Lotsafreshair is all about sharing tips, tricks and adventures in the great outdoors. Encouraging one another to get out into the freshair, maybe try something they haven't done before. The blog provides bushwalking and hiking tips from an unexpected outdoors chick, Caro Ryan.
To the uninitiated, you could be forgiven for thinking that all first aid kits are created equal. Just grab one off the shelf at your local chemist or from an outdoors shop (hey, it’s from a gear shop so it should be perfect for outdoor adventures, right?), throw it in your pack and you’re ready to go.
But what does it mean to be ‘initiated’? Here’s some things I’ve learnt along the way having done six Remote Area First Aid or Wilderness First Aid courses over the years, as well as being a commercial bushwalking guide and bushwalking club leader.
There is not one first aid kit to rule them all
The worst examples of pre-made first aid kits I’ve seen have had 5 old band-aids (that have lost their stick), a crepe roller bandage (with the sharp-teeth-elastic-clippy-thing) and an antiseptic wipe. Not much use unless you’ve got a papercut. I think I’d rather pour lemon juice on said cut than have to carry that kit. The best kits I’ve come across are those you build yourself. For simplicity or cost, you might choose to start with a commercial kit as the bags can be useful and then add to/subtract from it to fit your own needs.
Wound and blister care
Everyone carries their own first aid kit
… And use the owners kit for treating the owner, with yours and everyone elses as backups. This is one of the fundamentals of self-reliance in the bush and is one of the absolute foundations of the clubs I’m in and all my mates that I go bushwalking with. In my mind, unless you’re on a commercially led trip, everyone needs to have their own first aid kit. Sure, it might not be as big as mine as a leader, but there are some basics that everyone should carry. At the very least, these should include:
Snake bandage (1 bandage doesn’t go very far for a leg, so if everyone carries one, then there’s enough to treat a snakebite properly).
Blister prevention and treatment
Medications (pain relief and prescription)
Simple wound care like bandaids
Medications (prescription and non) are part of my first aid kit
A first aid kit is no substitute for knowledge
A first aid kit without training is like having all the ingredients in the pantry but no idea how to cook. Actually, it’s more like having everything you need for a recipe, but leaving out one crucial ingredient. Without it, your cake won’t rise and your custard will curdle.
There’s a reason that first aid qualifications expire after 3 years (and resus after 1 year). Constant refreshers (or recertification) not only keeps you up to date on the latest approved methods (eg. do you bandage up or down a limb for snake bite? Is resus 1 breath:30 compressions or 1:15 or hang on… do we even DO breaths anymore?), but the more you practice relevant scenarios, the more your actions and reactions become automatic, calm and measured. Feel the calm.
I keep items that could spill inside sturdy (recycled) ziploc bag
Know your kit
If you don’t use your kit, chances are that it sits in your pack and you kinda forget that it’s there… until you need it. Apart from replacing used items or checking for out of date bits, it’s great to be familiar with your kit – how you pack it, where things are – so you can find things when you need to.
Mark it as a first aid kit
So up there with the rule of ‘use a person’s own first aid kit first’, it’s important that people in your group can find your kit when they need to, in case you can’t tell them. If you have a DIY kit (like mine), chances are that it’s not going to have the big red cross on the side or labelled as such. I scribbled on mine and purposefully chose a red kit to help it stand out in my bag.
Make your first aid kit ‘look’ like a first aid kit!
Get rid of the sharp teeth clippy thing
I reckon there’s been more injuries caused by those little sharp-teeth-clippy-things (that come on crepe or roller bandages) from people accidentally kneeling on them, than times they’ve actually served the purpose to what they were designed. Chuck em out and replace them with some safety pins… much more useful, safe and dual purpose.
Now… down to the nitty-gritty. What’s in my first aid kit? Let me take you inside and also give you a downloadable checklist to print out and use. Just remember, this is my kit and what works for me, for the types of trips I do and my level of comfort/risk. It’s important that you design and develop a kit that is right for you.
First Aid Kit Checklist
Oh and in case you’re wondering, weight for this kit is 1.1kgs. Yep, that’s quite hefty and I could reduce the kit, but for when I’m guiding (especially with kids) I like to have all of this.
250g penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic
4 – 6 anchovies
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup chopped black or kalamata olives
400g tin crushed tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Pecorino to serve
Cook pasta as normal. Rinse and set aside to cool.
Heat oil in saucepan, add anchovies and stir until dissolved.
Add garlic and cook until softened.
Add crushed tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir through olives, capers and basil and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Spread pasta out on dehydrator trays and place in dehydrator at 55 degrees for 2 – 4 hrs.
Spread puttanesca sauce on a solid dehydrator tray or on baking paper in a thin layer. Dehydrate at 55 degrees for 8 – 12 hours until hard and brittle.
Store pasta sauce together in a ziplock bag.
Rehydrate with approx. 1 -2 cups of water.
Serve with grated pecorino.
