Feet First Australia

exploring Australia on foot


Leave a comment

Walk Safe & Comfortable

 

by Melanie Ball (this post is based on an article written for and published in Royal Auto in 2010)

CalendarPIC2

As Simon and I set off on a 9-week walking-focussed road trip around NT, WA and SA, the time seemed right to remind myself and others how best to keep safe on foot.

I love  bushwalking. Because it stimulates every sense – a sandstone cliff lifts my gaze to an expanse of blue sky patrolled by a whistling kite, fingers trace an insect’s scribble on a tree, each step intensifies the smell of eucalyptus, or rainforest humus, or seaweed – and nothing compares with the self-satisfied weariness after a day on foot and the guilt-free pleasure of sating an exercise-fuelled appetite with high-calorie treats.

File0346Mt Abrupt 2014

But bushwalkers also break limbs, suffer hypothermia and dehydration, and become lost and spend unplanned nights outdoors, their rescue engaging numerous people and making headlines, and some die from their misadventures. However there are ways to limit the risks to life and limb (and self-esteem) that don’t detract from the fun of going bush on foot.

Books and web sites repeat mantras such as “always plan for the unplanned” and “expect the unexpected” but some people do not even expect the expected or plan for the likely; just look at Mt Kosciuszko! It’s a fairly easy 6.5km walk from the Thredbo chairlift to the top of Australia (2228m) and you’re rarely alone on the metal walkway on a sunny summer’s day. But alpine conditions can change suddenly and dramatically so why do people – even teachers leading school groups! – ignore the warning signs and set off in coffee-shop attire when dressing sensibly and carrying water, a muesli bar, and a waterproof jacket might save their life?

The biggest mistake bushwalkers make, says Sgt Ian Colles, Coordinator, Blue Mountains Police Rescue Squad, is insufficient planning and preparation.  “They don’t take enough equipment, they don’t know where they are going, and they don’t have basic navigation skills.”

WHAT, HOW & WHEN

DSC_7146 (664x1000)Choosing an Australian hike is like visiting a lolly shop. The assortment, from city-fringe stroll to remote multi-day trek, can tempt you to take on too much.  Don’t! Select a walk that suits your group’s experience, age and fitness; and that doesn’t necessarily mean one that everyone completes without raising a sweat, just one that doesn’t test limits of endurance and enjoyment.

Research the walk’s grade, length and profile (climbs and descents). Check track conditions (with park authorities), weather, and fire danger ratings before departure, and cancel/postpone if extremes are forecast. Download a map of the track and buy a topographic map for longer hikes – and learn how to read a map and use a compass.

Four is the optimum minimum group size, because someone can stay with an injured walker while two seek help, but coordinating four people is sometimes impossible. Solo bushwalking has unique risks (and pleasures). When doing a remote day walk or overnight hike, tell someone your plans and contact them on your return so they don’t raise an unnecessary alarm.

Fill in walk registration logs where provided and/or leave a note on your car. You can download a “Trip Intentions” form, with safety hints, from Victoria Police’s Search & Rescue Squad webpage. Blue Mountains walkers who register their intentions with authorities are asked for information about medical conditions, intended route, etc. so that the police don’t have to waste time asking for this if you make emergency contact.

On the trail, don’t make or follow shortcuts because this leads to erosion and plant damage and increase the risks of injury and becoming lost. Only go off-track if you’re experienced at wilderness navigation. And if you do become lost (or injured), and a brief scout around reveals no obvious way to safety, stay put. Make your position visible, relax and conserve energy, food and water.

WALKING GEAR

The worth of what you wear and carry becomes clear only when something goes wrong. Footwear is a vital piece of hiking kit however the variety can bamboozle.  While walking sandals suit many situations, including hikes with water crossings, because they grip while allowing your feet to breathe, and ankle support is important on rougher tracks and when carrying a pack, one of my close friends wore elastic-sided boots in all conditions and some people still swear by Dunlop Volleys!

“I could list a whole lot of attributes that I think a hiking boot should have,” mountaineer and adventurer Peter Hillary told me when I interviewed him for this article, but if you find boots that lack in some areas but are really comfortable, they are the boots for you.  “If you’ve got uncomfortable feet your great adventure has got serious limitations.” Always wear in new boots/shoes at home and treat hot spots as soon as they develop; blister pain can be dangerously debilitating. WARNING: gruesome blister photo further on.

Socks affect comfort (and safety) too. Some hikers advocate wearing two pairs, others one (you can buy socks with distinct left and right for a perfect fit). Only trial and error will reveal what your feet prefer. _MEL1128Erskine Falls (664x1000)

And although they provoke repetitive quips about lost skis, hiking poles can lessen jarring on hills and improve balance on slippery stepping stones. Swinging the poles forward as you walk can also stop fingers swelling.

