The Tongariro Adventure: Part 4

This is a multi-part story of my Tongariro Adventure: Here is Part 1,  Part 2,  and Part 3

 

The sun rises at 6:19am. The Hut warden advised us that the weather would be clear and that the sun rises across the valley. With people going the counter-clock direction of the Circuit (I was going clockwise), people started stirring at 5:15am. I bolted awake at the sounds. It is a surreal experience. Normally, I am the only one awake in the morning, and seeing *everyone* awake at 5:30 was pretty interesting. Today is supposed to be a short day, only three hours of walking, so I do not have to be awake so early. However, with the promise of a great sunrise, and being a morning person, I got out of bed, and started my day.

With the skies clear overnight, the weather was cold during this late January summer (… which is still weird to say honestly). I walked out to the ridge, dotted with tents, and in the valley below, some low clouds hung beneath. In the distance, a line of mountains with clouds seeping in between them, like caulk in a brick wall. The other trampers were beginning to come out and gather to see the sunrise, and impatiently, I actually moved away, further along, the ridge to sit on some rocks.

The morning was still, and the conversations of the trampers wafted over to me. For the first time on the entire trip, I decided to take out my headphones. Normally, I listen to music while I walk, but over the last two days, I wanted to conserve battery and focus on the walk itself. But now… I had a particularly appropriate song for this moment.  I search for my Spotify tramping list, and quickly find the song. Time was approaching, and I flipped on the song and took out my camera.

And… Here comes the Sun.

 

19 - Sunrise at Oturere Hut2

Sunrise at Oturere Hut

This moment was honestly an emotional one. So many thoughts washed over me. I have seen many sunrises in my life, but the location, reflecting on the last year of my life. Thinking about family who are gone… tears welled up inside of me and spilled out. Frantically taking photos while the rapidly rising sun… I felt both sheepish and proud of the moment.

Finally, I put the camera down and just watch the morning unfold before me, and soon, the other trampers were moving out, beginning to start their day.

I went back to the hut and had some breakfast. Yogurt and muesli was on the menu and once again, it was surprisingly good. Perhaps it was because it was the third day of eating freeze dried food, but I contend it was good anyway.

I ended up heading out right at 8am. The sky still clear and the weather warming quickly. I set out for the next hut.

The path was rolling. I thought to myself “Today’s word is Undulating” as I walked over the lava fields. There were few shrubs as I headed to a far ridge full of trees. The path was quiet, with a few people walking the other direction. A couple more Germans and behind me, a woman who was training for an Ironman, running with a full pack. Eventually, I got close to the ridge when two trampers, The German and the Russian couple caught up. We traveled along a bit and headed into the sudden forest at the base of the ridge.

 

21 - Forest before the Waihohonu Hut

The sudden woods near the Wai

 

By 11am, I made it to the campground and quickly set up my tent. I found a nice place near the river.

 

Camp

Settling into my tent

 

 

Now it is 11 o’clock and I am done for the day… so what to do? The Waihohonu Hut is at the crossroads of the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Ruapehu “Round the Mountain” walk.  People on the trail refer to it as “the Palace” and it was the nicest hut I saw on the trip. I walked into the hut and met up with the people who were slowing coming in from around the park. Soon, I fell into a group of trampers. The German and Russian couple and a solo Italian tramper from another trail and we decided to head off to find a Natural spring a couple of Kilometers away.

Soon, we were out and chatting, and getting to know each other. Being a solitary walker, I found this quite a change to my normal mode, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. The Italian man was in New Zealand for a year working at a Cheese factory and soon we were talking about the right way to make mozzarella. The German and Russian were fashion photographers and soon we were talking about cameras and the crazy world of photography. I talked about my life as a trainer, and how I came to live in New Zealand. Soon, we made it the spring, and filled our water and went in for a swim.

I have to tell you. The water was honestly, the coldest water I have ever tasted. It was amazing. Fritz, the German, was crazy enough to go and take a swim, and we laughed as he roared like a bear at the sheer magnitude of the freezing water. We moved a little down the water source, and laid out to enjoy the water where possible, and enjoy the day. Soon, a larger group of Germans we had met yesterday had arrived, and more people descended on our spring. It was a really relaxed and fun time, and again, I felt that I belonged. While I was walking solo, I wasn’t alone.

