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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Big One

With only two weeks left in New Zealand, and I decided to go for broke: Mount Taranaki.. I planned on getting to the summit of that beast. Have you seen The Last Samurai? This is the volcano used in that film. It is truly a beast at 8,260 feet to the summit!

The week prior 7 guys from my program also made the summit their goal, all physically fit, but half way through two had to turn back at the half-way point. It is a 7-8 hour total return climb for a fit hiker, and you need every bit of light that you can scavenge. Mount Taranaki, aka Egmont, is the most fatal mountain in New Zealand; many of these deaths occur due to unprepared hikers and quick (alpine) weather changes.

I arrived at the parking lot base early that Saturday morning with lots of winter-ready clothes, food and water in my pack. I took one step out of the car, and realized that half of my clothes needed to get put on immediately! No layers were shed the entire hike up until I stood atop the summit and smiled for the camera!

The beginning of 1000s of stairs!
After a steep but relatively flat 1.5 hour 5000 feet climb from the carpark, you reach an overnight hikers lodge. After you leave the lodge (nice rest stop and views across the country), you hit a series of steps. The steps, at least on the downhill, are a welcome (structured) addition to the climb. There are about a million steps, but hey, who’s counting? After all the million steps, you are at decision point. You hit about 2200 feet of scoria (“scree”); this is the point that the 2 guys earlier had to call it quits. Scree--> Think pumice stone (also volcanic formed), but slightly heavier. Now picture 2200 feet of this stuff, all shapes and sizes from the size of a dime to half dollar, all layed out on a 35 degree climb up it. Basically, “one step forward, two steps back” is the trend, so you can either try to take lots of steps quickly to lose less in the end (quickly tiring), or take one step, try your best to plant that foot, and swing the other foot up the incline. Repeat a thousand times, give or take a hundred.