The trip over was... eventful for Nick.

January 29, 2015

Having arrived safely (finally) in New Plymouth I immediately unpacked and then decided to see what the town had to offer.
The first place I wandered to was Pukekura Park which was an uphill journey of about a mile from downtown New Plymouth.  I spent some time wandering around the park taking pictures and enjoying the scenery before settling down in their tea house for lunch.  On the way back into town I stopped by a New World Supermarket and grabbed a bunch of granola bars, sandwich material and jugs of water.  
Still not content I offloaded these things into my room's fridge and walked a couple blocks north to the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway and followed it east for a couple miles before breaking off and coming back into town.  Stopped at the local Lone Star Cafe to try out their nachos and for the first time in New Zealand, I was not disappointed by them.
I had planned on hitting Mount Taranaki early, so following dinner I returned to my room to sleep.  There was an unexpected obstacle in that sunset in New Plymouth comes at 9:45pm during late December, so I had to close the blinds to go to sleep.

January 30, 2015

Up the next morning at 4:15am.  I rolled out of bed and spent the next 30 minutes bandaging up all my known 'hot spots' on my feet and getting all of my gear/food in order for the day.  I was out the door around 4:45am and driving towards the mountain.  At this point, it's worth mentioning that it was already getting light outside.
I reached the visitor center for Taranaki National Park about 5:30am and by 5:45am I had oriented myself, let Ashley know I was starting the climb and then went upon my way.  The sun got over the horizon when I reached my first landmark from 2013, what I dubbed 'Ashley Turnaround Point'.  It's the first major switchback and where Ashley turned around in 2013.  It is also here that you first get over the rainforest and have a most excellent view of the surrounding hills.  
From here I started running into people less inclined to sleep than me and started passing and saying hello a lot.  After about 30 minutes I reached the base of the 'Puffer'.  A section of trail that was so steep, it had to be paved in two ruts so that cars could make it up without slipping.  This is where I first saw the big difference in my physical aptitude since the failure in 2013.  What stopped me cold barely had me breathing hard this time and I was able to reach the cell tower hut in about an hour (2 miles horizontal).  
I stopped here to fix some of my bandages that had worked themselves loose and to have a banana.  Then it was into the Valley of the Damned.  This is where the trail goes from an access road into an honest scramble.  It's over rocks, under rocks and in some cases...through rocks from here on up.  Fortunately it's a short scramble before I reached my next landmark:  The Thousand Steps.
Should be worth mentioning that there are only 866 of them and they were in much worse condition than last time.  Portions of the 'steps' had washed out from underneath and could have been a real bad day for me if I hadn't been paying attention.  At the top of the steps it's just another little bit before you hit the scoria field.
It took me an hour to cover the next 0.5 horizontal miles.  The scoria is deep (about 8" in most places) and for every 5 steps up you go, you slide one back.  The sun was now well above the horizon and was hitting me pretty good, but a cold breeze coming down the mountain cancelled out most of the heat.  1/3 of the way up I passed a giant rock I recognized as the turnback point of 2013.  This was also about the time I hit the snowline in valleys to my sides.  Had sweat dripping off by now but kept plodding ahead, the summit never seeming to get any closer.  At last I reached a volcanic formation of solid rock and pulled myself up to solid ground while panting fairly good.  Here I popped another banana and watched the slow trail of human sadness below me work their way ever higher.
From here (approx 6,600') the trail became more stable but much steeper.  I'd estimate around 65 degrees.  It was marked only by poles you just tried to stay near as you climbed up scoria and boulders and anything you could put a foot on to go upwards.  This was probably the most taxing part of the climb and I gained elevation very quickly (~50 VF per minute).  
At last, around 10:30am I reached what is known as the Lizard's Back, a narrow passage into the crater itself.  Here I found out there was still very much snow in the crater still, but the area flattened out quickly so there was no danger of falling to my untimely demise.  I walked across the crater and for the first time, gazed down upon the west side of the mountain.  
It was cold up there and very windy so I put on my jacket and my sunglasses (snow blindness) before checking out the little hump across the crater that was the final climb.  It was covered in ice/snow and I really debated calling the climb there for want of safety.  I eventually decided that any fall there would only result in a quick return to the crater and a wet butt, so I started kicking footholds and continuing up.
This climb was not as bad as I expected, a visual distortion that made it look much further than it was....kind of the opposite of how close the summit looks when you start.  At 11:02am, I summited the highest point of Mount Taranaki (8,261') and passed my own 'final exam' for getting in shape.  I couple of Kiwi friends I made coming up showed up in the crater soon after, yelled for my attention and then gave me a standing ovation.  I called Ashley from up here to let her know I made it, took a few pictures and then climbed back down to the crater where I had my lunch (pastrami sandwich)  

The rule in mountain climbing is that the summit is only halfway.  This is true.  From my vantage point I could already see clouds blowing in from the west so I pocketed my food and drink and started the decent.  
No less hazardous was the climb down.  I spent a good time taking a big drops on my butt when I couldn't safely reach a foot down.  At some point I knocked a rock loose and it briefly brushed my leg on it's non-stop roll to the visitor center.  I thought nothing of it until I realized I was dripping blood on the rocks as I passed.
Justified my first aid kit.  Neosporined that sucker and slapped on a bandage and continued down.  It eventually soaked through so I had to change bandages again just before hitting the scoria.  The scoria turned out to be much easier going down as you could 'walk' down it like snow.  If you sank in enough it was solid.  The only issue was if it was just a few rocks over a large sheet rock....then there was some sliding.
Kept passing people I had passed earlier and I had to apologize that I could only tell them how much further it was in vertical feet.  Eventually you had to start recommending to them to turn around as going all the way now would certainly invite a bad weather situation.  I reached the hut again around 1pm and took the time to check my bandages and eat my last banana.   Also took a picture on the same bench as 2013 showing the difference between me then and me now.  The difference is impressive.  Both less hair and less weight!  
From there it was an 'easy' walk down the Puffer and access road back to the parking lot where I went into the visitor center and bought a new bottle of water and a stuffed kiwi for Ashley.  

The drive back to New Plymouth was uneventful and for the first two minutes of my shower, the water came off brown.  Noticed shortly after that Taranaki killed my hiking boots.  Tore them wide open in several places.  I figured they'd hold together for the rest of the trip, but don't go anywhere wet.  
I wandered into town to collect some aloe vera and then ate dinner at a nice steak place just as it started to rain outside.  This is where the infamous sunburn started to show up and I coated down with aloe.  Didn't do much to help but I knew this was the price I'd pay for no sunblock, so took it in stride.  Had no trouble getting to sleep that night.

Total route distance:  8.07 miles  (Horizontal)
Elevation Gained / Lost:  5,193 vertical feet  (10,386' total)
Water consumed:  1 full 1.5L bottle, 1/2 of a second 1.5L botle
Food consumed:  4 granola bars, 3 bananas, 3 pastrami & cheddar sandwiches

January 31, 2015

Woke up to find out I needed help to get out of bed.  Calves and quads were understandably upset with me.  My sunburn had also fully set in so I took a shower of a thousand needles then packed up.  Watched the dart tournament while eating what was left of my food, then drove to the airport to fly to Christchurch.
Our flight took us right over the mountain so I got a last look.  I do not consider this 'beating' it.....we are now even.
1:15 brought us in to Christchurch where I got my bag and then waited outside in the significantly colder weather for Matt & Jen to arrive and pick me up....which they eventually did....30 minutes later.  

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Over to what Matt and Jen were doing or Forward to our reunion