Tongariro Alpine Crossing: NZ’s Best Single-Day Hike

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
Looking south at Ngauruhoe (red stratovolcano) with Ruapehu (snow-capped, left) on NZ’s North Island.


One of the most stunning hikes I’ve ever been on is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand’s North Island. Hiking the 12.4-mile route was at the top of my experience wishlist when my husband, daughter, and I visited in 2014-2015. The forecast on our northward drive to Auckland was for partly cloudy skies and gusts up to 15 mph. Our return flight to the States was in three days. We would not have another chance. And I almost gave it up by not being true to myself.

Obstacles or Excuses?

To prepare, we’d done some hikes with my daughter in the States. Nothing as long as I would have recommended to clients preparing for such a hike. We’d toured as much of New Zealand as we could, and our fuses were growing short. Although we’d included some moderate hikes, a horseback ride, a kayak tour, and sightseeing during our trip, we’d also spent many hours each day driving.

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
New Year’s Day, 2015, on kayak tour at Okarito Lagoon, one of our longer outings on our northward drive along South Island’s west coast.

When our daughter told us that her knees hurt several days before our trek, I voiced my concerns to my husband. We promised we’d take frequent breaks. If she needed a longer rest, she could build a fairy house along the trail. I offered to carry all of her clothing, water, and gear. We prepared word games to keep her mind engaged. And we stocked up on yummy snacks to keep her fueled.

I wanted to back down at the last minute. Too many things could go wrong. But my husband said we should try it. I later learned that he’d even persuaded her to do it without complaints, as a holiday gift to me.

Decision to Try

On day 22, we drove north from Nelson to Picton (South Island) and caught a four-hour Interislander Ferry to the North Island. We then drove four more hours, stopping only for gas, stretching, and food. When we finally spotted snow-capped Ruapehu near dusk, I felt myself getting excited. Could my dream actually come true?

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
Ruapehu (January 2015) at sunset on our northbound trip toward Auckland on the North Island.

When we arrived at the A Plus Samurai Lodge in Turangi, it was after sunset. We still had to iron out the logistics of dinner, as well as the transport to and from the mountain. The one-way trip required a drop-off at one end and pick-up at the other, both of which were included in our two-night stay. The rest was out of our control.

Arrival at the Trailhead

That night, I had numerous nightmares: forgetting the first aid kit, missing our ride, getting dehydrated, running out of daylight, and nursing my daughter’s knees halfway through the day. But when we finally awoke at 5:45, excitement and anxiety dueled within me.

We weren’t exactly sure how the commute would work, but as the van climbed toward Mongatepopo Hut, above the clouds obscuring the mountain, we arrived without incident. It looked like decent weather after all. All we had to do was hike the 12.4 miles to our ride on the other side.

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
Our fifth-grade daughter shivers, teeth chattering in the clear, crisp early morning air. Ruapehu is in the background. I gave her one of my layers–anything to keep her comfortable.

Trek Teachings: Tenacity and Trust

Details about the trek would make this post too long. Many others do a nice job. We succeeded without getting dehydrated, lost, battered, or injured. But the whole reason for this blog is to share one message: be tenacious about going after what you want.

Never “Settle” for Less Than What you Want

I tried to talk myself out of the trek, blaming my daughter’s knees and youth, our fatigue after long hours in the car, inconvenient store hours, fear of what could go wrong. And in one passage of my journal, I struck gold. I’d written about the shame I felt eating an ice cream bar and how canceling the trek should be my punishment. Yeah, I know. One frigging ice cream bar.

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
The long line of trekkers making their way down the loose scree slope.

Seven years ago, I felt like I didn’t deserve to get what I wanted. Today, typing these words hurts. When I told my husband what I was writing, he astutely summed up my struggle: I have difficulty being true to myself, standing up for what I really want. Like starting a blog.

No Passion In Playing Small

Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” How fortunate I am to have a husband who lives according to strong principles like finishing what you start and making those things that you really want, happen.

We succeeded on that trek because he knew how important it was to me. We planned it; he helped carry out the plan. We all need moral support in order to change, whether that’s from a significant other, family member, colleague, coach, friend, or accountability partner. He listens to me and helps silence the niggling voice of fear, doubt, and shame. He keeps me on track when I threaten to veer off of it.

Who are your biggest supporters? Who will help you when you want to hole up with Netflix instead of doing something that matters to you?

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
Brilliantly colored alpine lakes tinted by volcanic minerals.

