Togetherness

Why walk with a club? It’s not just to go bushwalking – you can do that by yourself. We join a club mainly for social reasons, which means sharing the experience with others. Part of the spirit of being in a club is that a group walks together as much as reasonably possible. It’s unsociable to either race off at the front or to leave a struggling member lagging far behind.

There are also obvious safety reasons for staying together. Even on very easy walks if a group separates and one part takes the wrong route they could be seriously inconvenienced (where are the cars??). And in more remote locations staying together as a group is fundamental to safety should anything go wrong.

There is a third reason for togetherness – the sanity of the trip organiser. Leading a group of more than a handful of people is a constant exercise in counting heads. Herding cats is stressful enough without people disappearing off the front or dropping far behind to take photos. Please be considerate of the organiser who has gone out of their way to put the trip on for your enjoyment. (There’s another post here about a split group.)

The organiser has a duty to look after the whole group but only insofar as the group cooperates. Party members who wander far ahead, without notice, have essentially removed themselves from the walk and may not be covered by the club’s insurance.

Of course there can be exceptions, as long as you make your intentions known. By all means ask the leader if a few of you want to go ahead for a while before regrouping at an agreed rendezvous point.

Having said all that, the great majority of club trips don’t have a problem with group cohesion. But those rare occasions when a group splits can be most stressful for the organiser. If you can’t cope with these social niceties then you are of course free to walk by yourself.

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.)

Footwear

Partly because they are genuinely comfortable and practical, partly for old times sake, and partly even to be a little provocative I have reverted to wearing Volley sandshoes on some walks. I wore no other footwear for my first 20+ years of bushwalking, including multiple classic walks in central and SW Tas. (One exception – trekking in NZ wearing mountaineering boots which I hated.)

Others look askance at my Volleys and ask about grip and ankle support, neither of which are any problem at all. So I thought I should write something, not so much in praise of sandshoes but for you to think about the unquestioned assumptions that many walkers make about footwear. (If you’ve chatted to me about footwear then you’ve probably already heard most of what follows.)

I’ve come to the view that choice of walking footwear is mostly a cultural phenomenon, in the sense of “culture” as “the way we do things around here”. Tasmanian bushwalkers wear robust boots, bushwalkers in NSW (where I’m from originally) wear sandshoes – that just the way things are done in those places. The practicalities are almost irrelevant because the actual practical differences are minor. (One non-trivial difference is waterproofness – if I’m expecting wet conditions I’ll definitely wear my nice modern leather/Goretex walking shoes – not boots – plus gaiters.)

The grip issue – have you tried Volleys? They were designed over 80 years ago for elite tennis players. Think about those players darting across a grass court. Do they need good traction? Volleys have superb grip on most surfaces. And where they might fail then boots with a heavy tread will fail too – slimy rocks, greasy mud, steep wet grass.

As for ankle support, human feet were “designed” by evolution to walk barefoot across terrain of every type as our ancestors did for tens of thousands of years. In theory we shouldn’t need ankle support. I’m also dubious that any boot flexible enough to allow comfortable walking can provide real support against serious injury. Certainly there are footwear styles that provides true ankle support but you can’t walk in them – downhill ski boots and orthopaedic “moon boots”.

Having said all that, I expect few if any to agree with me and I certainly don’t expect to convert anyone to a different type of footwear. These cultural matters are too deeply embedded and become a part of personal identity. But at least think about it. Fire at will.


Footnote on some other reasons Volleys were ubiquitous in NSW: A lot of mainland summer “bushwalking” involves water activities such as canyoning and liloing which often include not only a long walk but also swimming. Swimming in sandshoes is no problem, but in boots … . And sandshoes are cheap. Volleys cost $8 when I was a student in the 1970s and even my recent pair was under $40. Finally they are light. The old rule of thumb, apparently of military origin, was “One pound on your feet is equivalent to four pounds on your back”. But most modern footwear is pretty light so perhaps this is now less relevant.

Back in the Day

Two things struck me about the “Back in the Day” walk to Lees Paddocks last weekend:

  • How much I enjoyed the camaraderie and warmth around a proper campfire. That wasn’t a surprise.
  • Old gear from the 1970’s is not all that inferior to modern gear. That was a bit more surprising.

