Climbing Mt. Taranaki (2518m) has always been on our adventure bucket list but the weather didn’t play ball the first time we attempted the climb in April 2017. In fact, the visitor centre strongly advised us against it, and high winds and poor visibility forced us to abandon the route 600m from the summit!
Ever since, we’ve been waiting for the chance to try again. As we don’t have alpine climbing experience yet, the window of opportunity to summit Mt. Taranaki is pretty small.
Luckily the forecast over Easter looked pretty good this year so we packed our bags Thursday night and headed for New Plymouth on Good Friday.
Planning for a sunrise hike
Our best chance of summiting turned out to be Easter Sunday. A quiet consensus rippled through the group – there was no way we were leaving without summiting this time.
Looking at all my gear laid out, I was quite proud it had grown exponentially in the last 12 months from all the various adventures – this time I had a water bladder, waterproof pants**, a waterpoof cover for my bag, a buff, my own ski gloves and well, a lot more experience under my belt.
There are several routes you can take up the mountain, but we’d already attempted the (most popular) Northern Summit Route the previous year and we were intrigued by Syme Hut – apparently the second highest hut in the North Island at 190m – which falls on the Southern Summit Route. This route is generally described as more demanding, so of course we had to conquer it.
We knew it would be a long and gruelling day (you’re effectively climbing two peaks in one day on this route – Fanthams Peak, reaching the plateau where Syme Hut is, and then Mt Taranaki) but what would make it next level would be catching the sunrise during our hike.
Egmont National Park is about an hour’s drive from New Plymouth, so we figured if we wanted to see sunrise in time, we would have to start walking at around 5am. Halfway through packing we realised Daylight Savings would be kicking into effect that night so all our calculations were off by an hour!
What we didn’t realize was the change would occur at 3am – the time we planned to get up. We ended up waking at what we thought was 3am but was actually 2am, gaining a whole hour (the clocks hadn’t changed yet!). How’s that for a crazy start to the day.
No point going back to bed now that we were wide awake, so we decided to go ahead with the plan anyway.
The Southern Summit Route
Arriving at the Visitor centre car park in pitch darkness was kind of surreal – we had to be quiet because there were so many sleeping campers parked around us – and it was freezing. Out came the head torches and the gloves!
We quickly warmed up as we hiked through the Goblin forest and ended up having to take layers off. It was pretty cool having the route to ourselves while everyone else was fast asleep!
The first section of the track is made up of seemingly endless steps, getting progressively steeper as we climbed our way out of the bushline and finally onto the slopes of scoria.
Tip: Make sure you pack a head torch if you’re climbing at night – the scoria is a mission with a handheld one!
Climbing scoria is kind of fun, especially in the middle of the night when you’re lighting the way with nothing but head torches. It was pretty much a straight scramble up Fantham’s Peak, sliding a bit with every step.
If you have a fear of heights like I do, keeping on going up is definitely the biggest mental challenge. Super glad to have been able to break the resistance after a few mini panic attacks.
Gradually the sky began to lighten and we stopped to watch the sun come up fully, mesmerised and grateful we chose to climb when we did.
Sunrise over Fantham’s Peak
Syme Hut and the climb to the Summit
Approaching Syme Hut was something other-worldly, against the dramatic backdrop of Mt Taranaki. The hut has some incredible history of how it was first built – and it’s fascinating to look at the logbook and see everyone who’s ever stayed there.
The hut was empty when we got there so we had a quick breather, inhaled some food, lightened our packs, took a deep breath and made our way to Mt. Taranaki.
Syme Hut and the 3 of us
If we thought Fantham’s Peak was steep, this section was almost vertical slopes of scoria – so straight that you’re almost wondering how you’re not falling off the mountain backwards!
We were surprised to see minimal ice in the crater when we got there. From research, we knew you could walk east, through the crater, to where the track meets up with the northern route. Just as we started making our way around the ice we saw a couple gingerly making their way straight down from the summit.
Scramble to the crater
Not a lot of ice when we got there
The man slipped and let loose a boulder, which came crashing down. You don’t really think about the danger of rockfall while you’re climbing – but suddenly it was all too real. The boulder kept picking up speed, bouncing off other rocks and knocking them loose – the three of us were frozen looking up at it, not knowing what way it would go. At the last second the trajectory of boulder veered to the left and our friend Nick JUST managed to leap out of the way.
Nick holds up the boulder that nearly killed him
When we’d finally recovered from that incident, we started retracing the couple’s footsteps straight up, figuring we could shave off some time. It turned out to be a lot harder than it looked as getting any grip on the rocks was really tricky – they’d just come loose and tumble down.
Tip: Looks can be deceiving – stick to your plan!
Eventually we zigzagged our way along a ridge to the left, grabbing whatever we could while gusts of wind threatened to blow us off – and suddenly there we were, on the coveted summit of Mt. Taranaki!
Barry climbing for Ireland
More summit views
I think we were all a little proud that we’d taken the more challenging Southern Route, given the number of people on the summit that had climbed the Northern side.
Shark’s Tooth from the Summit
Once is never enough
We had all joked that climbing Taranaki once is enough – I even laughed and said I’d retire from hiking now, but as we made our way down, the feeling of accomplishment engulfed us and even fuelled the fire more! We also met some really incredible people who seemed to embody Break the Resistance. From two young girls climbing with their father, to an old man climbing with his daughter, to Derek Andrews, an old man who has climbed Mt. Taranaki over 700 times. He brings anything man-made down with him off the mountain, and has even made the local papers. And he’s not planning on stopping anytime soon – you might even see him the next time you’re on the mountain!
Derek Andrews has climbed the mountain 700+ times
For me, the experience made me want to overcome my fear of heights – both of us joined the Alpine Club, started rock climbing and Barry’s going on his first Snowcraft Course mid year! Thanks Mt. Taranaki – we’ll be back.
Coming down the mountain, Syme Hut in the background
All images © Break the Resistance. 📷 Barry O’Reilly.
**The waterproof pants didn’t survive the scoria on the way down – they now have a giant hole in the butt area, kind of redundant for keeping water out now!