I knew today was going to be very hard and a mental and physical test. I was definitely anxious when I woke up and anxious on the way to the trailhead on the shuttle bus. Once the walk commenced though I felt fine, the first section to Soda springs was relatively easy and the sky cleared for long enough to see the infamous Mt Doom (real name Mt Ngauruhoe, but the Lord of the Rings name rolls of the tongue).
I had plenty of time to check out the fashions in the field. Germans all had their walking sticks and were carrying the latest high tech outdoor wear. Aussies and Kiwis had ducked down to Kathmandu (hopefully when a sale was on) and some guy decided wearing non-matching adidas gear with fluoro stripes was the way to go (I have no idea if he made it over!). I’ve got no idea of the nationalities wearing shorts, I think it was the craziest of each of the world’s nationalities!
Once we got to Soda Springs the first physical and mental challenge presented itself. Known as the Devils staircase, it was a steep climb of about 1000 steps or 300m (for Canberrans it is a double Mt Taylor or Mt Ainslie climb and much steeper). All sorts of things go through your head, some of it is setting goals on when you can rest next, sometimes you want a rhythm to your steps even with irregular sized steps. Most of the time you are just swearing in your head and occasionally verbally. I did get there and felt now was an appropriate time for a long break, having a trail bar and some water. Some Germans had set up a full camp kitchen and were offering tea for anyone who wanted it. In my mind I felt I’d done the hardest part, but later on when I realised how naive that was, I swore several times at myself.
I crossed the south crater in a scene that was very alien or even post-apocalyptic. Across the crater the winds blew in the low cloud making visibility poor and looking like a scene out of a sci-fi movie, as people struggled across the crater following each other in a line, looking for the posts that marked the way. It was a very surreal feeling and one I didn’t think about for too long as the last major ascent across the rim of the red crater was about to test me.
Visibility was still quite poor, which for someone with a fear of heights played into my hands perfectly. There was a steep drop off on either side, but I couldn’t see too far. This was also the turn back point, I had to decide here and now if /I was continuing the hike or returning back to the start. No one was turning around, it wasn’t too cold, but many had several layers on. I was climbing on fairly compact volcanic scree, there was minimal movement under my feet, which was good for my nerves as I didn’t fancy falling into the red crater, not that I could see the redness that gave it the name.
I made it and several others thought it was high 5 time feeling they’d done the hard part. They clearly hadn’t descended along the rim of the red crater to the emerald lakes on the very loose volcanic scree. I fell three times on my ass and broken my water bottle I was using. Fortunately, I had a backup water supply, I was over prepared for this walk. I’d taped my feet in the usual blister spots, had two pairs of socks on, was carrying all sorts of things I might need, but never used on the walk. It was clear enough to see the emerald lakes, but they were lacking the deepness of colour that only the sunshine could bring.
I hiked the short distance and small climb up to the rather ordinary blue lake, and started the descent. Here is where I thought the walk would conclude quickly and boy was I wrong. I had been hiking for a touch over 3 hours and the descent took me 3 and a half hours of painful feet. The first third of the descent had lovely views to Lake Taupo and meandered around the mountain, with views of steam vents on both sides, reminding me this is an active volcano. Then I zig-zagged down to a hut and toilets. I rested when I saw the sign said I still had 6.4kms to go! I can’t believe I’d only done 13kms of the hike. The walk continued down the side of the volcano and the vegetation when from grass to small shrubs, before the last steep descent into the rainforest for the last 3kms and the completion of the trek.
Some stats for those somewhat inclined to read them:
- Distance: 19.4km quoted (22kms measured on my GPS and on many other peoples GPS)
- Elevation gains: 1073m of climbing
- Highest point reached: 1886m
- Total time (for me): 6:37:11
- Well over 30,000 steps!