First the gear: In the spirit of “back in the day” I took as much of my oldest gear as I could still find. My rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and billies were from the early 1970s (don’t ask why I still have all this stuff). Although my 1970s clothing is long gone I wore the equivalents as much as possible – wool shirt, King Gee shorts, Dunlop Volley sandshoes. Others did likewise to the extent that they had old gear and it was particularly pleasing to see John Counsell’s “golden tan” Paddymade japara tent as well as his Paddymade japara water bucket.

And all that old stuff was perfectly functional and comfortable, although I was slightly more aware of the H-frame pack on my back than I am with my usual rucksack. Nor is the gear heavier:

  • Japara tent (including poles, pegs & fly): 3.5 kg, about the same as our modern 4-season 2-person tent. Also a lot more spacious inside, and robust in all but the strongest winds.
  • Paddy Pallin H-frame rucksack: 2.5 kg, a little heavier than the pack I normally carry but 1 kg lighter than my big expedition pack (which actually has less capacity than the H-frame)
  • Paddy Pallin “Bogong” sleeping bag only marginally heavier than my current bag (although a fair bit more bulky but that didn’t matter with the big rucksack 🙂)

It’s interesting to realise that modern gear is only incrementally rather than dramatically improved over the old stuff despite looking very different. Having said that, the increment is sufficient that my reversion to 1970s gear will not be ongoing. Perhaps the most significant improvement is in bulk rather than weight, so that I now get away with a smaller and lighter rucksack.

One exception to the incremental gains: waterproof clothing. I’m most definitely not volunteering to exchange my modern breathable waterproofs for oiled japara.

Dean Bluff towering over our camp. Some of us were on top of that the previous weekend.

Now the campfire: Back in the day when I started bushwalking, and for many years after, the evening campfire with companions was one of the joys of the whole bush experience. Even in the snow we often had a campfire. It was a bit of a shock to me to find, when I resumed serious walking in Tasmania a few years ago, that as soon as it got cool and/or gloomy everyone would retreat to their one-person accommodation and not be seen again until morning. I was quietly thrilled on Saturday night to see almost our entire group conversing around the fire, sometimes involving everyone and sometimes a several different conversations.

I’d like to organise more walks with a campfire despite the very limited locations where it is possible. We are also thinking about hosting the occasional “campfire social” on our bush block, although that would be quite different to a walk-in event. Watch the program.

(Before you go – this is not my blog, it’s Pandani’s blog. I’d love to see posts from other club members on any bushwalking related topic you feel like writing about.)

Cathedral Mountain – a scenic rim

I thought that the map of the Cathedral Mountain area looked very attractive – a gently sloping alpine plateau dotted with lakes and tarns, surrounded by precipitous cliffs to the south and west but with easy access from the northeast. That scenic rim was particularly appealing to me. It turned out to be everything I’d hoped for, and more.

Our first day was a fairly routine trudge from the end of the Mersey Forest Road up past Chapter Lake, Grail Falls and Chalice Lake to camp at Tent Tarn. I say “routine”, but there was delightful forest, creek and lake scenery along the way. We set up tents just west of the tarn, on a continuous bed of cushion plants broken up by little ponds, small pencil pine clusters and scattered boulders. Mt Rogoona loomed across the tarn in the east but Cathedral Mountain itself was hidden by the foreground slopes to our west. A perfect calm day ended with a clear calm evening and a bright moon.

Day 2 started with a glorious dawn. Our plan was to start at the southern edge of the rim and work our way north as far as we felt like it. Getting to the rim involved some tedious scrub, but emerging over the final crest was a “yahoo!” moment – a 180º panorama the Never Never and upper Mersey Valley below, the Du Cane Range in the middle distance and other peaks extending far to the south and west. And that was just from the low point we had first come to.

As we progressed along the rim every minor peak (mostly unnamed) gave a different perspective. The rim curved northwards and the views to the south fell away as new features appeared to the west and then north – Mt Ossa, Pelion West, Pelion East, Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain itself (fairly distant), Mt Oakleigh, Mt Pillinger. Too many to photograph, too hard to capture the range of the full panorama. Far below was the Mersey with Lees Paddocks starting to come into view, and we could also pick out the old Du Cane hut and the public and private Kia Ora huts. Too much to take in.

The named peaks on the rim are nondescript when you are up at that level. Cathedral Mountain itself is a barely perceptible bump despite its spectacular cliffs when seen from the Mersey or the Overland Track. We stopped for lunch at Twin Spires which at least had some local prominence. Our group split here – a majority went on to Bishop Peak (some keen peak baggers and Abel counters in that bunch) while others took a fairly direct route back to Tent Tarn. The latter group regretted not going out of our way to find the pad that leads from Tent Tarn to Cathedral Mountain because we encountered 200-300 m of the worst scrub that any of us had every experienced.

