On the long uphill grind, I notice that the distance markers seem to be slowing down. We then realise after walking for 2-3 hours we have only covered 7 kilometres. It’s tough going and when it seems we are resigned to the uphill never ending; we see a cairn…. and then reach a plateau. It’s not exactly the top, but it’s the top of the Devils Staircase. A little hallelujah high-five seems appropriate.
Image: Emerald Lake
We celebrate with water and muesli bars. Conversation has almost stopped, only the optimistic American girls group are still annoyingly chirpy and considerate. Our international quintet is conserving their energy resources for climbing. Errol digs into his pocket and pulls out a few barley sugars which he hands around. One for now and one for Ron – he advises. Ron, we ask lazily??? ‘Later Ron’ he responds. It’s a tough crowd at this altitude. We pocket the second one with barely a grunt of acknowledgement. However the sugar does its work as we now have the energy to continue.
We push on across the plateau to the south crater and then another ascent, brutal but shorter to the summit.
Standing on the summit of the crossing is an achievement. You feel like stretching your arms out and shouting your accomplishment. The view is amazing, the brightly coloured mini crater lakes are now visible. In the distance we can see huge blue lake Taupo – the crater remnants of one of the biggest volcanic explosion the world has experienced in the last 5000 years. It is treasured by Maori as the beating heart of New Zealand. It looks peaceful and benign now, receding into the hazy distance.
Contrasted against this is the volcanic summit landscape. Raw and harsh where almost nothing grows. The colours range from the intense graphite grey aerated rock to black and iron red oxide with yellow highlights. This is set against a deep blue sky. Finally teh sun has burnt off most of the low clouds and just left a few picturesque fluffy cumulus to add drama to our photos. Even getting our phone or camera out for the obligatory photos feels like an effort. The wind can sweep anything away and out of your hands in a moment. In the man versus nature power struggle, nature is clearly in charge here. These mountains have moods, and a strong presence; today it is accepting visitors, but still reminding us of its largesse, power and authority. The mountains demand respect, the local Maori who gifted them to the nation to preserve their mana are rightly proud of the gift and immensely spiritually connected to the National Park; to the land and its mountains and the spirits and energy which inhabit them. We inhale the gift with gratitude.