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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 65

Ascent of Mount Egmont

page 66

Ascent of Mount Egmont.

Mount Egmont, or Taranaki, is 8,270 feet above the level of the sea, and the distance from New Plymouth to the foot, over the Pouakai Range, is 18 or 20 miles. It has been ascended by many, and by some ladies of Taranaki, and even of Nelson, but generally in the month of March, and with guides. This ascent was made in the month of December, snow climbing being a new thing to two of us. We could not wait any later, so determined to try it as it was, as old hands told us it could be done, though it was at an unusual time for such an expedition. We found a Mr. T., (a native schoolmaster) who wished to go, so we travelled together. My brother and I started into town (from Omata, 7½ miles) where we found Mr. T. ready; then we astonished a few "natives" who were about by trying the shop doors till ten minutes past 8 o'clock armed to the teeth, of course, with moleskins, panikin, billy, sheath-knife, &c. We thought of" Sleepy Hollow" with something like satisfaction, and having procured some necessary biscuits, we gave up the less necessary articles we had intended to get and travelled at a good round pace in order to reach Code's, at the foot of the Ponaki Range, as early in the day as possible. The country was a pleasing one to Nelsonian eyes. A good road, good land, and rich bush with gigantic rata trees here and there, groves of pongas and fern trees; passed through suburbs, farms, patches of bush, then cockatoo farms, and finally reached Code s about 10.30 a.m., eleven miles from town. The cart road ends just here. The sons of Mr. Code, who generally act: as guides, were away cutting grass seed. Mr. Code, however, told us to turn our horses loose, and wished us success, but evidently didn't think we would have it.

The Pouakai Range is about 3,000 feet high, and if I remember rightly does not join the mountain unless it be by a very low saddle. A comparatively good track led over the middle of the range and down the other side about 2500 feet to the swamp, where it ended. It was cut, I believe, by volunteers, assisted by the Government. We made up our swags and started, boiling the billy when about half way up, and having some dinner. When; near the top we got our best view. Inglewood and Stratford, like page 67 little bush clearings in the waste of bush that stretches with uninterrupted undulations to Taupo; Tongariro was clear to the top, without snow, and smoking; Ruapehu had far more snow on it than Egmont, and its head lost in the clouds; the White Cliffs showed out very perceptibly, and the Mounts in the direction of Mokau; then New Plymouth, with its bush roads and clearings. We descended and crossed the swamp, which was about half a mile wide, satisfactorily, the only fear being that one should sink to their knees in the wet moss and toi. We wished to get round to the foot of the Mounts on the Parihaka side, over some deep gullies leading out of the Mount. We looked for a track to lead down and across the first deep one, but the one we found, in the edge of the dense scrub, led us down it instead of across, so, thinking it led to Bell's Falls—that we had heard was one of the "lions"—we followed it out, and after about three miles clown hill (with our swags) reached it. The river that intersects the swamp comes out through a gorge and takes a clear drop of about 70 feet into a troubled sea below. The size of the gorge and the fall together make up about 200 feet of perpendicular rock. The spray was very damping when the wind blew it our way. We now made the best of our way back up hill to the open again, and though somewhat fatigued did not regret having gone five rough miles out of our road. Boiled the billy and had tea, and after skirting the edge of the scrub found the rather indefinite, but very necessary, track. It led down into the deep gully (Stony River,) and down it a little way to the forks, and then, losing all trace of track, started up the right fork to get on to the Parihaka slope of the Mount. The clear bed of the creek was not bad walking, but on rising out of it we got into a tangled mass of short stiff scrub, which was difficult to get through. Overcoming this as best we could, we emerged on to the western slope, and crossing a little blind mossy creek, as night was coming on, we cut a little broom, made ourselves comfortable, camping together, all standing. Mr. T., I believe, had no sleep. Having a waterproof he did not take any trouble about cutting any special bedding, and, omitting to remove his boots, his feet had no rest, and were so sore that he was at first doubtful about attempting the Mount. We had left water behind before we were aware of it, but finding half a billy full in the hollow of a rock, which we baled out with jealous care, and though we were very thirsty, kept it for the morning. We rolled out before daylight. It was bleak and chill and gray, and we hastily partook of our frugal meal (the cold water, taken neat, and some bread and ham), not that we enjoyed it, but knew it was necessary. Mr. T. found his wounds improve so started before, and we, as soon as we had rolled up the blankets, armed with a short sharp stick each and the tomahawk. It was five o'clock. A good hour's hard climb page 68 from rock to rock, i.e., the loose rocks scattered down one of the ravines, brought us to the snow and the lower end of the Turtleback (a large mass of rock that looks from New Plymouth like a barnacle sticking on to the steep side of the Mount.) From our camp it looked quite close above us. We climbed partly on the snow and partly on the rocks in the groove of the valley, avoiding the ridges, as the scoria or cinders were loose and gave a foot for every three, making it very tiring. We kept to the side of the scoria as long as we could, and then started cutting footsteps in the snow. We took a ridge close to the right of the Turtleback. My brother thought it too steep, so we crossed the hollow on to the next ridge, when there was a more continuous chain of rock. I cut the foot holds, taking care to have secure hand hold with the sharp stick in case my feet should slip. T. followed. Sometimes we could get pretty certain foot hold, and then I only cut steps for the right foot, but we often came across ice with a small covering of snow, which needed very decided footsteps cut out. The overhanging rocks near the top that we were making for seemed quite close, yet it took a full hour of hard and quick cutting to reach them. Every bit of ice cut out took a headlong descent on to the rocks. The distance by the ridge must have been 1,500ft., but if we had slipped we would have immediately glided into the valley, and thence down about 3000ft. on to the scoria below. The rocks were at last gained, and we clambered over an overhanging ledge and found ourselves on the very top. The clouds were far down below us, covering New Plymouth, but we had peeps of the White Cliffs, Mokau, Tongariro, and Ruapehu, (its several peaked top visible this time), the Whanganui River, with patches of open up it. The rest that the clouds allowed us to see was a wilderness of bush. To the south and west, Hawera, Opunake, the wheat field at Parihaka, and Stony River winding out to the coast. The look down on the Parihaka side was a clean sweep into the bush at the back of Parihaka. There were several other jagged points near us of much the same height, but as the mist was coming up we did not go over to them. If there was any level place or crater it was well rounded with snow. My brother called out from a little distance down to the right that it was impossible for us to get down his way, as he could not scale the last clump of rocks. We had never for a moment reckoned that we should have to return by the same way, but this now appeared the only way back. It was eight o'clock and the mist coming up, so taking a hurried view of about five minutes and seizing a piece or two of "the top" (which seems to be the correct thing to do.) Old hands tell me that the top has altered very much since they first remember it. We don't wonder. We beat a hasty but comparatively dignified retreat, scrambled back over the overhanging rock and reached the snow,

