It’s always sad to hear about tragedies in the outdoors, but it hits home more than usual when it’s nearby. The recent occasion in which the bodies of two trampers were found in the Tararuas will no doubt be remembered for some time not because two people died, but because one of them was particularly well known. Even now, most media reports focus their attention on obiturising one of the trampers who is presumed to be of most interest to their readers and about whom there is probably more readily available information, mentioning his companion almost as an afterthought. I can fully understand why this happens from the media perspective and its audience, but I think it’s important to remember that irrespective of the profiles of both people, two people were equally unfortunate.
This equality is one of the wonderful things about the outdoors in New Zealand. it manifests itself in the informal experiences of meeting people out of context and away from their normal day-jobs. If Craig and I or anyone else had been tramping up that way this weekend (as we’d planned) and happened to meet people, it no doubt would have made no difference who they were or what they’d achieved. You get to meet and chatter with all sorts of people in New Zealand’s back-country, and meet them on equal terms. One way or another everyone’s out there to enjoy themselves.
I won’t dwell on the specifics of what happened right now. The published information is so sparse and it wouldn’t be fair to people involved. No doubt more information will emerge from those in the know in the coming weeks. Whatever happened, it’s a testament to the impressively coordinated and largely voluntary Land Search and Rescue organisation, and to the SAR Coordination team of the New Zealand Police and all other organisations involved, that the trampers were found so quickly once it finally became possible to mount a search.
It’s strange having been to these places, even felt as if I was in some kind of trouble near there at times (especially this time), yet never for a moment having thought I wouldn’t get out safely. I’m fortunate enough to have never been in such a catastrophic situation to date, and I hope I never am.
Perhaps it helps to ease the mind if you’re as prepared as you can be, to the extent that if you make a mistake (preparation or otherwise) your further preparation will be more likely to compensate. Having experienced, competent and level-headed friends nearby also helps tremendously when things get difficult. When this kind of awful thing happens, however, it’s a saddening reminder that on occasion things can go tragically wrong, even for experienced people and in places that are well frequented and which might sometimes give the impression of being much more safe than what they really are. Probably all we can do now is try to learn from it.