“I LOVE food and so does my partner; so when I pitched the idea of embarking on our first multi-day hike (hiking is my thing) I figured that good food and a supply of scotch and wine would ensure he enjoyed the experience and would be happy to go on more adventures with me in the future! I have tried store bought freeze dried and dehydrated meals over the years on overnight hikes and I have never been overly impressed so I started looking into the option of making our own and after a little researching I was convinced to buy a dehydrator. The puttanesca recipe is one we usually cook at home – it is quick and simple and as it was going to be my 30th birthday while we were hiking I thought it would make the perfect birthday dinner with a glass of red wine! I was also inspired by your post about taking real cheese on multi-day hikes so I wrapped a small chunk of pecorino (and a block of cheddar cheese for snacks and lunches) in a damp piece of calico cloth to put the finishing touch on our puttanesca – it worked great!” – Katherine Hastie.
I know you think you’d rather be tucked up warm inside, reading a good book or bingeing on Netflix, but if you do, you’ll be missing out on the best season for Aussie hiking. Here’s why:
Our pioneering bushwalking fore-fathers… (and mothers) – people like Paddy Pallin or the legend, Dot Butler – had a “walking season”. It was Easter to the October Long Weekend. Outside of this they’d go canyoning, canoeing/kayaking… even though these days people get all excited about the summer holidays and going for a hike, there’s real sense in heading out bushwalking during cooler seasons.
When you’ve got big hills to get up and down (like the Grose Valley) cooler temps are just more enjoyable!
1. It’s just more comfortable
As much as I joke about being sweaty Betty sometimes, no one likes to sweat profusely, it just feels yech. Although you can still build up quite a sweat climbing those big hills, it’s just much more pleasant in winter. As the saying goes, ‘be bold, start cold.’ Before a big climb try removing some outer layers, you’ll soon warm up if you keep moving!
2. Less chance of dehydration
Being dehydrated is more than just being a little thirsty. In fact, if you don’t respond to it, you can find yourself with heat related illness which can actually be life threatening. Yes… you can die from it. When it’s cooler, you may need to be more vigilant to remember to drink regularly, but the added issues of hot weather and humidity, lower the chances of suffering from dehydration.
More chance of finding water in creeks along the way in winter
3. It’s easier to get warm… than get cold
In summer, there’s only so many layers you can take off to cool down before it starts becoming rude. Now even though I know there is a micro-niche of bushwalkers who ‘do it in the raw’, the rest of us prefer some level of modesty coverage! There’s a few different ways you can help regulate your body temps on colder days, including:
Make a hot water bottle with your Nalgene bottle and pop it in a sock and then into your sleeping bag… toasty!
Use hand warmers
Layering clothes helps regulate body temps (Photo: Jake Anderson)
4. Your backpack may be lighter
With cooler temps, there’s less evaporation of our streams and creeks, which means that there’s more likelihood of finding water along the way. With every litre of water weighing a kilo, I’d rather carry water purification tablets (or other method) than litres of water. On hotter days I’ll generally carry 3+ litres per day walk, whereas I’m more likely to lug just 2 litres in winter. So although you’ll need more layers of clothing in your backpack, at least with modern fabrics like merino, polypropylene, fleece and down … they’re all super light!
Clear and deep blue skies – a cracking Winter’s day in the Blue Mountains.
5. Less rainfall = bluer skies
Remember the Sydney Olympics? They moved the date of the games in Sydney to the end of August as it was traditionally the driest time of the year. Ah, those lush, deep blue skies you could almost dive up into!
6. Snakes (and LEECHES and TICKS!) are snuggling up
Whilst you might wish you’re snuggling up inside, generally speaking, most of the Aussie nasties are! A perfect time to get out without them.
Less chance of leeches… and snakes and ticks in Winter!
7. Campfire wonders
I don’t know if there is a better experience than kicking back in front of a campfire with good mates at the end of a long day bushwalking. Your body has a few aches (the good kind), your belly is full of tasty, warm, hearty camp food, you might have a mug of red wine beside you and you’re feet are warming in front of the ‘bush tele’. Conversation meanders, dad jokes are told and retold, and the plans for tomorrow’s journey are laid out. Although there’s less chance of a TOBAN (Total Fire Ban), it’s still a good idea to check first.
Just be sure to practice minimal impact when you do light a fire. It’s vital that you make sure you completely extinguish the embers and leave no trace of your campsite
There’s nothing quite like the comfort of a campfire
Cooking doughboys over a campfire!
8. Less bushfire danger
With such a long, dry, bushfire season behind us, the knowledge of walking at a lower risk time of year is a big weight off the mind. Of course, it’s still important to check for alerts from local authorities like National Parks or your state’s Rural Fire Service, but the dangers are greatly reduced in winter.
Snow Shoeing gets you away from the resorts and out into the magical backcountry
Summit of Mt Kosciusko in early Winter… in snow shoes!
