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April 2017 Issue
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Safe tramping begins with decision making

A poster in Upper Travers Hut asking trampers to keep an eye out for anything that might have belonged to Christian.

My heart goes out to the parents of Christian Prehn, the 19-year-old German tramper who went missing in Nelson Lakes National Park in 2014. I’ve got a young daughter and the thought of her just vanishing one day makes me sick to the stomach. It’s the not knowing that would eat at me.

Christian had come to New Zealand for his gap year. He was intent on spending his time in nature and to that end had planned a series of South Island tramps. But a few months into his stay, he was walking the Travers-Sabine route and was at the crux of the trip: Travers Saddle. It was here he placed his pack on the ground, presumably to find a better vantage or to climb Mt Travers, and disappeared. A search of the area turned up nothing – not even footprints.

In reading about Christian’s mysterious disappearance in our story ‘Where in Nelson Lakes National Park in Christian Prehn‘, you might think tramping solo is just too dangerous. And, compared to sitting on your sofa over a long weekend, tramping is risky – there are rivers to cross, extreme weather to contend with and goat trails on high passes to negotiate.

But is it dangerous? I don’t think so. Tramping is just walking but with a pack on your back. It’s still the simple action of placing one foot in front of the other – ad infinitum. It’s the decisions we make while tramping (and before we even set out) that might make it dangerous. It is highly likely Christian would still be with us today if he had chosen to carry on over Travers Saddle into the Sabine rather than pause to possibly climb the mountain.

Good decision-making is something that comes with experience, you learn it from others you go with and by first making mistakes in areas that are forgiving. To go solo you need to be sure of your ability to make sound decisions at important moments, when you’re freezing cold, wet through and the hut is just one river-crossing away.

Juxtaposing Christian’s story this issue, is Hazel Phillips’ article ‘All by myself’, in which she shares advice for those trampers who, for whatever reason, tramp solo. Hazel went from doing no tramping, to day walks, overnighters and eventually a 10-day solo tramp over the very same ground Christian intended to walk.

The difference was, he seemed to have spent just a few months working up to his trip, whereas Hazel had spent several years building up to hers.