(Editor’s note: Register staff member Rachel Zamarron is traveling with a group in New Zealand and Australia for a special EWTN project. This is the third of a multi-part series documenting her journey. See Rachel’s other posts here.)

“Hill. Yes, that was it. But it is a hasty word
for a thing that has stood here
ever since this part of the world was shaped.”
—Treebeard (from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers)

The day had come to attempt to scale Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as "Mount Doom". Tongariro is a favorite hike in New Zealand — and the summit of our trip. 

Our Fellowship had many hours of travel by car to return to Christchurch and fly back to Auckland. Once on the North Island we found that the hike through the Alpine Trail had been closed for three days due to the cold. Providentially, it was supposed to warm up enough for the pass to open on the very day we had planned to climb it. 

We arrived at the base of the mountain and found it overrun with tourists and shuttle buses. It was a little jarring. Here we thought we would be out in nature and we are jostling strangers from around the globe as we walked the narrow pathway. We walked up through the flat part and found a nice, private place in the volcanic rocks for Mass and a talk on Mordor. Again, it was such a gorgeous setting for Mass. 

The volcanic desolation made it easy to reflect on sacrifice and the parallel imagery of Frodo’s journey up Mount Doom with the suffering of Christ for us. I found myself looking up at the mountain in the backdrop wondering how I was ever going to get the top. My mind was often on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as we climbed. He is known for having been an incredible mountaineer, and he was known for saying, verso alto or “to the top!”

“To the top” was our goal. We all wanted to reach the summit this time. Frodo's struggle up Mount Doom is such a crucial part of the story. The climb up Mount Ngauruhoe is difficult due to the loose stones and soil that give way underfoot. We had started with a bustling crowd, but by the time we finally neared the top we had the crater to ourselves.

As we neared the top we stopped to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet while overlooking the valley below. 

The moment took a normal element of our Faith and tied it into a favorite tale of valor and courage. Suddenly you can see how epic our faith is. In moments when praying is hard, I hope to look back on those moments of prayer. Overlooking the stunning beauty of creation, so difficult to capture through a camera lens, we prayed as we never had before. 

We reached the top of Mount Ngauruhoe and somehow made it all the way back down again. But our real journey continues — he journey of the Christian into the heart of Christ! 

Christianity demands more of us. Courage to take the hard road. Sometimes simply the courage to keep taking one step at a time. Such was Frodo’s courage. Such was the courage of Sam. They didn’t give up on hope when the hour got the darkest. This was something J.R.R. Tolkien understood so well. This is why he was able to give us stories that “stayed with us” — stories of Hope. That is the central message of Christianity. That there is always hope. Hope even when the hour gets the darkest.