Tackling Mount Taranaki

In almost a spontaneous decision, my flatmate (Nick) and I decided to drive down to New Plymouth and attempt to summit Mount Taranaki!

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.

Auckland 70.3

The team (Swimmer Mike, Runner Michael “dALLRunner”, and me) arrived at The Viaduct Basin around 6am. Although the team entries start at 7:30am, the swim-bike transition closes at 6:15am. Only the cyclist needed to be there this early, but the team decided solidarity is more important than that extra half hour of sleep!

Shortly, Mike heads off to prepare for the 1.9km swim. He’s a good swimmer and we’re he’ll clock in a competitive time. The start of the swim is only 500m from the transition but is not visible from there. I know Mike will be out of the water shortly, but the wait is agonizing long!

Soon Mike appears out of the water, clocking an impressive time of 28:25. I grab the timing chip off him and push my bike out of transition. I get on and start pedalling…

The first 45 kilometres of the ride are interesting and follow a course you can’t actually ride, except when competing in this event! The speed bumps at the Westhaven Marina were not as bad as I thought and neither was riding up the harbour bridge. The Northern Express bus lane is super smooth, and the rest of the ride is not bad either (on fast tarseal roads). The northern part of the ride is undulating but the climbs are small. Officials stationed at every turn to control traffic (if the road is not already blocked) and show the athletes were to go.

During the ride my aim was to maintain a 250W average power output and have an average cadence between 85-90rpm. The later is easily achievable but the 250W is hard to judge with the slightly varying gradient of the road. This is also the second ride with the SRM on my bike. I decide to aim for an average speed of 35km/h and look at the power data later on.

I arrive back to the city with an average speed of 35km/h which I am happy with. I’m feeling good and head out to do the first of two laps of the south bike course. This follows Tamaki Drive from the city to Saint Heliers and back. It is dead flat but oddly I struggle to increase my average speed. It is still around 35km/h by the time I return and head out to do the second south lap. A few kilometres into this and I realise I haven’t been consuming the energy gels and bananas I had taken with me! I also notice that to maintain my target cadence, I need to be on an easy gear. My average speed drops and I start to feel hungry. I’m about to hit the wall! I consume two energy gels in a hurry which offers temporary relieve but it’s too late. I go into damage control mode and make disappointingly wrap up the bike ride on a low note! The 90km ride took me 2:39:14.

As soon as I racked my bike Michael grabbed the timing chip from my leg and went on the run. He did this in 1:31:52, which considering he was harbouring a slight injury, he was quite pleased with. The total team time was 4:41:43, placing us 6/15 in the all male teams, and 11/51 finishing teams!

All in all I really enjoyed the bike course and the weather couldn’t have been better. Had I been on top of my nutrition, I could have done 5-10 minutes better. I also learnt that I did not need to take two water bottles on the ride.

The numbers:

  • Total time: 2:39:14 (33.9km/h)
  • 44km split: 1:15:11 (35.11km/h)
  • 67km (23km split): 39:23 (35.04km/h)
  • 90km (23km split): 44:39 (30.91km/h)
  • Average heart rate: 166bpm
  • Average power: 211W (I need to recalibrate the SRM?)

Bike bling and Auckland 70.3

This week I finally got around to installing an SRM PowerMeter on my bike! It also happens to coincide with the Auckland Half Ironman which I was roped into a week or so ago! Something came up for the cyclist from a 70.3 team entry (the others belong to running group I occasionally join in), so they asked whether I wanted to join! The bike course of the Auckland 70.3 is quite special: it is the only event where you can bike over the harbour bridge! I was sold on this fact alone.

I dropped off my bike today and made full use of the Shimano mechanics on site. I must say, the mechanic was most helpful and gave my bike a thorough check. He noticed that my bike’s chain was loose and needed to be replaced, estimating I had done more than 3,500km on it. I added it up and estimate that I’ve done more than 6,000km on it! Note to self: change the chain after the event! He also recommended that my rear shifter cable was sticking and needed to be replaced. So I got him to replace it, and he did it for free! What a champ! And the gears change super smooth now!

My bike with aerobars and the SRM unit weighs 9.85kg. My aim is to try to average 250W over the 90km ride. We’ll see about that!