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Mount Ecmount.

Mount Ecmount.

page 69

or rather ice. The look down was not pleasant; everything that got loose travelled down with a hearty and ever-increasing interest [unclear: fill] it brought up on the scoria. Mr. T., who had travelled on snow before, started first, using his stick and kicking foothold. I tried sitting and letting first one heel in and then the other, but after experiencing the uncertainty of this (my feet slipping so that I hung by one hand,) I took my brother's advice, turned my face to the wall, and lowered backwards, getting first right hand hold with tomahawk and then a lower left hand hold, as I could not always depend on my toes. Mr. T. reached the loose scoria some time before I did. Part of the distance, about two chains, he had travelled unpleasantly quickly, but by calm and zealous use of his sick and a passing rock he luckily managed to recover himself and stick. You might fancy getting adrift on the face of the steep roof a house. I asked T. how he liked it. He said that he had just vowed that he would never do such a thing again. The travelling after that was pretty easy. At every stride a moving mass of loose scoria accompanied you and helped you on, only we had to keep together for fear of little avalanches. The mist enveloped us, but we found our camp, and, hungry and thirsty, we started back into the ravine to get water. We had a few nasty drops to scramble down, but managed them successfully, then leaving T., who found travelling rather painful, we went on and boiled the billy at the bottom of the ravine, and had a refreshing bathe. The water felt like ice itself. When we had finished, and the tea was made, he came up, looking somewhat "used up." He suggested that we should leave him on the further side of the swamp to camp, which we agreed to. The tea was very cheering. After this we climbed out of the ravine, took away his swag from him by force, and crossed the swamp. He then thought he could climb the Ponakai range if we would leave his swag and some food at a little clearing on the New Plymouth side. It began to pour with rain, so we went on, and it cleared when we were wet through and had preached the top. When a little way down this side we looked back and saw Mr. T. not far behind, so we concluded that he was able to reach Code's and took his swag on. Reached Code's about 4 o'clock without a spell. Miss Code was the only one of the family at home. With wonderful alacrity she got us a most sumptuous [unclear: real] of tea, with plenty of cream, delicious new home-baked bread just out of the camp oven, home-made jam, butter and cake. What could be more acceptable than the "fat of the land" seasoned with a cordial welcome and eaten with spartan sauce? Mr. T. came in before we sat down—not to be beaten. After tea, we found Mr. Code, who was working at his field, and who refused out and out all overtures for anything in the way of remuneration for trouble, horse keep, &c. Helped us catch our horses, and taking leave of them, we reached town about dusk, and Omata about 9 o'clock p.m.