Day 4 was a crack of dawn start. 5:30 am we were up and getting breakfast on the go in order to make it to our trailhead by 7:00. The shuttle bus only picks up 3 times per day for the Tongariro Hike--6:30, 7:30, and 8:30--each successive pickup growing more crowded. Thankfully our group was on top of the wake up and we made it for the 7:30 pickup no problem.
There's something cool about a sunrise shuttle ride when you know what you're in for. 20 km up and over the North Island's best hike, passing just to the side of the mountain used in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom. I could tell everyone was a little nervous getting off the bus, but also really excited. The plan was to let Asta run ahead with the runners, I would stay with the walk/runners, and Sven would park the bus and come with the 8:30 shuttle, sprinting to catch the pack.
The initial few kilometers were cake. Flat land with a few twists and turns, but no crazy climbs. Right about the 3k mark things started to ramp up significantly. The trail turned right and started switching back and forth up the mountainside, giving us a beautiful view of the where we came from. Soon nobody was running because the grade was so steep. Bags were getting passed around from person to person in an effort the share the heavier loads, and there were plenty of "picture stops."
At the top of the initial climb the terrain flattened out and we caught a cool stretch of volcanic basin. To the right was "Mount Doom," to the left Mount Tongariro. It was a welcome reprieve from the steady climbing we'd been doing for the past hour, but it didn't last long. Another set of peaks awaited us and they proved even steeper than the first. We started climbing along the ridge, giving us an amazing view of the North face of the mountains. As we hit the summit, the dirt turned soft and ashy and people started sliding down the backside. SO FUN. This took me straight back to Iceland 2011.
The back half of the hike was all downhill, weaving between sulfur lakes, volcanic debris, and thick vegetation. While the views were incredible, the downhill pounding was starting to catch up with me. By the time I hit the car park I was feeling it in the knees and ankles, and I wasn't the only one. We basked in the sun, snacked on some Paleo Kits, then hit the road to Wanganui to watch the second half of the Super Bowl.
After the worst game ever (not biased), we rode the rest of the way to Wellington to wrap things up. Brittney took the group down to a waterfront park and took us through some Yin Yoga to stretch the legs. This felt amazing and it was so needed. Everyone was ready for bed early, knowing we were catching the ferry to the south island early in the AM.
Video clips from Day 4 are below.