Back in 2003, the U.N. declared December 11th International Mountain Day! Here at the Shenaniconglomerate, we love mountains more than the water we swim in and the air we walk through. In honor of this holiday which we just found out about today, here are our top 9 international mountains wecame up with off the tops of our heads! (These are in no particular order. Tim’s favorite is the last one).
Mackinnon Pass (1154 m)
I’ve never heard more hype about a trail than I’ve heard about the Milford Track. It is arguably one of the best hikes in the world. I’d love to weigh in on that argument, but I don’t think my experience on it qualifies me to do so. Access to the Milford Track is strictly protected and expensive throughout most of the year. The rest of the year… well, good luck with the weather. Since I have neither foresight nor four hundred dollars, my opportunities were limited to after the Great Walk season ended and the trails become free to walk and huts are cheap. Nathan and I picked a small window of weather in the forecast and were lucky enough that Department of Conservation workers were boating out to do work on the trails, because nobody else wanted to go in that weather. The first day was clear, but the second day, the day we went over the Mackinnon Pass was rainy and foggy. Leaning out over the edge of what I knew was a sheer 1000 foot drop while only being able to see a few feet down into the fog was the most eerie feelings I’ve ever had. I felt like the world was tipping me forward in hopes that I’d plummet. When you sense the world is trying to kill you, that’s a great time to make like a leaf and run away to the emergency shelter to hunker down for lunch. That place still holds a sense of mystery over me, and I’d love to go back and see it for the awe-inspiring views that I know it has.
Mt. Le Conte (2010 m)
The Great Smoky Mountains: one truth and one lie. Sure those mountains are great, but they are not smoky; they are rainy. The only reason they should be called smoky, is because that is what your shelter is going to be and your gear is going to smell like if you try making a fire with any of that rain-soaked wood! You may be sensing a bit of bitterness coming from me. You’re senses are right. Good job. Our trip through the Smokies last year was soaking and full of disappointing views. “Views,” if you can call them that. The brightest moment of the trip was also the sunniest moment of the trip (you’d never think of sun bringing brightness, but it does. On our last day of hiking, we were summiting Mt. Le Conte, the 6th tallest mountain east of the Mississippi when the clouds finally broke. We rushed to the outlook and soaked in the daylight and views that we had been deprived of all weekend, just like those kids in that dystopian movie where it is only sunny like once every decade. Yeah, equivocal. Sometimes there is just one bright spot to an entire trip, but looking back on it, that’s what defines how you remember it.
Mt. Ngauruhoe (2291 m)
You may not realize it, but you have seen this mountain before. There was a really popular series of documentaries involving it, called “Lord of The Rings.” It’s coming back to you isn’t it. It went by the pseudonym of Mt. Doom. While the film makers made it out to be a very difficult and blistering climb, it is actually a very difficult and blustery climb. Maybe it was just the conditions I did it in. My first trip up was in early spring and ice still covered the summit. Ice. On a volcano. What even…? My second trip was in late summer… and I would’ve taken the snow and ice. Just kidding, summiting in 170km/h winds when all other parties were turning back was a delightful change of pace. Both parties I went with had the summit all to ourselves, and there was little wonder why. Whether it be from freezing because I wore shorts to the top, or from being blown into the crater like Frodo just tackled me, I was going to die. For how difficult the two extra hours of scrambling up steep scree slopes, the descent sure is easy. Fifteen minutes of running and falling and sliding down on scree found us alone in the South Crater, ready for our next summit.
Mount Tongariro ( 1978 m)
Mount Tongariro is the less popular of the summits along the Tongariro Crossing, which is the most popular hiking trail in New Zealand. This summit is overshadowed literally and lituraturely by its neighbor, Mt. Ngauruhoe…also known as “Mt. Doom” in the popular book series “Lord of the Rings”. Mt Tongariro is 1,978 meters high and is an easier climb than its more active neighbor Ngauruhoe, but a lot of that is due to the fact that it’s not covered in loose volcanic rock. Andy and I climbed this summit an hour or two after we had climbed Ngauruhoe, and it was a great place to view the entire world.
