You nailed it, Lord of the Rings: Mount Doom is an accurate name
In the middle of New Zealand’s North Island lies the Tongariro Crossing. This mountain hike is
widely regarded as one of the best one-day hikes in the world. One of the most recognizable
points in the hike is passing the site of Mount Ngauruhoe. Or, as it’s more commonly known in
the U.S., Mount Doom, the iconic location filmed for the Lord of the Rings movies (Or so I’m
told, I have never successfully made it through a Lord of the Rings movie without falling asleep).
While I don’t understand Elvish, I don’t know why the ring is so important, and I certainly don’t
know who the Lord of the Rings is… I do know one thing: Mount Doom is an incredibly
appropriate name for this mountain and the corresponding hike. Those hobbits were on to
something when they named this place.
I will preface this by saying that, with the benefit of hindsight, I can now reflect on this hike and
say that it was one of the most incredible things I have ever done. However, in my personal
experience, it was one of the most miserable hikes I have ever completed.
We travelled to NZ in February, which is summer time in New Zealand. My boyfriend’s sister
and her husband live about an hour from the Tongariro Crossing, and they have hiked it several
times. So, the night before we left for the hike, they warned us to pack plenty of sunscreen, and
to wear cool, light clothing. I dutifully followed their instructions: I piled on the sunblock and
put on shorts for the hot hike ahead.
What I failed to realize was that, in order to complete the lengthy hike in one day, we had to hit
the road early. Our bus dropped us at the base of the mountain before the sun was up. So, of
course, I was freezing. Like—blue fingers, violently shaking, numb toes—freezing. While the
top of the mountain would be hot once the sun rose, the base of the mountain was essentially a
wind tunnel. And, since the sun hadn’t yet risen, it was freezing.
Luckily, I had packed a pair of leggings in my backpack. However, there aren’t any trees, rocks,
or private places to change. And, because this hike is so famous, the trail is absolutely packed
with people. To add to my dilemma, we had been told before the hike that the Mountain is sacred
to the Maori people (the indigenous people of New Zealand). So, we were instructed not to veer
off the trails, and not to do anything that might be considered disrespectful to the sacred lands
(you know, like stripping in public because you are nearly hypothermic).
We hiked for a couple of miles before stumbling across a place to change. Unfortunately, though,
that place was a tiny little port-o- potty (that had been… “well used” by all of the other hikers).
To get my leggings on, I had to take off my shorts and shoes. I’ll spare you all the details, but
will sum it up by saying that it was even more gross than you are imagining.
Thankfully, my boyfriend had brought an extra sweatshirt along, which he allowed me to
borrow. In all honesty, this was more of a gift to him than it was to me, as he no longer had to
listen to (quite as much) complaining about how cold I was.
After changing in to something a littler warmer, we had to climb what is known as The Devil’s
Staircase. Essentially, this is just hundreds of steps that help to get you up to a higher elevation.
While the views are beautiful, it is a little scary for someone like me, who is iffy (at best) on
heights. One hour of my shaky, nervous body climbing the world’s largest stair master sent my
anxiety through the roof.
When we reached the end of the Devil’s Staircase, I was so relieved. I found a level spot away
from the edge, and I drank some water to try to calm my nerves. We were finally at the base of
Mount Doom. We continued on passed Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) and climbed up a bit
higher to continue over the mountain.
Unfortunately, I guess I had a little *too* much water because soon thereafter I had to pee, and it
was becoming urgent. But, like I said, you are not allowed to do anything that would disrespect
the sacred land (which expressly includes peeing on the top of the mountain, unfortunately).
And, even if I wanted to take my chances and go against the sacred recommendations, there is
really nowhere to stop, and there were hundreds of people on the mountain.
With very few options, I carried on for miles and miles fighting my urge to pee. The nearest port-
o-potty was on the other side of the mountain, about 5 miles away. I could no longer drink water,
because I didn’t want to add to the problem. Without water, I quickly became dehydrated.
Between the altitude and the dehydration, my fingers began to swell. Ultimately, they became so
swollen that they looked like ten little hot dogs attached to my hands. By the time we reached the port-o- potty, my fingers were so swollen I could barely operate the door handle. I was covered in a cold sweat, my head was pounding, and I felt completely defeated.
But, even though the hike was miserable…it was absolutely breath taking. At the top of the
mountain, it looked and felt like we were on another planet. There were red-colored craters, blue-
green sulfur pools, and stunning views of snow capped mountains. Thank god I took pictures
along the way, because otherwise, I might have blocked out how insanely cool this hike was.
I hope to re-do this hike some day. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it if I hadn’t
been dealing with so many unintended challenges. I would highly recommend this hike to
anyone, but I would recommend being well prepared! Dress appropriately, pack layers, hydrate
well the day before, and take every bathroom opportunity that presents itself.