Get to Know Your Committee – 2014

On the 4th of June, the WTMC Committee members each shared a tale about one of their better learning experiences while tramping. The stories were read aloud and at the end, the audience tried to match the committee member with the story. If you missed out, don’t worry! A few of the stories were so good, the’ve made it to the ultimate WTMC fame and will be included in this year’s journal. It’s not too late to submit stories to the Ian Harrison, the Journal Editor at . But if you just can’t wait, here’s a sampling – can you guess in the comments which committee member wrote each story below?

Exploring Fiordland

February 1998. 11 months since I last tramped, so what better way of getting back into it than doing a 21 day trip through untracked Fiordland! I headed back from London, where I had been living for the past year, and then down to Te Anau to meet my friend Paul. The plan: An ‘easy’ first three days to remind me how to tramp, followed by another 18 days on Resolution Island off the west coast of Fiordland.

We started on the Borland road on a sunny, clear Fiordland day and headed up the Florence stream towards the Merrie Range. We camped the first night somewhere alongside the stream and woke to another sunny day. After continuing up the river, we crossed the range and headed down to camp for the night at Lake Roe just before the Dusky track. The next day – the third day of sun in a row, we followed the Dusky track to Supper Cove hut. We stayed the night in the hut and in the morning were greeted by the sound of a float plane landing in the cove. This was our pilot, bringing our remaining 18 days of food, and ferrying us the short 800 metre distance across the sea to land us at Goose Cove.

After the first attempt at landing (aborted due to a log sticking up out of the water), we landed and got off the plane then transferred our gear to the shore.  Shortly after we arrived, it began to rain. It kept raining for the next 18 days.

We started to sort our gear, and it soon became evident that our packs couldn’t hold 18 days of food, even if we could have carried the weight! Fortunately, and somewhat coincidentally, there was a team from DOC doing an archaeological dig nearby, at what they told us was a site near New Zealand’s first shipwreck, where some survivors stayed for up to 20 months before being rescued.  Anyway, after we convinced the DOC crew that we weren’t insane, we left about six days of food with them, and headed off (in the rain) for a first circuit of the island.

This involved heading up an unnamed stream towards Mt Roa, and then circling round the island, over to Mt Clerk on the eastern side, then back to retrieve our food for the second leg of our trip.  The highlight of this section was finding a blazed trail as described in the most recent information we had been able to find about the island. This information was from the 1890’s when an early conservationist named Richard Henry had made the island his home and tried transferring endangered birds to the island in an attempt to create New Zealand’s first offshore wildlife sanctuary. Unfortunately the island was too close to the mainland and predators eventually swam to the island, ultimately killing all of the birds he transferred.

Lowlights of this section were having to camp in the scrub at about 900 metres during winds of 130 km/hour. This was when our sleeping bags got wet and remained so for most of the rest of the trip, and was also when the poles wore through the sleeves of the tent as a result of the wind repeatedly picking the tent up and slamming it down again. We had to get up about three times in the night to re pitch the tent. The next morning it was somewhat dispiriting to notice that it was still raining on the island, even though 800m away on the mainland it was sunny.

After picking up our remaining 6 days of food, we started another small loop of the island. We had intended to go onto five fingers peninsula, but there were no deer tracks on the part of the island, and the bush was incredibly dense. Two and a half days into this leg of the trip it stopped raining, so we spent the afternoon drying our gear, harvesting some mussels, and we even caught a fish for dinner.  We went to bed in a dry tent with dry sleeping bags for the first time in two weeks.  The next morning it started to rain again. It became obvious we wouldn’t be able to make it to the peninsula, so we retraced our steps and headed back to Goose Cove to wait for our lift out. A very eventful trip that had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t do another tramp for ten years!

A hill walk near Sarajevo

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not your typical holiday destination, but my partner and I have a taste for travel that gets us ‘off the beaten track’, and that is how we ended up taking a holiday there. After exploring Mostar, we ended up spending a few days chilling out in Sarajevo: soaking up the atmosphere, seeing some modern history, and drinking Turkish coffee in coffee shops that still have bullet holes in the walls. It was whilst we were in such a café that my partner suggested we go for a hill walk.

“urrmmm… I’m not sure” I say, “aren’t there still really quite a lot of unexploded landmines?”

“It’ll be fine” he says. He says this a lot, and it generally is, but definitions of ‘fine’ vary.

The next day he leads me into the English language book shop and searches out an updated edition of ‘100 best hill walks never Sarajevo’. “Look,” he says, “it’s been published since the war. I’m sure if we pick something from this book it’ll be OK.” I flick through to the chapter on safety. There are three full pages on how to recognise a land mine before the author progresses onto more normal topics such as navigation and hypothermia. Never the less, we select a suitable looking walk, our selection criteria being mainly based on picking the most popular looking walk, with the theory that any nasties on the track are likely to have been found well before now.

Our next hurdle was to hire a car to get to our road end. Our lonely planet guide suggested several car hire options, and while visiting the various offices did give us a good walking tour of the back suburbs of Sarajevo, unfortunately our mission did not successfully procure us a vehicle. Someone suggested a place out by the airport, so we trooped out along the main road that we remembered as a major battle zone from the TV footage of our youth. Once we got to the car hire place, we had to negotiate our way past a long critique of different Pink Floyd albums before the owner would let us depart with his vehicle.

We were about to embark on the most dangerous part of our adventure: negotiating the Sarajevo traffic. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have seen danger, nothing fazes them now, and driving down their roads is a test of nerves not recommended for the faint hearted. My partner reassured me that ‘it’ll be fine’ from the driver’s seat while I tried to focus on the map rather than the two cars simultaneously trying to overtake on both sides.

Heading out of the city we passed fenced off forests with large ‘Danger’ signs, before we reached the now derelict sight of the 1984 winter Olympics. We then entered the hill region we had picked for our walk. The weather was stunning, and the views from the road over the hills were glorious.

“I never realised Bosnia was so beautiful” I proclaimed.

We pulled up next to a tiny little mosque in the small mountain town , donned our boots and set off. At first we struggled to find the track, and ended up lost in some cow pasture much to the amusement and confusion of some locals.

“I’m not sure they get that many unguided foreign tourists trying to go walking here” says my partner.

Finally we locate the track.  It goes along the side of a valley with superb views, before passing an 800m deep Canyon and finally reaching a village at 1500m elevation.  This is Bosnia’s most isolated village and becomes completely cut off every winter when snow prevents all access except by foot. It is this isolation that has allowed the traditional Bosniak way of life to remain here.

Walking the route, my fears about land-mines faded away. The area we were in had never been the front line, and there were plenty of sheep and cattle about, so we felt that there was little chance a mine could have remained undiscovered here since the war. The track was also well walked. We didn’t meet any other walkers, but we did meet a large group of local women picking berries on the track side.

Some enterprising Sarajevo tour companies have started offering this walk as a one way trip, with pick up by bus at the end, but we were not at all upset to turn round and reverse our route to return to our Pink-Floyd-mobile.

Back in our Sarajevo hostel we reflected on our little adventure.

“That was great” I told my partner. “Who would have guessed there was such great walking here”.

“Well, we have 99 walks left in our book for future visits” he replied. And he’s right… sometimes the most unlikely places offer us the most wonderful little adventures… we should always find the energy to search the adventures out.

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