Running the Tongarero Circuit

Nov 19, 2014: 48km run; 10 hours; 17 degrees Farenheit; 40-60 mph winds in most place; percipitation, and 20-50 feet of visibility. That about sums up my run.

Emotionally I went through happy, sad, depressed, scared, worried, fearful, elation, and on … I did also feel anger and disappointment that due to the weather I could not see the grandeour of the landscape.


To run it I had packed my ultraspire backpack with full 2L of water + nuuns, a separate fuel bottle, some lara bars, cliff bars, and bonk bars. I also had extra food, salt tabs, heat pads, electrolyte nuuns, athletic tape, and a headlamp in case things went sideways.

Clothing wise I went with thermal leggings, water proof outershell pants, wind resistant sock booties, thermal shirt, nike down jacket layer, and then a goretex outer shell for rain and wind. I wore my ski gloves (which were great until they got soaked), and finally I had 2 caps – a mesh and a knit one.

Race plan

Start with the wind to my back and tackle the mountains first. I then planned to summit the first mountain (which I only made up halfway) and if successful hit the second. From there I would go down the other side to Oturure Hut, and then down and around to the Whakapapa Village. From there I would connect back up. I told the family I was staying with if things went bad I would just do the Alpine Crossing – so they could tell the search parties where to look.

I thought I could run a good deal and that would allow me to finish in 1 day instead of the 3-4 advised by the local park administration.

What actually happened

The first part of the run went great. I made it to the top of the ridgeline in an hour (average is 2), and the wind here was wicked. Almost wish I had a ski mask + goggles. I decided to try and summit and headed up. Right away I began losing stick markers due to the visibility going down to 20ish feet on the mountain. The wind, temps, and moisture were so bad that plants were frozen with an inch of ice on one side.

I re-located the stick markers as I headed up. A few times I had to laterlly correct. Eventually I started going up what can only be desicrbed as lava rocks the size of bocce balls, everywhere. If you have ever tried to climb in one of these pits of balls you can relate to the challenge of this climb. From here I was on all fours trying to make progress. It was around here where I could no longer find the flag above me. I carried on for a bit thinking it would be above, but never found it. At this point I decided to call it. I was literally freezing on one side, and was worried I might get seriously lost. Making it down was no easy activity, but I succeeded without injury. Another day I will summit Mt. Ngauruhoe.

I continued on the ridge, made it to the emerald lakes which were cool and then down the back. The backside was cool because you ride one of the mountain fingers. Now this wasn't easy going due to the rock formations, but I could start to see the landscape!

I really felt like I was running after the Hobbits in this area. This was fun imagery for me. The next two huts were easily done due to the weather being better – lesser wind, near zero percipitation and a bit of sunshine.

Unfortunately the last two segments ended up being the hardest. The Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village was in my face full on percipitation (rain hitting you so hard it stings), running up bush and in the river tributaries = wet feet. Also the temps dropped again. This leg was stated to be 5 hours, and ended up finishing it in 2.5.

Frustratingly I chose at a split in the path to head to the village and not the Falls. I thought this would be the best given the maps showed the ending n the same place. This is wrong. They do meet in the village but they are separated by maybe 150 feet of road. This is not a lot at this distance, but if I took the Falls (which were probably awesome to see) I would have shaved off a few K.

The last leg was a trail under disrepair. It was basically a mud trap the whole way. The edge of the trail was clearly being worked to allow for a new footpath, but that was only in a few places. The mud ravines as I called them were 3-6 feet deep, and made for very difficult climbing.

Of all the river crossings, I only bit it twice, and felt pretty good about that result.

Final Thoughts

Definitely do again, when it isn't an arctic hell. Pack lighter fluids given the hut system. More backup gear due to the variability of the weather. Maybe poles to help handle the river crossings and the descents.



About J.D.

Passionate about CrossFit, mindset, bettering each other, technology, and the intersection of cybersecurity with products. The online views and posts represent my journey of discovery and learning.
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