Shaun Barnett profiles 12 different types of tramper – which one are you?
Once, on the Heaphy Track, I followed a tramper with a rubbish bin lid strapped to his back. Not a plastic one; but a heavy, metal one. I don’t know why he did this. Still don’t.
While trekking in Chile, I met a hiker who had all the latest gear, but no idea how to use it. He couldn’t even open a can, let alone pitch his brand-new tent. I stopped him just before he used white spirits instead of meths in his Trangia stove, which would have been the equivalent of letting off a petrol bomb.
Our diverse outdoors are filled with a range of people, all out in the hills for their own reasons from the obvious to the obscure. Readers might recognise some of these outdoor types.
The Gear Freak
The Gear Freak knows the technical differences between Gore-Tex and Reflex, the biomechanical reasons for using walking poles and why you need 1.7km of pack straps. Their usual habitat is outdoor equipment stores, but occasionally some will venture into the great outdoors. Gear Freaks prefer to carry gear on the outside of their packs, including a sleeping bag and billy. Most carry a multi-tool suitable for small engineering projects, or re-boring the Land Rover’s engine. In an emergency, you can burn their unnecessary gear and keep yourself warm for two or three days.
If you can’t sleep, get them onto the subject of natural versus synthetic fibres.
The Great Walker
For a certain type of tramper, the eight Great Walks are the only tracks in the country. Once the Great Walker has walked all eight, “They’ve done New Zealand”. They ask questions like “Have you done the Milford?”, “Is it better than the Kepler?” and “How does the scenery compare with the Routeburn?”, but glaze over if you mention other non-Great Walk tracks.
Some write books about their experiences, like the Canadian hiker who castigated pakeha New Zealanders for their racism, and then described the crater of Mt Ngauruhoe as a ‘steaming anus’; such cultural understanding.
The Overzealous Hut Warden
This type of warden views the hut as their personal fiefdom, suffers the public only under great duress and never makes the connection between hut fees and their wage. When explaining the hut rules, they speak with barely disguised contempt, and a certainty that their audience suffer from mental defects. Sentences begin with “Don’t”, usually followed by “burn down the hut” “laugh” “defecate” “make any noise” “ask me to deal with the long-drop” or “enjoy yourself”.
Their hut, in their park, suffers all sorts of abuse from the uncaring public who don’t understand that parks are about preservation, not participation. To deal with an Overzealous Hut Warden, eat an enormous amount of lentils and use their private long-drop.
Ever heard hissing behind you, then been shouldered off the track as someone, all elbows and knees, steams past you? You’ve met a Hisser, or speed freak. The Hisser cares little about the differences between mountain and red beech, or between schist and greywacke. Or, indeed, anything but halving the track time. Supremely fit, long-legged and lusty of lung, they storm along, pausing only to consult their stopwatch. Hissers have hissed for nigh as long as trampers have existed. Once the tramping pioneers of the 1920s unravelled the mysteries of their local mountains, the next challenge was to scorch over the same ground in record time.
Deal with the Hisser by lying about your own time: make it something near impossible.
The Twig and Tweeter
Unlike the Hisser, the Twig and Tweeter knows everything about the forest, the birds, the invertebrates and the percentage of endemic crustose lichens on your average silver beech tree. With binoculars dangling, the Twig and Tweeter assiduously marks off observed species in their nature guidebook. Conversation verges mainly on the botanical or ornithological, but may occasionally become geological; mentioning anything else elicits a stony silence. Nature study can be distracting and, sadly, when peering through binoculars, the occasional Twig and Tweeter inadvertently falls to their death over a cliff.
The Bragger has visited more huts than you, walked over more tracks, bagged more peaks (by harder routes), and got there faster, too. Their motto, ‘Bigger, better, faster, stronger’ applies, of course, only to themselves. Engaging the Bragger in conversation is usually easy, but only with the first question. Sometimes, however, the Bragger will inquire about how many peaks you’ve bagged to ensure that they give you the correct reply about how many they’ve climbed.
