- Dom Ryan
Climbing Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom)
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
The traffic cone mountain. Perfectly shaped like a comical volcano you'd draw as a kid but very real, jutting out 2287m above sea level. It's not hard to feel insignificant looking up at it's fierce volcanic slopes. So, naturally my first thought when I saw it for the first time back in 2017 was "I want to climb to the top of that thing". Lack of time and preparation stopped me back then but fast forward 3 years later and that initial hypnotic thought hasn't escaped me..
Shortly after my 2017 visit, the signs to the summit track of Mt Ngauruhoe and nearby Mt Tongariro were removed as the local Maori view them as sacred and discourage climbers to their peaks, so I knew an attempt now would be frowned upon. Nonetheless, reassurance from our driver that "techinally you can do whatever you want, there's nothing physically stopping you" outweighed the moral uncertainty.
6am, clear skies forecast and no wind, things were looking good. James, my cousin, who had only glimpsed the 45° degree slopes on the drive in the day before was naturally anxious (I like to think in a good way) but truthfully we both didn't know what to expect. I had done the Tongariro Alpine Crossing previously but never set foot onto the mountain itself. A 2 hour walk in from the carpark, through a valley along the start of the Alpine Crossing track and up a steep winding gravel staircase giving us a taste of things to come, we were at the beast's base..
Prep time. A quick brekkie of bananas and muesli bars while scanning the side of the mountain face, visually planning the route we would take. No markings or set track make it quite technical and we knew we'd need some brain power. Using my camera tripod as a walking pole we cut off the main walking track, making a little acknowledgement to the traditional owners of the land (respectfully declining their respectful request for us not to climb) and headed upwards.
A gentle slope through the tundra and shrub at first, made it seem easy. Once you get to the fine ash based gravel however, it's a different story. The gradient shifts dramatically from a
15-20 degree slope to 45 degrees in less than 100 metres and the ground beneath your feet sinks you up to your ankles in ashy gravel. The tripod/walking stick becomes more a nuisance than a necessity. It's so steep that you're on your hands and knees literally pulling yourself up, two steps at a time and then sliding back down one as you go. On top of that, you can't see where you are going without lifting your head all the way back, then planning your next move ahead of you - where your foot will go next, asking yourself which rock is stable enough to grab on to. It's mentally testing and physically exhausting, but hellishly fun. Slow though..very slow, but you cannot stop smiling..
We assumed we would be the only ones climbing, however about half way up we were overtaken by a solo french dude who was absolutely gunning it. Bit of a language barrier but he seemed to just sprint up the rocky ledge we had found ourselves on, a little break from the sinking ash. You can't help but stop every 5 minutes though, the view is incredible. Looking back across the whole martian landscape is absolutely brea