 

Friends

With some friends at the Spring

 

Eventually, the skies started to darken and we headed back to the camp. We talked and met more people who were coming in, and soon, the place was filled. The Hut warden, nicknamed “Horse” came in, and once again, we were given a great history lesson of the area, and in between rain showers, I retired to my tent. Despite the short day, I felt that this was my favorite part of the trip. The walk, the friends, and the walking without a huge pack was great. I nodded to sleep with the insects buzzing in the night and the waxing moon peaking out from the clouds. Tomorrow, I head home, I am excited, but also a little sad that this journey is about to end.

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 3

This is a multi-part story of my Tongariro Adventure: Here is Part 1 and Part 2

Descending Tongariro

Climbing down the Tongariro Crossing

The decent off Tongariro was again difficult, but after the scoria section, it felt like a breeze. The ground was hard and rocky as the trail wound its way down the mountain.

Soon, I was let out on a lava plain/desert are with giant boulders strewn around from previous eruptions. The broken landscape felt chaotic as if a large child haphazardly left their toys after losing interests. The flies here were almost overwhelming, with the constant buzzing in your ears, and flashes of them around your periphery. Here, away from the crowds, I was given a bit more space to think and contemplate. I came upon a couple of the Kiwi Family, an older couple. The man walking with a walking cane/stick, and the woman walking with a knee wrap. They were having a little bit of a time with the decent. We ended up walking for a bit, talking about our backgrounds and our lives. She was quite quiet, focusing on her walk, but he spoke about his travels around New Zealand, and his aversion to large cities. He felt that Hamilton was still a bit too big for him, but he is mostly used to it. These trips helped him get away from the crowds.

Descending into Mordor

It felt like Mother Nature couldn’t decide what to do with this place. 

They decided to rest a bit, and I continued into the broken landscape. Crossing dry river bed, and climbing over rocky rifts. The sun beat down and while clouds were building, they seem to dodge the actual sun, making sure it beat down on me harshly.

 

22 - Oturere Hut
Oturere Hut

I began to start seeking out the Hut. Hoping to see the hut like last time in the distance. I would see each rise and hope that once I reach the top, I would see the hut in the distance, giving me that extra motivation with each step. The trail seemed to mock me however with only showing my the next signpost. Again and again, I had my hopes dashed. I turned a corner in between two rises, and suddenly, I saw it. Well… I saw something.

 

 

Along the trail, there are trail markers that lead your way. In many areas of the Circuit, there is no discernible trail, every 50 to 100 meters there is a marker sticking out of the ground pointing you to the next marker. Normally, they have a simple orange triangle pointing you along. This time, however, in addition to the pointer, there was a 1KM sign. That’s it. But it was enough. Despite not seeing the hut, and having no other sign than this vague hope that in 1 km, I will be done. I picked up my pace. Up and down over the rocky plain, and suddenly, as I turned a corner, there it was. The hut was small, and in front of it, a wide area leading up to the edge of a ridge where the tents were staying, the view swept out east into a valley. Behind the Hut was a low ridge to partially protect the hut, but also a wide expanse where you could see Mt. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu in the distance.

A good part of the Kiwi Family was there having their lunch. I checked the time and saw that made it to the hut in just under 6 hours. While the day wasn’t my most strenuous looking back (My Birthday walk was longer and had greater elevation), I felt the most accomplished by far in my tramping in the last year. I walked inside and saw that the hut was smaller than the last one. The place felt homey with one large area for cooking, eating, and about a dozen or so beds, and two side rooms: one for people who snore, and another room for 6-7 people. The Kiwi Family wasn’t staying at this hut tonight, so I was one of the first people to get to the hut for the day. I quickly took a bed in the private non-snoring room.

 

Waterfall

Waterfalls near Oturere Hut

After dropping off my things. I started to explore the area. About 300 meters away was a waterfall bringing water to the valley below. The water’s roar was inticing after two days of sweaty walking, so I grabbed my towel and jandals and wandered down to the falls. When I arrived, I found out I wasn’t alone, as two other trampers, the German and Russian couple Fritz and Anastasia, decided to take a dip in the water as well. The water was frigid as I waded into one of the collecting pools above the falls. The water was just a little too cold for me, and as I was leaving the pool, I felt the first splatter of rain. The clouds have finally made it to the area. In the distance, thunder rumbled, and we hurried back to the hut. A child-like smile crept across my face; the second day of storms in a row! I thought to myself.

 

Over the next few hours, thunder and lightning rolled its way around the mountains. Since I was safely in the hut, I was able to relax and listen to the rain and thunder as it fell. The Auckland Siblings came in a short time later, and the last of the family left for their last three hours hike.

