In April 2016, I went on a weeklong trip to North Island, New Zealand. One of the highlights of my trip was trekking across the world renowned 19.4 km long Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and climbing the volcanic Mt. Ngauruhoe, also known as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings movie.
It would be my first time climbing a mountain, without me knowing I was going to do it initially.
The intent was to finish the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but I ended up with so much more at the end of the day.
My tour mates and I got picked up from our accommodation early morning just before 4 am. We arrived at the entrance to the crossing just after day break. It was an amazing view but it was a tad too chilly for me.
It hadn’t occurred to me how unprepared I was with a Longchamp tote bag slung over my shoulder and holding my 1 Litre Nalgene water bottle until we started our tramp. Holding on to my scarf and jacket, we began to start our morning walk. A kind uncle informed us that it would get warmer soon as the sun shows up.
I started the trek with my tour mates but I was soon left in the company of another German friend as we got slightly too ahead of the rest and lost them.
A little after 45 minutes into the walk, we both came to an intersection with a direction sign board pointing towards the remaining of the crossing, and the other one pointing towards the volcanic Mt. Ngauruhoe climb.
We decided that since we were ahead of time, we would try anyway.
It is this amazing word and act, that we got to see the magnificently beautiful view of the crossing from 2291m high up at the summit.
We headed up the terrain pretty easily in the first section. Soon, it became steeper and we had to find our own trails on these unbeaten paths. Anyone could be climbing from any of our sides and overtake us so long as they have a path to trek upwards.
Many times I found myself lost, not knowing which next step to take because there seem nowhere to hang on to.
Other times when I thought I had found an anchor, the big rock loosened and rolled itself off the slope. I was worried that they might hit the people behind me.
Never follow the person ahead of you if you are climbing steep mountains with loose rocks!
At one point, I thought we were almost reaching the top of the summit, but it was just a section of the mountain before the steeper section begins again. My friend, being much fitter than me, was ahead for the most part of the climb while I scrambled to follow up.
I was on all fours most of the time, trying my best to keep my footing and not fall. Every time when I looked up, she seemed to be further and further away from me.
The climb seemed pretty daunting for a first timer like me. I wanted to turn back, but when I did, I was even more afraid of falling and rolling off that I kept going.
It was at that instant that I remembered what the guide in the van told us before we left. He warned us that for a fit person, it would take them 2.5 hours or so to climb up and come back down. Otherwise, it could take as long as 4 hours and if we were to miss the time frame, we would have to get our own bus back.
I recalled him saying, “It’s one step forward and two steps back.”
Spot on! That was what I felt, literally.
I was at that juncture when I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t. I thought about giving up so many times, even right up to the last few metres climb, I was still thinking about it!
As I reached the top of the mountain, just a few hundred more steps before the summit, I stood at the edge and took in the view. Magnificent!
I thought I had enough, that for a first time experience, this was good enough for me already. At least I’d made it almost to the top where the view was also amazing and crafted my personal best, I thought to myself.
It also felt like I’ve had enough. I need not do it to the summit like everyone else, but there was a nagging thought at the back of my head. What if there’s more at the top?
I was tired of climbing and the last stretch was the worst. I tried ways and means to find a path but no avail. Others seem to pass by me with much ease.
I tried to shout for my friend who is now at the summit enjoying the view and having her breakfast. After numerous shots, and still no response, I decided to try climbing up again because I couldn’t leave her behind.
The view at the summit was even more awesome! And it was the first time I have ever looked into a volcano!
I felt triumph and also pride!
It felt like all the hard work, the struggle and pain were worth the view. By this time, both my bag and water bottle were battered and scratched, and my palms had little skins abrasions.
I could not get enough of the view, and the wind.
Despite her height, I felt on top of the world.
Soon after, we were on our way back down again. I was literally on my butt sliding down the whole way because I kept slipping and the loose terrain was rolling off. I stepped down on one leg, until my feet dug into the more solid stones, before moving the next foot. By the time I reached the bottom, my butt was sore and my shoes were filled with little stones.
It took me four hours to complete Mt. Ngauruhoe. It would have taken my friends much shorter but she was waiting for me most of the time.
It was worth it.
We then tramped the rest of the crossing in silence because we were running out of time. I was tired but the crossing itself is beautiful with astonishing views of the Soda Springs, the Red Crater, the Blue Crater, the Emerald Lake and the zig zag paths of the alpine. Each turn provided spectacular views at every corner.
As we finally reached the exit, we both breathed a sigh of relief and pride.
We were wearing big smiles on our faces. There was little need for words as we headed out.
We ended the crossing just in time for the last bus, boarded the bus and quickly dozed off in the bus all the way back to our accommodation.
It is definitely an experience of a lifetime.
Every challenge we face brings us valuable lessons that stay with us for life.