“You know you have to come back right?” Tony said to me as we were driving back to Wellington in December. “You did the the right thing, but you have to come back now” he added.
This was after a Taranaki summit trip in December 2015, where I turned back tantalisingly close to the crater. With the summer route choked up with ice, all that was left was a narrow exposed rocky ridge. As the rest of the party made it past an awkward boulder, I wasn’t happy with my holds. I couldn’t find good holds and had visions in my head of falling backwards onto a 45 degree ice slope and riding it until I hit the scree and rocks at the bottom. “No way” I thought, I have much more to live for.
Flash forward to last weekend. I was hesitant about this trip, because of the long drive to Taranaki. Because of the effort required of a 1,500m summit day. Because of the notoriety of the East Ridge. Because of Tony’s laughter filled explanation of the “chimney” we were to climb off the Shark’s Tooth, with nothing but an old piece of number 8 fencing wire for safety. But nevertheless I was off away on Friday with a long drive to some kind of campsite that Tony scouted, up near the Manganui skifield. In the van I’d only been on a trip with Simon and Alice. Some were new faces, some I’d only seen in club. Tony was not short of enthusiasm as usual and away we went.
We rolled into camp near midnight, and having had a power nap on the way I was surprisingly fresh as I got my tent up and settled away for a good night’s sleep. Tony got us all up at some ungodly hour. I was extremely reluctant to get out of my warm tent and into the surprisingly chilly Taranaki autumnal morning. My grumbles were soon abated however by a stunning vista of the mountain bathed in alpenglow. A cup of coffee and an OSM and we were off to climb the East Ridge, which looked like an imposing wall from where we were.
We started off down the usual track from the carpark, ignoring DOC’s yellow tape. On our way we saw the rescue helicopter hovering away, not sure what to make of it we kept on following the track. “Man down” someone yelled and the column stopped. The word up front was it was something serious and so we took the hastily built detour down across Manganui gorge. Sure enough there was a tramper some way down a fairly serious 2-3m bluff, looking pale, with rescuers and other trampers comforting him. Sometimes I guess DOC’s yellow tape is there for a good reason?
We ploughed on to the Manganui lodge where we filled up on water (some had 3.5L, your dear writer scoffed at that… and then promptly filled up to about 4.5L himself). As we started following the ski tow we had our first casualties with Alice and then shortly after Antonia not feeling well and, excusing themselves from the climb, ventured back down to the van. The rest of us trudged up the ski tow to the little shack at the top of the ski field where we stopped for a quick break. We then cut across to a big rock formation to keep us off the scree. Scrambling up some bluffs we got onto the volcanic crown of the mountain. The only way was up and we followed a path up some good rock, with not so good bits of scree deposited. Frequent yells of “Rock!” made the column pause and look up, cursing to see occasional fist sized chunks of rock bounding down.
We got onto good rock and started following the lava crown all the way to the East Ridge terminus of the Shark’s Tooth. It started off fairly reminiscent of the Tararua scrambles before becoming steeper and more dizzying. I start to feel my mind racing. No way. This is nuts. What you’re doing is nuts. What if the rock slips. What if the cone collapses. What if the mountain blows its top? What then? No, I thought. I must fight through this horrible feeling. Onwards. Don’t look to the sides. Look up. Three points of contact. Locate the holds. Test the holds. The rock is great. You can do this. The grade dropped off a bit, I hear yelps above me. Hopefully not a rock. It was Nick, he was on the top. Ok I thought, keep it steady and you’ll get up there. Soon enough I was on the Shark’s Tooth arete and peering gently into the crater. The top of the Tooth was another 3m above me, do I chance it knowing I have to downclimb it? After deliberation, I gave into peer pressure and got my butt up to the top of the Shark’s Tooth to cheers and wild applause from the crew! Phew, I thought, the only way is down from here!
Tony was gleefully talking up the Chimney ever since the December trip. Some talk around club seemed to suggest that the route was too advanced for a mere Easy Medium trip, but Tony assured me that this was all nonsense and that even little kids apparently successfully complete the route. Sidling down from the Shark’s Tooth we encountered some rusty fence posts with some scraggly, equally rusty, no. 8 fencing wire stretching around. About 50m north from the Shark’s Tooth the wire abruptly stops and disappears down a chasm, with a giant boulder precariously perched above. This is the entrance of the Chimney. Being last one up the Shark’s Tooth, and therefore the first one down I elected to get it over and done with.
“Nice knowing you guys!” I said half jokingly before disappearing into the abyss. Well, really it was quite benign – there is a nice little platform halfway down the Chimney and before you know it you are on the other side with a nice sidle track down to the crater. Being the first one down I managed to snap photos and yell instructions to the crew to guide them down. All that was left now is to scramble the scree up to the summit dome and have a much overdue lunch.
The summit was overrun by mozzies and tourists, I’m not sure which one bothered me the most. Nick and Elisabet then went off to find the secret geocache while the rest of us were having lunch. Some happy summit photos were taken. Third time’s the charm I guess!
Coming down was fairly academic. The ice that thwarted my December summit attempt was all gone and all that was left is the well trodden cattle track back to North Egmont. The scree in a couple of places was swept clear right down to the bare rock and it made descending tricky, with some falls and swearing thrown in for good measure. We managed to ring up Alice and Antonia to get them to drive the van to North Egmont, saving us a couple of hours. We were down before we knew it, but unfortunately the cafe was closed so we were denied the comforts of civilisation. Up and down in about 10.5 hours, a great Easy-Medium trip! In fact one of the best club trips I’ve ever done!