The Hut filled up throughout the afternoon, as the people from all areas of the park descended on this little patch of earth. There seemed to be even more Germans than before, now we had people from Poland, Quebec, the UK, Tonga, Japan, and more. Despite the rain, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, and when the Hut warden came to talk, the weather had begun to lift, and that heat had receded.

After the talk, there was a very chill atmosphere around the hut. The clouds from Ruapehu and Ngaruhoe were clearing, and an amazing Sunset was starting to unfold in front of us.

 

17 - Mt. Ngaurohoe 5

Mt. Ngaruhoe as the clouds begin to clear

Soon, people were perched on the various boulders around the hut to watch the changing light and clouds around the mountains. The Auckland Siblings were taking photos and joking around. The Quebecois were laying on top of the largest boulder soaking in the last of the sunlight of the day. The Hut Warden was simply drinking some coffee and enjoying the sights.

As the light faded, the Mountain gave us one last show.

Special - Amazing Sunset of Mt. Nguruhoe

Sunset and the dying of the light

Looking back, I saw “the hells of Mount Doom” as the sun drenched the area in red light. The imagination ran wild as I saw the wisps of cloud stream into the darkness. As a traveler, I also try to see sunsets and sunrises as I often feel that these are some of the best times of day to see a place. At sunset, you have the world going into sleep, where the busy day is winding down and preparing for rest. The moon was out for a good part of the night, but despite the added light, the night was gorgeous and calm. I woke up again late and looked out at the stars. It was becoming my nightly ritual.

I took stock of where I was. I was halfway finished with the walk, I was feeling good, and good weather was with me. I figured I had done the toughest part of the trek. But I definitely had more in store for me in the next two days.

 

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 2

This is apart of a multi-part post on my 4 Day Tongariro Northern Circuit Tramp. Here is Part 1

 

Morning of Day Two

Despite the weather reports, the sky was clear.  

 

My Phone alarm wakes me at 5:15am, I turn and groan slightly. The ground is hard, though I am sleeping on an inflatable mattress and wrapped in a warm sleeping bag, I am just not ready to wake up. I hear snoring from a tent further down and despite my best efforts. I found myself drifting off to sleep…

Suddenly, my eyes pop up, the sky is much lighter, but I can tell it is still before sunrise. I look at my watch and see that it is 5:45. “Shit” I whisper to myself, I wanted to start on the trail AT 6… oh well… Don’t think about it. I get up and start getting ready for the day. I step out, and despite the weather forecast for a cloudy morning, there are no clouds in the sky… anywhere. The day is brilliantly clear, and there are no winds on the mountain. Luck is with me.

This is the big day of the walk, where I will do my greatest ascent, as well as deal with the most people on the trail. Day 2 of the Tongariro Northern Circuit aligns with a fair portion of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 1-day hike which is highly popular in New Zealand. Started about 1.5 km from our hut, they walk the same path we do until just after the crossing, at which point they continue to the north-west, and we trampers head to the South. I am scheduled to take 5 hours to get to the Emerald Lakes, and 2 hours to get to Oturere Hut.

 

Day 2 Elevation Profile

Day Two Elevation profile

 

I gather my things and get packed early. My tent is still a little wet, but I don’t have too much time for it to dry out before I leave. With everything packed and stored, I leave Mangatepopo Hut at 6:50am. I am the third group to leave, with some of the Family leaving first, and another couple leaving shortly after. I see David and Tracy, the Auckland Siblings moving around and we agree to meet up at the next hut.

 

The walk at the beginning went uphill steadily, with some expanses where you were walking on boardwalks protecting the landscape nearby. It was easy walking, allowing me to eat my breakfast on the go. This consisted of a couple of Apple bars, and a Chocolate and Peanut bar. This area is called “The Saddle.” Off to the left, however, before things got serious, was a side trip to Soda Springs. My mind immediately went to another Soda Springs.

Soda Springs Oregon Trail

Chuckling, I turned instead towards the beginning of the true hike of the day.

 

 

Warning Sign for hiking

Well, this is encouraging. 

You are greeted by a sign basically saying “Are you SURE you want to do this?” taking the picture of it, I decide that, yes… after 5 months of planning, and two destination changes… and carrying 20kgs of stuff on me, that YES, yes I want to do this.

 

I was then greeted by a large number of stairs.

