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.
Tongariro Crossing and Mt Ngauruhoe
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.

Tongariro Crossing and Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Doom

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.

Climbing Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Doom

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!

Tongariro Crossing and Mt Ngauruhoe top

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!

Mt Doom Summit, Volcano Crater

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.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Before I set out for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I hadn’t a clue what I would be doing except to walk/trek 19.4km. I have to admit it was not a good practice to not do some research first, however this was the first time I hadn’t made any preparations beforehand as in the past, I would do so much research that I felt I was just checking off my to-do list, and not feel any more interesting when I reached my travel destination.
That was the reason I was under-prepared.
Furthermore, it had never crossed my mind to climb Mt. Doom much less summit it. Even on the bus, when the guide told us to be careful about our choices, I had made the choice to skip it, but a chance of fate and a golden word ‘TRY‘, I summited my first mountain climb ever, without any trekking equipment, all on my own.
I am glad I did because even to this day, I still smile when I think about it.
Through the emotional and physical struggle, I’ve gained some takeaways that I thought would be worth sharing, for a first timer attempting a mountain climb.
Do Some Research Beforehand. 
Climbing a mountain is no easy feat for someone who has never done it before. Doing some research on the type of terrain, the difficulty level or even the history of the mountain or volcano should be a must, a pre-requisite. At least you know what you are headed for.
Be (More) Prepared; fitness, water, dry food, equipment, gears, etc.
Hydration, plain water, is a must.
When we don’t know what will be provided or the type of facilities that we will get (or not get at all), we are actually doing ourselves a favour by being more prepared. Insects and animals may be loitering around, weather can change in a matter of minutes as with the landscape considering that there are live volcanoes around.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings. 
Nothing should be taken for granted, especially in places where you have never been to before.
The environment, the plants and animals, the people and even the paths you encounter should be always under your radar. It is easy to get distracted or even get separated from your buddies or the planned path when you are tired but by staying alert and being more observant of what you are doing and where you are will help you stay focused.
Keep Your Thoughts Sane and Focus On What You Need To Do.
It is important to keep your thoughts positive and your eyes set on your goal.
At the time when I wanted to turn back midpoint, I was caught in between continuing the upward struggle and fear of falling down the steep slope. It was pretty overwhelming because there is no one to support and encourage you. You are pretty much on your own.
Challenging thoughts and feelings will come and go. I had thoughts about falling, or even injuring myself. Or simply giving up and waiting for help to escort me back to the base but staying clear-minded is necessary. Each time, I told my thoughts to shut up and I kept moving upwards.
Keeping your focus on climbing towards your destination should be your focus.
Find the Right Support / Buddy.
Honestly, if it was me alone attempting this hike, I would have turned back after the first half hour, when the tough part was just starting.
I loved that I had a buddy. It kept me accountable. Even though we were not going at the same pace, it was like her encouraging me just by taking it slow and not stopping.
Along the way, I also met people who were on the way down giving words of encouragement, as well as offering to help from those on the way up.
Your buddy might be stronger or weaker than you, but in one way or another, you would be each other’s motivation during that period.
Have A Little Faith: Breathe, and Keep Going. 
Sometimes, we just need to hold on to the belief that we can do it.
Having a Can-Do attitude is so important, in all areas of our lives, especially when we are faced with difficult times.
It is easy to give up and say that we have no experience or we are not trained, or skilled, but you will never know what you can achieve unless you keep trying.
Times, when you are not sure if you should start something, be it a campaign or a business, go do it anyway.
In the midst of your adventure, you might find yourself coming head on with different problems at varying degrees often coming one after another. What do you do in those times? Quit? Or bite the bullet and keep going anyway?
In Conclusion 
There is only so much I could narrate and explain, but you’d have to do it for yourself to fully understand the experience.
Just like any other experiences in life, be it to start your business, to start travelling, to have a child, to pursue your passion or the like; you need to experience these for yourself first hand before you can fully come to appreciate what others meant when they tried to share their journeys with you.
Every so often, let your heart skip a beat doing things that scare you out. Let yourself feel alive again rather than staying in the monotonous rat race.
Do something that you have always wanted to do; create a bucket list. Do bungee jump, skydive or volunteer for a cause that you believe in. Or climb a mountain.
Start somewhere, today.
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