Tongariro crossing1Should a person suffering from two chronic health conditions dream of hiking the Tongariro Crossing?

I created my bucket list a couple of years ago and The Tongariro Crossing was high on that list. It was named as one of the best one day walks in the world with breath-taking views and I felt that for me it would be an especially tough challenge due to my recent health.

I originally planned to hike it last year, but then opted out as my body was feeling very stiff and sore and I was concerned about my ability to finish and the possible damage it could do to my joints. I had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (a central nervous system disorder that causes wide spread pain, severe fatigue and memory and mood issues) and Inflammatory Arthritis (when your body attacks your own tissues and joints) over two and a half years ago and had been prescribed a range of drugs to control my symptoms.

This year started well for me as we experienced a hot summer which is optimal for my body and I was introduced to ph360, a personalised health platform, that is going to revolutionize health and fitness with an aim of eradicating chronic illness by 2050. The system shows you how to live the best way for your particular body type and genetics and crucially, what your body needs right now to thrive. I am booked to do the course later this year so that I can coach my clients on this amazing method.

Since I have adopted the ph360 system I have felt so much better and in February this year I decided that this was the right time to do the Tongariro Crossing. I have a group of friends that wanted to do it too which was great, but I was honest from the start and told them that I can get very cold if I don’t move at a particular pace and I would need to finish the walk as quickly as possible as my type of body really struggles in low temperatures.

I spent the next two months increasing my hill walks and my leg strength along with some balance work on my inflatable disc as my ankles can easily roll, especially when going downhill and I could not risk an ankle sprain up in the mountains. This actually happened to me six months ago on a longish walk. I slipped on a downhill segment 45 minutes in and had to hobble back quite a distance on a badly sprained ankle, dog in tow.

In the days leading up to the walk I felt strong and ready for the challenge and hoped the weather would be suitable for the walk. It was an early start on the day of the walk and I was up at 4:30am after a very poor sleep and the forecast wasn’t great but it was still safe to attempt. I parked my car at the finish and had a shuttle take me to start of the walk where I met with my friends at 7am. It was a drizzly start but overall not too bad and I was suited up in a weather proof jacket and pants and lots of extra layers in my pack. In my research I found that the walk could take from six to eight hours so I set my mind on finishing in just over six.

We started off with a fairly brisk pace which suited me, then about 15 minutes in the others stopped and I just kept going thinking they would catch up. Before I knew it I had powered away from them as my automatic pilot kicked in and I just needed to go fast. I kept up that pace until I reached the first decent climb, which involved steps. I did not expect to have any trouble with the climb or steps as I trained a fair bit on hills, but quickly my legs got tired as the wind picked up. This took me by surprise as this was quite early on in the walk but if felt like all the strength had drained from my legs. I put this down to the wind (which was becoming strong) and the altitude as the walk itself started at around 1100 meters. Interestingly enough my ph360 profile said: “I may be particularly sensitive to windy climates (not great living in Wellington then) and I should monitor my stays in areas like windy mountain environments, this certainly felt true.

I slowly (felt slow for me) made my way up the Devil’s staircase (aptly named) feeling horrified having to stop very few minutes to let others pass. This felt very uncool for a Personal Trainer who had spent a few months preparing for this. As I reached the top the rain turned to hail and the wind intensified and I could feel my hands getting wet and cold in my gloves as I did not have waterproof ones which proved to be a major error. I stopped to sip some warmish soup from my flask which was heaven and carried on. As I continued through wet terrain I could now feel my feet getting wet and cold. My walking shoes were not waterproof as I found it almost impossible to find comfortable walking shoes that kept the water out. When I was shopping for new shoes I bought and returned four pairs as they all hurt my feet. My illness actually started in my feet which are pretty much always swollen, especially my toes and the balls of my feet. So it was more important to have shoes that would be comfortable on a long walk.

I reached a flat area so I picked up the pace with the wind and hail driving into my face and I began to wonder if I could actually make it to the finish as visibility was very poor. But something just kept me going, maybe pride or perhaps stubbornness. I reached the next climb which involved pulling yourself up using a hand rail. I could see that the walk was becoming very steep and the path was very narrow with sheer drops either side. Perhaps the lack of visibility helped me here as I couldn’t see all the way down. I pushed my tired and freezing cold feet to the top and reached the dreaded scree slope. I read about this part, where people fall over and I even heard of some breaking bones so I was nervous.

I had a strategy about how I was going to tackle the scree slope; I planned on going down sideways using my walking pole. This was effective but very slow and around me people were slipping and sliding and I was praying no one would run into me and knock me over. After what seemed like an eternity I made it down to the side of the Emerald Lakes which looked greyer than anything which was disappointing. I stopped for a couple of minutes to have a bit more soup as that was the easiest thing to access and my fingers were too cold to go into my pack to find food.

As I found myself down on the flat I vastly increased my pace which was just short of a run. The walk now was mostly downhill which was bliss, but then once in a while there was a climb and my legs felt like I could barely pick them up. I saw a sign that said 2 hours to the finish which lifted my spirits. I kept up the very fast pace and as I was moving really quickly and descending to a lower altitude I felt my hands and feet warming up. By this time the balls of my foot were incredibly sore and so was my left knee and right shin but Adrenalin just kept me going and I did not stop again till I got to the finish.

When I got to the end I felt emotional and all I could think was that I would never ever do this walk again. I made it in six hours and fifteen minutes so I was happy with my time. As I had parked my car in a secure car park I had the prospect of walking a further 700 meters but thankfully my friend (that wasn’t doing the walk) was sitting in the car park waiting for the others and he drove me to my car. I had never been so happy to see anyone in my entire life. I got to my car and drove with the heater full blast the 25 minutes to Turangi where we were staying and got back to our Bach and ran a bath. That was pure heaven. Once I stretched and used my foam roller I felt ok apart from being a bit tired.

I was really expecting to pay for it the next day but I woke up the following day and my body felt fine apart from a slightly tight hamstring. I was blown away by how good I felt and how I had recovered so quickly. What fatigued me  more was the four hour drive home to Upper Hutt and that made me stiffer than the six hour walk. One thing is for sure, my body is better when I move and worse when I sit, which is consistent with the ph360 Activator type.

For me, finishing the Tongariro Crossing in six hours fifteen is an achievement, because I know that last year I could not even walk five kilometers without being in pain. Hundreds of people complete the Crossing every day and to many it’s not a big deal but it feels like it to me. Personally, success is based on surpassing my own dreams and obstacles and proving to myself I can do something, that is what really counts.  So if I can inspire more people to stop putting limitations on themselves (mentally and physically) and be open to trying something new then as a Personal Trainer that is invaluable.

4 Thoughts on “Personal story of completing the Tongariro Crossing”

  • Wow Rachel, go you, such a struggle and you did it! That’s fabulous, this is also on my bucket list so read with great interest, shame you didn’t strike the best weather but sounded amazing and you did a fabulous job – and great time! Thanks for the inspiration! x
    Sue Webster, Upper Hutt

  • Thanks Sue. So appreciate your comments. Its well worth doing in great weather. x

  • Well done my wife and I used to guide on the Crossing bach in the early 2000s best time I did was 5 hrs with a half hour lunch and the most crossings in a row was 5 out of 7 days so your time was great for a person carrying an illness most able bodied people would be happy with that time.
    This walk has got to be on of the best in NZ if not the world.
    For your next one do the five day around Mt Ruapehu staying in the huts along the way but do it in early autumn when the weather is stable

  • thanks for your comments and kindness. I will have to do it in summer when it’s warmer as my body will cope better.

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