Challenger of the Month

Every month we celebrate a person or team who has gone above and beyond in their fundraising efforts for Shooting Star Children’s Hospices. It’s not always about who has run the fastest or the furthest or longest. We aim to celebrate people who have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, and done something that has been a real challenge for them.

Our Challenger of the Month for March 2019 is…

Maria and Paul Baylay – Climbing New Zealand’s Mount Taranaki

Avid supporters Maria and Paul Baylay certainly don’t do challenges by half – as our challengers of the month took themselves to the other side of the world to tackle New Zealand’s 120,000 year old  stratovolcano – Mount Taranaki, to raise money for Shooting Star Children’s Hospices.  Paul tells of their epic adventure:

“We considered ourselves lucky with the weather on the day of the climb; later that morning we met other climbers who had tried in the days beforehand but had to turn around as the weather changed during their initial ascent,” explains Paul. “Mt Taranaki is unique in that its size and height means it creates its own weather system and the clouds can descend on you very quickly and for that reason it holds the unwanted record of New Zealand’s most deadliest mountain and where emergency rescues of climbers regularly top 150 per year!”

Undaunted by this scary figure, Paul and Maria spent time researching the mountain, ensuring they allowed for more than one day to take on the challenge in case of inclement weather, and training for three months in the build up, climbing with the right clothing and supplies.

“How hard could it be?” said Paul. “We awoke that morning at 3am and after a short drive from hotel to base camp at North Egmont, it was headlamps on and off onto the bush trail. This part was relatively easy and we enjoyed the meandering upward pathway through the bush. The journey to the top is split into four major parts. The bush track which at times had a long drop down one side which thankfully we were not aware of until the return journey. This is followed by the steps which are just that, rudimentary wooden steps built over the eroding lower scree field. This is followed by the scree, which leads up to the lizard, a long solidified lava field of rocks and boulders which get forever steeper the higher you climb. Past the lizard you hit the last of the rock climbing before reaching the ice crater which is ice capped all year around and then it’s a final scramble up the lip of the volcano to stand atop the mountain.”

“But back to the bush track, which was in many ways a good indicator of the climb ahead as it never seemed to end, but just over 90 minutes later we saw the lights of Tahurangi Lodge, a mountain hut that provides basic overnight bunks and facilities for climbers and which marks the start of the hard ascent of the mountain,” continues Paul.

“We stopped to catch up our breath and had already begun our routine of five minute breaks every 30 minutes for water and electrolytes or food, and as we pushed past Tahurangi Lodge we found ourselves walking into the cloud line which that morning was low, dense and wet which took the fun out of scrambling over the rocks in the dark. Up high ahead we could see pin pricks of light as two sets of climbers moved upwards and whom we later met as they descended from the summit and told us they had started their ascent at 1am. Maybe next time we’ll do that.”

Paul and Maria arrived at the steps, relieved the bush track and rocks were behind them. “But the steps are steep, wooden and are built over the lower portion of the mountain to protect it from erosion. What starts as relief to be on a man made structure gives way to muscle burn as the steps are never ending and there is no hold rail. You just have to dig deep and keep climbing and hope all that practice in the gym means something!” said Paul.

“At the top of the steps we rested again and by now the sun was coming up and we were slowly emerging above the clouds for the first time. Up here you were exposed to the elements and as we started on the scree we knew this was likely going to be the most difficult part as with each step you take, your foot slides backwards under the loose and slippy rock. And so this went on for two painful hours and it was with a sigh of relief that we reached the lizard.” 

“At this point you can no longer see the summit when you look up and there are a lot of false ridges ahead, but we would have done anything at this point to get off the scree and scrambling over the molten lava field as it slowly steepened it felt good to be moving forward without sliding backwards. The sun was on our backs now and protected by rock ledges on both sides, the wind dropped away and we were soon stripped down to t-shirts as we climbed. It wouldn’t last long as the wind at the top was fierce as was the biting cold but at this point in time it was a nice feeling.

“An hour and 15 minutes of rock scrambling and climbing and we reached the last section of rock climbing which paid not to look down as the drop on one side was not very forgiving. But you focus on each step and keep moving forward until finally you drop into the ice crater. Exhausted, elated and knowing you are almost there!

“There is a sense of quiet atop the mountain. For the local Maori this is a spiritual place and it was for us akin to being in a church, that sense of magnitude and calm surrounded us and with one last short climb up the lip of the volcano we reached the peak. It was an emotional moment. We had done it.”However their challenge was far from over, as what goes up must come down – despite this the reason they had taken on the challenge was held firmly in their minds. “Yes we still had to climb down, yes we still had to take as many pics and videos as we could but all that planning and anticipation and chasing people to donate some money for Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, it all led to this moment and here we were atop Mt Taranaki.

“That was a feeling I think we will both carry for the rest of our lives. It was gone 3pm in the afternoon when we reached the North Egmont base camp again. An 11 hour round trip!”

Paul and Maria raised a tremendous £2000 in support of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices. “We were honoured to be able to do something like this and to be able to carry the Shooting Star Children’s Hospices name to New Zealand,” concludes Paul. “The only thing left to say is – I wonder what we will do next year to raise money that will beat this?”

If Paul and Maria have inspired you to take on your own challenge? Visit our Events Page to see how you can help us make every moment count.