Emergency information

Not long ago I was on a non-Pandani activity when a member of our party had a medical incident and became unconscious for a long time. For ages no-one was able to contact his wife until eventually she was tracked down via a friend of a friend. That got us thinking about emergency contact details.

For official Pandani events the website shows all the attendees including their emergency contacts (you have provided your details haven’t you?) and organisers should take that information with them. So a Pandani trip should not have the same problem we encountered. But you don’t spend you whole life doing Pandani things (unfortunately!) so what if there is an emergency at some other time?

Smartphones these days can show emergency ID information even when locked. There are two parts to this:

  • You need to set up your phone so that it can show emergency ID information
  • You need to be aware of how to access that on someone else’s phone if the need arises

I’m going to give a brief outline of how to do that on an iPhone. I don’t have access to an Android device so won’t presume to tell you about one of those but there seems to be lots of how-to stuff online. (Maybe someone could let me know and I’ll update this post.)

To access someone’s emergency details on an iPhone:

  • Try to unlock it until it asks for the passcode and shows a keypad
  • Touch “Emergency” at the bottom of the screen and you get the phone keypad to dial whatever number you like (maybe 000)
  • Touch “* Medical ID” below the keypad to display whatever emergency information the phone’s owner has set up

To set up your iPhone so that others can find your emergency contacts and perhaps other relevant information about you:

  • Go to Settings > Health > Medical ID
  • Touch “Edit” and fill in whatever information you feel is necessary
  • Make sure that Emergency Access (last item on that screen) is switched to “Show When Locked”

You never know when you or someone else might need this.

Expectations and Frenchmans Cap

(I drafted this months ago then decided it wasn’t worth posting. But with the Frenchmans Cap slide night coming up next week it has new relevance, so here it is.)

I was supposed to climb Frenchmans Cap in February 1973 after doing the Overland Track with some friends from my Uni bushwalking club. However I suffered badly from gastric lurgy on that first walk so recovered in Hobart while my mates did the walk and came back with tales of the Sodden Lodden.

Next chance was in April 2004 with our kids aged 16 & 20, when the Lodden was just as sodden as ever. But the mud was a source of laughter rather than irritation and we had a great time.

Team effort

By 2021 it was time to have another go. The Lodden was reportedly no longer sodden after major track improvements so we had expectations of a relatively easy trip. But expectations can be a curse. It turned out that only some things had changed and others were the same or worse. The Lodden was indeed now vastly improved and the new Tahune Hut is wonderful. But the track beyond Lake Vera was unchanged, just as rough and difficult as ever. And in worse shape? … bodies now 17 years older.

It was not a bad trip by any means, far from it, but my incorrect expectations messed with my head and enjoyment at times.

The great and the good:

  • Reflections in the perfect mirror of Lake Tahune early in the morning – stunning
  • Lake Tahune hut, brilliantly designed for warmth and comfort, and because we have our own micro-hydro generator I was very interested in the hydro generator far below the hut (quite hard to find and get to, not many people go there I think)
  • Views from Barron Pass, in every direction plus up and down
  • Expanding views and changing perspectives of the surrounding terrain as we gained height on the climb towards the summit
  • Frenchmans summit, of course (eventually)
  • Bum-sliding down the snow on the way back down
  • The vegetation – if you get bored on a walk there is always something of interest in the vegetation and on this walk there was immense variety including lots of things new to me (I’m fascinated by Australian botany)
The best way downhill

The not so good:

  • The unimproved track beyond Vera Hut is … unimproved (and felt very long)
  • Reaching the summit of Frenchmans at exactly exactly the same time that the descending cloud ceiling also reached it; I had a hissy fit and stormed back down but was persuaded to hang around to see what happened, and as the mist came and went we did in fact get some good views

We may or may not ever return to Frenchmans (I don’t feel a burning desire) but I remain very grateful for the opportunity to have done it, twice. And if I do go again I think my now lowered expectations might lead me to be pleasantly surprised.

Would you enjoy a night out?

On day trips, other than easy walks close to Hobart, we usually carry a lot of stuff that is never used but taken just in case. But few of us have actually tested our beliefs about what you really need to cope with an unexpected night out.

However Helen Stones has done the test – not once but three times. I’ve been intrigued by her descriptions of these experiences. Once was a deliberate trial of how well people could cope overnight with only their day trip equipment, the others were genuine misadventures.

We had the gear but it wasn’t up to the extreme conditions
(Bechervaise Plateau, 1974; not quite an example of being caught out unprepared but a similar misadventure)

Obviously the main issue is keeping dry and warm. Turns out that’s not easy (are you surprised?). The deliberate trial took place when the weather was cool but not mid-winter cold. They were in a valley and wind was not an issue. Shelter came from space blankets and a lightweight tarp (standard day trip kit for one of the more cautious members of the group) and it seems that everyone stayed dry despite some light rain overnight.

However Helen’s dominant impression of the experience was being cold, to the point where it was hard to sleep. The party all had rain jackets and layers of clothing but not puffer jackets. They were able to light a fire but it was not kept going all night. Someone in the party heated rocks in the fire then buried them in the soil under their sleeping spot which was apparently warm for a little while but didn’t last.

