Monday, January 5, 2009

1/4/2008 - Frodo and Sam were Wusses

At the end of yesterday's chapter, I was sitting in an internet place in Taupo, ready to head to the national park for the Alpine Crossing. Right about that time, it started dumping rain.

IMGP1061.JPGStormy Lake Taupo. This was between dumps of rain so that I didn't get soaked taking the picture.

Regardless, I drove the 45 miles to a full campground in the national park. Luckily, I have a small tent and was able to find a spot to park, so all was well, if damp and muddy.

By the time everything was set up, it was 8:30PM, and I headed to bed. I had set up transportation to the beginning of the trail and back to the car from the end of the trail, and went for the earliest time they worked - 6:00AM. That means a 4:45AM wakeup. Why so early? The track itself is about 19km long, but there is a side trip to a certain mountain, Mt. Ngauruhoe. This is known to mere nerdy mortals as. . .

Picture 3MT. DOOM.

There is a trail that runs off of the main trail and leads to the top of Mt. Doom. The words describing this trip include "dangerous", "not to be attempted in bad weather", "must be in good physical shape", and "volcanic activity may be present". Check the above picture for confirmation of all of these. I did not see any "orc crossing" signs.

It adds several kilometers to the total distance of the trip, as well as an additional 2500 feet of elevation. Bring it on.

So, I roll out of bed at 4:45 AM. It is chilly outside - there is frost, a first time for me on this trip. Love that -15 deg sleeping bag. Camp is put away prior to the usual power-packed muesli and milk. My day pack has been set up since last night, with plenty of water, food, and raingear. The shuttle shows at the right time, and drops us (a group of about 8 early-morning idiots) off at the trailhead.

I am determined to finish the entire hike in time to catch the early bus back at 3PM.

IMGP1066.JPGJust at the trailhead - I took this picture while walking to avoid any time wastage.

It took about 20 minutes to really warm up, then the vest came off. First 45 minutes was easy, then the Devil's Staircase started - not quite as bad as it sounds, as the excellent trail provided actual steps up most of the time.

IMGP1073.JPGLooking back past the very odd volcanic formations on the Devil's Staircase

IMGP1074.JPGFirst sun I got to see thanks to the mountain shadow.

At the top was the sign for Mt. Doom.

IMGP1076.JPGI look excited at this point.

The trail to take up the mountain is completely up to you. It really doesn't matter as the whole thing is made up of scree (loose rocks and gravel). It doesn't look so bad from here.

IMGP1078.JPGIt is good for my morale that I have no sense of scale, as a human-sized object on the side of the mountain is not even recognizable.

So off I went. Easy at first, the grade rapidly steepened and the loose gravel got worse. Luckily, the weather held.

IMGP1083.JPGAbout 2/3 of the way up, more layers removed. Smile is a bit more forced, I think. The picture just above this one was taken from that flat area at the bottom of this picture.

The further up I go, the slicker is the scree and the steeper the grade.

Picture 4I never resorted to this on MY trip to Mt. Doom, hence the title of today's entry.

The last bit (basically, the top of the cone) made me feel like a Looney Tunes character trying to run on ice. Slipped a lot. I guess Nike Pegasus shoes are not REALLY appropriate for this.

At last, made the summit.

IMGP1086.JPGLooking down into the cone. It's Sunday, so they turn off the fire and brimstone.

Just to show how easy it actually is, I dangled the only ring I had on me over the Mt. Doom crater.

IMGP1087.JPGOne keyring to rule them all, one keyring to find them. . .

Once again, Frodo was such a wuss, taking months to make the journey here. Probably because he was so dehydrated from all the crying he did in the movie. I only cried, like, once or twice on this climb.

The view was spectacular. And it was smoking.

IMGP1084.JPGMt. Doom apparently didn't read the surgeon general's warning.

IMGP1088.JPGIMGP1089.JPGIMGP1090.JPG(I kind of screwed up the last panoramic, but you get the idea).

IMGP1091.JPGWindy up here - the gusts give you a little kick in the gut every time they push you toward the crater cliff.

It took just over an hour to make it to the top, and just about the same amount of time to come back down. That didn't include the time to return to the top from several hundred feet down to retrieve my sunglasses that I had expertly left up there.

That stuff is SLICK! Altitude at the top was about 7500 ft, a climb of about 4000 feet from the start of the trip.

IMGP1092.JPGThe terrain going down. When you hear me complain about it, just remember the angle. Rocks loosened from above didn't stop rolling.

I was the 4th person to the top today, but there were a lot more attempting it as I came down. A few didn't look quite ready for the trip and turned back.

A few energy bars at the bottom, and the trek was continued - still another 13 km to go, including a couple more climbs.

Easy going compared to the mountain, the only obstacle that caused problems now were passing winded tourists. Apparently, this walk is more popular than I thought. Despite the many people, the scenery was definitely worth the work.


IMGP1101.JPGMt. Doom from the ridge of the next mountain over.

IMGP1103.JPGRugged and sharp.

Finally make it to the top of the last climb of the trip. More volcanic gasses came directly from the hillside.

IMGP1104.JPGSmoke came out of the ground right next to the path. It smelled GREAT! The ground all around here was nice and warm, though.

Descended into a couple of pools, then Emerald lake.

IMGP1107.JPGVolcanic pools, I thought, but they were cold.

IMGP1113.JPGEmerald Lake. It's a green if you were wondering.

Pretty soon, the reward for all that climbing started - the downhill. There was not a single uphill from that point on. Started dropping through different zones of vegetation fairly quickly.

IMGP1114.JPGStony alpine, to. . .

IMGP1116.JPGTundra and grass, to. . .

IMGP1118.JPGMore grass and waterfalls, to. . .

IMGP1119.JPGScrub and low bushes, to. . .

IMGP1121.JPGFull-blown forest.

This last bit lasted for awhile until, finally, the car park came. Total of about 21km (including the side trip), 5500ft of elevation gain (and loss), and some seriously tired legs. I made it in 7 hours, which meant that I even had to wait for the early bus (as it didn't leave until 2:45PM).

Back to the car, and decided on Taupo for the night again - I REALLY need a shower. Took one last picture as I left.

IMGP1127.JPGMt Doom, now shrouded in clouds and looking much more sinister and movie-like.

Grabbed some food on the way - Clif bars only do so much for an appetite. Burger King for the road. Whoppers are just as good here, and their fries are better than US Burger King, as well.

Set up camp at a campground and took my shower. Not sure why I am still feeling so awake.

As it stands, I am in the main area of the campground, and a big group of boys have started an impromptu game of cricket, so think it is about time to head out. Will plan to check on the status of the bike tomorrow morning. Will have to head back to Auckland to a campground as I only have the car until Wednesday morning. Will no doubt be sore tomorrow, anyway.


  1. Want to thank you for not posting New Year's pic in tent along with video during zorbing!! Some things are better left...unlike driving on same!

  2. Ryan,

    Amazing!!!!! But we also had new milestones during the past few days as you already know with Alex beginning to take his first steps. Soon he will be ready to join "Uncle Ryan" in his next adventure. First though he must cheer his mommy and daddy (and grandma and grandpa) on in the Disney half marathon. I have to set a "fast" pace for Justin so that he finishes behind me. I have sent your blog address to my brother and his wife (who has also spent time in New Zealand) so if you get followers that you don't initially know it may be them.

  3. Those emerald lakes are so beautiful! It looks like everything is there!
    nnn6mnnnnnn ,mm6 cxvvl cccccccvl
    That was from Alex. He says "Hi Uncle Ryan" in case you needed that translated.


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