Feet First Australia

exploring Australia (and sometimes further afield) on foot


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Hero Worship

While some bushwalks merge into each other over time, others create memories that are vivid to the point of sharpness.

Such is the Stinson track in World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park, in southern Queensland, which I remember in crystal clarity, despite the sweat that blurred my vision on that epic vine-forest trek.

And why? Because there’s a remarkable story behind this walk – a plane crash; a misdirected, failed search effort; an extraordinary survival story; and a heroic rescue mission – a story that made a humble bushman and his mountain-top home famous.

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Photo courtesy of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

In January 2017, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is celebrating the 80th birthday of the crash and Bernard O’Reilly’s rescue of the two survivors with walk-and-accommodation packages (from $535 per person) including a choice of two challenging anniversary day hikes. You can “Walk in Bernard’s Footsteps”, a trek from his family’s then-guesthouse to the crash site (37km over 13 hours), or tread the “Rescue Route”, 14km return up and down Christmas Creek.

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Although you visit several breathtaking lookouts following in Bernard’s footsteps, these are hikes more about history than scenery, as you can read in my Sydney Morning Herald article (2002). Nor should they be taken on lightly. You’ll need to train to appreciate these historical adventures.

Anyone with hip or knee problems should opt instead to read about the rescue in Bernard O’Reilly’s book, Green Mountains.


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Adventure clothing gets a caffeine kick

“When we got into our sleeping bags, if we were fortunate, we became warm enough during the night to thaw the ice; part remained in our clothes, part passed into the skins of the bags… and soon both were sheets of armour-plate.” Aspley Cherry-Garrad’s evocative description of the reindeer-fur sleeping bags used on Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic South Pole expedition, in his book, “The worst journey in the world,” has stayed with me since I first read it as a teenager.

Scott's_party_at_the_South_Pole 1But I looked it up again after an advertising email from Mountain Designs reminded me how much outdoor clothing has changed in the hundred years since British luxury fashion house Burberry fitted out Scott’s expedition.

Reindeer products are still popular, mostly with Arctic and Subarctic peoples, and natural fibres continue to be an essential part of many people’s outdoor wardrobe. I love zipping on a down jacket around a fire on a car-based winter bushwalking weekend – or at my desk on a particularly cold winter’s day in central Victoria! Wool hasn’t lost any of its insulating and wicking properties over the century either, although the merino layers my husband, Simon, hikes in are a finer breed than the woolen undergarments Scott and his men wore.

But the invention of man-made fibres, including quick, cheap, wash-and-wear polyester, patented in 1941, commercialised in the 1950s and much evolved since, has revolutionised adventure wear.

My customary bushwalking outfit is an advertisement for modern fibres: nylon trousers, which are surprisingly cool even in warm weather (and in cooler weather zip down to modesty shorts over polypropylene thermal leggings, rainbow striped for safety, and visibility in photographs), nylon shirt, PET polar fleece layer, polyester blend socks with “twelve separate support and cushioning features” and GORE-TEX waterproof jacket. This get-up is comfortable, dries quickly after rain and/or immersion in creeks and, fortunately for walking companions, doesn’t smell, even after several days’ wear without showering. It’s also light to pack and carry on my back.

FTlegsBlends of man-made and natural fibres are, however, coming to the fore. Mountain Design’s promotional email announced a range of clothing made from a blend of cotton and reclaimed and recycled plastic bottles. Sanjida O’Connell writes in her online article in The Guardian, that Patagonia, the first outdoor clothing company to make clothing out of land-fill PET bottles, in 1993, “claims to have rescued 92m bottles of pop from the tip”. Patagonia also recycle nylon, wool and worn out Patagonia-label polyester clothing into other products.

But what really grabbed my attention and prompted this blog post was Mountain Design’s announcement of a new range of clothing made from polyester and coffee grounds. Yep, coffee grounds.

chainimage-costa-coffee-beans-freshly-roasted-coffee-deliveredApparently, the process to turn waste coffee grounds into fabric is similar to that used to make a viscose-like material from bamboo, which results in a fabric that’s soft and silky but too heavy and slow drying for a long pack walk.

In The Guardian article O’Connell says “coffee” fabric is “soft, light, flexible and breathable and can also be used to produce an outer shell that is water resistant. It’s impregnated with ‘activated’ carbon, derived from coconut, which makes it UV-resistant, wicks water away, keeps the wearer cool and binds to sweat to eliminate unpleasant odours.“ And Mountain Designs claims it “harnesses the power of recycled coffee beans”!

What would Robert Falcon Scott think? That it’s just not proper? Then again, he may well appreciate the innovation. As for me, if there’s any possibility of getting a through-skin caffeine hit from clothing to power me up a hill, I might just have to try it!

Melanie Ball’s website

Melanie’s photography as art and clothing

Wearable Art from Appliquez Moi

 


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Walk Safe & Comfortable

 

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

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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.

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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!