Saturday 2 _24...The Infamous Tongariro Crossing
Again on Saturday...we were up at 5:30 am and headed down to the kitchen to get a good breakfast under our belts before our big hike. I had oatmeal and a muffin and packed cheese and hard-boiled eggs & yogurt for lunch. Our shuttle bus picked us up at 7 am. We chose a shuttle that had the latest afternoon pickup time as I was apprehensive about the length of the hike. The folks that we chatted with said it wasn't a difficult hike but then they were young...So better to have the most time available.
We got on the trail at 7:30 am. The beginning was very benign...not revealing the horrors that awaited us later in the day. After a level smooth picturesque beginning...the trail turned the corner and began to rise. The grade wasn't the hardest part...it was the terrain....very soon it was necessary to climb hand over hand...the hiking poles becoming a liability as I sought footholds and handholds in the rough volcanic jagged "clinker-like" rocks. Every time we thought we saw the summit...it was only a brief break and the rocky steep hill began again. I would see Anna Marie sitting waiting on me and when I came near she would ask if I were OK...Of course I said... "Sure.." and we would set out again. It never occurred to me that we should turn back...which was what she was hoping against hope I would suggest. (If I had only known...we would have been out of there in a shot!) Since the trail crossed bare rock, it had been marked by a series of wooden poles, each supported by a pile of rocks at its base. As I dragged myself upward, each pole became a goal, and after every few I would stop and look back down into the valley from which we had come. Far, far away I could see a line of people approaching the incline, mere dots from our lofty vantage point. We finally reached the top exactly at noon...but no time to stop for lunch and the view...as we did not want to miss our bus home. So we munched on a few chunks of cheese and kept on moving. At this time we were still with the main group of hikers...Our morning shuttle bus driver estimated that there would be approximately 1800 people on the trail this Saturday.
Leaving the summit...the trail turned steeply downhill on a path of loose scree that we soon learned to traverse by planting our heels and shushing about 1 to 2 feet...repeating the process with the other foot...over and over and over...for the next 1,000 feet. After our initial descent...the crowd began to thin and I began to slow. The trail still descended...but now it was in giant step-downs...that I stood and studied trying to find a safe way to navigate. Anna Marie swears that I was trying to will the steps to go away! At 2pm now alone on the trail...when we saw the Ketetahi Hut in the distance...it was becoming apparent that we were not going to make it to the bus by 4pm. As a matter of fact...we didn't even make it to the hut until after 3:15. Only 3 more miles lay ahead but it felt as if it were 30.
I seem to get undone when I am facing a time constraint and this was surely not the case as we had obviously missed the bus by now but I was still tense and edgy. Anna Marie kept trying to cheer me up...but I wasn't having any of it...I politely asked her to "chill" and just let me suffer in silence so she hiked on ahead. A young fellow that had passed us on his way up the hill...returned and saw I was having difficulty... "Where is your friend?" he asked...After my explanation...he insisted on staying with me...helping me down each of the steep steps. "My Mum would never forgive me if I left you!" he said. So it was that I made a new best friend named Trevor, who was kind enough to take us to the YHA...where he spent the night in a tent site that we traded him for the ride home.