The Great Stalker
The Great Stalker has shot more deer than you have had hot dinners, can gut a carcass in less than three minutes, and knows the minutest details about how to tell the difference between fresh deer sign and old deer sign – usually by a discerning nibble. The Great Stalker always flies in by kerosene taxi, and out, but not with his rubbish. He has usually arrived at the hut just five minutes before you, as you’ve been tramping for hours. Already the Great Stalker has covered every surface, including all six bunks, with their gear. They’ll be frying bacon and eggs when you open the door and immediately say: “Hut’s pretty full mate, have you brought a tent?”
The conversation quickly gravitates to deer, then stays on deer. When leaving the hut, the Great Stalker says “Off to war!” When the Great Stalker arrives back without a kill, he blames DOC for wiping out all the deer with 1080. Don’t question a Great Stalker about the second amendment of the American constitution.
The European Hiker
The European Hiker comes from an undisclosed EU country, wears designer glasses, speaks with a strong guttural accent and has come to see Middle Earth. When, at the lookout, you comment about the lovely view, they reply with “Ah yes, but many more beautiful lake in my homeland.” Despite earning good money from their professional city job, they avoid paying hut fees whenever possible. The European Hiker posts on their Facebook site “I have made the whole of New Zealand hiking and experienced a lot of the nature.” Often disappointed at the lack of Hobbits.
The TV Survivalist
The TV Survivalist knows how to abseil using a bootlace, make an emergency shelter out of two cabbage tree leaves and can pull huhu grubs out of a rotten log in an area known to have no huhus. They spurn spurs in favour of waterfall-choked streams. They spurn bridges in favour of uprooting medium-sized saplings to cross small streams. TV Survivalists can light fires using cell-phones, although sometimes seeing what they are actually doing becomes difficult behind the rain-splattered camera lens.
Carrying nothing but a parachute, the TV Survivalist can make a sleeping bag or rope or even a smaller parachute. They never run out of parachute. Their only other concession to gear is a long Gurkha knife strapped to their calf. The TV Survivalist emphasises the need for keeping this handy just in case they get caught in some of their parachute, or associated products.
The Well-Meaning Minister of Preservation
The Well-Meaning Minister of Preservation is usually picked because of their ability to be bossed around by their colleagues higher up in cabinet, particular the Minister of Digging Big Holes and the Minister of Inappropriate Developments. The Well-Meaning Preservation Minister does genuinely enjoy the wilderness, but would prefer to cuddle a kakapo for a media photo opportunity than ruffle feathers by actually advocating against, say, a monorail or tunnel through a World Heritage Area.
When trudging the Abel Tasman track to “get in touch with the conservation estate” they look slightly the worse for wear from too many corporate Wellington lunches. When it comes to their decision to support opencast mining of a unique Westland ecosystem, they offer assurances that the mining company will offset any damage by doing some predator trapping elsewhere, and point to the mining industry’s exemplary record of looking after the environment, as well as its own miners.
The Freeloader belongs to a tramping club, but never offers to lead any trips, shuns committee work, and usually relies on other party members to carry most of the gear. They will, however, gobble their own goodies on the first few days of the trip, then beg, borrow or steal food for the last few days. First to choose the best hut bunk, or first into the tent (which someone else has put up), they are never available when it’s time to collect firewood or cook dinner. The Freeloader will, however, emerge to help toast marshmallows around the fire. Because they did a few hours volunteer work painting a backcountry hut in 1983, they have never paid any hut fees since. A tireless complainer, they will castigate everyone from weather forecasters to trip leaders to DOC rangers for their shortcomings.
The Guidebook Author
This most annoying sort of tramper or climber writes about your favourite places, ensuring all the best ones will become over-run. They hint at unclimbed routes, including the one you had your eye on, ensuring every Tom, Dick and Harriet is going to have a go at it before you get there. Most frustratingly of all, some actually earn their livings doing this, so have extra motivation to broadcast New Zealand’s secret tramping destinations to the entire universe.