06 November 2011

Those were the days - Conquering the Mountain

It was never going to be a walk in the park.

More like a slog up 2,500 vertical metres of sheer awesomeness that rises out of the coast of Taranaki. On one hand it begs to be climbed, to be conquered, but at the same time it taunts with the difficulty of its sheer cliff faces.

I'd been in love with this hill my whole life, its perfect and beautiful cone shape drawing an intake of breath whenever it finally came out of the clouds to grace us with its glory. I'd climbed various tracks all over it, and even stayed a few nights on the mountain growing up. Always dreaming of the moment I might set foot on its peak.


We waited for the perfect day. For the weather to be kind enough, calm enough. We planned it for Easter 2005, but it was not to be.

Instead we had to bide our time. For two more weeks. Waiting, watching. So another road trip ensued. Every kilometre travelled away from Wellington bringing us one step closer to our goal, that elusive prize. We arrived late on Friday night, tired after the working week and the 5-hour drive.

So it was straight to bed, as we were early to rise. Excited, and nervous. We were disappointed to look out the window and see the mountain covered in cloud but we hadn't come this far not to try our luck.

There was only one other minor (major) detail I'd forgotten to bring, a pair of clean knickers! So did I climb the mountain in a 2nd-day-running G-string under my bike pants? You betcha!

We drove to the North Egmont carpark, and set off at 7.30am, knowing we had a 5 hour climb ahead of us. Even though the cloud was low, we could tell that before long we would be climbing above it. So up we went through the bush, which started out as trees taller than us, and gradually dwindled and thinned out to tussock and brush around our knees.

Our first hard yards were put in on the track up to the Translator and Tahurangi Lodge, on a four-wheel drive track aptly named The Puffer.

It's about here I must enter my disclaimer:
I must have gotten a life sometime after this event as I now realise that a bright orange t-shirt and bike pant combo does not a sexy look make! Especially when combined with that 2-day old G-string. I did, however, go and buy some new knickers the minute we got off the mountain and back to civilisation.


We made good time on this first leg, and upon reaching the Lodge enjoyed the view from above the clouds with Mount Ruapehu winking at us in the distance.

From here, the track thinned out to single file as we entered the Hongi Valley, where you are warned not to linger as loose rocks and boulders have been known to come crashing down through here.


And then it was onto the staircase. And much as though putting one foot in front of the other on that staircase seemed tedious, we would soon be longing for this again, once on the scoria slopes which are difficult to walk on, One foot forward is more often than not two feet back.



At the end of the scoria, we reached the Lizard, a prominent rocky ridge at about 2,100m which then took us all the way up into the crater entrance. And whilst the firmer, larger rocks seemed a welcome relief to begin with after the slippery scoria, it took a lot of concentration to pick a safe path onwards and upwards clambering over these rocks.


And eventually, just when it felt as if the sun was getting too hot to bear on our backs (a complete role reversal for this usually wild and windy precipice), we emerged into the crater.

A second wind of energy pushing us up the last hurdle, to the crater peak.

We'd done it!


It's so unusually still and warm up here that we lingered for a long time, enjoying the views across to the Central Plateau, and eating our lunch down in the crater.


Taking the obligatory flag shots of course, and if I'd had a NZ flag I'd have taken it too!


And then, as much as we had enjoyed basking in the glory of the prize, it was time to descend. Back to our life below the clouds.

Saying our farewells to our glorious host.

Farewell to you mountain. Invigorating and demanding. Enthralling and deadly. You who can go from blazing hot to bitterly cold in the twinkle of an eye. Many a climber has been wooed by the thought of climbing your dizzy heights, only to underestimate you, and then never leave.

And for that, I will always respect you. I respect that you allowed me to scale your utmost heights and return again to tell the tale.


And tell of you I will, for years to come. You whose stairways end in Heaven and jet trails.

Ascent of Mount Egmont (Taranaki). 16th April, 2005.

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