Being seasoned climbers, Mark and I never considered that Mount Taranaki would prove too taxing to climb. But a particularly feisty spring storm system meant we almost missed out during our trip there.
The first attempt saw high winds buffetting us and cloud scurrying by, sucking light from the sky and enveloping us in grey nothing. We sheltered in the lee of a rocky alcove at around 2000 metres on Mount Taranaki’s north-eastern flank, shouting at each other whether to continue climbing. Eventually we decided to descend.
We had attempted the climb with New Plymouth’s Phill Davies, club captain for the Taranaki Alpine Club (TAC). At 29, Phill was one of the younger, more active members of the 400 strong TAC. He moved to New Plymouth in 2010 with his wife Anna, attracted to both the area and the mountain.
After choosing to abandon our climb, Mark and I stayed with Phill and Anna at their New Plymouth home, hoping the weather would lift enough to try again.
It took six days, but eventually a half day clearance allowed us another brief opportunity to try to reach the summit. Cloud and wind were still our companions, along with new snow. It had snowed heavily the night before, and we wondered about avalanche conditions further up the mountain. With cloud and wind still clogging the mountain in the morning, there was no opportunity for an early start. We left the North Egmont car park just before lunch, and started kicking steps up through the fresh snow.
Given the challenging weather conditions, Phill suggested the North Ridge as the best option – hopefully it wouldn’t be loaded with too much fresh snow. A few weeks earlier, two local climbers had been swept hundreds of metres down the northern flank of Mount Taranaki by a wind-slab avalanche. Phill pointed out where the climbers were knocked over by the avalanche. Judging by the fall line, they were lucky to survive.
One of the unique aspects of Mount Taranaki is the view. It is surrounded by the ocean on three sides. As I ascended the last few hundred metres to the wind swept, ice encrusted summit, I was mesmerised by the ocean. Plenty of our mountains have a view of the sea, but to see it almost all around felt like I was standing right on the edge of Aotearoa.
Mark, Phill and I reached the summit just before sunset. Mark dashed around with his camera to capture everything before the light faded. Phill and I hunkered down, trying to shelter from the bitingly cold wind and the constantly swirling snow. It hadn’t been an easy climb, but reaching the summit felt more special because of this.