North and East Ridge Taranaki

Some work weeks can be quite nice, some are ok, but this one just had sucked from the very beginning. However, knowing that there are some great outdoorsy activities waiting at the end made the week a lot easier to endure, especially when it is a really scenic destination such as Mt. Egmont.

As usual, a bus full of motivated trampers departed from the train station sometime around 6pm, and after a quick dinner stop at Bulls plus some more driving, we finally arrived at North Egmont visitor centre. Packs were mounted, torchlights were switched on, and off we went – just to arrive at Tahurangi lodge an hour later to meet up with Steve Healy who had arrived a couple of hours earlier. Because the weather forecast hadn’t been too promising, Steve’s plan had been to already climb Taranaki on Friday just in case the weather turned bad on Saturday. However, wind and hail thwarted his summit ambitions, and so, he had to hope with us for better conditions on Saturday.

The next morning started with a clear blue sky and the wind had died away. We split up in two groups: Steve headed off with a bunch of keen mountaineers to ascend Taranaki via the northern ridge whereas Mike and I started our ascent towards the Organ Pipes valley. Our plan was to do some pitches along the east ridge, but the snow conditions and the inclination were decent enough to not lose time with ropework. The higher we got, the sweeter the ice conditions became, and combined with the breathtaking view, it made it one of these experiences worth living for!

After some hours of walking, trudging, and sometimes crawling up the mountain, we finally ended up on top of a spike called Sharks Tooth, which in summer, is really nothing more than a boring pile of stones. In winter however, it is turned into one big fascinating ice sculpture. Its structure and its steepness woke the monkeys in us, and soon after finishing our lunch, we put up a top-rope and started fooling around. Unfortunately, the ice consistency wasn’t really what we had expected, and the constant wind shovelling snow in our faces when moving up soon caused us to wrap up our stuff and descend.

And that was when the real fun started. We somehow expected that the visibility would become worse, so we tried to follow some footsteps that we’d found earlier. Our foolproof plan failed just 5 minutes later when we lost the trail. By that time, visibility had come down to 5 metres, and despite roughly knowing the direction and having a GPS on us, we had to slow down our descent to avoid accidentally falling off bluffs that would otherwise have perfectly been visible under normal weather conditions.

After getting down another couple of 100 metres, visibility finally reached its anticlimax, and we were really forced to kick off snow just to see it sliding down the hill to get an idea of the contours. It is slightly scary when you just see white all around you and you are quite sure that your next step is safe but you can’t exclude the possibility that the step after takes you over a bluff. The magic recipe, step, kick off snow, watch it slide, step…and some down-climbing finally led us into less steep terrain, the visibility became better and after another hour, we even found our way back to the lodge.

There, the other group was already waiting for us – they had turned around before reaching the summit as the weather had been less gentle on their side of the mountain, and they wanted to avoid getting caught in the white out.

For the rest of the day, I can’t really tell what happened because soon after our arrival, the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag became too compelling and I soon drifted off.

Sunday was exactly the same as every other Sunday I had spent on Taranaki so far: lots of rain. There was nothing more to do than pack up, get down and drive home. Oh wait, I’ve almost forgotten about the Belgium waffles we had on the way to Welly – yummy – they saved the day!

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