October 19, 2013 … beaten by the mountains

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.

Under lowering cloud just inside the walkway

At this early stage, a few hundred metres into the track, I was still supremely confident and loving the wonderful colours and textures of the landscape

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.

The boardwalk in the early stages of the track

This is somewhere between the Mangetepopo hut and Soda Springs. That’s Mary just ahead of me. Apparently there are up to 3,000 walkers a day at the peak of the summer walking season

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.

At least in the lower parts of the track (below Soda Springs) there are plentiful streams

It is a magnificent area in which to walk

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.

These rocks are sharp and painful if you stumble

Some of the climbs are a strain on older knees, and require real physical effort.

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.

Some of the hundreds of wooden steps above Soda Springs

As you see the steps ascend steeply and keep on keeping on, and there are always more of them over the next ridge. This is not for the unfit.

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.

At the start of the crossing of the south crater

Visibility is now diminishing rapidly, the temperature is dropping almost as fast. Reported wind chill temperature was -7 deg C and the wind was blowing at around 60 km/h

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.

Nearing the climb to the red crater

Visibility almost gone, I had to put my camera in my pack to keep my hands free for personal safety … after this it was all just white anyway. At least until I turned back.

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.

On SH47 from National Park to Rangipo

The mountains from L to R are Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. All three summits are now clearly visible, but just three hours earlier they were covered

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.

Whakapapanui is one of the pretty streams on Ruapehu

This was taken from a road bridge on the Bruce road

Tomorrow, the journey home.

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About wysiwygpurple

I am a family man, a passionate amateur photographer and a retired academic . What's the purpose of this blog? Well in the first instance it provides me with a platform from which to resume writing, an activity I greatly enjoy. What will the blog be about? Anything that takes my fancy but it is likely to arise from things I see and experience, in my family, in my travels, or anything else I feel like. Each daily post will contain one or more images made the previous day. Sometimes the image will illustrate the points made in the prose, and sometimes the prose will attempt to interpret the image. What kind of images will they be? Always safe for work and family. Usually they will be representational, and sometimes they will be impressionistic or experimental.
This entry was posted in adversity, Landscapes, mountains. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to October 19, 2013 … beaten by the mountains

  1. I hope you can do this one day in sunshine so you can appreciate the beauty and the views. But I trained up Colonial knob and the Belmont trig before I went. I think you would have no trouble in fine conditions. oh and attractive and graphic photos!

  2. Ellen says:

    “‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”.

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