On another occasion things were much wetter with constant heavy rain. Multiple attempts at lighting a fire failed despite using all the standard tricks (“dry” kindling from under logs, commercial fire-starters, rubber strips, etc). A final attempt used the last match to light some alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel, and it worked amazing well. They kept that fire going all night. Helen made sure to keep her body off the ground by lying on her pack and her seat pad. The combination of that and the fire meant that she was not uncomfortably cold.

The other important reminder from this incident is that you can’t expect prompt rescue. The group set off a PLB but the weather and flooding were such that external help was not possible until conditions improved.

On the third occasion the group had full overnight gear but due to earlier miscalculation were caught by night in the extremely rugged and dangerous terrain of the Beggary Bumps, about the roughest part of the Western Arthurs. Continuing in darkness was unsafe so they had to pitch tents as best they could despite the lack of suitable sites; Helen had a half-pitched tent on a steep slope above a big drop. But at least they had sort-of shelter and warm sleeping bags. What they didn’t have was water. Everyone was thirsty, some to the point where it seemed to be affecting their judgement. Although they had food most chose not to eat because of their thirst.

Probably most of us have not had a night out, yet. So we can benefit from Helen’s misfortunes by taking lessons from them. I would like to think that most of the following reminders should be obvious but her experiences really put them in perspective:

  1. Don’t assume that a helicopter will magically appear a short time after setting off a PLB. How long might it take for the weather to clear enough to allow flight?
  2. Carry warm stuff, even on day trips. Pack clothing not for the daytime forecast but for the possible conditions overnight. Multiple layers. A puffer jacket. Long johns. A beanie. Gloves. Full waterproofs (windproof even if you don’t need to keep the rain out).
  3. Carry shelter. At the very least a space blanket. Consider a tarp or bivvy bag. But don’t expect them to provide warmth. That has to come from your clothing.
  4. Carry enough water so you still have some left at the end of the day.
  5. Carry some emergency rations. Energy bars. Trail mix. Chocolate. Or just a surplus of whatever nibbles you carry anyway.
  6. Carry something that will light a fire in very wet conditions, and make sure it works in practice as well as theory. (I’m going to do my own tests with hand sanitiser gel.)
  7. Insulate yourself from the ground. Maybe even soft vegetation would help if you don’t have enough of your own stuff.

Having said all that, your choice of gear is a matter of risk management and your own risk tolerance. My risk tolerance is getting lower over time – the invulnerability of youth is too long ago. So on any trip other than easy walks close to Hobart I carry more than I used to and put up with the heavier pack on the basis that I’m now a little more likely to have a disabling injury and less keen on an utterly miserable if not life-threatening cold night. You may find a different point of balance between a heavier pack and the unlikely but possibly serious consequences of a night out. But at least think about it.

(Many thanks to Helen for sharing her experiences with me so I could share them with the rest of you.)

It’s at times such as this …

From Robyn Colman

It’s at times such as this

She’d be tempted to spit

If she wasn’t so ladylike

Elvis Costello

Recently I did a lovely circuit walk on kunanyi when, coming down the Snake Plains track on the way back to the car, I slipped and (as it turned out) sprained my ankle. I knew it wasn’t broken and that this wasn’t an emergency, and like a good Pandani member I was carrying a first aid kit, clothes, snacks, water, a PLB, etc. 

But the symptoms of shock (nausea and faintiness) persisted for rather longer than I liked, so I applied for medical advice. First, I rang my doctor’s practice but was on hold for a long time, with phone juice running low.* I gave up and rang 000. I received a phone diagnosis from a paramedic, based on my symptoms, reassurance and good advice. So after a bit more rest I was able to hobble back to the car with my two sticks, and thence to the doctor. 

But Here’s The Thing: the paramedic explained that my location meant I was technically in a wilderness area. (The Snake Plains Track!) So if I needed rescuing (which we both knew I didn’t), he would have to invoke the Wilderness Paramedics not the usual ones, and that meant going through the Police, which would take an awfully long time.

I’m mentioning this because it was a surprise to me and is perhaps useful to others to know. If I’d been at Mt Montague or Devil’s Throne, well, yes, I would understand – though I wouldn’t dream of going there on my own. But for what I think of as “lower slopes” and quite near civilisation to be considered a wilderness area was, well, a surprise.

Another Thing: When I passed the Disappearing Tarn turn-off, a worker was reluctantly installing a sign on the main track to tell people where to go. Reluctant, because like me, he wasn’t thrilled about sharing the location with Hordes. But so many people are getting lost, apparently, that the sign is thought to be necessary. Another one was to go in downhill, closer to the Tarn, so that when people can’t see it they will know not to press on across the basin and scramble up the hill on the other side, looking for it. Thank you social media.

* I usually walk with my phone in aeroplane mode, and take photos with a camera. But I did have Avenza on, to track my path, distance and timings. I presume this is why the battery was low after being fully charged only about six hours earlier. Note to self: perhaps carry a charger device?