We woke up at 5:30am this morning. That’s right, 5:30am. The last time I was up at 5:30am it was because I was still awake from the night before! I dressed and head out into the kitchen where everyone was already sorting breakfast. The whole gang loaded into the van before the sun was even hinting at rising, and made our way to the Tongariro Crossing. We pulled into the parking lot and piled out of the van. Here I was, standing in front of Mount Ngauruhoe, the mountain featured in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom, about to climb it. Oh boy.
We arrived at what is known as the “Devil’s Staircase.” The steps aren’t steep, it’s just that there are a ton of them. I wish I had counted. (Later I will google the height of the Devil’s Staircase and will find out that the staircase climbs from 1400 to 1600 metres above sea level). It was taxing, and I was tired, but I didn’t make a sound. I didn’t want to be whiny. Ebba and I climbed in silence, other than my delicate panting.
We reached the top of the staircase and stared back from whence we came. Holy mackerel! It was the most beautiful view I have seen in a long while. What made the view more beautiful, of course, is that I hiked to this spot. I am a champion. I smiled. With not one damn cloud in the whole damn sky, I couldn’t think of one place I would rather be than right here, alongside all these other breathless trampers.
I looked up, and Mount Ngauruhoe loomed over us. Mount Doom! I felt like Frodo Baggins and Ebba, my Samwise Gamgee. I had to make it up to the summit and drop my ring into the flaming fire of the volcano. I nerded out for a moment. We began our climb to the top. My friends seemed to fly up the hill. They left Deb and I to fend for ourselves. She said, “some team effort, eh guys?” I laughed. Then I realized why Deb and I were taking so long. Not only was it our horrendously inappropriate footwear and our lack of physical fitness, but it was also terribly hard to climb when laughing so much. We shared jokes, stories, and anecdotes as we scrambled up the loose rock and sand. We helped each other, yelling out inspiring words to one another, and all the strangers we passed. We reached the part of the climb where we would take two steps forward, and fall one step back. It was exhausting. My feet scrambled, my hands scrambled, and it was SO tiring. It felt like huge weights were attached to each of my limbs, and I was climbing through maple syrup.
And then, I made it.
I stood at the top of Mount Doom! I laughed and cheered like a fool, and hugged all my patient friends. I looked back to where I had climbed and saw a beautiful stretch of New Zealand landscape. Oh. My. Nature. I could see as far as the spherical earth would let me. I stood in silence and total breathlessness for a split second. One sneaky tear escaped my eye, and I laughed as I wiped it away. Come on Beth, don’t let anyone see how weepy you get when something is beautiful. I turned around and found myself looking into a giant crater. Standing on an active volcano is not as scary— or hot— as I thought. All I could feel was joy. WE CRUSHED THAT VOLCANO!