Friday, November 21, 2008

Did I Mention I Climbed a Volcano?!

**Alternately titled “You can take the girls out of New York City, but you can’t take New York City out of these girls!”

When Helen and I decided to do the Tongariro Crossing, also known as “The Best One Day Hike In New Zealand” or “That-Famous-Tourist-Landmark-That-We-Lived-Next-To-For-Five-Months-And-Will-Kick-Ourselves-If-We-Go-Home-Without-Seeing”, we decided to do it in style. This was born out of a ridiculous conversation where I claimed that I wanted to do the hike in heels, but clearly the hiking boots and waterproof jackets were a necessity. Neither of us are big fans of drab attire so we made the best of the rest of our ensembles by donning the most formal dresses we had packed.

Our fellow shuttle passengers were amused at first, but when we arrived at the entrance to the trail they meant business. We started a few minutes behind the crowd after stopping to slather sunscreen on our exposed skin, and began our ascent of the Devil’s Staircase, the ominous name for the first leg of this seven-hour trek. Picking our steps carefully through some rocky paths and along a stream, we were surprised at the ease with which we were moving- this is of course until the incline changed from rising slope to lung crushing steep.

We started our hike with only one backpack, having woken up late as usual and thrown our supplies together in a hurry. We decided to take turns carrying it and that whoever was carrying the bag decided when it was time for a break. Fighting against asthma and completely untrained hiking abilities, this next leg of our climb included trading roughly every ten minutes. Luckily, this allowed us many opportunities for silly photo ops, which we are somewhat notorious for, while being constantly stopped due to our attire to ask if we were professional guides to which we laughed hysterically and politely declined.

When we reached the top of the mountain we were treated to the 

gorgeous views of the geothermal Emerald Lakes where most hikers stop for lunch and pictures. We started a conversational trend when we posed for pictures wearing our “Team Awesome” badges and had every group around us looking to dub themselves in similar fashion- Team Cobra became our immediate friends.

The next leg of our journey was a surreal flashback to the winter we had just survived when we found ourselves tramping through snow-covered paths in the middle of what New Zealanders consider springtime- especially odd considering we had been fighting against sunburns over the first hours of the hike! Luckily, we had rented color-coordinating jackets to match our dresses (actually completely by chance!) upon embarking so we were well prepared for one last chance to play in the snow.

From that high point onward our journey was spent looking for conversation to fill the air, willing ourselves to admire the beauty of the view, and begging our knees to continue working despite their screaming cries of pain in return. The incline may have been difficult on our lungs, but the physical strain on our bodies on the way down without the anticipation of fantastic views left us counting mile markers in disbelief and playing various versions of “If you were a…… what would you be?” We now know what kind of shoe, building, animal and article of clothing best represent our respective personalities (and if you’d like the answers feel free to ask me, or invent your own).

As we stumbled into the field at the end of the hike with the crowd of other hikers awaiting the arrival of our shuttle home we were overwhelmed with exhaustion, mutual admiration, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment… oh, and in dire need of a good dry cleaner!

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