Mount Taranaki: Five Tips To Get You From Start To Summit, & Back Again

*Feb ’17 (update): After recently climbing to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe, my advice is to go ahead with the whole micro-spikes ‘investment’.  Multipurpose af – what more can you ask for?

*Nov ’16 (update): Just a bit of clarity around a couple of points, really, seeing as I have more life-experience under my belt re: ‘mountains’…

Firstly, the whole micro-spikes thing; I should note that we attempted this hike as relative beginners to alpine, technically-challenging environments, and I would hazard a guess that my beginners’ boots were not the best possible choice in terms of “sensible shoes”.  I needed those spikes at the time; however, better boots-cum-alpine terrain ‘worksburgers’ would/should be the preferred option for Mounga Taranaki.

The scree here isn’t deep and soft like the stuff in Tongariro NP.  Rather, it’s shallow and unforgiving, and IMO anything less than alpine-appropriate boots simply won’t “do you right” – especially if you’re having your first go at it.  I’m now the proud owner of two different varieties: Salewa’s ‘Firetail Evo Mid GTX’, and The North Face’s ‘Ultra Gore-tex Surround Mid’, and I’d happily recommend either for sheer comfort and superb traction.

Time will totally tell, too; am planning to try these out on both Mount Ngauruhoe’s summit hike and the Pouakai Circuit over this coming Christmas-New Year’s.

Secondly (*finally): I heavily encourage you to do this hike with company; preferably someone you trust implicitly, but certainly somebody who can keep up with you, and with a keen sense of task completion.

No fuck-wits along for the proverbial ride, thanks.  People die up here.

Make the most of this one – the sense of satisfaction once you’re at the top is immense.

I’ve been thinking a lot these last few days about why I started this blog.

In particular, I’ve found myself pondering exactly how my posts and messages contribute to the outside world.

Admittedly, this has largely been sparked by the massive amount of social media attention that’s been progressively (*appropriately) gathering around the spectacularly sad state of our waterways.

In fact, as I write this a gathering of some of New Zealand’s finest ‘kaitiaki’ (“guardian/s”, or “steward/s”) are heading to Parliament on their Choose Clean Water Tour, to present their 12,000+ signature-strong petition to a Government who are apparently totally okay with polluting our ‘awa’ (“river”, “creek”, “stream” – those waterways that flow through our ancestral land/s, and connect us to them both cosmically and geographically) so that they are simply far too toxic for future generations to interact with.

All this, in the name of “progress”.

Not surprisingly, the effect of all this has been to inspire, and to galvanise – literally.  For those of us who can relate, the message is deep and resonant on a heart-and-soul-type level – and thank goodness, because it so needs to be.

My own awa, the Mōhaka River, was recently under-threat of increased pollution (the upper-Mōhaka is already the focus of a resource management-cum-restoration plan with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council) because one distinct (*read: “controversial”) piece of land was up for sale, and attracting interest from foreign buyers.

Common-sense and conservation prevailed, in my case.  A rare blessing, because let’s be frank: they don’t always under this Government, do they?

Money talks, and all that.

My humble and sincerest thanks go out to those of you who are/were there at Parliament, fighting, advocating, demanding, and working hard to secure the right/s of our future generations.  My name is also one of the many that travel with you, today.

So then, with all of this in mind I’ve come to a rock-solid conclusion re: my initial pondering/s and questions outlined at the start of this piece.

I honestly feel that the objective of this blog is to also inspire and galvanise, but in its own fashion.  It’s about me walking my walk.  It’s not politically-oriented, as I see it, and it’s doubtful that it’ll suss the embarrassingly widespread and global problem of environmental abuse in one efficient swoop.

[Actually, the optimist in me allows it an outside shot, because to me the question begs: ‘How can one not see how invaluable, how irreplaceable our Earth Māmā, Papatūānuku, is?’  Alternatively, the realist puts her hand up in front of that girl, palm facing outwards, and says: “No, enough already.”]

But, it will absolutely show what there is to celebrate, outside.  And if I can turn just one of you a little further towards that, then that’s enough, for now.

Now, you may well have guessed this, but I totally climbed a mountain over Easter Weekend.  My wannabe-mountaineer buddy Mavie and I decided to tackle the mighty ‘Mount Taranaki Summit Track’, and we acquired a lot on his slippery slopes.

Mounga Taranaki (2,518m).

When I tried researching background info about this hike, I was surprised at how little information was actually available for reading and digesting beforehand – as some of us are wont to do to prepare (*I am(!)).

So, here are 5 top-tips – 5 “summit hacks”, if you like – to get you from the North Egmont car-park to the summit, and back down again, in one fine piece…

1 – Pack Intelligently:-

Be brutal, essentially.  While you’re out there in the oft- and ever-changeable mountain wilderness doing your best Bear Grylls impression, you’ll no doubt need to have:

  • Plenty of fluid – say, at least 3 litres, or enough to last you around 10 hours;
  • Enough food to last you the day;
  • Efficient and effective rain and sun protection – so, your lightest and most reliable rain-jacket, high-SPF sunblock, and a sun-hat;
  • Thermals, top and bottom;
  • Gloves, for the scoria climb;
  • A dry bag for ‘valuables’ (thermal/s, gloves – and spare socks).

Odds-are, if you’re not attempting this walk in winter then you won’t need that feather-down vest or jacket as much as you might think.  In saying that though, my advice is to absolutely check the wind speed and chill factor forecast/s on the Metservice websiteright up to the morning of your trip.  That’s for both start (*North Egmont Visitors’ Centre) and summit (*2,518m), of course – we’re going all the way to the top, yo.

