A minimalist on the Tongariro Crossing – my bad weather alpine experience

“What you see is what you get. If you don’t like it, you can stay in the bus, I’ll bring you back and you will get a refund”

It was raining. I’ve waited 10 months to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and it was bloody raining. I got out of the bus, which had brought me and 20 other travellers ot the carpark of the Crossing at 8:30AM in the morning and immediately put on my rain jacket.

In the small shelter in 20 m distance I put on the rest of the clothes I had, the rain made it impossible to go on with lighter clothes. No trekking gear though, because this day trek is a one time adventure, and who wants to buy a load of gear if you only use it once – certainly not a minimalist like me! Maybe doing the trek in jeans wasn’t a good idea, but at least I got some boots that resemble hiking boots, so I felt prepared, even though the rain worried me a bit…

After a short walk over flat terrain, the Crossing begins with the Devil’s staircase – the hardest part. When you reach the staircase, there is a warning sign that tells you to only do it in good weather conditions which for me was at the point that I got drenched completely and my jeans got stuck to my underpants. The clouds were pretty deep so I figured once I leave them below me, I would be fine and there would be no more rain. I also figured that the sooner I get to the top, the less drenched I would be, so I went up up and away, getting out of breath at the staircase, climbing, not looking down as there wasn’t anything to see anyway. 100M, that was about it. As I continued to climb, the air got thinner and it got harder to breathe (or maybe it was me, not being very fit?) and my ears and head started to hurt. I took a small break at the first signpost on top of the first part, had a light lunch consisting of peanuts and some dates there – not very nice but enough energy to keep me going.

What would usually probably be a beautiful spot with a beautiful view on the region below was just white. A couple of people who came up stopped to look at a sign that explained something about volcanic eruptions or something related.

While the devil’s staircase was hard, the next part would be the actual hardest part for me. I much prefer going up proper steps than having to tread on stones that might or might not be sitting in the ground tight enough to support my weight and that are slippery in the rain.

The rain was coming from sideways now, blowing into my face, messing up my glasses which I gave up cleaning after the fourth tissue and my tshirt got drenched. This robbed me of any vision, so I climbed further up over volcanic stones and onto the crater without any glasses on, my eyesight being about -9 on both eyes.

Reaching the high plateau was good as this part was flatter than the rest and I was able to catch my breath. I was still very foggy, so little could I see of what was yet to come. The only thing I could do is follow my companion who contrary to me was able to see the next sign-post stick so we didn’t get lost.

The last part of the mountain consisted of climbing up a very steep crater, there was a chain you could pull yourself up with and also some wire so that you don’t fall down. I wasn’t particularly afraid of falling though because I could barely see what was below – or rather what wasn’t.

Of course, when you climb up you have to get down again. And down I went! I lost my footing so many times and the fact that it was still raining didn’t help to make the tiny path less slippery. I later learned that at this particular part, the tiny path is all that there is. Because of the clouds and my impaired sight I didn’t notice that the path which was only about 2 metres broad ends abruptly and all there is if you take a mis-step, is nothing. Uninhibited and ignorant of this fact, it took me a fraction of the time of climbing up and soon after I reached the part where vegetation begins to grow more prosperously.

When the sky finally cleared up, I reached a hut and had lunch. When I looked at the time it was 11:15AM, so I had done the Crossing about 3 hours which is not too bad considering it was my first alpine experience ever and that it usually takes people 4 hours or more.

The hut was – funnily enough full of German people! By the time I finished my rest, there were about 15 Germans in the tiny hut (“Not for overnight stay!”), eating their Brotzeit, all very healthy with dark bread and apples and Muesli bars. All dressed in perfect outdoor clothing, so well prepared for the rainy trek, it made me and my peanut snack feel like a very bad German…

Finally the fog cleared a bit, so I could start taking pictures. Everything looks like a mystical wonderland!

The fact that I wasn’t able to take any pictures so far really bothered me, but as the sky cleared up and the fog disappeared I got a perfect view on the last 2 parts of the Crossing, the first being some volcanic, mountain scenery, the second being New Zealand jungle and I was finally able to take my camera out. I had missed almost all of the emerald lakes – I saw a tiny one which resembled a puddle of green and yellow – and a couple other things which are supposed to be stunning, but I was richer for the experience of bad weather in high mountain/volcanic areas.

The last part of the crossing – about 6.5k

I crossed the part through some vegetation, which then became a jungle and followed a crowd of Americans that had caught up to me due to my suddenly taking twice as long as I was eager to take pictures of beautiful little mountain flowers. Their loud conversations led the way to the final part where everyone got picked up by vans which brought us all safely to our hostel where warm showers awaited us.

By the way, of the 20 people that started, 3 opted out immediately when the driver told us that we could get a refund and only 2 were slightly late for the pickup (but still made it)

A minimalist on the Tongariro Crossing – my bad weather alpine experience

3 thoughts on “A minimalist on the Tongariro Crossing – my bad weather alpine experience

  1. Enjoyed your article. It made me want to join you on the trail despite the rain! And the writing was great. A little editing out of the extraneous and a little dash of history of the trail and this would be suitable for submission to Outdoor Magazine! The evolution of a great writer. Keep it up.

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