The weather is of prime interest to trampers, as they are out in it. Weather forecasts have become more accurate but ‘Huey’, as New Zealand trampers sardonically refer to the weather god, still seems to bring heavy rain on the weekend of a scheduled tramp.
Rain can quickly swell rivers, and many people have drowned while attempting to cross them in flood. Others have been killed in alpine areas after slipping on ice or wet snowgrass, and then falling over a bluff. Hypothermia is another killer.
One or two trampers died each year until the 1960s, when the rate began to rise. Since the 1980s, on average, around five have died annually. Increasingly these have been overseas visitors, some of them poorly prepared and with little backcountry experience.
Concern about accident rates led to the formation of the Mountain Safety Council in 1966. The council educates trampers about hazards, and how to manage them.
Search and Rescue is a specialised volunteer organisation of climbers and trampers who work with the police to locate and rescue those lost or injured in the bush. It originated when volunteers from tramping clubs helped the police with searches.
The mountain radio service is staffed by volunteers who touch base with solo trampers and tramping groups in the mornings and evenings. These radio conversations are known as ‘skeds’ (schedules). The service also transmits weather forecasts and relays messages.
Letting people know your planned route and day due out of the bush is important for tramping safely, as is signing hut books (which helps searchers narrow down a search area). A minority of trampers (around 5%) venture out alone. This should only be done by those with experience in the bush.
Safeguards adopted by trampers include:
- letting people know their intended route
- detailing route changes in hut books
- carrying a mountain radio or emergency locator beacon (these can be hired).
In some places cellphone coverage exists, but this is unreliable.
Guidebooks and other information
Tramping literature is dominated by guidebooks. Detailed guides give information on all the main tramping areas of the country – wherever there are mountains and bush.
The most important and comprehensive source for the Southern Alps and Fiordland is Moir’s guide book. First published in 1925, it has been reprinted many times and in 2006 was into its seventh edition. Split into two publications (north and south), it covers tracks, routes, passes, huts and campsites in this region, New Zealand’s largest expanse of wild land.
Clubs publish newsletters (with trip reports) and annual journals. The magazine New Zealand Wilderness, first published in 1991, focuses mostly on tramping.
Some websites have information on tracks and huts. Many clubs also have websites featuring trip reports and schedules of upcoming trips.
Acknowledgements to John Rhodes, Simon Cox and Les Molloy