We left Auckland late last night and arrived in Stratford (30 minutes from New Plymouth) at 12:30 midnight! It is a long drive down from Auckland and State Highway 3 is anything but a straight drive.
Woke at 6am and had a look outside. To our dismay, the skies were gray and threatening to rain – it wasn’t pretty. Decided to sleep in an extra 30 minutes to account for the lack of sleep and see whether the cloud burns off. The outlook appeared even worse. Determined not to let the 450km trip down to Mount Taranaki go to waste, we headed towards the mountain.
Shortly after exiting Stratford and entering Egmont National Park (Mount Egmont a.k.a. Mount Taranaki), all of a sudden, the gray clouds disappeared revealing crystal clear blue skies! The moment was surreal.
We stopped at the Egmont National Park car park and started the tramp circa 8:15am. Soon we arrived at the base of the Manganui Ski field. An amateur mistake saw us head up the ski area and approach the mountain from the East, as opposed to the usual North side. Neither Nick nor I had spent long enough looking at the map. After the fact, it looks like the mistake we made was heading up the ski slope instead of taking the inconspicuously labelled (was it even labelled?) track to the north. I think the summit track (from Egmont National Park) was not adequately sign posted. Still, this doesn’t make up for lack of preparation.
Most of the way up the ski slope, we realised we were not any track at all. We had a look at the map on a smart phone (there is 3G coverage at 1600m!), but this tends to be frustratingly cumbersome to use under stress. I’ll take a hardcopy of the map of the mountain next time. We head back down the mountain towards the car park, in search of either a DOC map or some locals trampers.
Fortunately we bump into some locals near the car park. They tell us they are going for a casual stroll, and it turns out they are too plan to summit Taranaki from the East face. Because it is not an actual track, the East face is a shorter but harder track than the usual North track. With people to follow, we decide to go back up the mountain the route we just came down.
We notice that the couple are competent trampers as they speed up the mountain. Fortunately, one of them is wearing a bright pink top which stands out on Taranaki’s scrubless bare gray scree slopes. At 1600m the mountain becomes a scree slope. It gets stepper and stepper and more and more challenging. Something tells me that the North face is more suited to novice trampers and first Mount Taranaki climbers! We make it another 300m before throwing in the white towel. Nick has done a bit of sailing and knows a bit about weather patterns and spots some cloud formation he doesn’t like the look of.
The north-easterly wind picks up and starts to flick up dust. As we disappointingly head down the mountain, the wind continues to build and begins to blow gusts. I would have liked to press on to the summit, but I think Nick has made the right call. I bet he is just as disappointed as I am and there will always be another day!
Mount Taranaki remains unfinished business. Next time I’ll come prepared and probably follow the DOC track up the North face. Still, there is something more appealing getting to the summit from the East face without following a marked track travelled by lots trampers.