10. It’s a great way to get fit (and stay fit) during cooler months
You often hear people say, “I need to get fit for Summer”… real bushwalkers say, “I need to be fit for Winter!” When you’re less likely to encounter issues with heat illness or dehydration, it’s the time to stretch yourself, build up your fitness gradually and attempt those big, long walks, with big hills… even multi-day trips, carrying everything you need on your back.
The tourism images of great food, wine, wild places, strong communities and incredible bushwalking and hiking opportunities, along with thriving arts vibe seem to call to me constantly on social media.
Nicole Anderson trail running in The Tarkine
When (mainlander) bushwalkers and adventurers think of Tassie the first spots that pop to mind are The Overland Track and Cradle Mountain, The South Coast Track, The Arthurs (pick your compass bearing), Walls of Jerusalem, Fedders or PB and more recently, The Three Capes, Maria and Flinders Islands or the Bay of Fires.
In my mind’s Google map, the whole chunk of northwest Tasmania has always been a bit of a mystery. I knew about towns like Wynyard, Queenstown, and Strahan (and of course, Cradle Mountain to their east), but the big green chunk between them all was a complete mystery.
The Tarkine – Tasmania’s mysterious NW. Photo: M. Schaefer
It was then about five years ago I started to hear about a place called The Tarkine and the gaping hole in my knowledge started to close, slowly.
Then over the last month or so – as though the social media dark arts realised the gap in my mind’s Google map – my Facebook feed has constantly been asking me the question, ‘What if running could save a rainforest?’ I was curious and thanks to Patagonia (a company with a long history of environmental activism) I caught an early preview of their latest film, ‘Takayna’ and the gap closed some more.
Dr Nicole Anderson, researching forestry trails in The Tarkine (Photo: M. Schaefer)
Over 35 minutes, filled with a mix of both stunning and startling images from Tasmania’s northwest region, the intricacies, beauty and challenges in its future are presented through human story and their connection with this wild place. The place whose name is drawn from the traditional owners/First Nations name for this Country, Takayna.
Rural GP, Nicole Anderson, from Smithton (population 8000), is a passionate and honest trail runner, who leads us into this place:
“Running is a great way to learn about a place for me because I don’t have much time and I love to cover big distances. I’m certainly not an advanced athlete, I’m slow as anything. I wouldn’t say I’m lazy up hills, but I pace myself. My biomechanics are pretty shot, so my strengths lay in my ability to handle discomfort and exhaustion. To stay the distance and to keep going no matter what.”
Hanny Allston (girl crush)
Her self-deprecating, nature-embracing manner, broke the ice for me in this Patagonia documentary. For a brand such as them, I expected that their athlete talent would be at the pinnacle of the sport and although it was great to see a brief appearance from pro Hanny Allston (girl crush), Nicole made the story and content accessible and ushered me in.
From one GP to another, with the baton passing between new and old, we meet Bob Brown and learn a little of his history as one of Australia’s best known environmental activists and father of the Greens Party. As a child born in 1972, the memories of the Franklin Dam campaign are resigned to ABC news reports watched around the dinner table and comments about ‘those greenies’ from my family. To learn a little about what brought him to this point was an eye opener.
Bob Brown reveals what brought him the The Tarkine campaign (Photo: K Wright)
Something that surprises me every time I visit Tasmania, is what I perceive as the great divide between some parts of the primary industry community, (who for decades have had fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and whole communities supported through forestry and mining) and other Taswegians who’d like to see a more sustainable approach to life’s essentials such as timber. As an outsider, I can’t help but think that fear is a powerful motivator for everyone, regardless of political persuasion. Fear of having no job or financial security versus fear of forever losing parts of our planet that help inform who we are.
“We are still part of forests. Genetically, physically, biochemically, physically and spiritually, we are connected to natural landscapes.” Dr Nicole Anderson.
The Tarkine (Photo: K Wright)
A connection felt no deeper than in the heart of proud Aboriginal Takayna peoples, who’ve survived to tell their story of genocide and strength, mirroring the tale of a forest fighting to survive from politics and industry.
The encouraging thing about this film, is that it does touch on (although I’d like to have heard more) the viable alternatives to clear felling old growth rainforest in the Tarkine. We are introduced to a sawmiller who works with only sustainable, plantation forests, who not only presents what appears to be the financial insanity represented by the old methods, but gives us a glimpse into a potentially much brighter future.
Sharnie Read, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre
Kim Booth, Sustainable Sawmiller
In the efforts of balance, the Patagonia film makers appear to seek out locals (as well as asking for interviews with forestry officials) so we can hear something of how the people at the other side of this wild and wonderful landscape feel. Families who’ve worked the land, relied upon it and feel a different connection to the place. Without knowing what went on in the process, the reluctance of this long-held, deep divide reveals itself in some, whilst we see a glimmer of hope in others.
If the great, green vastness of the north west region of Tasmania is a mystery to you, or stories of connection to natural places and ancient forests resonate for you, I encourage you to see this film. Check out the preview here.
