Climbing Mount Doom

Sometimes it’s better if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Maybe that’s way the ubiquitous activities of skydiving and bungee jumping don’t seem as exciting as they should be.

When I saw three hikers climbing up Mt. Ngauruhoe off to the side of what looked like should be the path, I thought they were goofing off. As we ventured up ourselves what is set as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies, I realized I had miscalculated about the group ahead of us. You had to, for the most part, forge your own way up the mountain. Clinging to a rock here and rock there. Pushing off a boulder that would suddenly give way and clawing through volcanic pebbles with your fingers.

Mittens that I had been gifted during band in high school finally ripped in a couple of finger spots after about six years of service. But the combination of gale-force winds, near-freezing temperatures and encircling cloudy mist kept me fairly clean. The ascent was probably close to 15 degrees straight up the mountain.

Near the top, we couldn’t feel our faces. A blind touch-test would have revealed no difference between a rock and an ice cube. There were definitely a couple of times on the way up that I wondered whether a rescue helicopter would be able to get to me before I froze if I got blown away by the gusts, slipped down the mountain or couldn’t figure out how to get down.

Sadly, the clouds prevented us from seeing into the active volcanic crater. Maybe, I’ll get the chance in Hawaii someday.

The way down was just slipping, sliding, skating and surfing down the rocky slope. Thank god for the boots we rented. They were quite the beasts.

The group of three ahead of us figured out how to get down the same way as coming up, but we somehow veered way off to the side. That allowed us to shortcut the main crossing path, which helped us buy us more time. It also meant we didn’t get to hold very many rocks to take breaks on the way down.

The rest of those crossing was pleasant, but it just could not match up with Nguaruhoe. The emerald lakes were nice. The sunny views of nearby lakes were sweet. And the giant lake that appeared out of nowhere as the clouds here was crazy. But that climb up the mountain was so freaky that it will be hard to forget. Just remember, there’s still more uphill after you finish the big climb some 7,500 feet into the sky.

My only regret is not stopping at the river that skirts along the last two miles of the track. I wish I could have dunked my feet in that gushing flow of freezing water.

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