At 76-years-old, Aucklander Susanne Brighouse is proof that age is no barrier to experiencing the backcountry.
The keen outdoorswoman – who started tramping at 52 – plans a multi-day tramp every year with her siblings, and in March completed the seven day Five Passes route in Mt Aspiring National Park.
She likened the gruelling track of more than 4000m ascent to childbirth – painful at the time, but less so in hindsight.
“Looking back on it, it never seems so bad – I think you forget how painful it was, and just remember the good parts. Some people just remember the bad parts, but I remember the good,” she said.
It’s hard on young knees, and Brighouse can confirm older knees are no different.
“It was about 80 per cent pain, and 20 per cent pleasure, which is much less pleasure than I normally get,” she says.
Brighouse walked the 55km circuit with her younger siblings John and Robyn.
It’s become something of an annual tradition in the family – right down to who carries what.
“Robyn is 17 years younger, so she carries the tent. It’s her punishment for being young,” she says.
The Five Passes was a battle of head high tussock, river crossings and frozen camping.
“One morning we woke up and everything was iced – it was inside the tent, in the billy, and our boots and socks were so hard we couldn’t put them on. We had to melt everything before we could start climbing.”
The circuit has been on Brighouse’s to-do-list for years, but stayed in the ‘too hard basket’.
“I don’t know what happened this year. I think I was in total denial of my age and fitness,” she said. Brighouse plans to keep tramping into her 80s, and is continually inspired by an 81-year-old she met years ago on a tramp.
“People need to be told you can keep going even though you’re old,” she said.
Her walking speed may have slowed, but Brighouse says her stamina is as good as ever.
“That’s the one thing I’ve got on my side. If I’ve got to get there, I’ll get there, even if I want to just lie down and die – I can keep going,” she says.