Sunday morning was very cloudy, but Jacek and I got up at 6am to try to get to the base of the summit track nice and early. Luckily the cloud was mainly round the northern side of the mountain, and as we came round to the northeastern side (where the AMC begins) the sky cleared slightly, showing a huge billowing mass of cloud pouring off the mountain towards the north; as with the Southern Alps, winds come in from the west and get forced upwards by the mountain where they condense into rain clouds, but slowly the cloud cleared from the peak until it was all blue skies, so I decided I just had to go up. Jacek's knee had been playing up and he sensibly decided to give it a miss, so we said our goodbyes and I started the long haul up to the 2518m (8261 ft) peak, complete with a full pack and my trusty old boots.
There were two major problems, though. The most pressing, and the most painful, was that my trusty old boots were, by now, my crusty old boots; the soles were so thin it was like walking in crepe paper sandals, and with volcanic rock being the sharp stuff it is, I felt every stone, which wore out my feet far more quickly than it would have done in the old leather toughies that had been stolen in Christchurch. The second problem was that however I tried to adjust my pack, it was truly uncomfortable; I'd had my own pack stolen in Christchurch and had borrowed this one off a friend for a few weeks, and there's just no substitute for your own backpack. After a four-day circuit walk with shoes from hell and a backpack that didn't fit, the 45° scree slope and the serious climb to the top of Taranaki really took it out of me. I got to the top but it hurt, it really hurt; however the view was stunning, not because I could see for miles, but because a low layer of cloud was covering the country as far as the eye could see, and from the height of the summit I could see above the clouds, just like in an aeroplane. Mt Ruapehu, the highest peak in the North Island, was a cloudy hump in the distance, and the crater at top of Taranaki itself was quite stunning, and well worth the strains in my knees and back.
Climbing volcanoes is an art, though. You might look at a volcano and think it's just a case of plodding up a 45° rock face until you topple into the crater, but however solid the thing might look from a distance, it feels more like a pile of sand than a mountain. Imagine trying to walk up a massive heap of gravel, and you're not far off the experience of climbing a volcano; add in a full backpack weighing you down, and it's definitely a case of three steps forward, two back. The best part, though, is coming down; on the snowy slopes at the peak I simply skied down on my shoes, with the backpack giving me enough weight to push me down, and on the scree I moonwalked down in half the time it took me to get up. I paid for it with aching knees, but with a kilometre of volcano to slide down, it was quite an experience.