The Day 3 plan was to get to Dean Bluff, the northern extremity of the rim and directly above the north end of Lees Paddocks (where some of us are planning to camp next weekend). However the morning brought thick mist which lingered for a long time. Fortunately it started to lift, not long before the time we had decided would be pack-up-and-go-home time, and we set off for Dean Bluff instead. This was all off-track navigation with initially poor visibility but as we progressed the mist level rose (slowly) and eventually it was a glorious day. Intermittent moderate scrub was tedious at times but we covered the ground at an adequate rate. Brief pause on Curate Bluff (an insignificant pimple) then on through more scrub and boulders to finally reach Dean Bluff.

Getting to the crest and looking over was another “yahoo!” moment – the end of the bluff is a more-or-less knife-edge ridge projecting out into a sharp bend in the Mersey Valley so offering stunning views from both sides. Our proposed campsite for next weekend was less than 2 km away but 700 m below. And all the same peaks as yesterday were visible but from a different perspective – Pillinger much closer, the Du Canes further away.

One more tiny peak on the way back was Curate Bluff, completely different to all the others because it comprised massive jumbled slabs of fragmented dolerite which if any larger would have been too big to scramble over. But they were actually rather fun, at least for some of us.

We tried a different return route to camp, hoping to avoid scrub. It mostly worked until cliffs blocked our way and there was a very unpleasant combination of scrub and steep rocks to climb before regaining easier terrain. All this while the clouds had been growing more stormy. Intermittent phone reception allowed us to see that there were some pretty big storms showing up on the weather radar. But we were lucky – the downpours missed us and there was no rain at all until some light showers after we were back at camp.

Our fourth and final day was just the walk back out the way we had come in – pleasant walking but nowhere near as exciting as the peaks of the rim. That scenic rim is up there with the best places I’ve been in Tasmania.

Hello! (from the new president)

In about 1975 the NSW Federation of Bushwalking Clubs (as it was called then) had a crisis when its AGM failed to fill several key positions including president. They called an extraordinary general meeting and pleaded for every club president to attend (meetings were usually attended by club delegates other than presidents). Since I was president of the Uni of NSW Bushwalking Club I went along. Even at that tender age I could see clearly that a major problem with the Federation was its failure to communicate properly with the members of its constituent clubs. So with the brashness of youth I offered to produce a regular newsletter on behalf of the Federation, and proceeded to do so for the next few years. (A serendipitous side benefit for me was that I could later use my newsletter efforts as part of the practical requirements for one of my uni subjects that tried to teach engineering students about communication.)

Getting on towards 50 years later I’m again a club president and again interested in communication with members. Pandani is a wonderful club in which I have somehow become quite heavily invested. However there is always room to make things even better. So you can probably see where this is heading: I want to improve communication within the club, both from the committee to members and between members.

Currently the club has a few communication channels – the website, Facebook, emails and this blog. Sounds like a lot but I think we can use them better. The website is an invaluable tool for planning trips. Facebook allows us to share all those lovely post-trip photos. Emails are useful for important messages from the executive to all members. However none of those is ideal for sharing anything that needs more than a short paragraph of text. So I plan to make much greater use of this blog in future to communicate on behalf of the committee, and also hope that some (many?) of you who like to write will contribute stories about a trip or experience. In a way it may be a 21st century replacement for the old Pandani Post magazine.

Have a look at “How to use this blog” at the top of the home page and please sign up if you haven’t already.

(The photo at the top of this post is nothing to do with Pandani or communication, but since I mentioned 1975 it shows Tasmanian bushwalking 1975-style – that’s me on the left, at Junction Ck before we set off down the Port Davey and South Coast Tracks.)

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?

Losing people, lessons learned

(written after interesting long chats with Susan Gardner and Urszula Stanny)

A while ago Susan Gardner organised a walk to Marriotts Falls on which a comedy of errors accumulated to the point of considerable tension and embarrassment. No blame attached to anyone here but there is a useful lesson. Two sides to the story:

Susan reports that all went well until the return when five people were lagging a bit and did not appear when those in front paused at a track junction. Susan headed back up the track calling and whistling, without success. She returned to the rest of the group at the track junction and waited another 40 minutes, still with no sign of the missing walkers. This was starting to get serious.

