By Kate Williman, 01 October 2009
(Shamelessly cribbed from NZAC Wellington's newsletter...)
A South Island traverse
Emma Richardson had no genetic predisposition for the outdoors.. nor was she forced by
parents to endure suchlike "family holidays". Rather she independently joined the
Christchurch Tramping Club (CTC) while at Hagely High at age 16 - because her mum
wouldn't let her join the kayaking club. She soon outgrew early Banks Peninsular and
foothill trips for harder adventures. In no time at all she became known to other
backcountry legends. I know of one lads' trip where the group had taken great pride
getting to a remote Westland Biv only to encounter a lone teenage girl already there...
and they had flown in! They soon discovered her ability to scrounge food off anyone... a
very useful skill for her most recent endeavour!
I do remember one early trip with Emma. I was leading a South-North traverse across Mt
Owen in terrible weather. Here we encountered a party at lake Bulmer and they lent me
a GPS to help navigate the snow covered Owen massif in almost zero visibility. It was a
challenging trip... our cross-over party did not risk the North-South crossing (a good move
in the these conditions for those who don't know Mt Owen).. the morale of my group was
pretty low and some began to doubt whether the leader knew where he was going...
however, Emma's characteristic determination showed through on this her first snow trip...
(It's amazing what you can endure after being at school with the Mains'!)
Well, at the vastly older age of 21, Emma has recently completed a solo traverse of the
South Island. Here are some statistics from Emma's tramp:
Distance: 1780 km
Uphill: 93,125 m
Downhill: 93,591 m
Marked huts+bivies (including named rock bivs): ~170
Days: 180 (I think)
I was surprised at these numbers... and double checked the computation... especially the
uphill... but if anything, the stats are probably an underestimate! This is the hard way to
get the maximum benefit from your annual hut pass!
Any traverse of the Southern Alps is a remarkable and individual achievement. But a solo,
continuous traverse at 21, with very little external contact and support (her Mum + Dad
met her at Mt Cook and Springs Junction, and I met her at Arthurs) makes this one rather
unique. In the months preceding December 2008, Emma packed maps and food
parcels... (what else is the final year of your degree for?) and then posted these off to
high country stations and DoC offices – no helicopter food drops on this trip!
Many of the sections along Emma's route were over 20 days in length... up to 195km long
and involved up to 9000m of climbing... that's a heavy pack haul! Furthermore, many of
the hardest parts were off-track.. and she had to cross some very big rivers alone. Her
boots failed her in the very first 2 weeks of the journey... but undeterred, she found a pair
of disgarded men's boots with no tread whatsoever in a Fiordland hut and continued the
rest of the journey in these.
Comparing epic tramps is meaningless... so much depends on the fickle weather and the
conditions encountered... and Emma had her fair share of foul weather... gales, NW
storms and unseasonal early heavy snows. Her tent was almost destroyed by gales on the
tops of the Princess mountains, buried in snow beneath the Waiau Pass, partly eaten by
rats in Wanaka.... and she encountered 80cm of rain in 24hrs while trying to get to the
Mungo Hut. Without a mountain radio there was no forewarning of these events
(especially the rats) other than the usual weather precursors immediately before. Sensible
river crossing decisions, good basic gear and good decision making are a given for this
kind of adventure. However, the motivation to persevere is something else. Her route was
compromised by conditions and there is unfinished business in Fiordland... but deviations
and side trips to the East (like a 5000m, 95km detour into the Takitimu ranges) made up for
most of these compromises in my opinion.
During her trip several friends encountered her in the hills... most observing that traversing
the South Island appeared to be an effective weight loss program. Certainly in Arthur's
Pass she was in scavenge mode (camped out in the church). She reminded me of stray
dogs I had encountered in Patagonia earlier this year - a happy stray dog. Although
Emma survived the recession and housing crisis... she did not completely escape the
leaky building syndrome... However, rather than pursuing a path of litigation she found
that a packliner between the fly and outer was particularly effective.
It was early in the expedition, after a forced retreat from the Princess mountains, that
Emma encountered her true Nemesis - a concerned, well-meaning policeman at
Tuatapere. He insisted on providing the emergency locator beacon and did his best to
dissuade her from tramping alone off-track in Fiordland. No doubt he was used to overconfident
tourists. Six months later he contacted Emma's mum to follow-up and complete
some report for the year. He wanted to know when she had gotten out of the bush etc...
According to Emma's mum there was a startled silence when told she hadn't...
apparently it took the poor constable quite a few moments and clarifications to grasp
the concept that the slight girl he encountered six months ago was still on the same trip
and was now nearing Nelson!
There was no room for battery powered luxuries like cameras and GPS's on her trip... but
periodically she posted back a series of journals... and the stack of blotted pages with
runny ink that I spied looked like they could tell a story in themselves.
In the absence of these stories, the numbers speak for themselves - especially if you know
the joys of South Westland, off-track tramping in Fiordland, transalpine crossings and very
Christchurch Tramping Club