Mount Ngawhikaflocka?  Mount Nockawamawika?  What is that thing called?!  "It's Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.  Just call it that."  Fine, Mount Doom it is.

Our trip up to this point has been delectable.  The three of us travel well together, and I completely enjoy the company of Holly and Jana.  Until today.  Today I hate Holly.  Let me tell you why.

We wake up around 7 and pack up in anticipation of an 8 hour tramp that will lead us to the summit of Mt. Doom.  According to the wiki, Mount Ngauruhoe is an active stratovolcano or composite cone in New Zealand, made from layers of lava and tephra. It is the youngest vent in the Tongariro volcanic complex on the Central Plateau of the North Island, and first erupted about 2,500 years ago. Although seen by most as a volcano in its own right, it is technically a secondary cone of Mount Tongariro.

Mount Ngawakaflaka has apparently erupted 45 times in the 20th century.  We did not read this before ascending, not that it would have stopped any of us.  Throughout the last week, we have been consulting a guidebook that takes you sort of off the beaten path.  This has worked like a charm for us up to this point, so we figure hey, let's take this guy's advice on Tongariro - don't do the crossing, climb Mt. Doom instead.  About 1.5 hours into our hike, we get to the base of Mt. Doom.  It looks a lot smaller from far away, so I'm starting to have some doubts here.  There are no plants on this mountain, just loose topsoil and small rocks.  We start our climb, and it becomes quickly apparently that we will probably die on this volcano.  I'm not trying to be dramatic here, but I absolutely hated this fuming spire of loose dirt.  Holly, our haas of a leader, (who is doing the NZ Ironman in March I might add) is miles ahead of us and quickly getting impatient with Jana and me.  At one point, Jana has to break out her inhaler and take a drag, because her lungs are starting to act up.  I'm sure it had to do with the sulfurous gases, but hey, we are already on the way up she says.  (German boss that one)  

Eventually, we are dragging ourselves up the few big rocks towards the top, trying to find a place to dig our feet so we don't slide straight backwards.  It is a rough few hours, but we finally make it.  Holly is absolutely over us after the ascent, so she decides to descend immediately and do some of the crossing.  "Good riddance you damn racehorse" I think to myself as she scrambles down the side and becomes invisible to my eyes.  Jana and I sit at the summit for a while and curse this blasted mountain.  Looking down into the crater, I take a bite of my soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich and think hateful thoughts at the mountain.  It is beautiful up here...stunning actually.  The sort of beauty that sort of takes your breath away.  I take out my iphone, call Alex, and let him give me a pep talk to put under my hat so that I can actually get off this damn thing.

The volcano is steep, and going down is 100x worse than going up.  There were points where it was too steep to walk down, so we just had to sit on our buts and slide.  The ground is very hot beyond the base layer of dirt, and it doesn't take long for us to bolt back up and hope we don't lose our footing.  Maybe this "off the beaten track" hike wasn't the best idea.  At long last, we make it down the mountain, and the sun is setting in front of us.  I pull out my hand mirror to make sure I haven't cut my face during my last tumble, and I see streaks of dirty tear lines on my face.  That's right friends, I cried coming down that mountain.  I took a good long tumble and had no idea if I was going to stop falling or not.  At that point, all dignity was out the window.  

Let me tell you - I absolutely love being outside.  I love to hike.  I once hiked a 14er in Colorado, and I remember LOVING every second of it.  It was a grueling 24 ascent, and we killed it.  Amazing.  I am not a sissy.  But for some reason, this volcano and I did not gel.  I'm going back to do the actual crossing this year, but me and Mt. Doom, done.  Forever.  Jana and I joked about sending each other emails every April to remind each other about this horrible day. 

Now that there are a few days in between my cuts, bruises, sore legs and the mountain, I'm thinking ... if my worst day in NZ so far was climbing a mountain I didn't love, are things really that bad?  The answer, no - things are amazing.  I still love NZ, I just did not love that blasted rock.  Holly climbed Mt. Doom and did the entire Tongariro Crossing in 7 hours.  It should've taken her maybe 12...she was actually waiting for us at the other end for an hour before we made it to her in the Sunny.  When we picked her up in the pitch black parking lot, she is doing a Beyonce dance all by herself.  "Ahhh man, I kind of love her again" I think to myself.  We head home that night and collapse into the hot tub at our hostel, again into the showers, and finally, into our beds.  The trip has finally come to a close.  I have become addicted to travel in this country, and I am counting down the days until our next break.  Coromandel, South Island, Stewart Island, Australia...these are all on the list.  It's going to be a good year.  

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