UGH, stairs, my nemesis. If I wanted to walk stairs, I would climb a building! Though logically I know that stairs are needed in these situations, it just tells me that this is a very steep section of the walk. I make my way up. Slowly winding my way up the stairs. The sun is definitely up, but behind the mountain, so I am luckily in the shade through most of the initial ascent. People, whom some of the other trampers called “Daywalkers” as they were only doing the day hike, were passing me slowly and surely.  About a third of the way up, David and Tracy meet up with me. We stop to chat briefly, remarking on the number of people on the hike and took some pictures of each other. They went on ahead of me, and I slowly trudge up the mountain.

 

Devils Staircase

Walking up Devil’s Staircase

Finally, I make it to the top of the ascent, huffing, and puffing, and sweaty from the effort, and I am greeted by a long 1km plain between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe. This feels like being on the moon. There is nothing this far up, except for boulders and flies. Winded, but energetic. I take my time crossing this desolate high plain. To my right, the stately Ngauruhoe, which is often better known as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. I did think it appropriate that I was carrying a hobbit-sized object on my back. In that moment, I felt a kinship to Samwise Gamgee that I am sure others have also experienced. To the Left, the 6 peaks of Tongariro. The previous night, the Warden’s spoke to us about Tongariro’s many peaks, born from destructive volcanic explosions. We will be climbing on one of Tongariro’s peaks, though the other 5 are off limits for Maori religious and Cultural Landmarks. After the plain, there is another difficult ascent to Tongariro. The walk was rocky and contentious, with chains in a couple of parts to help pull yourself up. There were also areas where you could stop to take photos. I took advantage of that at several points. This 30-minute ascent ended up taking me 45 minutes. I was a little disappointed in myself with this, but I was coming to realise that this is not a race and that just be doing it, is enough. So letting the Day Walkers pass by with no packs on should feel like a defeat, but just a different race.

10 - Aaron at Mt Ngauruhoe.jpg

On the Tongariro Northern Circuit/Alpine Crossing

 

With each step, I saw the top of the mountain get closer to view, and I willed myself to keep pushing. “You can do it” I would motivate myself. Give me praise for small victories, and set short goals to achieve quickly so I kept going. I pushed for the final 10-15 meters, and pop out on the top…

… to see that there was still more to go.

I audibly groaned, and a woman next to me chucked, “There is ALWAYS more!”

 

Red Crater

Looking Down into Red Crater

I decided to stop and take a look around. To my right, there was the massive Red Crater, which must have been a result of a massive volcanic explosion. This was also where I first smelled sulfur for the first time today. It is an active geological area, and I could see steam rising lazily from the vents on the sides of the mountains. Ahead of me was another rise, where scoria rock covered the peak. This rock, which consisted of sandy pebbled as big as your fingernails, was slippery and hard to maneuver. I slowly made my way up to this new summit, taking the care to not slide or slip to much.  Finally, I hit the top. Look out and down the other side to see sulfur lakes, steam rising, and the long decent north and south.

 

 

Climbind down

Only slightly stressed out

Directly in front of me, however, was this scoria descent. If climbing up it was difficult, climbing down felt perilous. I slowly made my way down, using my walking poles to balance myself as my feet felt for any foothold. I cringed every time my foot would slip. Thoughts of tumbling into a lake, or down the Red Crater filled my mind as I took one step, and then another. The views were spectacular, and every time I reached for my camera, that thought of falling over washed over me. Stressful, but I just took my time.

 

One step at a time, I get to a place where I felt comfortable enough to take some photos. Then, the final steps of this scoria. After a few more minutes of stressful walking, I hit the firm ground, and I slip down over to the Emerald Lakes.

 

12 - Emerald Lake 1

One of the Emerald Lakes

 

Here, a fair few people are sitting down and having lunch, so I decided to sit down and break out my trail mix. I check my watch, and it only 11am. What should have taken me 6 hours to get to Emerald lakes, it only took me four. A surprise for me. While I felt I was moving really slowly, in reality, I was ahead of the curve. As I was finishing up my lunch, I looked over and saw David and Tracy finishing up their lunch. I caught up with them! They were going to go up to the Blue Lake, the last of the sulfur lakes, but that was a 30-minute detour from our hut. With the heat, and the sun… I decided to not take the side trip, and instead, head directly to the hut.

