By Mikey, 12 December 2011
Antoine Moinet (from France)
Michael Instone (Scribe)
This was a trip organised in traditional style – at the last minute! Not realising that it had been taken off the calendar (I was chief guide this year!), and given that this was the trip that I had been hanging out for since the beginning of the year, I had to get the trip going. Although it was organised at the last minute, I didn’t have to try very hard to find people who also wanted to come.
Before the trip, the weather was looking a bit average.... stormy and less than desirable. The forecast did show however a few hours on the Monday morning when the weather would be clear. I used the Monday weather forecast to justify going Taranaki instead of using the forecast for the rest of the weekend to justify going somewhere else.... We had our weather window and the trip to the summit was on! We just had to find something to do for the first two days. I ran my plans past Kieran who told me that they were a bit ambitious. I wanted to start at the north side, go over the top by North Ridge and head to Waiaua Gorge Hut, then back over the top to somewhere else. It would have been fun I’m sure, but I am pleased that we didn’t do that this trip!
Friday night came and 9 of us turned up at Hunter Carpark for a trip where our plan was to fill in Saturday and Sunday and be at Syme Hut on Sunday night to take full advantage of our “window”. We had a van and a car for transport. We decided that two vehicles would be antisocial, so we set up a 9th seat in the van using packs and were on our way. We listened to the Ipods of those who had them, enjoying lyrics like “Raise your hand if you’re on ketamine”. It opened my eyes.
When driving towards Mt Taranaki, I had in my mind that I wanted to start at North Egmont and walk around the base of the mountain until summit day. We found ourselves at the Dawson Falls road end. I didn’t see the right road signs to get us to North Egmont before we got there. Isabella was driving and I was tired and didn’t have the energy to tell her to turn around and continue driving for another hour. We were going to start from Dawson Falls!
We camped that night on the grass outside the visitors centre and restaurant and it was wet and windy! We decided that there was no point carrying tents with us on the trip beyond the carpark as they would only add weight and we were staying in huts anyway. The next morning we got up early and before we left, decided to go south to Waiaua Gorge Hut via the Upper Lake Dive and Brames Falls tracks. It was raining when we left, but warm. When we got to the bushline, I only had a T shirt under my raincoat. It was raining heavily and there was some wind. We had been walking for an hour above the bushline and completely exposed to the weather. I felt that I was at a comfortable temperature, but that I had to pay attention to my temperature as I was getting to the colder side of comfortable. I kept walking for about half an hour and realised that I needed to have another layer on. This was not ideal as the rain was heavy, the wind was getting strong and there was nowhere sheltered to take my raincoat off and to put my softshell on underneath it. I finally got to the point where I had to put something warm on, so I stopped and took my pack off. It wasn’t until then that I found that my arms were so cold that I couldn’t use them properly. I pulled my softshell out and tried to keep it dry. I then took my raincoat off and put everything back on as fast as I could. With my numb arms, I couldn’t do the zip up properly on my raincoat. I was annoyed and felt guilty that while leading this trip, I had turned myself into a potential liability by letting myself get cold.
I walked a few hundred metres further up the hill to where everyone else was standing. Tenzin and Josie were in the same position or slightly worse to the one I had just put myself in. I didn’t feel guilty anymore! Tenzin learnt the important lesson that cold weather gear, including gloves, should be kept in the top of your pack so that you don’t have to pull everything out to get at them! We have had a few laughs about those gloves over the year! Once we got started again, I warmed up within half an hour. Thanks softshell with a hood!
Although the weather was not our friend on Saturday, it gave the mountain and the scenery a feel that we would not have experienced had the sun been out. It was wet and miserable, but when we got to the Brames Falls track, we found a saddle that was rising up through a blanket of mist, it had a certain majesty about it. Once we went down over the saddle and below the bushline, we were safe from the weather. The weather was a bit shit, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way for Saturday.
We arrived at Waiaua Gorge after around 6 hours. We had mulled wine and Jaegger tea thanks to Isabella and Jukka who carried it for us! We then learned to laugh like the French do (haw haw haw).
The next morning we again decided our route just before leaving. As seems to happen with larger groups, we left 2 ½ hours after I got up. We had the choice of the shorter day – going back the way we came and then on to Syme Hut, or the longer day – taking the Taungatara track to Lake Dive Hut and then up to Syme Hut. As we would walk back a different way to the way we came, we chose the longer day! It was still raining when we left, but the weather cleared as the day went on. The Taungatara track follows around the mountain, but at a lower altitude than our previous day. This option made for a long day! We walked through wet green forest, adding some variation from the day before.
We arrived at Lake Dive hut at around 5 and had lunch here. I was keen to make it a quick stop as if we were to hang around for a while, it would have been easy to stay there for the night. If we stayed at Lake Dive, we would not have had a chance to summit, which was the whole reason we were there! I also wanted to get to Syme Hut before it got dark as I didn’t know what the wind was doing. Jukka, Isabella and Tenzin swam in the lake while the rest of us ate lunch. The lake looked cold.
We walked up the mountain from Lake Dive towards the launch zone for our summit bid. We got up to the scree slopes and found that there was no wind and the clouds were gone. I needn’t have worried about the weather today. It took plenty of energy to get up the slope with scree sliding under our feet every time we took another step. I was at the back with Jack and Chris. Jack and I couldn’t work out why Chris was taking so long and struggling so much. It became dark while we were walking up the scree. It was also a starry night, making the slope a very pleasant place to be. We stopped to sort out the weight issue in Chris’ pack. We had left the rest of the tents at the van. Chris brought his 4kg tent with him. Anyone who knows Chris understands this. Chris loves to be prepared for any eventuality. Mt Taranaki was my introduction to Chris and I was a bit stunned. I took the tent and Jack took some weight off Chris too.
We got to Syme under a blanket of stars. The others had already started cooking dinner. Outside was dead still, so Jack and I sat outside while eating dinner. It was a pretty sweet place to hang out. To maintain our theme for the trip, we again had mulled wine and Jaegger tea.
The next morning we set out for our objective on the trip, the summit! Half of the group had not used crampons before. The plan was to give a quick demonstration at the bottom of a snow slope where there was a safe run out. We got to the snow and there was no run out. Jack and I got everyone to put their crampons on and gave clear instructions that everyone should ensure that all points of the crampons were in the snow, and of course, no one was to fall. Once we got to the top of the slope we had a break and my stress reduced greatly. We walked down the other side into a gully to then find a way to the summit. We found a nice mixed route that involved a bit of rock as we were more used to rock than snow and ice, and thought this would be the easiest way. Standing at the bottom of the mixed rock and snow slope was like standing in a different world. Towering over us were three pillars standing proud in the mist. Behind the pillars, the sun started to pierce through.
We got to the top, but needed something to celebrate our feat. Planking had been in the news recently and I had just learned what it was. Our summit photo was of the group planking on top of Taranaki. Like everything else on the trip, it fell into place.
We headed back down to Syme hut where we finished any left over food we had and also finished the wine. Tenzin showed us a few card tricks, but being as evil as he is, did not reveal the secrets to the tricks.
We headed down from Syme mid afternoon. My pack weighed almost nothing now, except for Chris’ tent! The scree slope had taken us around 2 or 3 hours to get up, but took hardly any time at all to get down. Sliding down the scree was definitely a lot of fun!
We got back to the van at around 5 and headed back to Wellington. It was an entertaining drive back. In the front, Jack and I decided to play the window game after people in the back complained of it being cold.
It was a great trip and one of the highlights for me this year. After coming back and telling of our successful trip and of summiting in spite of the depressing weather forecast, Craig Scott described the trip as “tin arse”.