Thursday, September 19, 2013

Skiing Taranaki

Wednesday had a good weather forecast and with a whole day off from work I decided to check out Taranaki, one of NZ's most famous volcanoes.

To get there I had to drive through the Shire (locally known as the Forgotten World Highway) with its ridiculously picturesque hills and meadows so green that I suspect someone might have actually painted the grass. At one stage I even had to stop the car to let a duck lead its family of waddling ducklings across the road. It was all so bucolic and quaint that I started feeling queasy (although that might have been the combination of grapefruit juice, peppermint slice and snus with which I stuffed myself whilst driving).

After 4 hours of driving from National Park I parked the car at the North Egmont visitor center and started up the well maintained service track at the crack of 11 o'clock. The track climbs steadily through native bush and scrub for about 600 vertical metres to the Tahurangi hut.

After a lazy transition from running shoes into ski boots and crampons I started marching up the lower gullies, soft snow on sunny aspects gave an early indication that the skiing was in. I passed a few other folks on the way up, some on foot and a couple skinning. Going off beta that skins usually weren't very useful owing to the steep incline and typically rimed slopes, I'd left my skins in the car, but they definitely would have made for a faster ascent in the soft conditions that I encountered.

Not really knowing much about the standard route on the mountain, I chose a more direct line up one of the major ramps on the east face (I learned later that this is know as the Surrey Rd route), this proved to be straight forward, mostly about 35° with a few bulges in the range of 45°. I reached the summit about 2:45 after setting out from the car and spent close to half an hour on the summit enjoying the views over the Tasman Sea to the west and inland to Mt. Ruapehu to the east, chatted with an Austrian snowboarder who lives in the area and packed my lip full of Kronan.

The summit itself on the western edge of the crater rim.

Looking east from the summit, with Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe on the horizon.

It was so warm that I didn't even bother with a jacket or gloves until reaching the summit. And the snow for the descent was ripe corn, from what I hear its a rare occurrence to have such ideal conditions, and some locals I chatted to confirmed that this day offered some of the best ski conditions they've seen on the peak.

An Austrian fellow snowboarding from the summit with the Tasman Sea below.
If you look very carefully you can't quite make out the coast of Australia on the horizon.

The dotted line shows my ski line from the summit, about 1000 metres.

My car to car time was about 4:20, for about 1650 metres. I was thinking on the descent that a concerted effort in good conditions could easily come in at under 3 hours, and that someone truly fast might even get close to 2 hours. But I was astounded to read that a Greg Barbour completed the same route (in summer conditions) in a blisteringly fast time of 1:36:27 !

See you next time 'Naki

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