tickets for the gondola to get to the top, and spent the entire day riding the luge tracks down the mountain for his birthday. We finished off the day at the Fat Dog café in town with massive burgers, our appetites and sense of adventure sated for the moment.

While there has been some incredibly good experiences during my stay in Waikite Valley, all things must eventually end. This Sunday, Nate and I will be leaving the area to head southwest to Hawke’s Bay for our next job. Of course we are going to miss the friends that we have made here, but the itch to move has gotten too strong for us to stay in this place. Adventure is waiting in the next city, and we are determined to meet it.

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