The Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro Crossing is often regarded as one of the best one-day hikes in New Zealand and after having done it, I can see why. As we were planning our trip, the crossing was one of the ‘must do’ items on the list.

The crossing is a 17km one-way hike best hiked from the Mangatepopo Trailhead to the Ketetahi Roadend. We booked a shuttle to pick us up at the end and set off on the earliest shuttle we could find to get to the trailhead. The trail is a rigorous hike across steep and rocky terrain crossing the saddle between two volcanoes: Tongariro and Ngauruhoe – Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings.

On the day we crossed, the saddle was extremely windy and quite cold but the sky was cloudless and you could see for 80 miles or more. On the climb up you could even catch glimpses of Taranaki, a huge cone-shaped volcano on the west coast some 75 miles in the distance. In the shot above, you can see Ngauruhoe rising on the left and people on the trail as they head up to the saddle where I was standing.

As you descend to the Emerald Lakes, a trio of sulpher-smelling turquoise-colored lakes, we had to be very careful of the steep talus slope. The footing was very poor and about 90% of the way down I lost my balance, fell, and severely twisted my ankle. As I was falling I heard a loud pop and thought for sure that I’d broken my leg. Lisa had some athletic tape and she quickly taped it up but even using her trekking poles I wasn’t sure I’d make it out. With about 5 more miles of mountainous terrain to go I was both concerned that I’d need to be helicoptered out and that I’d pretty much ruined the rest of the trip for myself and everyone else on just day 5 of 27.

By the time we reached Blue Lake and looked back towards Tongariro, I was in quite a bit of pain but I knew that I’d be able to make it down as long as the trekking poles held out, I could take my time, and I didn’t miss that last shuttle.

We amazingly made it down to the road end about 30 minutes before the final shuttle but it was a long slow haul. Both Sophie and Noah did great for the entire 17km and they should be proud of themselves for gutting it out while going up the “Devil’s Staircase”. I can’t imagine I would have made it without the tape, without the trekking poles, and without Lisa hanging back with me talking and taking my mind off the pain. By the next morning I couldn’t walk and my foot looked like a black pumpkin. From about midway down my calf to the ends of my toenail beds, I was black and blue and extremely swollen. This picture was taken within minutes of returning from the hike and before the tape came off and the swelling really kicked in.

The day after the hike we traveled about 40 minutes south of Whakapapa to see a doctor. Although he had no x-ray he didn’t think anything was broken but he assured me that I’d done a bang up job on my ankle. Lisa had to take over the job of driving the campervan for a few days which she was really thrilled to do. She couldn’t wait to try driving on the wrong side of the road!

We didn’t have any hikes planned for next few days so it turned out that it didn’t put a horrible crimp in our plans. By the time we left Christchurch, after some boardgaming (a great story for another time), I was able to drive again, get a shoe fully on my foot, and to hike albeit more slowly than usual.

It’s been almost a month since I sprained it and I’m still not 100% back to normal. At times, I still have quite a bit of pain in my calf but each day things are looking brighter. The limp is getting less noticeable and most of the swelling is gone. In any case, even spraining my ankle couldn’t dampen my outlook on an amazingly beautiful country.


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