There was no phone reception at the track junction so they left a note and returned to the cars. From the carpark Susan was able to call the club Search & Rescue contact and asked what to do next. He in turn contacted Simon Kendrick who recommended that most people should go home but two should wait at the carpark while Susan and Robert walked back up the track for an hour. There was only about two hours of daylight left so a longer search would have been unwise. However just as they were setting off back up the track the missing five arrived – all good.

Urszula Stanny was part of the group that became separated, all of whom were experienced walkers. Somehow the party had spread out and a gap opened up – the walker in front of the rear group could not see those ahead. And then where the track turned sharply to cross the creek there was also what looked like a well-trodden track straight ahead. (Haven’t we all fallen into that trap at some time?) So the rear group took what seemed to be the obvious route, until (after quite a few minutes) it became equally obvious that it was not the route. A fair bit more time was then spent in reassessing where they were and where to go.

On backtracking they found that the change in direction at the creek crossing was quite clear when seen from the different angle so they resumed the correct route. Susan’s note left at the track junction further down had mentioned the lower falls so the tail-end group took a detour to those as well, adding further to their delay in returning to the cars.

So a series of minor events added up to a big time gap between the two groups and a great deal of uncertainty for Susan as organiser.

On one view this is a mildly interesting anecdote and we can all move on and forget about it. On the other hand there is a useful lesson here for both participants and organisers:

EVERYONE has a responsibility to keep the group together

The organiser can’t do that from the front, although they certainly should pause to re-group now and then (as Susan did).

  • Every walker should make sure that they can see both the person in front AND the person behind
  • If you can’t keep up with the person in front, call out (don’t be shy).
  • Look back every now and then and if you can’t see the person behind pause until you can AND pass the word forwards that the whole group should wait.

Perhaps all that is obvious, until it gets overlooked and things turn to custard. Stay together, stay safe.

Third time lucky!

Christine Anderson’s walk to Mt Mawson has been cancelled twice in previous years because of poor weather, and even this weekend it had to be postponed by a day, again because of the weather. How lucky were her lucky band able to walk on Sunday instead of Saturday, in glorious weather. Finally we made it.

The walk from Wombat Moor in the Mt Field National Park starts on the Lake Belton Track in the Mosaic Garden – an area of many different moorland plants, well explained on little signposts. We walked on through open woodland with snow gums to our morning-tea spot with jaw-dropping views.

Soon afterwards, we turned off to begin climbing Mt Mawson. A slope of dolerite boulders, large and small, gave our hip flexors, knees and ankles an excellent workout.

After an hour or so we arrived at another wonderful view, where we had quick refreshments before the final ascent of our mountain. Here the peak-finder app was in high demand – it seemed we were looking at the whole of southern, south-western and western Tasmania. (Well, perhaps not quite all of it but any more would have been too much.)

Back to our packs for well-earned lunch, and then we set off for a good look-out in the hope of seeing Lake Belcher. Lake Belton was well in view but it took a fair bit of exploring until we could see its companion down in the valley.

Honour satisfied, we turned to cross a beautiful garden of more low-lying plants, interspersed with many healthy cushion plants.

Finally we reached the trig point at the top of the ski slope and descended to explore the swish visitors’ centre (and excellent toilets), before walking down the lovely Urquhart Track to Lake Dobson and on back to the cars.

Mt Mawson has long been a goal for me so to finally get there on such a beautiful day, in great company, and with expert organising from Christine was very special.

Robyn Colman, 5 December 2021

A perfect day at Hartz Peak

(From Robyn Colman, 30 November 2021)

Meeting in Kingston at 8 am, we were in shirts-without-jumpers! It was an auspicious start to a beautiful day in the Hartz Park, where the weather was balmy, the breezes gentle, and the sky blue. We had vast views and tiny flowers. The waratahs were getting ready for Christmas. Fish were rising at Lake Esperance, teasing a young fly fisherman. It was so warm it was almost tempting to swim, but giving our hot feet a cold bath, while refreshing, didn’t inspire anyone to go in further.

Since I was last on the mountain, track work has improved the climb from the saddle to near the summit, with impressive stone steps some of the way. We met two or three young couples also out for the day but there was a sense of having the place pretty much to ourselves. And there, on top of the world, we rejoiced in our beautiful island and companionship.

Thanks to John Tisdell for arranging amazing weather and giving us a relaxed, lovely walk.

(Click photos to enlarge)