Leeches – That slimy, slippery, itchy, sinking feeling

Can you feel it? Nah, you probably can’t. If you’re anything like me, sometimes the first thing you feel is the damp trousers against your calf as your blue blood oozes, unrestrained, into the fresh wilderness air. Last Monday, Australia Day (Invasion Day), I set out to walk a historic, somewhat invisible, track in the Blue Mountains.

Around a waterfall is a prime spot to find leeches

Around a waterfall is a prime spot to find leeches

Although the day started grey, it wasn’t long before the blue sky broke through and my companion and I were bathed in beautiful sunshine. However, down at ground level, under the lush canopy, the mystery of the disappearing track and recent downpours had the earth beneath our feet become the unmistakable home sweet home of Euhirudinea – the Leech.

Lush and ferny - a perfect home for leeches

Lush and ferny – a perfect home for leeches

Like something from Alien, the Australian version of these hermaphrodite little darlings have 2 toothy jaws, (3 in other countries) and seek out a tasty dinner which can keep them going for up to 3 months. They do this by producing a secretion called Hirudin, which stops the blood from clotting… hence the unstoppable flood of our precious, red stuff.

A leech can go without eating for 3 months!

A leech can go without eating for 3 months!

Like most people, I used to get pretty grossed out by these little critters, however, over the years I’ve come to admire their tenacity, patience and curiosity and am happy to reward them with my ample B positive. I’m no Buddhist, but find it quite unnecessary to smother them in salt, which causes them to sizzle, froth and die – surely a bit over the top. I simply get my finger nail under them and flick them off, making sure not to flick them in the direction of my friends.

The evidence of Hirudin, the anti clotting agent

The evidence of Hirudin, the anti clotting agent

Sure, I bleed. Big deal. And for the next 5 days I am scratching into the wee hours of the night, whilst reaching for my trusty spray of Stingose, but I kinda think of it as being part of the Circle of Life, like something from The Lion King.

Leeches? Just smile and get over it.

Leeches? Just smile and get over it.

Not to get too sentimental about these suckers, as they can cause infections such as cellulitis, but for me I don’t give them a second thought. Get over it… move on – oh, unless of course you’ve got one on your eyeball!

Oh and with gonads in their heads, I should probably start calling them Dickheads, instead of my usual expletive… bastard (as per the video)!

Q:  What’s your favourite method of dealing with leeches?

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The Quintessential Australian Travel Bucket-list : Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP

How many times have you met tourists who’ve seen more of your country than you have?

Even though I felt like I’ve done quite a bit of travelling around this vast ol’ Aussie continent, much of it has been during roadtrips with my family in childhood (#AreWeThereYet #MumImBored) or as an adult, to places that are hiking Meccas as I heed the call to bushwalking prayer.

A few years back I realised that there’s a whole chunk of the tourist destination market (mostly iconic overseas images of Australia) that I’d simply never been to. These are the ones that I had to admit to never seeing, feeling somewhat embarrassed, whenever overseas visitors raved about them.

So, I set about forming a list of places in my own country, that I’d like to see. I call it the, “DRUANTH” list or Down-Right-un-Australian-Not-To-Have, list. It is made up of two rough types, being 1) tourist icons and 2) bushwalking/hiking friendly. The nice thing is finding ones that can be on both lists!

Uluru at Sunrise (Pic: Caro Ryan)

Uluru at Sunset (Pic: Caro Ryan)

The video above is my visual reflection of my first visit to Uluru Kata-Tjuta NP visit. I felt like I needed to experience this place for myself, feel it and listen to the sounds of it, learn what it has to teach me.

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Windswept tree at Uluru (pic: Caro Ryan)

My feelings were that I found Uluru to be an immensely sad place, it had a heaviness about it. I was astounded that people still felt that they needed to climb to the top given the gentle requests of the local traditional owners. I took part in the free interpretative guided walk with the ranger and then walked the easy 9.4 km around the base as well as spent a good amount of time at the Discovery Centre trying to learn what I could.

Walking track around Uluru (pic: Caro Ryan)

Walking track around Uluru (pic: Caro Ryan)

The feelings at Kata Tjuta were in stark contrast to those that I felt at Uluru. As I set off along the Valley of the Winds Circuit (7.4km – they say 4 hrs, I did it in 1hr 45min) I felt a welcoming, a warmth (that wasn’t just the 33 degree temps!) and a sense of laughter.

Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds walk (pic: Caro Ryan)

Moon over Kata Tjuta – Valley of the Winds walk (pic: Caro Ryan)

Although I was alone, like at Uluru, this time I felt welcomed in this place. Hard to describe and probably sounds a bit wacky, but this was my experience.

Kata Tjuta - Valley of the Winds walk (pic: Caro Ryan)

Kata Tjuta – Valley of the Winds walk (pic: Caro Ryan)

On the third day of my trip, I travelled out to Kings Canyon which is a 652km round trip from Yulara (the accommodation village at Uluru), which means that if you’re going to do it alone, in a day, then snoozing on a tour bus that departs before dawn with a breakfast stop on the way, is definitely the best way to go.

Kings Canyon (pic: Caro Ryan)

Kings Canyon (pic: Caro Ryan)

Although I enjoyed the easy 6km loop track around the rim of the canyon, it really is only a taster for much more adventurous trips in the area. I kept wishing I was with some hiking friends, with our gear and could runaway from the tour group!

I’m super keen to return and do the Giles Track and Kathleen Springs walks that my bushwalking friends Tom Brennan and Rachel Grindley documented in their great website with amazing photos that I’ve linked to here.

