Photo credit: Ricky French

PEAK PERFORMANCE — NEW ZEALAND Mount Taranaki rears above New Plymouth on New Zealand’s North Island, the famous, dormant volcano with the picture-book cone. It’s no accident the country’s most deadly mountain also has one of the most achievable summits. The message is clear: don’t ­underestimate this beast. But on a good day Mount Taranaki is within reach of anyone with reasonable fitness. The route is well marked and no guides are required. We feel like true mountaineers rising at 5am at Tahurangi Lodge on the north ridge and strapping on head torches to start a chilly pre-dawn climb. A rock scramble up a gully leads to the exposed backbone of the mountain. Scree slides under our boots, sending small ­avalanches down the mountain as we suck in air and clamber to gain altitude. Next comes the crux of the climb: the Lizard. The solidified lava of this striking geographic feature provides merciful traction underfoot. Clouds blanket the lower slopes below us until it seems we’re cut off from the Earth. We sidle a narrow ledge and break through into the cavernous, ­­snow-filled crater before the final push to the ­summit. Simply incredible. Resisting complacency, we remind ourselves the summit is only half way, and turn to face the Lizard again…

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