Gallery 3 It started at 6 am this morning, this most amazing day, as Boomer, Dustin, Brent and I rolled out of bed to prepare for a long day of hiking. At 7:15 a bus picked us up to take us to the Tongariro Crossing, "the best one day hike in New Zealand." The bus driver was the first highlight of the day. He appeared to be in his twenties and sported shaggy, curly brown hair and a disposition characteristic of a surfer. He was really informative but even more so, funny, ending every sentence with New Zealand's slang "sweet as" (though sweet as what, I have yet to discern).
As we pulled up to our starting point, I felt as though I had been dropped in the middle of Lord of the Ring's middle earth. Rugged mountains and hills abounded. Their bases were covered with bush and reeds with an occasional stream pushing through. It was facing this scenery that we began our 6 ½ hour, 10-mile hike across the rugged terrain on New Zealand's north island.
Now I'm not sure how New Zealand defines the word "hike" in their dictionaries, but if the definition follows what we experienced on our hike, mountain climbing must be in there somewhere. After an hour of hiking on uneven but relatively flat terrain, we came face to face with a part of the hike known by name and by reputation as "Devil's Staircase." Now I know why hell is so feared; this climb was brutal. The only thing I can really compare it to would be climbing uneven stairs of different heights for forty-five minutes straight (no breaks), and that's really being quite nice. To add insult to injury (which I had acquired in the form of two huge open blisters on the backs of my heels), two times during the ascent it appeared as you had reached the summit, only to peek over the top and see that, oh no, you still had quite a ways to go. Yet however bad the climb was (and it was bad), it was even more worth it. The view from the top and the sense of accomplishment were amazing.
From Devil's Staircase we got a little break as we crossed a huge volcanic crater. Its windless atmosphere and flat terrain would have been an amazing ultimate Frisbee field, save the occasional pile of rocks (perhaps end zone markers?). At the end of crater we faced the ascent to the summit. The blisters I had acquired thus far painfully reminded me of their presence the whole way up, but the view from the top was breathtaking: we were standing between two mountains, the white clouds lapping at their summits. Behind was the huge, brown expanse of a large crater and ahead the turquoise and emerald beauty of the sacred, sulfuric Emerald Lakes. The sun was shining strong, but the bitter cold breeze stole any warmth it provided. Incredible.
The trek down from the summit to the Emerald Lakes was more of a snow boarding experience minus the snow and the board. The terrain was a mixture of loose dirt and rocks, requiring us to literally slide down the mountainside snow boarder style. By the time we reached the bottom our calves and quads were screaming for relief, which they were granted as we settled in for our feast of PB&J sandwiches, trail mix, chips, apples, and granola bars with the three Emerald Lakes glimmering around us.
Thirty minutes and four full stomachs later we continued our hike, tackling our last significant climb as we skirted the border of the Crossing's largest crater lake. We soon found ourselves staring at what would make up the remainder of our hike: downhill paths among the bush with a constant view of Lake Tongariro and the town beyond. Now downhill may sound easy, even luxurious, after a constant ascent, but three and a half hours of it just plain hurts. By the time we reached the beautiful forested paths that would carry us through the last hour of our hike, our knees were shot.
The last piece of breath-taking scenery we saw came just before we pushed through to the edge of the forest. It was a beautiful waterfall found on a small path leading off the main route, a wonderful show of water pushing its way down through rocks and green bushes and trees to find its resting place at the head of a tiny stream. As we burst through the trees into the car park, a feeling of immense accomplishment filled my soul. It had been a day of challenge and a day of irreplicable (yes, I made that word up) beauty, truly a day I will never forget.
~ Alexis Sauder