Unless you are into nude bushwalking, and there are websites and at least one designated trail for those inclined, what else you wear depends on climate. Cotton is cool in warm weather but is cold when wet so jeans are downright dangerous in alpine country – take note Kosciuszko summitters! Outdoor shops are full of synthetic-fibre layers that keep you warm even when wet. How you put them together is personal choice. I wear cotton leggings in hot weather to limit heat rash and allergic reactions to foliage and in cooler temperatures hike in thermal underwear and modesty shorts. A windproof and waterproof jacket should be in your pack whatever the weather.

As for clothing colour: I wear rainbow stripes to decrease my risk of being run over by a snowplough and increase my chance of being seen and rescued should I lose my way. FTlegsBut my colour preferences are unusual. “I don’t know why they [walkers] want to wear blue, grey, black,” says Sgt Colless, because such colours make lost and injured walkers difficult for air crews and ground crews to see.  “Black and dark blue is nearly invisible in the bush,” he says.  “Wakers should wear high visibility clothing.” And don’t worry about scaring off the wildlife; you don’t need to wear boring environmentally-sensitive colours to have welcome encounters with birds and animals. (Bright colours also look better in photographs.)

Queensland, Australia

In addition to sunscreen, sleeved shirt and shading hat, warm-weather hikers need to carry sufficient water. I prefer a collapsible, bladder-like bag with tube and mouthpiece rather than a water bottle I’d have to stop to retrieve and uncap. And even on short walks you should take energy boosting snack bars, just in case. A notebook and pen, a compact head torch, a box of matches in a waterproof container, and a whistle (for attracting attention), are other lightweight items that could get you out of a pickle.

FIRST AID GOW blister DSC_7441

A first-aid kit is a must on long and/or remote walks. Blister-specific treatments used early can make the difference between a wonderful walk and a nightmare: hikers’ wool protects suspect spots and cutting a hole in adhesive padding puts some space between your boot and a hot spot/blister. Insect repellent, anti-itch cream and antihistamine tablets can keep bites and stings in check. Elastic bandages work for sprains and snake bites.  And you never know when you’ll be glad of your first aid training.

TECHNOLOGY

As in everyday life, technology now plays an integral part in adventuring and few bushwalkers step out without some electronic link to the world. Many walking tracks have limited or no mobile network coverage you have to hike up a ridge to make an emergency call. A popular alternative is the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB or EPIRB), which emits a signal that is detected (conditions allowing) by satellites and aircraft and relayed to a rescue coordination centre. PLBs should only be activated in life-threatening situations when no other communication system is available and penalties apply for unnecessary use. PLBs with integrated GPS cost from $400, however the Tasmanian government hires them through Service Tasmania for $40 per week, and a free hire system operates in the Blue Mountains. You can also hire them on line with Australia-wide delivery. The Blue Mountains beacon loan system is part of the “Think Before You Trek” initiative between the NSW Police Force and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. “The beacons get all the attention,” says Sgt Colles, “but we push people to plan and prepare so, hopefully, they will never need to use the beacon.”

We put too much emphasis on technology, says Peter Hillary, who made satellite-phone calls from atop Everest fifty years after his father scaled the mountain.  “I was interviewed by CNN on the summit.  It was bizarre when you think of it in terms of 1953 [four days passed before England learned of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s success] but technology is here to stay.” BOG43The danger is people relying on technology over planning and preparation.  Hillary thinks the Queensland, AustraliaGPS is a marvelous aid but should only be used in conjunction with the more traditional, older navigational system – map and compass.

 

Off all the hiking equipment available now, though, Peter Hillary’s favourite is a stove.  “It’s survival,” he says.  “Melting snow and ice, bubbling water, it’s life… a very happy sound.” Carry a hiking stove even on a day walk and you can boil water for a cuppa with a view!

Advertisements


1 Comment

Food for Thought (for walking and travelling too)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA BIG4_RGB

by Simon Box

Why eat badly when bushwalking? Or travelling in general? Food is not only fuel to keep you going but something to look forward to after hours on foot; a celebration of your achievements. After a day or days of pack walking there’s nothing better than tucking into delicious local food, prepared by someone else or me!

MEL_0385 KerangDrive0315I have had a life-long fascination with cooking and food. I used to have a small stool in the kitchen and annoy Mum asking what she was doing at the cooker. My family grew all our own veggies, in the UK, and I have taken this up again since moving to Euroa (country Victoria) in 2013. I started hunting for food as a youngster too; Mum’s rule was: “you shoot something, you deal with it, cook it and eat it,” a principle I continue to follow.

