Panitahi-Fanthams Peak: Not For The Faint-Hearted

Without a doubt, ‘Mounga’ (“Mount”) Taranaki is the significant feature along the west coast of Aotearoa NZ’s North Island.  At 2,518 metres high (8,261 feet, for those of you who conceptualise accordingly), “Taranaki” dominates the skyline on all levels, and from all sides – as he should, really.

Māori lore recounts a “battle of all battles”, culminating in the “hiding of all hidings” – a gargantuan, terrifying, love- and lava-fuelled scrap between the two main heavyweight contenders of our fair nation’s northern volcanic landscape: mighty Mount Tongariro, and our boy, chiefly and majestic Mounga Taranaki (*read a suitably more fleshed-out version of events here, in one of my previous posts).

The prize(?): pretty Ms. Pihanga, who in this particular heyday had a whole host of admirers losing their proverbial ‘hinengaro’ (“mind/s”) over her on a semi-regular basis.

What’s perhaps less-known is how Taranaki’s ‘Bro’ and neighbour ‘Panitahi’ (or: “Fanthams Peak” – pronounced phantoms) fits in to this whole scenario.

A very ‘old school’ tale hints at some equally old-fashioned illegitimacy, with Panitahi born looking noticeably “different” from his siblings, the many offspring of our girl Pihanga and “chief squeeze” Tongariro.

Suspicious, and suitably spurred by some surrounding gossip and innuendo, Tongariro set a trap that would eventually provide him with enough proof to send him into a right ‘spin’ over Pihanga and Taranaki’s suspect relationship dynamic.

All fucking hell broke loose.

Accepting of his fate (you know when you’re wrong – right(?)), Taranaki gathered-up Panitahi and the two of them carved their way westward together to the soothing (and more importantly) open arms of ‘Pouākai’ (also female), all of them embracing, settling fractured egos and frayed nerves, ’til ‘Tamanuiterā’ the sun rose and riveted them to the spot/s they now occupy.

Significantly shorter in stature, Panitahi’s 1,966 metres (6,450 feet) are no less challenging to climb.

The hour-and-a-half long (*approximately, if you’re cruising) route to the scree is heavily laden with stairs – 2,000+ stairs, all of them the usual DoC ‘combo’ of “minimal fuss and effort”, and “basically requires a CrossFit-inspired tuck-jump to scale” (*ugh* – you can imagine how they feel to descend, eh).

‘Hillary Seat’, ‘Hooker Shelter’ (at 1,140 metres’ altitude), and ‘Kāpuni Lodge’ (privately owned by the Mount Egmont Alpine Club – contact them for a key) serve as reliable symbols and landmarks in order to gather bearings, all of ’em adequate spaces for heating-up a brew of something warm and inspiring en-route to those upper scree reaches (recommendations: Jed’s Coffee Co. coffee bean bags, and Raro powdered drink sachets (*fabulous for stemming the onset of lactic acid)).

On the scree, absolutely fucking stunning views of Mounga Taranaki will inspire on a clear day.  Alternately, ascending in heavy cloud or precipitation makes for a hard, demotivating slog, and may even tilt the ‘wannabe summiteer’ towards giving up entirely.

Don’t, if you don’t have to (as-in, there’s no danger).

Simply step off the stairs and on to the scree, climb up-and-over the first rocky outcrop, and once in/on the deeper stuff my advice is to literally take each route marker one at a time – you’ll get up, you’ve got this (*micro-spikes help(!)).

One small step at a time (and sometimes two steps back – *grins*).

The thing is, an hour or-so later you’ll find yourself on a saddle of-sorts, staring up at one final 5-minute push to the summit’s fairly flat ridge…

In total awe of your surroundings…

Thanking everyone and everything that you didn’t succumb, and you never gave up

And making your way to Syme Hut for quite possibly the most scenic lunchtime spot in “The ‘Naki” (excepting the top of Mounga Taranaki himself, of course).

Summit swag (*grins*)…
Syme Hut.

My mate and I did succumb at Easter, getting as far as the deeper scree on what was effectively a showery, blustery, utter ‘shit bag’ of a Saturday, with no obvious sign/s of clearing (in stark contrast to the weather forecast, and certainly not during our moments on the peak).

Wet, blustery, cold – *ugh*.

Shivering, and feeling slightly at-risk of developing hypothermia, we retreated (*wisely), vowing to return later this year.

This second Queen’s Birthday weekend attempt was not particularly intricately planned, the idea of a return-trip largely the by-product of me feeling incredibly moved and motivated by the #EverestNoFilter crew arriving successfully at the apex of Mount Everest in late-May (because, how can you not(?)).

And, to be honest and candid, we talked a fair few times about turning around during this attempt.  A tiny-yet-annoying seed of fear was crudely planted in me at the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre at our dawn arrival, upon reading DoC’s notice regarding Panitahi’s environmental conditions on this the third official day of winter (ice axe and crampons would be needed to go all the way – no exceptions).

Then there were all the obvious alpine enthusiasts passing-by, with their axes, ropes, and carabiners.  They certainly didn’t help things.

The orange route-markers were completely iced over (as was the door to the hut’s toilet – another story for another time)…
And our eyelashes were coated in condensation from all the cloud… But we survived, getting up and down without any winter/technical gear.

So, perhaps what I’m most appreciative of (*today) is my tendency to research and track the weather in terms of potential “windows of opportunity”, and (more so), that this one just so happened to go our way on what would turn out to be the clearest, calmest, wind- and snow-free day of them all.

‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’ – or: “Go well, and return safely”, always;

Dedicated to ‘Matua Panitahi’, ‘Koro Taranaki’, and everything they’ve endured together;


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