Wanting to take advantage of the long weekend, we decided to head up the west coast towards Mount Taranaki to attempt the famous summit track. Back when we were researching the move to New Zealand, when we were first google mapping the country, we noticed what looked like a giant pimple on the North Island – well that pimple was Mount Taranaki! The 2518m high mountain is one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world and is situated on a semi-circular peninsula on the west coast.
|Aerial of Mount Taranaki (aka the Pimple)
A pretty treacherous track, the summit climb should only be attempted during good weather in the summer unless you are an experience mountaineer due to its steep slopes and high levels of snow. Just in October we heard of the tragic death of a young couple who were experienced climbers and local mountain club members who got caught in a bad snow storm and died on the mountain despite several rescue attempts.
After a 4.5hr drive from Wellington after work Friday, we crashed at a freedom campsite at the base of Mount Taranaki. We got really lucky as the weather looked great Saturday for the climb – sunny with a few cloudy periods and wind below 50km/hr at the top (also as cold as -10). We set off for the visitor centre at the start of the summit track and got our gear ready for the climb.
|The beautiful symmetrical Mount Taranaki
The first hour of the climb was a steep ascent up a 4-wheel track leading up to the Tahurangi Lodge. Previously only accessible to mountain club members, they had recently opened the it up to the public, so we planned to make the climb to the top, but stay at the lodge for the night on our way back down to enjoy the sunset on the mountain. That section alone was a calf-burner so we were happy to drop some of our stuff off at the lodge before heading up to the top.
The lodge was very well equipped, with a full kitchen, microwave, fridge and lounge area. It was a nice surprise and made our decision to bring a bottle of wine that much sweeter knowing it would be nicely chilled and waiting for us!
As we set up the track through the rock covered Hongi Valley, we made our way up hundreds of steps (that were built to help reduce erosion) towards the steep scoria slopes.
|Heading up Hongi Valley
As we got higher, we began to reach the cloud line in the slippery scree (or scoria), making the up hill climb a challenge as the loose gravel below our feet frequently gave way leading to a few falls.
|Battling through the scree
The next section – call the Lizard – was an ‘all-fours’ climb up the rocky ridge towards the crater entrance that lasted for about an hour and half. I still have no idea how Jordan does it with a fragile camera in his hands, but we managed to make our way up unscathed. We even found a few patches of snow that were still lingering from winter.
|Climbing the ‘Lizard’
At the top of the ‘Lizard’, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, requiring us to pull out our extra clothes and winter hats to keep warm. After a quick sprint over some snow across the saddle, we were climbing up the last section of the mountain to the summit.
|Crater snow just before the Summit
As the wind beat down on us, it made for a challenging last few meters to the top, but after the rugged 4.5hr climb, it was well worth it for the 360 degree views.
|View from the Summit
|Jordan above the clouds
A beautiful view of the valley below, with the Tasman sea on one side and the central North Island on the other. It was so clear Mount Ngauruhoe, Raupehu and Tongariro (200km away) could be seen in the distance. It was pretty cool to be standing above the clouds feeling like you were ON TOP OF THE WORLD!
|Summit at Mount Taranaki
We hung out at the top for about an hour, taking in the view and eating a well deserved lunch. It was surprising how many people were actually on the mountan that day, with several large groups, and a variety of ages and athletic abilities. I was actually surprised more people didn’t get hurt making the challenging climb. It was definitely the most difficult one I have done, and I consider myself a pretty ‘experienced tramper’ now.
|Heading back down the ‘Lizard’
The scree section though was quite different. Besides a small section of the top that was extremely slippery (where I made several falls on my ass), the deep, loose sections the rest of the way actually created a new sport – Scree skiing!! (of course Jordan’s idea 😛 – check out the video below!) With a little speed, we flew down the mountain, carving our way through the loose gravel much faster than our calculated climb up.
|‘Scree sking’ our way down
After an 8 hour day, we finally made it back to the Lodge, and were feeling surprisingly good despite the challenging terrain and long hours. I immediately cracked the wine as we enjoyed the sunset from the balcony of the lodge on the beautiful clear evening.
|Enjoying a celebratory drink
We met 4 guys who were friends in high school staying at the lodge with their 4 young boys who were going to attempt the summit the next day. We shared our stories of the day as we watched the mountain clear out for the day. A number of interesting stories came out, including the 2 guys who did the entire climb WITHOUT SHOES!!! We had seen them on our way down the mountain and was in disbelief when I saw their bare feet climbing up the sharp rocky mountain face.
We also saw a family of 4 with 2 young boys who had been struggling the entire day. We passed them on the way up, and again on our way down and wondered if they were going to make it before sundown. Sure enough about 9:30pm, just after sunset, they emerged from the mountain after a 14hr day. The kids and wife were completely exhausted and had nearly run out of water so they were in pretty rough shape. The dad appeared to be determined to finish, and despite us recommending they just stay the night, decided to continue down the mountain in the dark, probably not making it to their car till after 1am. Jordan stayed up to watch them go down the mountain until they were out of the site. Those poor kids have probably sworn off tramping for the rest of their life now!
|Sunrise from Tahurangi Lodge
The next morning we got up and made our way down the mountain towards the carpark. It was another beautiful day and a number of climbers had already passed the lodge enroute to the summit. We later learned a couple guys stayed at the summit for the night, sleeping in the bivovac’s (sleeping bag tents). Last night would have been the perfect night to do it as the moon was full illuminating the mountain and the temperatures were just right. I have to say we were a bit jealous! Maybe that will be our goal next time J
|Jordan at the bottom of the track after a successful climb
Check out Episode 26: Summiting Mount Taranaki