Posts Tagged ‘Department of Conservation’

Elitism in the Mountains


By R. Richards

The "Lodge" at Routeburn!

Fellow MSI board member Bob Stremba and I recently decided to spend a  couple of days on New Zealand’s Routeburn walk, one of the famous tracks in the Southern Alps. We did it last week, during the shoulder season so there were only a handful of people on the trail. But I can imagine the numbers grow exorbitantly during the summer months. Fair enough, that’s how New Zealand has decided to funnel foreign hikers, and showcase tourism into a few of the well-known tramps. Milford Sound not far away is another.

Hi There!

All went well, aside from a bit of rain. We met some nice hikers, one from Ireland, Australia, Switzerland and four from Canada. We stayed at the small Routeburn Flats hut, and the next day proceeded to the Routeburn Falls hut for a quick lunch break . That’s when something seemed out of place. First, the size of the Department of Conservation (DOC) hut was quite impressive, equipped to handle large amounts of hikers. I then noticed above me, and pondered what in the world, could the huge building possibly be that stood above the DOC hut? Since it was the off season, this larger upper building was closed, bit we could peek in the windows . As I approached,  a big wooden sign in front of the building called out  the “Routeburn Falls Lodge”.  I saw a smaller sign behind it, mounted on the wall stating: “Strictly Guided Walkers Only” adding “Independent walkers please continue on to the DOC Hut.”

Private Rooms for the Gentry

The irony of first class and coach system arriving in the mountains struck me immediately with the thought that there should be a sign on the DOC hut stating, “Strictly Independent Walkers, Guided hikers should continue on to the nearest Hilton”. Of  course I don’t really feel that way, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Better yet, maybe the cognoscenti should overthrow the highfalutin hut and invite the coach class to join them, (and possibly even have a food fight).

The only site I can remotely remember seeing like this was in the Alps. Of course high living gentiles are still staying in the hotels just below the faces of the Matterhorn and Eiger. The only class arrangement I can remember seeing was in the Alpine Club huts of the Alps where the mountain quide’s quarters, were separated from us chattel climbers. But this, here in New Zealand was a whole other matter. I’m sure Oliver James, author of Affluenza would be proud of most Kiwis who shun this sort of thing in their mountains. I then found my tolerance level further tested with another sign telling “independent hikers” to a) turn around, b)  march their little butts down to where they belong  c) and stay there, all with the Orwellian salutation of “Hi There!”  See the actual text in the image above.

Bob Stremba, overlooking the Backcountry (?)

I hope that “haute couture” in the backcountry stops with this hut. I’m assuming there may be others though.  Even  though this super-duper hut sits in the heart of the Routeburn,  in the real backcountry, we’re still all the same. The problem is, having such a lodge like this goes a long way in destroying the very experience the concession is trying to offer. By its very nature, it removes itself from the backcountry. It brings the virulent virus – the epidemic of affluenza to the doorstep of paradise.  Tell us what you think about allowing such multiple uses on government land such as  luxury lodges (such as this one  run by Ultimate Hikes) Is it a bad idea? Are we missing something about the land use plans of NZ?

If you’re thinking of taking a  guided hike, suggest to your guide that he put you up with the rest of us. You’ll find it much more inspiring. Also suggest that they could change their signs to a less snooty sort.

Mountain People Who Inspire


Greetings from New Zealand. You’ll start to see articles on this blog under the column named “Mountain People Who Inspire” whenever I or other authors should come across them. 

Londoner Mark Rosen, Wanaka, NZ

Londoner Mark Rosen, Wanaka, NZ

I’m starting this column with an entry on a retired man from England named Mark Rosen. Mark hails from Norfolk, Sheringham which is a fishing and vacation village on the east coast. We crossed paths in the Matukituki Valley when Mark was on his way to fulfill his annual volunteer stint at the French Ridge Hut near the base of Mt. Aspiring. He has been volunteering at this hut as well as Mueller hut at Mt Cook for a number of years.  He’s an inpsiration because of his great attitude about getting out in the mountains, and his ability to continue hitting the trail. He’s a mountain man in the true sense. Getting to the French Ridge Hut is not easy. Once you’ve hiked four hours along the Matukituki Valley, the trail climbs 3000′ in about a mile and a half, to arrive above treeline and at glacier’s edge at the small hut.

I only met him briefly on the trail, and later caught up with him in Wanaka, New Zealand where we asked him a few questions about his thoughts on hut wardening at Mt. Aspiring and Mt. Cook.  
MSI:What do you love most about your volunteering?
MR: I love relating to the people, and hearing about their first impressions. Especially at Mt. Cook when many of the visitors are seeing a large glaciated mountain for the first time. They’re enjoying the beauty of the mountains and for most, this is their first experience of going to a place like that. Their eyes are wide with wonder.  More though, I come back because of the place, the mountain environment, this special location.  I like the time alone too and can retreat to the hut warden’s quarters when need be.

MSI: What do you do in your spare time at the huts?
MR: I like to get out and hike the surrounding routes, read or plug into my ipod and conduct the London Symphony Orchestra or do my aerobic exercises.

MSI: What are some of the challenges of being a hut warden?
MR: Well, in a humorous vein, people tend to ask the same questions over and over, such as,  “How do you get your food and water up here?”, or “How do you get up here?” Depending on my mood sometimes, I like to make my answers more interesting.  I’ll tell a fibb by replying that I bring my food up in big boxes and haul water from the valley floor in buckets. Oh, and that “The outhouse poop needs to be hauled out in containers strung over my shoulders.” Sometimes I might say “I arrive by private helicopter.”
One thing that can bother me is when parties don’t clean up after themselves and leave the hut or toilet a mess. I almost feel as if I need to inquire about their toilet habits upon their arrival, hopefully stemming their bad behaviour. Of course, this is the minority of the visitors, but it does have a negative impact.

When I met Mr. Rosen the second time in Wanaka, I observed at how well grounded and at peace the man seemed. I guess part of it stems from all that time in the mountains. Keep going Mark.