Roy’s Peak (1578 m)
I am a horse, and Roy’s Peak is a carrot. That’s how I felt for the entirety of the climb up its east face. You can see the summit from Wanaka. You can see the summit the entire drive from town to the base. You can see the summit each step you take up its countless switchbacks (that is if you have energy enough to tilt your head that far back). Your objective is looming above you, mocking you, and each step you take is just another drop in the ocean of grass that covers the slopes. The 5 mile hike takes roughly three hours to ascend nearly a mile of vertical distance from bottom to top. I was lucky enough to have great company both times I made the trek, because it seems like it will never end. But then it does! And oh, how the struggle is worth it. Roy’s Peak’s panoramic views of Mount Aspiring National Park, Lake Wanaka, and the town are absolutely stunning. I’d say they take your breath away, but what breath? You used it all on your way up! It’s time to just sit back and soak it in for as long as you can, because the next step (and the 9,999 after that) is heading back down the same way.
Conical Hill (1515 m)
We sat at the Harris Saddle emergency shelter on the Routeburn Track, cooking lunch and contemplating the options in front of us. The first option, an hour scramble up a steep rocky route to the summit of Conical Hill (why it is called a hill, standing at 1515 meters, is a mystery to me). I had been to the summit before, two months earlier, and knew how spectacular the views could be, but the whole mountain was shrouded in cloud today. It didn’t look promising. The second option was to continue on the path for another two hours to the Routeburn Falls hut, our final destination for the day. It would make it a short day, but we wouldn’t be running the risk of wasting two fruitless hours of stumbling through fog. I would’ve risked five hours of fruitless walking for the views we ended up getting. Watching the clouds roll in across the Hollyford Valley from the Tasman Sea as the cloud we ourselves were in dissipated was my favorite moment in New Zealand; the hour we spent at the summit sped by in what seemed like minutes. I hope this video serves as a lesson that the clear choice is not the clear choice, that when given the option between low-risk/low reward and high risk/high reward, you don’t let your legs (or your stomach) make the call. Physical pain is temporary, but memories (pictures) last forever (until Donald Trump shuts down the internet). 4 hours later, we found ourselves at the next summit…
Key Summit (918 m)
Compared to Conical Hill at 1515 meters, this 918 meter summit sounds easy. And it was! But Andy and I tend to make things a lot harder than normal… We did this summit around the halfway point of our 25 mile hike. This being the second summit on our 16 hour hike, we were already feeling pretty tired. I mentioned to Andy that maybe we should just skip this summit and keep going. He said, “nah”. He had a good point. It was worth the extra time and mile, and offered some amazing views of countless peaks (okay well at least WE didn’t count them) and also our final resting place. In the distance, in a valley between two snowcapped peaks, you could barely make out the lake we were aiming for. Since it was already late afternoon, we knew we would be hiking in the dark to get there, but we stayed an extra few minutes on Key to watch clouds from Tropical Cyclone Pam roll in over the mountain range. Oh yeah, apparently a cyclone hit New Zealand while we were there. Who knew?! Good thing Andy and I are invincible.
Mount Luxmore (1472 m)
Mt. Luxmore is along the Kepler Track in New Zealand, which has by far the easiest name to spell of all the hikes I did in New Zealand. Andy and I hiked this on the morning of day two of our three day journey. We had already hiked most of the 1,472 meters before getting to the 30 minutes out-and-back trial leading to the peak, but it was a fairly steep ascent to traverse that early in the morning. Once at the peak, we were able to see everything. I tried to snap some panoramas but they didn’t do it justice. Some of those views you can only share with the people who are standing next to you at the time. The best part of this peak was that, since we had spent the entire previous day hiking UP…once we topped out, we knew we had a full day of hiking DOWN! That doesn’t make it any easier on your knees or hips, but psychologically it’s a big deal.
Volcán de Pacaya (2552 m)
Volcán de Pacaya is the Spanish name for the Pacaya Volcano. I think Pacaya is Spanish for pancakes, which is weird because this 2,552 meter tall volcano is anything but flat. It’s very explod-y and a lot of fun to run down, which makes it similar to Mt. Ngauruhoe. I visited this volcano in 2011 on a class trip to Guatemala and had a great time with some great people. It was a guided tour of the volcano, but we tried to keep it interesting/dangerous by exploring some caves in an area that had volcanic vents. One vent was only about 15 feet deep but when you threw a stick down there, it would burst into flames within a few seconds. I still have nightmares about slipping into a volcanic vent. But instead of falling into vents, we explored the sharp volcanic rock and the incredible views.
Thanks for checking this out… if you’d like to come with us on our next summit journey, let us know! We are heading to the Black Mountains in North Carolina for New Year’s Day…we’d love some company.
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