By Alastair McDowell
At 3AM we found Syme Hut frozen solid, good for climbing, not so much for sleeping. Needless to say, we were a little confused about our night’s accommodation.
The night was warm when we arrived at Dawson Falls at midnight, so made the three-hour climb to Fanthams Peak in the small hours, enjoying a breezy, moonlit night on the icy mountain. Between resting our calves from the unwelcome strain of front pointing, we squinted to the sky trying to make out the mighty silhouette of the ‘Naki.
Ice-blasted marker poles were half buried by snow, but still allowed for easy navigation up the face and across the undulations of Fanthams Peak. Our head-lamps switched to spot light mode to pick up our awaited hut – all we saw was a faint blob of ice in the distance. A twenty minute ice hacking frenzy eventually gave us headway into the top half of the door, and squeeze into the ice-box hut…
After a few hours kip, cut short by the incredible early glow, we ascended the South Face to find ourselves in a new world. We cut new steps through a freshly storm-brewed summit crater. Like a vector field, sastrugi and magnificent ice feathers told the story of the winds that had sculpted this arena. We traversed the crater rim, climbing and descending a few icy steps in our way. I enjoyed the swing of my Simond Naja technical tools, and looked forward to something steep and sustained to sink them into.
Guide book in hand with lunch, I eyed up the left-hand groove of the most aesthetic Shark’s Tooth. Andy stationed on belay, I began the lead. Finally up close and personal with the Tooth, I became accustomed with the infamous hollow Egmont ice. It was insecure at best, layers upon layers of aerated wind blasted storm ice. I clipped into a screw early on but became less trusting of the ice strength as I climbed. Wired nuts secured me to the face as I climbed precariously to the summit ridge, an airy 40 metre pitch.
I brought up Harriet and Andy up belayed to two snow stakes, enjoying watching from above as they tackled the face. From our belay we soloed the last few metres to the top of Shark’s Tooth, taking in sensational views all around on a perfect bluebird day.
With an early night at Syme Hut, we rested up for the trip’s main objective – Ted’s Alley. Owen had told us excitedly about a really steep section he had seen near the top of the Alley, a narrowing icy couloir running below the famous East Ridge route. We collapsed into the bunks at 7, the midnight mission finally catching up on us.
Next day from Syme, we tackled an hour’s icy sidle to the bottom of Ted’s Alley. We felt we were slightly cheating the route, starting more than halfway up the mountain, but the climbing below appeared a straight-forward walk up from Manganui skifield, somewhat easing our guilt.
As I glanced upwards, the ice step was immediately obvious. A tingle of nerves and excitement ran through my veins. Andy climbed steadily up to the base of the ice cliff, slinging a large ice horn backed up with a screw as our belay anchor. I followed close behind, mentally preparing myself for the job ahead.
I knew I had to lead the pitch. Though intimidating, I felt a sense of self-imposed pressure to take on the challenge. Andy seemed relaxed and more than happy to be brought up on the blunt end. I racked up with five ice screws, two snow stakes and a selection of nuts. We exchanged few words as I set off up the cliff. The first move was the crux – fortunately I found surprisingly solid, thick ice to sink my tools into as I pulled my crampons over the lip of the rock cliff.
Relieved after the first strenuous move, I put in a screw; it twisted in deep and solid. The nerves had worn off now and I was loving every swing of the axe. I continued up the 65-70 degree icy slope, keeping close to the rock in case any rock protection showed up. The pitch gradually relented in steepness, and I had soon run out the 60 metres of rope. I put in two stakes for an anchor and pulled the rope up fast and tight to signal to Andy, out of sight, that he was safely on belay. After twenty minutes he appeared over the crest, stoked and clearly reveling in the exposure.
Clouds swirled below, just revealing a solid crowd enjoying the snow at Manganui Skifield. We packed up the rope and pros, and soloed easily a few hundred metres to the summit crater. Glorious. To complete our route, Andy led up 10 Second Gulley on the south side of Shark’s Tooth to secure the double summit.
A few hours later we had descended to Syme again, enjoying the last rays from our royal perch on the mountain. We would be back again to climb the East Ridge; in the meantime we were wholly satisfied with our adventure up the Ted’s Alley and several sharp lines on the Tooth. An amazing three days on the North Island’s most aesthetic peak, Mt Taranaki.
This article originally appeared on Alastair’s Blog on 4 August 2013 and is reproduced here with permission.