It was warmer than I expected it would be last night. Surprisingly two people turned up at 0530 to stay walking the track and I heard then exclaiming that someone was asleep as they walked past, not that they lowered the volume of their voices. I lay for a while listening to the birds and then decided to just get up early. It didn't take long to pack everything away and at 0615 I was on my way.
I stopped at the steam about 10 minutes in, right next to the sign saying "water not suitable for drinking" and filtered some water as I had none left. I filled up my two 500 ml bottles and decided to take an extra 500ml as well. I was then on my way. When I stopped 5 minutes later to get some more food out a walker passed me. His pack looked right to be a TA walker but all he said was "hi" as he passed. Not long after I caught up to him and asked if he was doing TA and he said yes but didn't seem interested in further conversation so I passed him and carried on.
As the track left the bushline there was a light drizzle but as I was sweating from the climb I opted not to put my jacket on. About 40 minutes later the rain started to get heavy and the wind was keeping me cooler now so I put my jacket and rain skirt on. The other walker passed me when I stopped and I quickly caught and passed him again.
The early birds were coming back down the mountain and had just gone to the Hut.
I reached Ketitahi Hut at 0815. This hut is closed for overnight stays. It was hit by rocks in the 2012 eruption and there are some big holes in the roof from the rocks, one directly over one of the bunks. I had a snack and then decided to put on my rain trousers for the first time this trip as expected it to get cold at the top of the mountain. I also put on my rain mitts.
From the Hut the steady climb continued though the groomed gravel track was now a rocky path. It seemed really quick to get up to Blue Lake which I could just make out through the rain and mist. The wind was much stronger now driving the rain sideways. From the lake it is down into a crater, past the normally beautiful Emerald Lakes and then the long steep climb up loose gravel. I was having a little trouble with the wind blowing me around but the other walker, who i had caught up to again as he passed me at the hut, was bigger than me and didn't seem to have an issue.
I had forgotten how long this steep bit was and combined with altitude was a bit puffed by the time I got to the top. I have done this walk and most of the other ones in this National Park as it was my playground when I was based in Waioiru Camp.
At the top the wind was much worse and I was using my poles to stop getting blown over. This was the first time I wished for a heavier pack to keep me grounded. The downhill was slippery on the loose gravel with the wind knocking me off balance I took my time and the other Walker gained some distance on me. It was then a flat walk across south crater in the mist.
Visibility was about 30 metres which was about the distance of the marker poles but the path was pretty clear. This is a popular walk which in peak season gets several hundred people a day on it. Today zero apart from us though there were 2 doing the Around the Mountain Circuit.
I was planning on doing Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings films) however with the weather so crappy I gave it a miss. I have done both several times so no big disappointment.
From the crator it is a steep descent down Devils Staircase and this has changed beyond all recognition from when I did this last. Before it was a rough trail up through the rocks which was a real scramble. Now it is groomed gravel trail and stairs and was an easy descent. The track from the bottom to the Hut was also much improved with a lot of boardwalk and wide gravel tracks. The other Walker and I were travelling at the same speed now we were on the flats.
We made it to Mangatepopo Hut at 1120. I stripped off my raincoat but chose not to go inside the hut as I would have had to take off my shoes and I wasn't planning on stopping for long. I quickly demolished my lunch being entertained by listening to the Hut Warden trying to explain to people about changeable weather conditions and danger of bad weather on the mountain. She seemed relieved to talk to a fellow Kiwi who understood. The other walker decided he had had enough and he continued to the car park to catch a shuttle to Whakapapa.
I left the hut just after 12 and was now very clearly not on a Great Walk judging by the track standard. The track had some good bits but was dominated by washouts. The soil is very soft and gets washed away leaving deep grooves for the trail to walk in which given the amount of rain were a little muddy. People tried to get above the track but this was still slippery. I had one slip that could have been bad without my pole holding me up long enough to get a foot under me as I slid down a 1.5 m bank. Unfortunately my poles sacrifice was not without cost and it now had a slight bend in it.
After that I made it the rest of the way incident free and by the time I reached Whakapapa at 1410 the rain had washed the mud away.
Originally I was intending to camp a few km past the Whakapapa Village but given the heavy rain I decided to be a wuss and checked into the Backpacker at Skotel. The receptionist was lovely and told me to go and have a shower and get into dry clothes before worrying about the check in.
Once I was warm and dry I finished check in and went back to my room to wash out my socks and hang everything up to dry. There was a great heater and I discovered the towel rail was heated, not what I expected in a Backpacker room.
I relaxed until dinner having decided as I was being a wuss I would go the whole way with a steak at the restaurant. Absolutely stuffed I went back to my warm room and tried not to think about heading back into the rain tomorrow. The rain was continuous and varied between heavy and really heavy. Nice to be listening to it from my cosy room and at least my stuff will dry tonight so I don't have to put on wet shoes and socks which is the absolute worst thing about tramping, even though after 30 seconds they feel fine I still hate that first 30 seconds.