Ascending Mt Taranaki in broken boots, but second thoughts on Teds Alley ski run


Ascending Mt Taranaki in broken boots, but second thoughts on Teds Alley ski run

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Mt Taranaki_Martin Johnston
Climbing companion Michael Loo descends through delicate rime ice on the south side of Mt Taranaki

Reporter Martin Johnston checks his gear and makes a key decision high on Mt Taranaki about the descent

I used to fancy the idea of skiing Teds Alley. I loved the name, such a yeah-nah Kiwi moniker for the steep and committing gully beside the East Ridge of Mt Taranaki.

Even without skis on my feet, I was convinced: Teds Alley is too much for me

Ross Eden’s Taranaki Mount Egmont: a guide for climbers calls it an “exhilarating” descent best left until late winter when snow drifts fill in a near-vertical step in the narrow gully. But reading about a ski run is very different from seeing it.

A few years ago, when my friend Michael Loo suggested an August climb of Taranaki, I began plotting a ski trip. No matter that Michael doesn’t ski; I could periodically wait for him to catch up on the way down. I gave up that idea, though, in what proved to be an uncharacteristic stroke of foresight.

I have been up both the northern and eastern sides of Mt Taranaki a few times, so pushed for the south. We managed a dawn start from Dawson Falls and enjoyed a cold, near windless winter’s day.

The snow on the way up Fanthams Peak, the first half of the ascent, was nicely firm, but not too firm – ideal for the crampon spikes on our boots. It might have been nice to ski down, too.

The route flattens briefly as it passes below Syme Hut before turning up towards the Taranaki summit. We had a bite to eat and a drink and it’s a good spot to check your gear.

Martin Johnston on Mt Taranaki, with Sharks Tooth in the background and Mt Ruapehu in the distance

Glancing down, I saw a horrible sight. My boots, my beautiful yellow Asolo plastics, were falling apart. On both, the wide tongue section had snapped in two near the toes and was at risk of falling off. I had bought these boots probably 15 years earlier, just as work, family and mortgage were tipping the balance against mountain­eering, and they had hardly been worn.

We held a council, poking and prodding at the plastic and wondering about the weather and the snow, and my feet. The summit beckoned, however, so up we went.

The snow now changed radically. The chilly, south-facing slope had been converted to a vast field of brittle stalks of rime ice, some as long as 15cm. Any thought of skiing was now banished as we crunched upwards, sending a symphony of tinkling ice down behind us.

After meeting a few climbers from the north side at the summit area, we nosed around the crater. With the iced-up cliffs of Sharks Tooth rearing up to my left, I shuffled gingerly out to the snowy roll-over at the top of Teds Alley. It was too steep to see clearly, but seemed to funnel into what Eden describes as a dramatic narrowing under East Ridge.

Even without skis on my feet, I was convinced: Teds Alley is too much for me.

As we retraced our steps for the descent, the south side route remained crisp and tinkly almost all the way to Syme Hut, where, foolishly, we lounged for half an hour. Sunset caught up with us for the last of the bushy track to Dawson Falls, where I removed my Asolos for the last time.