Each of these gadgets has different features and benefits, pros and cons, so I thought I’d create this simple one page summary below of the key information for each, to help you choose the best remote area emergency comms device for your needs.
The blade cut into the glass of the lake, creating only wake behind us. Gentle, geometric ripples ran out, uninterrupted to the shore, whilst our eager faces acted as figureheads, pushing into a breeze that only we created.
25% of The Great Trail is paddling routes
Caleigh Christie of Falcon Trails Lodge walks a section of The Great Trail in Manitoba, Canada.
Moving forward, the heavy silence was broken by unfamiliar sounds. A high pitched natural jackhammer, startled me. Eyebrows raised, my figurehead spun around to the guide.
I turn back to silence and the rhythm of the paddle pulling us across towards the island.
I haven’t been in a canoe since primary school, when games of ‘Pirates’ on school camp, were more about stealing people from other boats, than stealing away to silence. More about scoring points, than scoring a great campsite under the spruce, cypress and maple trees.
I feel eyes drilling into my back and it’s not of my guide. Around the shore line, graceful deer watch us gliding along, as they’ve done for centuries. They’re safe tonight from a hunter’s sights, even though they’re not alone. With the eyes of a calm watcher, I can make out the hides nuzzled down amongst the pines. These shelters however, are not designed to hide weapons of the hunt, but hide Canadians from the stressors of life. Another long held tradition of North American life, the Lake House.
A bach, lake house, holiday cabin, retreat… just one accommodation option on The Great Trail.
In New Zealand they’re a bach or a crib; to Aussies the beach house is a long held sand-stuck-in-the-cossie childhood memory; but out here in the Canadian Provinces, the Lake House retains the scent of winters burning through the precious deposits from the wood bank. But rather than retreating into hibernation, snowshoeing, skiing and sledding, alongside summers of jetty jumping, paddling, mountain biking and hiking, mark these as active escapes.
With arms more used to sea kayaking and the easy, swaying balance that two blades brings, my shoulders are starting to ache as I finally get the hang of the single paddle not scraping the side. But I’m comforted in the knowledge that I’m moving forward in an ancient way, via a form that runs deep within the veins of Canadians. If football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars was translated to Canuk, it would be, ‘hockey, poutine, deer and canoes.’
If the humble canoe ties Canadians together in a traditional way, then the route that I’m taking joins them across 24,000 kms. It’s a thru-hike like no other and is known as The Great Trail.
This is my, ‘loving The Great Trail’ face and wishing I could walk more of it!
The Great Trail stretches across Canada for 24,000kms. Red = Hiking or Cycling, Blue = Canoe Trails
On presentation, the concept of being able to create a single trail, to link Canada from coast to coast, to coast; linking the three oceans of The Pacific, The Atlantic and the Beaufort (Arctic), seems not only an impossible dream, but an improbable reality.
The sheer vastness of the trail begs the question if anyone has actually completed the full length. That honour goes to 24 year old Sarah Jackson. Inspired by her Uncle’s journey on the Camino de Santiago, she took two years to complete the challenge.
Her journey is testament to the growing interest all around the world for long, pilgrimage style journeys. “Knowing you only have to put one foot in front of the other really puts things into perspective,” says Sarah.
High Rockies Trail section of The Great Trail. Photo: Andrew Penner
Apart from traversing landforms as wild and dramatic as Canada can throw at us (The Rocky Mountains, The 1,660 km long MacKenzie River, the windswept prairies of Manitoba, remote outposts of Saskatchewan, countless lakes and waterways of Ontario, urban landscapes and cities, backcountry ski and snowmobile routes and along the best rail-trails the country has to offer), it’s the immense trail of planning, permissions, partnerships, politics and determination that have seen this 1992 dream, finally become a reality in 2017.
A single track, woodland section of The Great Trail, Manitoba.
A windswept section in Manitoba
Given the task of creating events to celebrate Canada’s 125th Anniversary in 1992, Bill Pratt and Pierre Cameaux, sparked an idea that would take the next 25 years to realise and instead, celebrate the country’s 150th. Their idea was to stitch together the patchwork of existing hiking trails, bike trails and canoe routes to rediscover Canada at a slow pace, in one continuous route. It was designed to be a campaign that all Canadians could get behind.
“The idea was captivating in the heart of Canadians,” enthuses Caleigh Christie, from the South Whiteshell Trail Association. “As soon as we heard about it, we took the ball and ran with it. Across the country, there were pockets of people like me and my Mum and other people in our community who said, ‘Yeah! We want to be a part of this project’.”
“I love trails. I love hiking them, I love biking them. So to be a part of a Trail Association and be involved with building and promoting them, it feels natural.”
Beside cascades on The Great Trail, Manitoba.
A cycle section of The Great Trail (Sky Trail) in Alberta. Photo: Al Skucas
From Caleigh’s remote outpost in southeast Manitoba, where she runs her family’s tiny ski slopes and lake cabins on Falcon Lake, she was able to be a part of something that connected not only the trails of Canada, but connected her to other volunteers just like her all across the country.
