Two nights, three days, lost in bush

DEBBIE JAMIESON
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2014
fiordland bush
BARRY HARCOURT
FIORDLAND BUSH: A dangerous place to be lost.

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An Israeli tourist would like to see better signage near Great Walk tracks after spending two nights and three days fearing for her life while lost in Fiordland bush last month.

The 21-year-old woman, who has served in the Israeli army, used all of her skills to survive the ordeal at the beginning of the Milford Track.

While she accepts she should not have left the main track, she says she was advised to take a different route from the easy 5 kilometre route to the Neale Burn Hut and when she became lost no alerts were raised despite her not appearing for bookings at two huts.

Known by the English name of Jordan, she asked intermediary Catherine Lewis to tell her story to Fairfax Media in the hope that no-one else would find themselves in the same situation.

She took a Real Journeys boat across Lake Te Anau on December 23 as a freedom tramper and planned to walk to the hut. A staff member on the boat suggested a diversion to the right of the main track alongside the Clinton River and drew her a rough map.

She lost her way on the track and when she turned to head back to the beginning found everything looked the same. After seeing markings on trees she attempted to follow them but later realised they marked possum traps.

Realising she was lost, she tried to find her way back and kept going until about 7pm.

Not yet panicking, she lay down on a towel, curled up in her sleeping bag with a jacket on top and slept.

However, in the morning she woke to torrential rain and rapidly rising rivers.

"She got up and continued walking but after a short while everything was wet and she took shelter in a fallen tree."

Jordan spent the day inside the log in her sleeping bag with her feet cuddled up to her knees.

"She realised then that it was a survival situation."

The third day, Christmas Day, she awoke to drizzle and the realisation that if she was to survive, it was up to her.

"She didn't want to die on her own. She despaired about ever seeing another face again."

She climbed a tree and noticed she was in a valley and decided to follow a nearby river. About 2pm she came across a clearing and spotted a person on the other side of the river.

When she got the attention of a guide she was told to wait there until a ranger turned up. The ranger then advised her to keep walking along the river until she came to a crossing point.

Afraid she would again become lost Jordan reluctantly followed his advice, eventually meeting up with the Department of Conservation worker and giving him a big hug.

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"It was an amazing feeling" Jordan said. "I felt like I've got my life again. I've got another chance."

She was not suffering from hypothermia but it took six hours for the wrinkles in her finger tips to disappear and two days to warm up.

Almost a month later she has since walked to the Copland Pass with friends and the Routeburn Track.

"I know I'll have this with me for the rest of my life. It's not every day you almost lose your life. I'm going to keep travelling, but very carefully," she said.

She hoped that by having her story made public it would ensure other people did not end up in the same situation.

Department of Conservation Te Anau acting manager Grant Tremain confirmed staff members assisted Jordan when she was found. He estimated she was lost within a kilometre of the track, but her story could have had a very different ending.

Although she had missed arriving at two huts her failure to arrive was not noted."We don't run an intention system, just a booking system," he said.

Real Journeys spokeswoman Lenska Papich said the company was concerned Jordan became lost whilst trying to complete the Glade Loop near the start of the track.

"We can confirm that whilst on the boat transfer she approached our staff about other options at the beginning of the track. Our staff discouraged her from heading into certain areas and suggested that if she did want to deviate from the main walk the Glade Loop might be the best option."

The Glade Loop is used by up to 50 multi-day walkers every night and by up to 25 day walkers, it is considered a reasonably well defined track that deviates around 500 metres from the main track.

"Real Journeys staff were surprised and upset to hear that this independent walker did become lost . . . and on review of this we will shy away from providing information to independent walkers outside of telling them to stick to the main track. Real Journeys will continue to operate its guided day walk operations on the Glade Loop."

SYSTEM 'NOT FOOLPROOF'

A failure by Department of Conservation hut wardens to notice the absence of the missing tramper despite her having booked her bed six months previously was not a system failure, a boss says.

The department's acting manager in Te Anau Grant Tremain said there was some confusion over who was supposed to be at the first hut on the Milford Track the night Jordan failed to appear.

If it had been noticed she was missing a search and rescue would have been launched. However, it was not a system failure.

"People are still responsible for their own safety and decisions. We're not running an intention system. We do our best to make sure people are there but the system is not 100 per cent foolproof."

The situation was discussed after Jordan was located.

"We've definitely reviewed it with our staff to ensure anything like that is brought up if there are any concerns or anything like that out of the ordinary."

"The problem is . . . if you look for everyone, you would be employing a full time search and rescue party."

The department's visitor Risk Management Policy stated people needed to be responsible for their own decisions in the outdoors.

"We supply the facilities and everything like that but there's a certain level of responsibility people need to use and realise it's a big wide world out there - even on the Milford Track."

The brother of Israeli tramper Liat Okin, who died in 2008 after going missing on the Routeburn Track, also called for improvements to the system.

"If you've started the track, and you stay at the first hut, someone should ask the question if you don't arrive at the second hut."

He said while he accepted it would not have helped his sister, the search might have started earlier.

However, Coroner David Crerar said he did not think the Department of Conservation could be asked to operate a better check-in/checkout system than the existing one.

He recommended DOC review its branding and marketing of the tramping tracks identified as Great Walks to "more accurately describe the serious and potentially dangerous terrain the tracks traverse and the tramping experience required to accomplish the journey safely".

- The Southland Times

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