Lord of the Rings fans know it as Mt Doom – the volcano where the One Ring was created, and after extensive travels with Gollum and the Hobbits, the place of its destruction. The rest of us peeps know it as Mt Ngauruhoe, the aesthetically-pleasing volcanic cone of Tongariro National Park.
To access Mt Ngauruhoe, we had to complete the first section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, starting from the Mangatepopo car park entrance. As mentioned in my previous post, “These (Hiking) Boots Are Made For Walking”, the first part of the track is mainly flat with a boardwalk for the majority of the hike to Soda Springs (last toilet stop here!). From Soda Springs, is the brilliantly torturous Devil’s Staircase and I will admit my thighs did no better this time then previously. More squats on a daily basis are necessary. With wobbly legs, it was just a shortish stroll to the South Crater and base of Mt Ngauruhoe.
Mt Ngauruhoe is an easy 2287 metres hike. Easy for some kind of elite athlete that is. Hikers pick their own route up the volcano but beware, the surface is mainly scree which makes for a trudging, difficult ascent. Scree is much like walking up a soft-sand slope – one walks, but one does not get far. I will not lie, this was a strenuous climb mainly completed on hands and feet. I took about 2 hours with short stops along the way to enjoy the view disguising the need to get my breath back. The photo below demonstrates the steep incline of the slope.
Although this hike was an incredible physical and mental workout, the view was worth every single step. We travelled up the left side of the volcano to its highest point at the outer rim of the crater. This is an active volcano and there are fumaroles releasing steam and gas continually. Looking in the crater is a rather magnificent experience but for goodness sakes, do everyone a favour and don’t get too close. My motto is: “Don’t be dim, stay away from the rim!”
After enjoying a well-deserved lunch break/photo session/respiratory recovery session, it was a very quick descent. It took about 20 minutes to return to the base because the scree makes for a slippery and potentially dangerous descent. I slipped about halfway down and started a headfirst descent but was extremely lucky to have my quick-thinking friend grab my boot and halt my travels. I dread to think of the possible outcomes.
Another eerie aspect of this climb is how easily rocks are dislodged by fellow climbers. I could hear rock slips occurring above and the yell of “Rock!” floating down the side of the volcano. It was then an intense few moments waiting to hear the tumbling rock travel closer and closer. Fortunately, the rocks bounced by without incident. But occassionally the rock encounters an obstacle in the form of climbers and the outcome can be dire. Everything from serious knee blow-outs to more severe back and head injuries requiring airlifts off the volcano occur more often then expected. Be a kind climber – don’t deliberately scrabble around loosening rocks.
The key reminders for this climb are the same as in my Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Layers! No jeans! Water and snacks! Whistle, signalling mirror, space blanket in case your knees get knocked out by a rock and you need to signal the rescue chopper! Phone, map, compass, first aid kit! Register your intent to climb! Check weather prior to commencing! It may seem like overkill, but never underestimate the mountain or Mother Nature. You don’t conquer it, it conquers you. But on top of all this, ENJOY! It is worth your effort and time. And for Heaven’s sake, do some squats in preparation.