“Ultimately, it was built by all those small communities, connecting the dots, all across the country. That’s what made it what it is today.”
If you need any insight into understanding how Canada have achieved this epic feat, you need to understand who they are.
The common take away from spending time in the land of the maple leaf, is that Canadians are nice. Really nice. In many ways, some not so great (like our treatment of First Nations Peoples), there are many similarities between Australians and Canadians that have nothing to do with the Queen.
First People’s Petroglyps in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Park, along The Great Trail.
Visiting traditional sites with respect can mean making offerings of tobacco and other items.
As local after local smothers me in nice, I start to wonder if it has something to do with what they see out their windows. From the unwordable Rockies to the west, jagged and dramatic knives of rocks, pushing skyward, to the bedrock of hiking and climbing adventures, pointing to the Yukon in the north.
Or to sweep east across the prairies, to big sky country – the heart of Canada – where the harsh seasonal contrasts in temperature from 26c in summer to -20c in winter melt and form the landscape and the people. There’s a resilience and humour born of constant change and a humility and strength from living subject to the seasons.
Geographically expansive, we share a diversity of landscape, vast tracts of seemingly uninhabitable land and a colourful colonial history with it’s ups and downs. Yet it’s who we are as people – our qualities – sense of humour, adaptability, volunteer and community spirit and our ‘no worries’ mentality, that is the key standout.
Without these qualities, I don’t believe The Great Trail (Le Grand Sentier) would be what it is today.
In many ways, it’s a trail of the people.
Caleigh continues, “You really get to know a place by walking on the trails there. Meeting people in the towns as you walk through, that’s really what connects people.”
The Great Trail is a trail for (and of) people. Hiking, paddling and cycling.
Big sky country of Manitoba’s prairie country, along The Great Trail
The sheer genius of the not-for-profit organisation behind it (The Trans-Canada Trail Association) is that it has facilitated 477 volunteer community trail organisations (like the one Caleigh belongs to), to embrace the big vision of joining their separate networks together.
Although receiving generous funding from both the Canadian government, sponsors and private donors, The Trail doesn’t rely on government organisations or parks authorities to do the work. It is a grass-roots inspired cooperative of individuals, passionate about helping people connect with nature and the outdoors in their own local area.
“There are so many skillsets that make it flourish. Some people in our group really focus on the building aspect and want to physically pick up the dirt and move it around actually making the trail, and others are focussed on connecting with the audience and promoting it and for others it’s the admin, which is huge.”
In building The Great Trail, they’ve not only created a way to traverse Canada, learning about its history, geography, politics and First Nations Peoples, but they’ve created community. A community as diverse as the means for travelling through it.
The 1,660km long Mackenzie River features on one of the paddling routes of The Great Trail. Photo: Destination Canada
And whilst today, I find myself paddling across a section of the Whiteshell Provincial Park by canoe, in a few days time I will be cycling the section of The Trail on Prince Edward Island (PEI), called The Confederation Trail. No longer contained within a boat, the wind will once again be in my face as I pedal (not paddle) along the bed of the former Prince Edward Island railway and the first section of The Great Trail project to be completed.
With the extreme contrast of seasons in Canada, timing is paramount. Although a t-shirt in August is a perfect choice, this section of the Trail is handed over to the sole domain of snowmobiles in winter. The low-lying and relatively flat terrain of PEI also makes this section of the trail ideal for wheelchairs and others with mobility issues.
A section of The Great Trail on Prince Edward Island.
The Great Trail, Prince Edward Island (Home of Anne of Green Gables!)
As the southern hemisphere is flying headlong into summer, spare a thought for Melanie Vogel, a 42 year old German woman, who is currently attempting the full trail. She kicked off from Newfoundland in May 2017 and isn’t planning on finishing at Vancouver Island until 2019. Not a traditional hiker, just a lover of travel and all the experiences that brings, she says, “I just wanted to be. To take my love for the road to the next level. I feel a lot of people have disconnected from nature and I want to encourage them to get outdoors.”
As I crane my neck to enquire again about an unfamiliar song, reverberating across the water, my guide responds, “Lune”.
I return to the gentle, nudging rhythm of paddle and canoe and for a moment, I imagine pulling myself across Canada, held within the Great Trail’s embrace.
Last year I was lucky enough to spend some time on Canada’s amazing Great Trail. I’ve always wanted to do some walking and hiking in Canada, but there’s that thing about hiking in bear country. Us Aussies may have our infamous Drop Bear, along with plenty of other things that can kill you, but none of them are as big, hairy and ferocious as bears.
I had the opportunity to ask an expert ranger in this video, whilst walking a section of the trail in Manitoba.
Canada's Great Trail - Black Bears - YouTube
One thing is for sure. If I am going to be able to relax, breathe in and experience the amazing scenery and hiking that Canada has to offer, I want to do it knowing that I’m not on something’s lunch menu.
