Yesterday I completed the challenge I was unable to finish last week. Under perfect skies I hiked, and at some points ran, the Tongariro Northern Circuit in one day. Less than 10.5 hours actually, and I’m pretty pleased with that because usually it is billed as 3-4 days though that does include a side trip to stay at the Ketetahi Hut. The day started with my alarm at 3am, the drive to Whakapapa which I know pretty well and I was on the path just after 7:30. The first leg, from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo is relatively flat, undulating within a 100m range over 9km. From there I joined in the queue as scores of day trippers fresh off the tour bus climbed the Devil’s Staircase as part of the Tongariro Crossing. I think I was doing pretty well at this stage, not that any of them really needed to rush but I was overtaking everyone and feeling good. I’ve never seen it so busy, because I’ve never been there so late on a sunny day, the crowd at the top of the staircase was really something else. Then comes the flat South Crater (which isn’t really a crater) and the steep ascent to the edge of Red Crater. This is where I had to turn back last time, but there was hardly any breeze this time and I cruised on through and got to my favourite part, the gravel descent I like this bit the most because while others gingerly edge their way down, worried about falling over into the fairly soft rock, I jog down at quite a speed. The trick is to dig your heels into the soft area, then your feet can’t slide about and you can go fast. I almost wanted to walk back up to do it again. Then I came across Antz and Kat, two hut wardens waiting for the rest of them. I had met Kat last week as the three of us set off from Mangatepopo but she hadn’t identified herself as the warden then, so when she questioned our plans I thought she was just a tourist who didn’t like a small rain shower.
Click for a larger version
I pushed on and passed a couple of Californians. They had done parts of the Pacific Crest Trail last year and come across a few of the through hikers, but it wasn’t until I reach Oturere Hut that I thought about asking if they knew any names. I was only at the hut for 30 minutes so I never saw them again. Just after leaving Oturere, about 1:15pm now, I realised I had a problem with the balance pockets with the metal beam cutting a hole in the bag, not particularly great after less than 10 hours of use, the designer is going to see about reinforcing that part.
From Oturere to Waihohonu is mostly down hill, and all pretty easy. It’s open, it’s clear and the ground is easy, the real nasty lumpy volcanic stuff is well behind you now. There is a climb of about 150m just before the hut, but it’s all in the trees which is much better than being in the sun at that time of day. I know the path of the Northern Circuit, so I hadn’t bothered with a map and it wasn’t until I reached the Waihohonu Hut that I discovered that the final section, back to Whakapapa via the Tama Saddle, was 16km. I wanted to be back by 6pm which gave me only 3 hours. That was quite a slog, and into the sun the whole time. I didn’t even pause for water, drinking while on the go and marching on. Coming down hill from the saddle I ran for short bursts, trying not to shake the pack too much or slide on the sometimes-gravelly path. With two hiking poles going in time I was getting up quite a speed, I’d like to have tried it without 16kgs on my back. I came to the end of the track and closed the loop with a minute to spare, but I wasn’t at the visitors center yet, and by the time I got there it was closed. I left them a note, confirming that I was finished and not in need of a rescue (you leave an intentions form with them when you start a trip in the park and sign out when you leave).
Argh, I’ve written too much again. I also carried my GPS datalogger and got the whole thing down in 1s and 0s. I have Google Earth files with and without altitude data (without because the GE terrain is totally wrong and obscures most of my track, leaving the rest waaaaay up in the air)Distance today: 0 miles. Total distance: -1 miles