My body is telling me something.
The message is muted but I suspect its general thrust is a voice of complaint.
Our day started early when our excellent hosts from the Adventure Lodge at National Park delivered us to the Mangatepopo entrance to the Tongariro Crossing. This famous walk crosses over the saddle between the summits of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. It is often described as one of the best one day walks in the world.
There were several hundred others setting out under a heavy overcast, to climb the mountain saddle somewhere in the dark grey clouds overhead. We were warned that the winds near the summit of the walk were forecast to rise to gale force, and that we needed to have passed the high point (Red Crater) before 2 pm. Off we went.
I am told by those who completed the crossing in earlier times that the walk is a bit spoiled now, by the extensive boardwalks and it even has enclosed toilet facilities.
Nevertheless, the whole walk is a touch over 19 km of very steep and rugged volcanic terrain, though it starts gently enough, meandering beside tumbling mountain streams.
At times, however, the volcanic rock is so awkward that boardwalks are out of the question and all you can do is clamber as best you can over the twisted and often sharp projections. That’s Mary just ahead of me, and a young German couple who had just overtaken us.
After an hour of steady walking, with a brief comfort stop at Soda Springs, we passed the sign that says, in effect, “OK now let’s get serious. Is the weather OK? Are you properly equipped? Are you fit enough? If not, turn back now, while you still can”.
Sure enough the going got rapidly more difficult, especially for a couch potato such as myself. Though there are lots of well made steps to make the track easier than it used to be, they go up at steep angles, seemingly for ever. And every time you reach a new crest, there is another meaner and more vicious ascent ahead of you. And to make things more interesting there were increasing patches of ice and a steadily rising wind.
And then we were in the cloud, and it was becoming harder to see the next route marker. I met a man coming the other way. He looked at me and suggested I might need to be more warmly dressed before I attempted the ridge up towards the Red Crater. We struggled across the South crater, now almost completely ice-covered, as conditions got steadily worse.
We began the ascent up the steep ridge towards the upper crater but we were now in near white-out, and I was repeatedly losing my balance, and being blown over by the force of the wind. After a few increasingly risky falls, I felt unsafe to proceed. I am sure Mary could have completed the walk, but I had to face the knowledge that my skills and fitness were not up to the unexpectedly severe conditions, so we turned back.
Obviously I am disappointed to have been unsuccessful, but I console myself with the knowledge that I am neither dead, nor even in hospital. Younger, fitter and faster people made it across and I congratulate them, but if I had persisted I would have been a risk to myself and to those who would have had to try to rescue me. I am content with the decision to return to the start point.
To rub salt in the wound, the weather cleared in the afternoon, so after a restorative rest in our unit, we drove back to Chateau Tongariro and up to the top of the Bruce Road. I put together some panoramas, and enjoyed capturing the fast flowing rivers rushing down the mountain. This one is the Whakapapanui, I think.
Tomorrow, the journey home.