How to avoid bears when hiking
Prevention is always better than treatment… or let’s face it, death. So here’s some tips to bear (ahem) in mind:
Making noise as you are hiking, like chatting with your mates is a good idea and many people also choose to wear ‘bear bells’ on their pack to alert bears to your presence.
Don’t encourage bears by poor camp craft. Make sure you use bear bins and other methods (eg. hanging food in trees) when camping in bear territory
What to do if confronted with a black bear
Speak calmly to the bear
Keep your eyes on it
Slowly walk away from the bear
Try to climb a tree if possible if threatened
Use bear mace (pepper spray) – but this is only effective at close range, eg. 5m or less.
There’s loads more tips and advice about camping and hiking in bear country available on the Parks Canada website. It’s best to read up and be prepared!
When something goes wrong, one of the biggest issues affecting safety, when bushwalking or hiking in remote areas, is access to reliable communications with the outside world.
Setting off into the remote Kimberley Ranges, WA.
There are countless stories of epic search and rescues from days gone by, where people walked or waited days (even weeks) for help to injured people. Plane crashes, injured or lost hikers, floods and fires, many ending tragically, could have been helped by access to good comms.
As an ‘always on’, connected society, one of the real pleasures and escapes from digital tentacles can be heading out into the wilderness, where mobiles don’t work and connection is about the natural world, over the digital.
However, remote area missing person statistics in recent years point to the massive reduction in time to rescue for those needing it, due to the increase in devices such as GPS and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs).
Garmin InReach Explorer+ on the South Coast Track, Tasmania.
This is good news for everyone, not only the missing person and their family, but the emergency services and volunteers who go looking for them. Lowering the time to help, makes for better outcomes and lower risk to all.
But something that our connected society has built up, is an expectation that we can always drop someone an SMS to let them know if we’re running late, etc. There’s something about the concept of giving someone ‘peace of mind’ that is more about the other person (your family and friends) rather than yourself.
When it comes to the different types of devices that are available today, they fall into roughly four categories:
Each of these devices has their pros and cons and apart from an expensive sat phone, only one allows for two-way satellite communication – the Garmin InReach.
Emails, text messages and map link location.
How is the Garmin InReach different to a PLB?
Although the rise in usage of PLB’s is a good thing, it has also shown a rise in unnecessary activations. Essentially, a PLB has one job – it alerts the emergency services (via AMSA when in Australia) to trigger a rescue at your particular location. It can’t give details or say the nature of the emergency, it simply calls for help. There are stories of people pressing the button simply because they’re a bit tired or running a bit late. These types of activations are not only costly, but put the lives of the rescuers at risk. PLBs should only be used for life-threatening type emergencies such as genuine injuries, medical emergencies or being lost preventing a standard hike out.
Because the Garmin InReach is an Iridium (global) satellite two-way communicator, when you hit the SOS button, you are responded to by people 24/7 (GEOS) who can not only acknowledge the message, activate the rescue (back via your own countries emergency services) and provide an ETA of help, but can give you medical or survival advice for the current situation. I believe that this is the primary reason why someone should invest in this type of device and certainly the reason why I’d like to carry one.
Secondary to emergency situations, it does offer peace of mind with a variety of other features. Most notably, the ability to send and receive SMS, including preset messages (which you can set up online prior to departure) which are a cheaper option.
Typing messages is easier on smartphone keyboard via Bluetooth
How is that different to a SPOT Tracker?
A SPOT Tracker’s SOS button operates in the same way, but can only send preset one-way messages, along with the co-ordinates for your location. It doesn’t allow you to receive any messages back such as acknowledgement of the receipt of your call or the ETA of assistance.
Sharing 1-way (to) Facebook with map, message and location, via Earthmate App
To understand the UI of the InReach is to know a bit about it’s history. This product is an update (albeit a big one) from the Delorme (circa 2011). Garmin bought Delorme in 2016 and set about bringing it into the family of Garmin products. In this current version, the menu navigation is still very much Delorme and feels quite dated. It doesn’t have the modern and streamlined experience of many of the Garmin products. The great news is that Garmin elves are working hard in the background for future models to be compatible with Oregon 7XX and Fenix devices, along with other future Garmin offerings.
Until then, the InReach is a stand alone product within the Garmin family and doesn’t integrate with Garmin maps.
Apart from the Iridium antenna, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just another rugged handheld GPS device. That in itself is much nicer than the old, boxy, Delorme. Weighing in at 213 grams, it sits comfortably in the hand and comes with a handy clip and carabiner for attaching to the outside of a backpack. In fact, outside is the best place for it as it needs clear line of sight to the sky (vertical is best) to operate. Speaking of sky, it’s also water rated to IPX7 which means it’s fine with rain and snow, “showering” (why you’d want to shower with your InReach I don’t know), but not waterproof so if taking it canyoning or anywhere it might get submerged, you’ll need to put it inside a drybag or similar.
