We left Mangatepopo Hut at 7.30 am as we wanted to have time to try climbing to the Ngauruhoe summit in the background. At this stage the weather looked great.
The walk along to the Soda Springs is easy and crowded as the one day Tongariro Crossing hikers are out in force.
The climb up Devil’s Staircase is tiring. You can see this group making their way up.
There’s lots of stairs! But according to those who have done it before, it is easier than the old route.
We then had to make the call as to whether to try the climb up to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe. They say you shouldn’t climb it if it is windy, foggy or if there is volcanic activity. Well one out of three isn’t bad, right! No volcanic activity, but it was pretty windy and sadly a fog has descended onto the top half of the mountain. We convinced ourselves that it might clear up top, and decided to give it a go.
There is no marked trail up. You basically just head up. The main advice is avoid the scree going up as for every three steps up you go two and a half steps back. But it is hard to avoid it entirely.
Taking a break around halfway up. The slope varies between around 30 and 45 degrees. At times you literally climb up with hands and feet. The climb is not exhausting as the pace is relatively slow (around two hours to get up) but it is hard work – especially straight after the Devils Staircase.
An example of the volcanic rock all over the place.
Finally we got to the top. This is right on the edge of the crater.
Sadly the view was around 5 metres in any direction. The final stages of the ascent were pretty challenging. It was cold, windy and wet and you couldn’t see where to go. We just figured if you keep pointing up, you’ll get there! Was very cool to make the summit and already planning to try it again in better weather.
On both the way up and down there were quite a few rocks that bounce down towards you as they get dislocated by other climbers. Some of them are very large and fast moving and would break more than a few bones if they hit you. I’m amazed they don’t have more serious accidents on the slope. But people are very good at yelling out if rocks are falling, and you just dodge them if heading your way.
We had a stroke of luck on the way down, as this guy from Taranaki is a mountain guide and had a GPS device which guided him (and us) on the best route down. We probably descended twice as quick as we otherwise would have thanks to him. He also taught us how to scree run, which is best described as a semi-controlled landslide. You basically just push back on your heels, toes up and start moving your feet. Within seconds you’re sliding down a moving column of scree at a pretty fast pace. You turn sideways to stop – just like skiing. I loved it, despite one fall which grazed my leg.
At the bottom we grabbed our packs, and started again through the red crater and had lunch near the top of the pass. Our overall vertical ascent this day was around 1200 metres or so. The pass was also very windy and foggy and we were glad to get over the top and then descend to the Emerald Lakes.
A mountain daisy on the path.
Then it was around a 5 km trek to Otuere Hut. Otuere is a pretty small cramped hut and was full up. Most of the bunks are in the main cabin so not a lot of sleep that night.
The hut warden was an American girl called Kat. DOC has quite a cool scheme where you can work as a volunteer warden for eight weeks, so no work permit is needed. They get free accommodation and food, and of course get to enjoy the scenery. Kat’s hut briefing was hilarious with her safety briefing being that if the hut catches fire you should go outside and watch it burn down. She also had a trivia quiz on the area and handed out prizes, being stuff the previous days occupants had left behind such as a toy soldier.
This was the longest and hardest day. Around eight hours of tramping, with half of that being up pretty steep slopes. Much more rugged than the Heaphy Track. We were glad tomorrow was a relatively short day.