The Emerald Lakes was a treat. The sulfur bubbling up through the water changes the color of the water into Greens and Blues. On one pond, you could see a seaweed kelp-like plants growing inside of it. The smaller lake/pond was not frequented because it was the first area after the turnoff from the hut. The sky and clouds reflected mirror-like on the water and made the whole thing quite picturesque. I saw the older Czech Couple sitting nearby, taking photos, and a couple of the Kiwi Family were wandering around. I was on task, and I was pretty happy with my progress. Clouds were starting to build up, and while I may not have experience with mountains, I do know what weather can be like with a lot of unstable hot air and unpredictable wind currents. So I decide to set off towards the Oturere Hut.

 

13 - Emerald Lake 2

About to head to the next stop. 

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 1

This will be a multi-part post on my 4 Day Tongariro Northern Circuit Tramp.

On Saturday morning, I laid in my bed excited and anxious about the day ahead of me. The sun had not yet risen, and the night before, I spent a lot of time getting my pack just right. I was a bit nervous I was taking too much stuff, but I was able to handle the pack well, and last moment, decided to take my full-frame camera to take pictures with. This meant a second bag and having an over-the-shoulder camera bag, I decided I will wear it in front of me for easy access.

My dog was snuggling up to me, and my husband slept softly next to me. It was 6:15 and I had to get going. I get up, and shower, the last one for 4 days, and I quietly get ready. Bag, Shoes, Socks, a second pair of socks, battery pack, walking sticks, camera…. Yup… I am ready. The car is packed up and I head off to the store. It opens at 7am, and I am feeling a little sheepish being the person who is almost waiting for the place to open. I grab some sausage from the hot food area for breakfast, and I start to head down south.

 

At the Beginning

Setting out from Whakapapa Village

The drive from Auckland to Tongariro is 4.5 hours, and the drive was beautiful. Clear skies greeted me for most of the drive down, and after hitting Waitomo Caves, I have started to reach areas of New Zealand I haven’t yet visited. The rolling hills and valleys laid out before me as I eventually entered Kings Country, the central region of the North Island. My car climbed in elevation as I was reaching the central plateau where Tongariro stood. Clouds started to come in and blanket the area, but undeterred, I continued on. Listening to my Tramping playlist, I am getting myself into hiking mode. Finally, after a couple of stops, I had to pick up a blister pack just in case, I see Whakapapa Village, which is basically the entry/exit point of the park for this area. In front of me is the Chateau Tongariro, a large hotel with Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu bracketed behind it. It immediately made me think of McMichael Hall from my Alma Mater, combined with the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It has the same grand, stark, and slightly ominous feeling to it.

I suddenly realise that the place is very crowded. Cars, lining up and down the road as I approach the visitor’s centre. People walking with numbers on their back.. there is a race going on today…. Dang it, I should have checked for that.

I make my way to where a man is pulling out of a 60-minute parking spot. I [ull into the spot so that I can at least check in and get my bearings.

The Visitor centre has a nice exhibit of the region and feels very much like any visitor centre you have been to at a National Park. After speaking to the people at the front desk, I am signed in, and given the race, being allocated a special parking pass so that I do not need to move my car.

 

Mt Ruapehu On day one.jpg

Mt. Ruapehu as Clouds begin to roll in

Score!

 

Meanwhile, two other trampers, siblings from Auckland are also signing in. The younger of the two is only 18, and his older sister, around 25 or so is leading the charge on the logistics of the walk. We find out we will travel all four days together, so I bid them farewell for the moment, and tell them I will meet them at the Hut. Secretly I am glad that I am at least talking to people, and that If I get out before them, they can help me out if I run into trouble. preparations. I load up my bag, a heavy 15-20kgs worth, and I set off.

The first day of the Northern Circuit is relatively short at 3 hours. As you make your way away from the village, and across the western part of the circuit. Since I was starting the Trail, during the aforementioned race, this meant that for the first couple of kms I was fighting against a steady stream of worn out runners on the track. Soon, there was a turnoff to the Mangatepopo Hut and I was off on my own.

Once I made the turnoff, I climbed out of the forest and entered what would become a familiar sight. The land here is broken by many dry streambeds, and gives the appearance of a volcanic alpine field… which is exactly what you expect. In many ways, It reminds me of parts of Iceland, with the same short, squat bushes, and hardy plant life.

 

On the Way to Mangatepopo Hut

A Storms a-comin’!

 

The weather was overcast, and in the distance, some darker clouds were rolling in, and to my right, you could see Mt. Ngauruhoe covered in dense clouds. This section is only a three-hour hike, and I was making a good time, with occasional stops to take photos or watch the weather. Rain threatened fall a few times before deciding to finally give me a light shower. Thunder rolled distantly as I wondered how conductive was I with two metal walking sticks.

