The sun was rising and the three distinctive peaks in front of us were bathed in an orange glow: snow-streaked Mount Ruapehu (tallest peak in the North Island of NZ), the conical, domineering Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings), and Mount Tongariro (not known for anything in particular). And I was in a grump.
“I can’t do it, James. I think it’s because we didn’t have a cup of tea this morning. How can I do a full day’s walking without my morning cup of tea?”
James was not very understanding about my plight. We pressed on, my rudely-awakened-at-5am, non-functioning legs causing me to fall behind the hordes of other European tourists on this, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the most popular day walk in New Zealand.
My confidence was failing. We had done countless other walks in New Zealand, some arguably more arduous than this. So why was this one causing me a major mental blockage?
This walk had always been in our plan for New Zealand. If you like walking and you go to NZ, you pretty much can’t leave without doing the alpine crossing. With this in mind, and the fact that we’d left it until a month before our departure to finally give it a go, it had been built up in our minds to something bigger than it actually was. We were both a little tense about completing it successfully, and had put more pressure on ourselves by deciding that we wouldn’t be satisfied unless we also did the 3 hour side track up Mount Ngauruhoe.
As I trudged steadily/slowly up the inaccurately-named ‘Devil’s Staircase’ (they really weren’t that devilish), the cogs in my slowly-awakening brain were ticking. I would stay at the foot of the mountain, while James went up and enjoyed himself and I got over my bad mood at the bottom. Then we would be merrily on our way, two little hobbits enjoying the alpine crossing, James having a sense of achievement at having scaled the volcano, and me feeling cheerier, ready to press on with the walk.
James disagreed. Sometimes he knows me better than I know myself, and gives just the right amount of pressure when he knows it’s for the greater good.
He was, as per usual, right. We reached the foot of Ngauruhoe quicker than anticipated, and I had little time to argue before I found myself scrambling up loose rocks on the way to the summit.
Flash forward to two and a half hours later, and here is the picture:
- Boots filled with scree after a long scramble of two steps forward, one step back (imagine climbing up a very soft sand dune).
- Faces covered in muck as the wind blew loose dirt in our faces.
- Gusts so strong that they literally knocked me down like a leaf, to the point where I had to crouch and hold on for dear life as the next one blew over me.
- Shouts of ‘rocks’ above us as a fellow walker dislodged yet another boulder that rolled past us.
- And finally, the summit, a dramatic crater, and jubilation that our tired legs had brought us this far.
- Debate over whether we should re-enact the ‘throwing the ring into Mount Doom’ scene, but deciding that the potential risk to our wedding rings due to strong gusts outweighed our LOTR dream.
- A twenty five minute descent, featuring a near-death experience with a watermelon-sized boulder bouncing down the mountain, a lot of bum sliding and falling over, and a big hug at the end as my bad mood had finally been shed due to the sheer delight at having achieved the most difficult part of the walk; well done sturdy little hobbit legs.
The rest of the walk, although long and ankle-straining, was impressive and relatively straightforward after our Ngauruhoe adventure. The wind dropped, there were stunning emerald lakes, puffing steam vents, an awesome red crater, beautiful views over the distant Lake Taupo, and a long descent into the bush to end.
Ten and a half hours later, we reached the van. Our feet were tired but we were happy. James had, of course, been on the money when he knew I would be completely dissatisfied unless I’d climbed Mount Ngaurahoe, and I am slowly learning that I can do more than I think I can.
But we may have saved a lot of stress if we’d just had that cup of tea in the morning.