I have cooked every day, apart from on some holidays, since I was 18, and I put a lot of effort into planning the food for our trips because I do not see why we should eat less well when we are travelling than when we are at home. I find it relaxing cooking at the end of the day, whether in a park cabin kitchen, or over an open fire or a portable gas cooker.

When travelling Mel and I always try to eat and drink local food and wine. Australia is a fantastic country for this as the ranges of both are fantastic. We have found some amazing local eateries across this country over the years and depending on our schedule and budget me might end up toasting our walking efforts in a simple fish and chip shop or a top-end restaurant.

MEL_8908_CapeElizTAS             MEL_0265 KerangDrive0315

On car journeys I pack a plastic tub containing all the oils, spices, sauces and other dried goods that I use at home. We take a Coleman cooker, which has a burner for boiling and a griddle burner that can be used to fry and grill. We recently bought a Ziegler and Brown grill/oven, too, which is fantastic, compact, efficient and allows me to not only grill but roast whole chickens or other meats; it will also cook pizzas because it easily reaches 400oC. When staying in BIG4 Holiday Parks I use the communal camp kitchens, which are generally well equipped, or the barbecues and save on setting up.

A pack hike is a totally different beast.

MEL_5071Howqua 2012Ritchies Hut 2012 (1000x664)

If we’re only out for one night I like to carry in some steak and vegetables for dinner and with a group walk you can spread the weight and take wine and some liqueur muscat too – always making sure we carry out all our empties. On longer pack walks it’s all about the weight on your back so we usually take commercial freeze-dried dinners (just add boiling water and stir). There is a wide selection of offerings and some are not bad; the curries and “hot” dishes actually have a kick (we’re planning a review later later in the year). The main brand of commercial hiking food we have used till now is Back Country Cuisine. We have found the 5-serve packs perfect for three people but when there’s just Mel and me we take 2-person meals and extra packets of mashed spud or vegetables.

MEL_4931Howqua 2012Ritchies Hut 2012      MEL_4943Howqua 2012Ritchies Hut 2012

Some of the freeze-dried desserts are pretty tasty too but we prefer twin-pack Aunt Betty’s steamed puddings with a carton of long-life cream. These are heavier so it’s an indulgence but sometimes a treat is just what you need. Or a hip flask of rum to add to a cup of sachet hot chocolate or coffee to make a hot toddy before climbing into your sleeping bag.

OFF_pudding_belgain

On overnight pack walks we might tuck into freeze-dried meals for lunch too but usually we take tortillas (because they pack flat and stay moist) and make wraps of foil sachet tuna/salmon or chicken with triangles of cheese and bean shoots. Yes, it does get monotonous and on the last day of the 6-day Carnarvon Great Walk, in Queensland, I couldn’t face another lunch of salmon wraps so we filled up (and emptied our packs) of jelly snakes and chocolate!

On day walks we lunch on sandwiches, fresh fruit, muesli bars and jelly snakes.

On longer walks I get the urge for that “Umami” hit and have found that a few pieces of thinly sliced biltong can satisfy that need. (We have recently bought a dehydrator and will be experimenting on some home grown veggies, maybe some casseroles and even our own version of biltong.)

So to finish. try and eat as well as you can carry as it really makes long day walks and multi-day hikes all the more enjoyable. Well, it does for me, anyway. Mind you I usually wake up thinking about what I am going to cook for dinner.

Happy cooking, eating and walking.


2 Comments

Stepping Out!

G’day bushwalkers of every level of fitness and experience and welcome to Feet First Australia, a blog about the simple pleasure of getting out and about on foot.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Melanie Ball. I am a long-time travel writer and photographer and author of Top Walks in Victoria and Top Walks in Australia, guidebooks published by Explore Australia; Top Walks in Tasmania is due out October 2018.

My motivation for this blog is the thousands of kilometres I’ve walked over the past few years and a 2015 spent travelling and hiking around the extraordinary country I call home.

And Australia is extraordinary. Where else on Earth can you traverse an outback mountain range worn from Himalayan heights to a gnarly rock spine? Stand at the altar of a moss-cloaked Antarctic beech tree which sprouted when Ancient Rome held sway across Europe? Or venture solo into big-sky country so flat you can see the curvature of the planet?

I hope to entertain you by describing and recommending bushwalks, swapping favourite hikes, answering questions, discussing and reviewing hiking food and equipment and just following wherever the blog takes me. I hope to inspire you to get out and about on foot.

A huge thank you to Simon Box, my husband and mostly-patient photographic model (that’s him in the stripy shirt above and those are his feet on the header photo), another Australian born in England. He wrote the Food For Thought post.

Thanks to all the other friends who join me on walks and everyone who hikes with me through this blog. I hope you have a great time.