2 – Keep Moving:-

Of all the facts and titbits I did find when I looked, the word “strenuous” popped-up the most.  And that’s fine – something being strenuous actually sits perfectly okay with me.  Whilst personally-speaking this kupu tends to translate to a particular “thing” requiring a lengthier chunk of my time compared to others’ (and I refer here to experienced trampers, and/or big-time lovers of endurance-oriented pursuits), it does not render anything ‘impossible’, or ‘impassable’.

A moment of pause at the Tahurangi Lodge end of Hongi’s Valley.  Just the beginning…
Mave, viewing the world (*New Plymouth) from ‘The Lizard’.  Coming up here literally shredded our gloves – but, they’re a must for this section of the hike.  Don’t use wool (*laughs*).
Top deck view, with the in/famous ‘Summit Rock’.  See the name etchings on there?  Plus, you get a superb feel for the change in weather between this shot, and the two previous ones.  Serious stuff.

Sure, she’ll be long, hard, exhausting (physically and mentally), and a whole host of other things along with all of those handfuls of scoria.  And the truth of it(?): you’re climbing a mountain(!), that shit’s fucking meant to be hard.

One thing you may notice (*we did) is just how many nay-sayers there are up there.  Use them, and keep your intention/s at the fore, always, because the reality is some people only need one crappy and insignificant excuse to give-up and turn around.  I think we had one guy say to us: “You’ve got this”, while others sought to point-out the rain, the slippery rocks, the difficult terrain, and/or the time-factor.

Slow, steady, and deliberate will absolutely get you there and back.

Whatever happens, please absorb this one thing: you’ve so got this.

3 – Leave Early:-

Time does not necessarily have to be-all and end-all.  Keep the pressure purely mental and physical, and leave before sunrise.

In saying that, be sure to sign the intentions book at the visitors’ centre, have an emergency contact person in your corner, and tell everyone who matters when you’re out again (*write this in the same book, afterwards).

Always-always-always be safe.

4 – Micro-spikes:-

Seriously, invest in some of these(!), they’re like a secret weapon when it comes to ice, rock, scoria, and screeall of which you’ll encounter on Mounga Taranaki.

Rock- and (*a little bit of) scree-porn at the ‘Shark’s Tooth’ vs. ‘Crater’ junction.
‘The Crater’ – an ice-pit, year-round.  Believe it or not, this is the ‘180-degree rotation’ view of the previous photo.  Crazy – right??

You can pick them up off Trade Me or eBay for hardly anything (I spent $70 on mine), and they’re such time- and effort-savers.

Heck, it hailed like mad on the summit, so you could even rate them life-savers in their own way.

My advice is to put these on at the top of the stairs out of ‘Hongi’s Valley’ (before you hit the scree slope/s), and leave them on until you’re back there again.  They’ll come in handy the entire way – trust me.

5 – Savour The View:-

There was a single moment of our ascent that remains poignant, even now, as something of a tipping-point for me.  Quite simply, it was when I looked up mid-climb along the scree route and saw the peak of the mountain for the first time that day.  This was when I knew we were going all the way to summit, because had it actually been possible my wonder-struck heart would have literally burst, right then and there.

On this hike, you will need to savour the view/s as often as you can, because when the clouds eventually do part and enable you to see what’s up there, it’ll be the incentive of all incentives for you.

So, look up, and look down.  Don’t ever assume you’re close to finishing an ascent/descent phase – and likewise, don’t assume you’re not, either, especially if you can’t see a lot at the time.  Your attitude to what’s in front of, and behind you, is everything.

So please, be staunch in this.  Promise me you will not hesitate to stop, savour, and simply appreciate how incredibly special those views are…

Our cloud- and hail-laden summit view.  Very low visibility meant that we pretty much just stumbled upon it.  This was handy, and incredibly fortunate for us, but it definitely pays to know where you’re going beforehand.
Our sunset, on the day – what a way to finish.

Notable Extras:-

  • Māori ‘tikanga’ (“lore”, or “customary practice”) encourages summit visitors away from the very highest point, due to the mountain’s spiritual significance as an ancestor.  My own personal experience has been that it’s a real challenge to figure- and find out exactly where this specific point is – so:
  • How do you know when you’re actually on-summit(?), and potentially standing where you’re not supposed to be?  Well, I hardly have the experience to state this unequivocally, but it would seem there are some clues in a recent media article around some cooking that happened up there (weird, I know).  The “DOC boss” referenced here mentions some “graffiti on the summit rock” – useful in this instance, because that’s where we ended up.  So, if you head away from the ‘Shark’s Tooth’ side of the crater and up and to the right instead, you’ll find said rock without any difficulty.  Obviously, retreat and stand off to the side somewhere if you are culturally-sensitive (hopefully, you are), and your highest concern is not to offend.

One last thing: like all good journeys this is, by my definition, not one to do alone.  Take somebody with you that you trust, and that you can read (and vice-versa) when times get tough.  A knowing look or a subtle nod between you two could be the very thing you both need to dig deep and continue further up Mounga Taranaki’s peak.

In my case, the simple act of Mave putting my dry socks on my wet feet for me when I couldn’t do it myself (post-summit leg cramps, *ugh*) was the ultimate act of kindness, on the day.

Take care of each other out there;


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