Garmin have designed the InReach, knowing that the last thing people want to do is accidentally call SOS and trigger a rescue or inadvertently have it switched on in your pack without realising it. Therefore, you need to confirm you want to turn it on (or it will switch off again) and confirm SOS before it automatically cancels it.
Whilst testing the device on the South Coast Track (9 days), I used it in a number of different ways. From leaving it switched on and tracking movements throughout the day on the inbuilt topographic maps (Open Street Maps come loaded), to just turning it on to send and receive messages, sending map location links to Facebook, receiving basic weather reports and then switching it off again. I was pleasantly surprised in that I didn’t need to recharge it at all and came back with it still having 65% battery, as I had elected to utilise some of the power saving functions. As it charges with a USB cable, it can easily be charged with a powerbank.
There’s a few different ways of using the messaging with the InReach. If on a cheaper monthly plan, you’ll want to use the preset messages. You can set these up before you leave home via the Garmin website and can simply be things like, “I’m OK,” or “Running late but all good,” or “Hold my beer and watch this.”… OK, maybe not the last one. You can send unlimited preset messages on the cheapest plan. You can also send emails and bespoke SMS messages whilst in the field. The easiest way to do this is using the app EarthMate, connecting to your smartphone via Bluetooth. This way you can type and enter info with your phone keyboard, as the typing method on the InReach is the old clunky arrow-arrow-up-down-enter, to find the letters you want. I used both methods and loved EarthMate.
Navigation via the Earthmate App
It’s not surprising that Garmin chose to enclose their version of the InReach within what is essentially a GPS device housing. It looks almost identical to the Garmin 60csx style handheld GPS unit, with the orange casing a great standout in the bush.
The navigation features are a nice-to, on top of the device’s primary purpose of being a 2-way satellite communicator. In this regard it is very similar to other GPS devices where you can preset routes (prior to departure), add waypoints, tracking, digital compass and maps. It comes pre-loaded with global Open Street Maps topographic maps. The key difference with the cheaper model (InReach SE+) is it doesn’t have mapping capacity… and is yellow!
Topographic map (OSM) on Garmin InReach
A feature I found handy in Tasmania (where weather can change by the minute with extreme Antarctic/Roaring 40’s onslaughts!) was the weather forecasts. The basic weather is exactly that – a simple icon for forecast (eg. sunny, cloudy, rain, storm). On the cheap subscriptions this is the cost of 1 SMS message and you can elect for premium weather (which includes marine) for $1.50 AUD per forecast.
Checking the forecast for the next few days
If you decide to use an InReach, my biggest piece of advice is to make sure you allow yourself at least an hour (two would be better) to do the full setup and test before you leave home. There are detailed instructions (I found YouTube videos from users more helpful) and quite a few hoops to jump through. Setup includes adding in your contacts, testing the satellite connection, setting up preset messages, adding in routes (if using), plus a few other bits and bobs to make sure that you’re fully functional. It’s worth putting in this investment in time.
Garmin InReach Cost
One of the downsides of devices like the InReach (and SPOT Tracker) is that there are two costs involved. Firstly, buying the device (LINK) and then a monthly subscription cost. PLBs are a one off cost only.
There are a variety of monthly plans available in Australia, and as at April 2018 the cheapest is $20/month (based on annual subscription) or if you’re using it for one-off adventures in remote areas, the $25/month (minimum 30 day plan) is a good choice. There’s a few additional costs also, so be sure to read the fine print.
With the InReach, it feels like Garmin is trying to create one device to rule them all and sure, it is packed with a stack of features that are handy to have on top of the emergency essentials. It is the standout leader when it comes to 2-way satellite communication. It promises:
Comms: Two way satellite comms, SOS, SMS, email, Facebook (1-way)
Navigation: GPS Digital maps built in (Explorer+ model only), compass, tracking
I feel it is excellent at communications, handy with the weather, but feel that the navigation elements are functional, as for me personally, I prefer a bigger screen of a smartphone navigation app with higher resolution maps.
I’d definitely carry it as my primary communications and SOS device.
Mount Feathertop (1922m), the second highest peak in Victoria, looms large over nearby Harrietville. As Australian mountains go, having something that actually looks like a mountain worthy of a climb (Mt Kosciuszko, cough) is a nice goal to have. It’s bulking alpine presence, covered white in winter, an experienced backcountry skiers paradise, transforms to a bushwalking mecca in summer.
Summer on Bon Accord Spur
Like Mecca, people can approach from several directions, with different tracks offering something different in terms of vistas, difficulty and quality of track. The area needs to be treated with respect, deserving of its location and altitude, given that weather conditions can change quickly and the access to drinking water on the main Razorback Spur is non-existent. As long as you’re properly prepared and have the fitness (and endurance) needed, you’re in for a real treat.
On the way to Washington Creek
Day 1 : Harrietville to Washington Creek
Having travelled along the popular Razorback Spur a year ago and keenly eyeing off the other (less busy options), my friends and I left a car at the base of the North West Spur, before heading to the base of Bon Accord Hill at the south east end of Harrietville.
