Weekend - Friday 9 September 2016 to Sunday 11 September 2016 (3 days)
Taranaki always inspires with her presence and spending a weekend on her flanks sounded like just the treat. Saturday morning though, looked daunting. 9 of us were dropped off at the track start - Martin, Sally, John, Mary, Heather, Simon, Ming, Kathy and Larry. With a cold, rainy and windy start and the mountain shrouded from our view, we set off at about 8.30am. A threat of avalanches on part of the tracks and poor weather dictated we deviate from our original planned route up to the Dieffenbach Cliffs, and lunch at Holly Hut, to instead follow Kaiauai track straight to Pouakai Hut.
Over the swing bridge, the first hour's forest walk was soft and damp underfoot before a teasing glimpse of Taranaki appeared briefly through the clouds. We stopped for a quick snack at Kaiauai Shelter before heading up the track to Henry Peak. The snow steadily deepened, Martin forged ahead, his boots breaking the trail for the rest of us through the snow covered track. It was tough going, sometimes finding the steps, boardwalk and track, other times plunging knee and hip deep into hidden holes, even falling completely off the track at times. The wind tore at us in exposed places, and it was hard to keep upright as we struggled up and up endless steps. As we crested over Henry Peak and onto Pouakai track with the winds still buffeting us, the clouds started lifting.
We steadily made our way up and down along the ridgeline. The views had gradually opened up to show Ahukawakawa Swamp on the left and ahead of us the snow covered track like a ribbon snaking up and over Maude Peak. The clouds were gone from Taranaki leaving her clear, solid and majestic. We made a brief stop at the tarn to admire the beautiful view - although minus Taranaki's reflection in the frozen tarn surface. And then it was onwards for a short distance heading slowly and carefully down icy steps to arrive at Pouakai Hut just after 2pm, a very welcome sight to 9 wind battered trampers.
After a short break Martin, Simon, Kathy and Ming headed to Pouakai Summit while the weather was still clear. The rest of us recovered at the hut, chatting with various day trampers passing through. Sally's sharp eyes spotted some climbers near the summit, but in the event it wasn’t Jim’s group - they were up there the following morning. Towards evening time a rescue helicopter flew overhead heading towards the mountain, and later we learned from a late arrival to the hut that a climber with a broken arm
had to be airlifted off. 3 other trampers together with the 9 of us overnighted in a surprisingly warm hut. With boots and clothes drying by the fire, and after a dinner by headlamp, it wasn't too late before we were all asleep.
The next morning dawned a beautiful crisp and sunny day with a freshness in the air that had us charged up and ready for the start. After a quick breakfast and tidy up, we were on our way just after 8.30.
We headed back up to the top to Pouakai Track and over to Ahukawakawa Track, past the tussock grass spotted with snow and shards of ice. The gorgeous views captured us and before we knew it we were crossing the Ahukawakawa Swamp's boardwalks. Holly Hut lay before us nestled in the lap of the mountain. Martin scanned Taranaki, and thought he could see climbers on the section Jim would have taken the summiting team, but couldn't be sure it was them ..... Holly Hut was warm and inviting in the sunshine, and we sat on the deck bathed in glow.
Some of the team headed off for an hour's return tramp down the track to Bell Falls while the rest of us enjoyed a relaxing lunch. On their return we were soon on our way again for the final trek back down the mountain. We headed up Holly Hut Track to the intersection with Kokowai Track. We could see at least 3 big slips further up the Holly Hut Track below the cliffs, the pathway heavily covered with snow - definitely impassable. Martin checked in with the other teams, while we continued on Kokowai Track, following the ridge downwards. The track was decidedly steep, with some of us sliding and falling hip deep off the track edges in places, poles almost disappearing beneath the snow banks at times. We ploughed on, stream to our right and bright sun above. With the day warming up, further and further down the mountain we went through the softening snow, until finally the snow lessened and the forest took over again.
Green sun-dappled mossy trees surrounded us until we broke through to the road to meet Philippa's group already there and waiting for the bus. Another wonderful, tiring, amazing, great company tramp with the club. And Taranaki - you did not disappoint.
We were: Mary (scribe), John, Heather, Simon, Martin, Kathy, Ming, Larry and Sally