Paying It Forward

Now that I write from what I hope is greater strength and self-acceptance, I realize maybe I had to live through times of self-berating and struggle to reach a position where I can help coach others find the courage to change. Overcoming my addiction to sugar helped me minimize the self-doubt and shame and take pride in what I can do.

Crystal Raypole suggests in her helpful article on overcoming self-sabotage: “Self-sabotage can happen when you’re looking for a way out. Such behaviors help suggest something about your situation that isn’t working for you.” In our case, we had a lot of valid concerns, any one of which could have prevented us from starting. I was willing to place my daughter’s comfort above my own desires.

We trusted that things would work out. We had to at least try. And I am so glad we did. Not only was the trek a major highlight of two trips to New Zealand, but mulling over the significance of that trek has drilled home the importance of staying true to what you really want. My hope is that the next time I feel the need to punish myself by giving up something I really want, I will stop and remember the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the wonderful memories of a successful trip.

How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself
Taking a snack break in front of Ngauruhoe, an active stratovolcano 7,516 feet high on New Zealand’s North Island.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

8 replies on “How To Avoid Sabotage By Being True To Yourself”

  1. Is that the same fifth-grader in the morning photo, barely awake and desperate for warmth… and in the shot of the “snack break in front of Ngauruhoe”, beaming pure happiness and well-earned pride… aware of what you were accomplishing together that day???
    What a great reward for “staying true to yourself” on that trip!

    I too am blessed with a spouse who will stop at nearly nothing to support me when I clearly need it the most… when I am scavenging for very sensible and justifiable “reasons” for not going “all in”. She deserves double credit because not only does she intelligently boost my confidence and morale as I plan for yet another long distance solo hike… but also knows that she will be worrying at home about what may befall her golden-age, pacemaker-powered husband as he lives his passion beyond cell-phone (and rapid medical assistance) range. Yes, she did ask that I carry a GPS unit so she can know my position at all times and communicate through short texts… and that works well for me as I feel less lonely on “dark and stormy nights”, simply receiving a “good night” in the tent at the end of the day. She also drives me hundreds of miles to a trail-head and then a similar distance again 1 or 2 weeks later to pick up what’s left of me at the other end.

    Having people close to me and who know what I want to do, and why, has proven invaluable; my second line of support is my long distance hiking mentor who has “done it all”, is very aware of my abilities and limitations, and can be relied on to bluntly speak the truth no matter what. He does see right through any well-crafted excuse I may come up with to “bail out” of some upcoming challenge… and will laugh wholeheartedly at me for even trying that trick with him. An experienced friend willing to share his knowledge is as critical for me as the best pair of hiking boots.

    The third critical member of my support team is my personal trainer (😉). One of my favorite excuses is “I am not ready… I did not prepare enough… I don’t feel strong and resilient enough”. Working with my trainer takes care of that one; I chose to do the training because I cannot think of a better way to ensure I’ll be as fit and ready as I can be. If I follow the program, if I “show up” day after day, week after week… it will be hard for me to not laugh wholeheartedly at myself when I pull the “I’m not fit enough” excuse out of my bag-of-bailout-tricks.

    A key characteristic of my support team? I fully trust all three of them to “have my back”; they care about me and want to help the best they can.
    SOLO… but far from alone…

    1. Yes indeed, Gerard, the worried and shivering gal at the trailhead became the beaming “Wow, I did 12.4 miles” girl giving thumbs-up. You make a very astute observation that our “staying true to ourselves” impacts not only US, but those around us, whether that’s the people who care about us and want us to succeed, or others along the way who can learn from us, but also those who try to talk us out of or prevent us from succeeding — and there will always be some.

      I have another client who put a friendship on hold because said friend’s doubting and nay-saying was causing great angst and creating an obstacle she didn’t need. We give ourselves ENOUGH angst. The key is to find those people who remain aligned with our goals, who, as you say, “have our backs” when we start to doubt ourselves.

    1. Thanks, Silvie-Marie! I love the idea behind “It takes a village” when rearing children; I think that’s true for all of us, no matter what age. We as humans are social creatures and having people who know, care about, and love us is so important to our success, however it is that we define the word. Appreciate your reading and posting!

  2. Another great post! Needed this, I too have a problem with “punishing” myself and working through that but nice to see how you have pushed through and find happiness within!

    1. Thanks, Bethany! We’re all “WIPs” – works in progress. Expect slip-ups. But if the trajectory is upward toward self-love and acceptance, then congratulate yourself. Appreciate the comment and thanks for reading!

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