later, I set off for my first of six New Zealand Great Walks. (Tongariro Northern Circuit)
Why did I drink all that Java Juice?
I needed to gird myself for another day of cool, grey and possibly wet weather. The method behind the caffeine is to get so wired, I have to do something with all that black liquid energy.
Off I went at a brisk pace for a short day of hiking. My goal was to arrive before the hordes at the first hut. I wanted to score the choicest nighty-night spot in the joint.
The trail was relatively flat and uneventful. I didn't shoot one photo. I made it to the hut before the winds kicked in. Ahh...one sleeping pad sat alone. It was away from the no-personal space how-many-mattresses-can-we-cram on a platform arrangement. I tossed my ULA backpack on the loner. Mission Accomplished.
I kicked back, read, drank tea and waited. Backpackers began to drift in. I acted as the unofficial Welcome Wagon. Eventually the lashing rains arrived with a sustained 30 MPH wind. Temperatures began to fall. The tent campers abandoned ship. Before one could say, "G'Day!" there were about 40 relative strangers crammed into a space smaller than Trump's (spit) broom closet.
Yet, more arrived. A father and son team wearing nothing but cotton showed up in the wash-cycle wet mode. Ironically, they were both Eagle Scouts from Tennessee. So much for the Boy Scout motto-"Be Prepared." They shivered by the fire staving off hyperthermia.
At 7:30 pm, Marcel the Hut Ranger arrived. He gave a safety talk, told a few stories and informed us about the weather. "I think this storm will be gone in the morning. When I get the forecast at breakfast time, I'll let you know."
We guests retired to our all-too-communal bedroom and tried to sleep. Not an easy task with a symphony of rattling windows, snoring hikers and one coughing, sputtering W W Jew.
Next morning met us with a gentle drizzle minus the cold breeze. We packed silently while waiting to hear our fate.
Marcel strolled in around 7, "The forecast is a good one for your crossing. It should get sunny. The winds will die down to a mere 40 KPH (25 miles/Hour). Get out of here before it changes. I don't want to see any of you back here tonight."
I was the first out the door.
The Tongariro Crossing was the goal of the day. An approximate 2,200" climb to a saddle straddling two still-active volcanoes.
It's also the most popular day hike on the North Island. A whole cottage industry has sprung up to cater to these day tripper Warriors. Tours can practically be booked while you are ordering fries at a Burger King. The Crossing has apparently achieved "Bucket List" status. I shared the trail with this ill-prepared for the elements, selfie stick carrying mob.
It was a steady climb to the first of three ascents. As I ticked off each ridge line, the wind speed turned up a notch. (A 120 MPH gust was reported within the past week). I donned my Windstopper Jacket after the first ridge. I guesstimated the winds to be in the 40 MPH range. It was enough, that I wasn't comfortable getting too close to the edge of the ridge. I shot photos, had other hikers shoot me and thought, "Now this is good scenery!" There's mineral laden lakes bearing blue-green hues, steam vents off-gassing sulfur (rotten egg smell), one Red Crater and of course the mountains. It was all worth the physical effort.
I descended to less winds and warmer temperatures. Once again, I was the first to make entry at the hut. Unfortunately, there were no hermit mattresses lying off to one side. I chose one adjacent to a wall. At least I would half my exposure to flailing arms and legs. Trampers arrived displaying tired yet satisfied looks. The most difficult leg of the circuit was in the books.
I woke, saw a good window of weather and decided to walk back to civilization. I yearned for a hotel, hot shower and no roommates whose names I did not know. After 14 miles of effort, I got my wish.
In retrospect, I would have signed up just to do the Crossing. I'm starting to get to the point where a night without a hut is fine with me.
From a comfy Quality Inn in Napier, NZ
PS. I picked up antibiotics from the local hospital. Total cost for seeing a Doc and medicine = $65.00. Why is our health care so expensive?