Tongariro Crossing – The Summit of Mt Doom :-)

So that’s it, folks. Two months in Australia and New Zealand (plus the bonus couple nights on Tahiti) over and done with, back to the life I was leading last year in NYC and environs. Here are all the pics I’m gonna give you from New Zealand. (There were more, but you’re glad I’ve pared it down even this far, aren’t you?) I was gonna wax political, about carbon footprints and how even comparatively well-off Aussies and Kiwis hang their clothes to dry and don’t even own a dryer; about how it seems the whole world gets what too many Americans still don’t, that Obama is our best hope and we as a people really need to rise above the narrow commercialism and blind xenophobia (masquerading as patriotism) that’s come to dominate our culture and society, and rediscover some social and cultural values like caring for our world, community, and honesty and quality of life that don’t have to do with someone’s quarterly bottom line. But that’s boring. Or I was gonna explain what I’ve given up in order to save the money to do this kind of trip, rather than working a regular corporate job and doing the daily commute. But that’s even more boring. These pics are interesting, so I’ll leave you to them. May this year and many to come be full of more hope than we’ve had recently. I will, just by way of grandstanding, leave you with two quotes, below…they say it all better than I could. Peace, out.
“…FlexPetz…rents out well-trained dogs to busy professionals in several California cities. [One] customer…feels like an uncle to the dog he borrows for $39.95 a day… Meanwhile, dog and cat owners who travel frequently now have another option for their pets… Posh digs for pets are available in airports… Amenities for dropped-off animals include piped-in music, individual suites, gourmet treats and Web cams so distant owners can check in on their pampered pets.” (High Country News)“Smallpox ravaged us quick, tuberculosis killed us slow, liquor made us stupid, religion meddled with our souls, but the bureaucracy did the worst and finally bored us to death… Along with rules, there came another affliction. Acquisition, the priests called it. Greed. There was no word in our language to describe this urge to own things we didn’t need. Where before we always had a reason for each object we kept, now the sole reason was wanting it. People traded away their land for pianos they couldn’t play and bought clothing too fancy for their own everyday use. They bought spoons made of silver when there wasn’t food…Where before we gave our things away and were admired for our generosity, now we grew stingy and admired ourselves for what we grabbed and held.” (Louise Erdrich, Four Souls)

Of the three active volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, Ngauruhoe is the second highest but by far the most classically-proportioned. It’s a pretty imposing sight, isn’t it? Imagine seeing it as I did: Climbing up a ridgeline from a bright-yellow stream (made yellow by all the minerals in the water, like at Yellowstone), suddenly at the top of the ridgeline I can look across a sparse scrubland of alpine plants to the towering even cone of Ngauruhoe, whose summit and cone are shrouded in cloud. Hearing the rotors of a helicopter clack-clacking away to my right, seemingly on the snowy slopes of tallest Mt Ruapehu, I look over and see that the helicopter is trailing some kind of long flat payload from a cable hanging below it. Has someone been evacuated after a fall while climbing to the 2800-meter summit of Ruapehu? Or is it something more mundane, like logs being dropped somewhere for trail maintenance? Then I look again ahead of me at the summit of Mt. Doom, no Orodruin, no Ngauruhoe (yes: a digitally-altered image of Ngauruhoe was indeed the image of Mt Doom/Orodruin the Lord of the Rings movies – small wonder, huh, seeing it in real life here!), and…wait a minute, the cloud has cleared a bit, but isn’t that a small trail of steam rising directly up out of the cone? Is that helicopter, perhaps, part of some general evacuation? Is all hell about to break loose with flowing lava and an explosion on the summit of one or all of these volcanoes? 🙂


In point of fact the ‘volcanic activity danger index’ was zero that day. But yes, it’s quite possible I really did see some steam rising from the cone. When I climbed it, the following day, I noticed there’s a vent on one side which regularly emits plumes of steam.

That there is looking down into the actual crater, from the summit. The text I wrote above is really about what I did on the rainy day before I did the official “Tongariro Crossing,” which is an almost 20km day hike almost all above tree line that goes from the west side of Mt Ngauruhoe up and over to the north side of Mt Tongariro; to clarify: Ruapehu, at about 2800m, is the southernmost, most active, and most snow-covered of the mountains; Ngauruhoe, at about 2200m, is in the middle and the most obviously volcanic, seen from a distance; and Tongariro, after which the whole park is named, is at about 1800m the shortest of the three but very large with several active craters over and around which we walked, and is the northernmost of the three.
Indubitably the best decision I made in one month here was, upon arriving in National Park by train (lower down for that story) and learning that weather was forecast rainy the next day, to extend my stay by a day and do the hike on the following day, forecast mostly clear and sunny. Having done the alpine sections of the Kepler Track (next section down…) in snow and fog, I just wanted some clear views from these highest sections of North Island.
That’s snowy Ruapehu, highest peak on North Island, behind the crater of Ngauruhoe; and two shots down, look to the left of the crater, and you’ll see a plume of steam coming off. Atmospheric, no?

The main Crossing track doesn’t include ascending to the summit of Ngauruhoe — up which, in fact, there is no marked trail. All those little rocks with blue sky at the top of the photo, above? You wonder why they’re there? They’re the summit of Ngauruhoe. That’s the trail. It’s 1000m up, and then 1000m back down to the main trail – which itself includes some serious ups and downs for the recreational walker – and a lot of it is this slippery slidy stuff. The rest is sharp volcanic boulders — thank goodness I had my gloves to shred, or I’d have needed skin grafts afterwards. But, given the chance to ascent Mt Doom, could I really have said no? 🙂 Most of these plant shots are from the summit ascent on Ngauruhoe. The greenest one is from near Silica Rapids, lower on the slopes of Ruapehu and thus a bit greener.

Emerald Lakes. Guess how they got their name? They smell as you might guess.

Look closely and you’ll see a lot of little figures along the trail silhouetted against the lake there: a large group of school kids on start-of-school-year camp, who spent days hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and rafting around the area. Kids in NZ have a great life, it seems…

That’s Lake Taupo in the distance, the largest in New Zealand, apparently. No Lake Superior, that; but then NZ is two moderate-sized islands with spectacular variety and scenery, when you get right down to it.

…have you noticed how captivated I was by Ngaurhoe’s cone? It’s my own xx Views of Mt Ngauruhoe ode to Hokusai. But seriously — I found Ngauruhoe as captivating as I find Half Dome — though not the tallest of the three, it ruled my imagination when I was in its range.

And that would be silica rapids, full of colorful minerals washed out of the stones solidified from the magma belched by Ruapehu, on whose slopes this was shot.

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