Whether we acknowledge it or not, fossil fuel- powered transport plays a pivotal role in our ability to access the backcountry. Our vehicles provide the opening gambit to every trip – ‘your car or mine?’ and the parting shot – ‘so, how much do I owe you for gas?’ Our cars allow us to venture hundreds of kilometres from home on a Friday night, yet still make it back in time for work on a Monday morning.
As trampers and backcountry adventurers, we’re already partaking in an activity that has a comparatively low environmental footprint. But how often do us weekend warriors consider the environmental effect of getting to the road end? The truth is, mostly we don’t. We’re used to heading into the hills with nary a second thought. If we do grimace at the petrol pump, it’s because of the increasing cost of filling the tank, rather than out of concern for our carbon footprint.
So with that in mind, here are three things to consider when planning your next tramping trip: Think local The year 2016 is a far cry from the days of the Second World War, when motor vehicles in New Zealand were few and far between. In 1941 Canterbury University College produced a report about the activities of their fledgling tramping club, which stated:
The most difficult problem has been the provision of transport to the hills. In the early part of the year… we were able to get enough petrol coupons to run trips by lorry … With the increasing rigour of petrol restrictions … trips could only be run to Banks Peninsula, or by train.
While it might pain you to toss aside that map of Tongariro in favour of the Tararuas, thinking locally can have its advantages. With all the work being done through the Outdoor Recreation Consortium there’s bound to be a nearby hut or track that’s changed since you were last there. Better yet, head out into your nearest hills and take a tramping novice or small child with you. It might not be the same as a new experience in a faraway corner of the conservation estate, but it’s guaranteed to be different from the last time you were there.
In 1944 a young airman stationed in Blenheim wrote home to his family:
‘Last weekend I went up to the Kaikouras with Jack McBurney. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a harder weekend. We biked the 60 miles [96 kilometres] to Mt. Tapuaenuku [sic] on the Saturday. It was uphill all the way against a strong head wind and it nearly killed us … The next morning we were still very tired but we climbed up the ridge to Tapuaenuku and reached 8,500 feet [2590 metres] before turning back in deep snow … On Monday we rode all the way back to camp through Blenheim, a total distance of about 80 miles [128 kilometres] and mostly against a head wind.’
That airman was a young Ed Hillary, less than ten years before he scaled Everest. While many of us wouldn’t have the stamina to bike a 224-kilometre round trip and scale a mountain in the space of three days, there’s something to be said for the satisfaction of leaving home on two wheels, accompanied by a tramping pack.
With so many regional parks you’re spoiled for choice! (Although we acknowledge the challenge of Kauri dieback closures have upped the ante since this article was written)
Try biking the Little River Rail Trail to the Kaituna Valley, then heading up to Packhorse Hut for the night.
Cycle to any of the entry points for the Skyline walkway, then go for a wander across the hilltops. The Wairarapa train service take you within striking distance of the Tararuas; Greytown’s Woodside stop is just four kilometres from the Mt Reeves Track that begins at the end of the Waiohine Gorge Road.
FMC Executive member David Barnes has walked home after a weekend tramping in the Silver Peaks.
Make a difference
All of the above being said, there’s still nothing like heading off in the car to spend a night or three in the bowels of the backcountry. It’s one of the benefits of living in a country with a third of its land mass in the public conservation estate. In 2014, the Canterbury University Tramping Club clocked over 20,000 kilometres getting to and from tramps, resulting in around four tonnes of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere. The club did some research and worked out that planting 240 trees would result in all that carbon being absorbed within 12 months.
Most trampers have some level of concern for our environment – and rightly so! Tree planting is an activity that can be easily organised by tramping clubs – or you could jump on one arranged by your local council.
So the next time you sling your pack into the back of the car, or reluctantly hand over your hard-earned cash at the petrol station, think about tramping differently: closer to home, under your own steam, or getting your hands dirty with tree planting. Your grandchildren’s grandchildren will thank you for it.
But if you believe the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it won’t be our grandchildren’s grandchildren. The horizon is much much closer than we think. What are you and your tramping friends/club doing to address your tramping footprint?
This and all the back issues of the Bulletin/Backcountry can be accessed through FMC’s online Archive.