The skies were getting progressively darker, and I while I love thunderstorms, being stuck in one on my first day was not what I had in mind. So, I picked up my pace a bit and started looking for the hut.

 

02 - Mangatepopo Hut 1

Mangatepopo Hut

And finally, I turn a corner and see the small building off in the distance. A grin came to my face, with the rain stopping, starting, and stopping again, I rolled into the Mangatepopo Hut in just under 3 hours. The place was already full, with people who were doing the Northern Circuit in the opposite direction as I was arriving earlier in the day, and a large family of 15 going in the same direction I was going.

 

I set my stuff down and go looking for a place to put up my tent. Finding a spot, I start to set up my tent, and rain begins to fall. It is still a sprinkle, but the clouds portend worse weather. Luckily, a few other hikers came in to help. Naomi from Germany, Gabriel from the US, and Emma from New Zealand, all pitched in and my tent was up in no time. Soon, we were all safely in the hut as the storm rolled over us. Behind us, Mt. Ngauruhoe sat blanketed in deep clouds, and Tongariro would peak out between storms.

 

07 - Thunderstorm 1

Storms heading off

We had our hut talk, which is basically the health and safety information in case of fire, earthquake… or eruption, and through that talk, we all introduced ourselves. The family of 15 were from Hamilton, and they do a Great Walk every year. They were definitely the ones commanding the hut. Then there were people from the US, (A Guy from Wisconsin, and a Physiotherapist from New Jersey), an older couple from the Czech Republic, a German and Russian Couple, a fellow from Tonga, and a few others, including myself, the Auckland Siblings, and other kiwis who had come in about a half hour or so after me. The hut Wardens who were in attendance were surprised at the large Kiwi family, but otherwise, the composition of the group seemed typical: people traveling to New Zealand for adventure and tramping. Many people I spoke to were on months-long holidays, and in Wisconsin’s case, he had been traveling for 5 years. There was definitely a tinge of jealousy when I heard that.

 

Around the talk, everyone was preparing and eating their dinners. I pulled out my first dinner; Beef Teriyaki, and it was surprisingly good. The food being surprisingly good would be a running theme throughout the trip, and it wasn’t just me who thought so. Credit must be given to the New Zealand companies that make this food, almost to a person were impressed with them.

 

06 - Mt Ngauruhoe 1

Mt. Ngauruhoe the night before

The night was setting in, and I made my way to my tent. The clouds were starting to roll away, and I got some good views of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The weather report called for early clouds on the mountain but leading to a fine day with afternoon thunderstorms. Our wardens gave us the heads up to leave early, to first beat the crowds, but more importantly, beat the heat.

 

With that on my mind, I headed to my tent and settled down for the night.

That is until around 1:30 in the morning.

Of course insomnia hits. Being excited and anxious, I initially only got 4 hours of sleep, and here I was… awake. The wind had died, and I opened my tent to see the vanishing waxing Gibbous moon. The stars were still fairly washed out by the light, but I could see Orion upside down fighting the ground. Off to the east, where it was darker, I could see the Milky Way starting to come out.

But dang, it was cold. Despite having on some thermal pants and shirt, I found myself quite cold. So a quick trip to the bathroom, and back. I tried to settle back into sleep.  Around 3am, I found myself still awake, with thoughts running through my mind. I decided to get out again, knowing the moon had now fully set, and its light out of the way. And there, I saw an incredible site. Having been in Rarotonga a couple of weeks before. I had seen a multitude of stars. But I was still stuck by the tyranny of light pollution, even on that small island. That was not the case that evening. With nothing for miles around us, the Milky Way became their own clouds, and the stars blazed and twinkled with a determined fierceness. I couldn’t even compare the sky to my midwestern days, or the nights in Pauanui… light pollution always tinged the sky in some way.

I found myself just staring up at the sky as I did as a child, finding the constellations I knew, and wondering about the others I have yet to learn. Even the constellations I did know had so many more stars than I was used to, it was one of those moments you feel so small and tiny, and feel the vastness of the universe, even though you can only see your own neighborhood.

The weather still being cold, I got back into my tent and wrapped myself up. A few minutes later, I nodded asleep. I had a big day ahead of me tomorrow, and I needed to be ready. Maybe 5-6 hours of sleep is enough.