In the few places the track becomes vague to Washington Ck, there are markers.
Walking it today, it’s hard to believe that Bon Accord Hill was the original route to Mt Hotham (by horse and foot) before the Great Alpine Road was built. Meandering with gentle undulations, contouring alongside the Ovens River, we made good time on the well defined single track. Held within the heavily timbered gullies of this river valley, it’s hard to catch glimpses of the climb ahead of us on day 2. Until then, we settled in for a night beside the gentle gurgling of Washington Creek.
Eyeing off a crossing point
By itself, this is a pleasant enough walk (Bon Accord Harrietville Trackhead – Washington Creek – return), so if you’re lacking experience or fitness, or find it tricky getting to this point… best to turn around now as hard work is about to get real.
And so the up begins… early
Day 2 : Washington Creek to Federation Hut
We started early, moving away from camp at 7.30am. The track starts going up immediately and doesn’t stop. Ceaseless incline, ramping away from the only water of the day, meant it was essential to carry enough to see us through a tough, long day ahead.
Glimpses of the main Razorback Ridge and Mt Feathertop started to tease us, through the trees to our left.
Our goal for the day, still a long way off.
And like a gift that keeps on giving (from your crazy old Great Aunt, the kind you don’t want), you realise that the steep incline you’ve been on for the last few hours is about to get steeper. Thanks Auntie.
Finally, the investments we’d made in an early start and solid effort pay off as we break the treeline, birthed onto the alpine meadows of Victorian High Country and the perfect spot for lunch.
Finally, above the treeline and almost at Bungalow Spur
I could’ve made a lot of money selling my veil to passing walkers. Definitely pack one!
Sure, we could’ve taken the easy way to get to this point (it’s about 1km easy walk from the road at Mt Hotham on the Razorback Track), but where’s the fun in that?
Joining the Razorback and heading north, our pace picked up significantly (it needed to) as we hugged the ridge on the way to Federation Hut. Marvelling at the alpine flowers and views that go forever, we continued along the kilometers, before turning down Bungalow Spur for Federation Hut and our campsite for night. The popularity of this site evident by the 15 or so other people camped there, the sorry state of the toilets and the graffiti riddled hut…but don’t get me started, as the sunset was spectacular and the company of friends priceless.
The Razorback Spur track is well defined, evidence of its popularity
Distant views to Mt Buffalo and beyond from The Razorback
Sunset from Federation Hut campsite
Day 3 : Federation Hut to North West Spur via Mt Feathertop
The delights of a lazy-ish, short day, started with the final pinch to the summit of Mt Feathertop and then a run down. My mates had earned extra Brownie points by summiting for sunrise… good on em… I enjoyed my sleep. Distance for the day was measured in single figures and the delight of a relaxed afternoon at camp near the top of the North West Spur, gazing across to The Fainters, planning our next adventure, signalled that our time here was coming to a close. Another cracking sunset and a home dehyde delight.
The track up to Mt Feathertop
Billy Button native wildflowers decorate Mt Feathertop
A surprising million shades of green
Day 4 : North West Spur to Harrietville
The truth within the cliche, ‘You never know what tomorrow holds’, was borne out on this day. Check out this post to find out the end of the adventure and how everything changed in a heartbeat.
Our last sunset for the trip was moody… perhaps foreboding?
The start of day 4 – start of the descent
Important: This trip report is not track notes. Do not refer to this for navigation or critical trip planning. See Parks Victoria website for further info.
I’m a sucker for a good Scroggin. I reckon that finding the best Scroggin recipe is about that fine tuned balance of the bits you love (chocolate), the bits you like (cashews) and the bits you tolerate because you know they’ll give you the nutrients you need in the outdoors (sultanas or seeds).
On my trip to Tasmania’s epic South Coast Track, one of the guides (the fabulous ‘Nom’) produced what I believe is the best scroggin I’ve EVER had. Big call, I know… but check out this colourful display!
Could this be the best scroggin in the world?
So what is Scroggin? I’ve heard a few different descriptions of the acronym, but for my money it stands for:
oaty things (or things that make you go Oh!)
Here’s what was in ‘Nom’s Amazing Scroggin’… I say, Nom, nom, nom!
Best Scroggin Recipe
whole raw (or roasted) almonds
dried banana chips
dried mango pieces
dried apricot squares
When it comes to quantities… schmantities! Some ingredients are more expensive than others, so balance out your budget, with your desire for salty over sweet, fruit over nut.
Whether you call it Trail Mix or Gorp (‘good ol’ raisins and peanuts), having easy snacks or nibbles for outdoor adventures is essential. It’ll help keep your energy levels up and give you something to chat about on the way, as you dream up the world’s best scroggin recipe.
Q: What goes into your favourite Scroggin, Trail Mix or Gorp?
M&M’s (esp peanut) is a great way of carrying chocolate on hot days