Phone, keys, wallet… gone. Swept away along with half the contents of my backpack during a disaster river crossing.
Thankfully this didn’t happen, but it could have … if we ignored the DOC ranger who advised us against the Pouakai circuit we had planned for the weekend! We drove to Egmont National Park Friday after work. Five hours in the car with Stephen King’s new audiobook Mr. Mercedes. When we arrived at the visitor center it was storming like hell. Nobody but us. The wind was blowing sideways, gusts of freezing rain skipping across an empty black parking lot. The van shook that night as we “slept”. But between the crackling sleet on the roof, creepy isolation and audiobook nightmares, sleep didn’t come easy.
When we awoke the storm was still surging. I ran into the visitor center and asked for a weather update. The news wasn’t good. More wind and rain coming. Snow at elevation. Rivers were likely to be flooded. The ranger recommended we alter our plans and instead of ascending the mountain we walk around it west to Maketawa Hut — a shorter walk through the shelter of trees. As I considered our options, I saw Jess in the parking lot chasing an unraveling roll of toilet paper — her arms outstretched as she ran around grasping at pieces. The decision was clear.
We grabbed our shit and set off for the hut. It rained the entire way. At one river crossing Jess handed me her phone for safekeeping as she attempted a tricky rock hop. Apparently she forgot what happened to my phone last time we played in the water.
Soaked but in good spirits we arrived at Makepawa Hut around 3pm. The place was empty. Our last hut experience was crowded so we were excited to have the hut to ourselves. Nipples like stone I started a fire. We sipped hot tea and listened to Mr. Mercedes. I threw playing cards into my Jetboil while Jess read her Kindle fireside. We stretched on the wood floor. Somewhere Justin Vernon was writing a song about us.
After a dinner of curry beef stew, we settled in for a quiet game of gin rummy by headlamp when suddenly someone burst into the hut. A middle-aged german named Peter. The conditions outside were horrendous — I can only imagine his sense of relief to find shelter quickly dampened at the realization he was stepping into our Justin Vernon song.
After explaining to us why he doesn’t eat at night, he promptly went to bed and we had the place to ourselves once again.
In the morning we got our first view of Mount Taranaki from the front porch.
Inspired, we began walking. No particular goal in mind. Just hypnotically toward the beauty. We wound our way up and up and up for a few hours before reaching the Tahurangi Lodge — a private hut that serves as base camp for many summit climbs. The second deadliest mountain in New Zealand behind Mt. Cook, Mount Taranaki is just accessible enough to be dangerous. In the summer we could have scrambled our way to the summit. But winter is a different story. Climbing it safely requires more of everything … gear, experience, intestinal fortitude. We vowed to return this summer and summit the sonofabitch. I ache for it.
From the tuna lunch turnaround point we began our long meander down the snow-covered face … the Tasman sea to the left, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe to the right. In front of us unfolded an endless gradient of happy. White snow giving way to forest green giving way to sun-soaked fields, all the way to the grey blue ocean.
I decided then and there I would stop calling Taranaki Street in Wellington “teriyaki street” and show it the respect it deserves.
More photos on Flickr.