Mt. Doom almost killed me- but it was worth it!
The sun had almost finished rising above the distant hills as we arrived at the trailhead for the Tongariro Crossing. My three companions, one friend I had been traveling with for a while and two hitchhikers we’d picked up the day before, and I soon set off on a trail I had been hearing about since arriving in New Zealand. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I bounced along the first 2 kilometers of nearly flat walking while admiring (and photographing) the gorgeous views of the mountains in the distance. Including the steep, volcanic cone we would be climbing. My gross overconfidence was quickly revealed though once we reached the actual ascents- mostly sets of uneven steps that led to more, steeper steps.
I was soon lagging behind my three, ever so patient, companions and cursing myself for making them wait as I used my hands to push down on my legs and propel my body up one step at a time.
“Why was I doing this again?”
After a blissful break that I spent guzzling water, we set off up the side trail to summit Mount Ngauruhoe (better known as Mt. Doom) which seemed like a great idea for about three minutes. Then my renewed energy suddenly flatlined. I was once again struggling to force two tired and heavy legs up a set of steps while watching my companions slowly get farther and farther ahead.
Then we reached the side of the mountain and all pretense of a path disappeared. The only guides were occasional metal poles stuck into the rock, and the speedy hikers ahead of us. Upright hiking was suddenly replaced by scrambling up rocks on my hands and feet. Exhaustion and pain was replaced by terror as every wrong step sent me sliding backwards and yells of “Rock!” warned me of projectiles headed towards my, well, head. At the same time though I caught up and embarressment and monotony were replaced by companionship and a fresh challenge.
That endless climb actually ended up being one of my favorite parts of the hike. We worked together to give advice, plan paths over steadier rocks, and commiserated after each gust of wind scared us senseless. I also felt the accomplishment of seeing the distance behind me grow and the joy of solving problems and scrambling over boulders like a kid at the beach.
Looking back that hike was a beautiful example of what creative work can be. It is varied, with new challenges around every corner, it is sometimes boring or terrifying, and sometimes I just want to give up. At the same time though, there is beauty and joy just in the accomplishment of things I never thought possible, and through perseverance and the companionship and support of others the summit is within reach-even if you are embarrassingly unprepared at the start.
The hike still held many more struggles for me after that mountain, but after standing at the peak of Mt. Doom and looking down at what we had conquered-I knew anything else was just a matter of time.