Tongariro Day 2: The Mordor Experience

We woke up early (compared to our past few weeks of AirBnbing anyway) and were feeling pretty good about our prospects for this second day of hiking. We made a giant potful of oatmeal for breakfast and got all our gear packed up and ready to go. We stepped out of the hut and our optimism met its first challenge. We were completely surrounded by fog. Visibility wasn’t more than a hundred feet in any direction. At least it wasn’t raining like last night I thought. These clouds will probably clear up as the sun shines on them. The hut warden had mentioned that the weather was supposed to improve as the day went on. With that in mind we set off down the trail toward whatever lay ahead of us.

At least the trail was clearly marked!

The landscape we passed through could only be described as bleak. The weather didn’t really help. Neither one improved as we slowly made our way through the fog towards the alpine crossing, the toughest section of the entire 4 days. The crossing is a popular section of the trail that can be done as a day trip.  We passed a large group of day trippers. A few of them passed us later on. They were wearing jeans and hoodies and carrying small backpacks. It was raining now and the wind was picking up. I can’t imagine it was very comfortable for them. We occasionally passed someone coming in the opposite direction. They all mentioned how the weather was even worse up ahead.

There are dead faces in the water!

Once the crossing started the trail was a bit steeper. Today would mostly be spent in a steep uphill and downhill section as we climbed between the two mountains, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. I could see how this section of New Zealand had made for a good location to shoot some of the scenes from Mordor in the lord of the rings movies. Plant life was sparse and not exactly colorful and there were odd shaped rocks scattered about everywhere. With the weather it all took on a pretty ominous appearance.

Consider turning back? Ha!

We were pretty thoroughly soaked by the time we made it to the South Crater. We passed through a variety of surreal landscapes that I thought could have passed for scenes from the moon. Each one seemed more barren and dreary than the last. There was still nothing but fog in any direction. Thankfully there were tall stakes in the ground that marked the trail. Eventually we began to climb upward again.

The views were…

When we reached the crest of the Red Crater the wind was blowing in gusts so hard we had to stop walking and wait them out. Rain was flying from what seemed like every direction, ensuring that no part of us remained dry. The trail was loose rock and gravel so it was hard to get a good footing. Visibility was still extremely limited. We had planned on trying to make the trip to the summit of one of the mountains, but the conditions just wouldn’t allow it. Despite what our hut warden had told us, the weather seemed to be getting worse rather than better (to be fair he did warn us that the forecast had been wrong for the past few days).

At least this part was flat.

We passed another group of hikers who had been coming from the other direction. They told us that we were almost at the start of the descent and that the wind wasn’t so bad further down. This was welcome news. We started making our way down, slipping and sliding in the loose gravel and ash as we went. Normally I’d find this unstable footing frustrating, but things were already so bad that it didn’t really matter at this point.

We finally started making our way down.

It wasn’t until we had made it most of the way down the mountain that a bit of blue sky began to peek through the clouds. The last stretch of the hike took us through some more Mordoresque scenery, but by this point we were so tired and wet that we just wanted to get to the hut and put something warm on. The trail seemed to stretch on forever, but eventually we rounded a corner and saw the Outurere hut not too far ahead.

We could start smiling in pictures again at this point.

We made another big dinner of veggies, beans, and rice, this time in a tikka masala sauce. In a nutshell we had spent five hours hiking up and down a mountain in the wind and rain. Alana and I often talk about hikes we did that were beautiful vs. hikes that were “experiences.” This would be one of those hikes that would go down in our memories as an “experience.” And while they may not be the most enjoyable experiences while we are in the midst of them, we always look back fondly on the memories.

Those clouds couldn’t have blown away just a few hours earlier.

I guess in a sense we were lucky. We got a really authentic Mordor experience during our time in the area where Mordor was filmed. I’ve crossed Mordor many times before, usually on my couch with a book in hand or in front of the TV, but this was the most visceral version of the experience yet. For the full effect of our experience that day (pictures don’t quite do it justice), check out this video!




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