And just so you don’t get a shock when you get there…

You know how you always see lovely photographs of Uluru at sunrise or sunset – the classic picture postcard shot that give a sense of isolation?…

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Uluru sunset on grass (Pic: Caro Ryan)

… this is what you are surrounded by whilst trying to find your sense of wonder and isolation, witnessing the colours changing on Uluru.

Hoards of tourists, wining and dining, jostling for position to the sound of camera snaps… but it's worth it!

Hoards of tourists, wining and dining, jostling for position to the sound of camera snaps… but it’s worth it!

So, if you’re coming as a private traveller, BYO otherwise you’ll start salivating for all the goodies that people around you are enjoying.

What destinations are on your DRUANTH list (for the Aussies) or the DRU*NTH list (for everyone else)?

How Places get their Names

I love maps.

As a young kid, I used to lie on the lounge room floor and plan imaginary trips across the vast continent of Australia. In the internal conversation (that only makes sense to an 8 year old), I was an intrepid explorer, explaining the route to a curious journalist about a far flung adventure to link up curious names on the map of my homeland.

Planning adventures on the lounge room floor with Foxie's Katoomba 1:25,000

Planning adventures on the lounge room floor with Foxie’s Katoomba 1:25,000

These days, the picture is still the same. I lie on the floor of my grown up lounge room, muttering to myself about distances and how close those contour lines seem to be at a particular point, but instead of an imaginary journalist, I’m trying to sell an exploratory adventure to myself… and then hopefully, to my friends!

One of my favourite sketch maps - the wonderful Dunphy Maps

One of my favourite sketch maps – the wonderful Dunphy Maps

Maps truly are amazing things and inspired by last week’s post about place names that inspire fear, I decided to look at just how places get their names. Officially.

In the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of walking a few times with Brian (I call him “Foxie”) Fox. Not only is he an incredibly experienced bushwalker, with a superb ability to climb/shimmy/scale and slide his way up or down seemingly unsurpassable cliff lines, revealing themselves to be, in fact, old Aboriginal passes, he’s a very nice bloke!

Apart from this, although now retired (yeah, right) he previously spent 40 years working for the Lands Department of New South Wales, which due to several name changes along the way, included the Central Mapping Authority. The majority of his time there was spent in the compilation of topographical maps, with a key project being the Katoomba 1:25,000 for which he played a major role on the “new” digital series – the first to include the aerial photograph on the reverse side – which we’re now familiar with.

Brian Fox (Pic: Jeanette Holdsworth)

Brian Fox (Pic: Jeanette Holdsworth)

He is the perfect person to ask about maps and how they come about, so he kindly agreed to this interview:

Brian, where did your love of mapping and bushwalking come from?

From 8 to 21 years old, I was involved in the Boy’s Brigade. From a young boy I rose through the ranks to be a leader and part of this organisation involved outdoor activities such as bushwalking and camping. At school my love of Geography also led me to the mapping side of things.

If I come across a significant feature (ridge, knoll, creek, river, etc) that doesn’t have a name on a topo map, can I name it? What is the process of a place getting an “official name”?

Yes! Anyone can submit a name for approval. Check the Geographical Names Board website and download a naming proposal form. There are a few naming conventions, i.e. if you are naming a place after a person, that person cannot be in the land of the living, do not use apostrophes, have good solid evidence, primary evidence to support your case, make sure the feature did not have a previous name and was there an older Aboriginal name for that feature?

The name you submit will also be passed on to the local LGA area, council for their designated officer to make comments. If in a National Park, then a copy is sent to the NPWS for their approval. Following that, your proposal goes to the Geographical Names Board (GNB), if approved then the name is advertised in the local paper for 30 days for public comment. If all goes well the name is then gazetted.

You can download the handy fact sheet about How to Name a place.

Brian, not to be out foxed! (Pic: Brian Graetz)

Brian, not to be out foxed! (Pic: Brian Graetz)

How do you approach the detective work of finding out the history behind a place name? Where do you start and how does the journey feel, especially when you find out the answer?

The short answer is I leave no stone unturned and examine every possible source of material I can lay my hands on. I ascertain what does the name imply, i.e. does the named text indicate it is named after a person, event or time frame? I first check my own records (as I have built up a reasonably good collection of books and maps), looking for primary sources (birth, death certificates, electoral rolls etc) and secondary sources (newspapers, tourist directories) of information. If the name is of a person, then there are a number of ways to track it down, e.g. genealogy web sites, Election Rolls, probate, newspapers, Public Servant lists, railway employees, Blue Book, Council Minutes and cemetery records to name just a few.

It goes without saying it is a very time consuming occupation, at times with plenty of dead ends, but when you start to unravel the mystery it feels like a “Eureka” moment. The time and effort than becomes worthwhile.

Tell me about your book, “Blue Mountains Geographical Dictionary”. How did this come about and what has the response been?

It was a combination of mapping, i.e. establishing the correct position and naming of text on the Katoomba Topo Map, plus my love for the bush and bushwalking that led me to research place names within the Blue Mountains. I soon realised that only a few of the common names had been investigated and a lot of the generation of people which held the oral history were passing on. This made me realise the need to record our Australian Blue Mountain Place Names before further information was lost.

Just a small selection of some of Brian and Michael's books

Just a small selection of some of Brian and Michael’s books (Pic: Caro Ryan)

Since that book, you’ve been working tirelessly with bushwalker Michael Keats on a series of other bushwalking books. How did the relationship come about and what is the aim of those books? What types of info is in them?

In 2005 (whilst working for the Lands Department) I took a telephone call from the Geographical Names Board and was transferred to a person (Michael Keats) who was seeking information on a name on the Jenolan Topo map. From this simple request we soon established that we held a number of things in common, our love of the bush, our desire not just explore, but to understand the origins behind the place names on the map.

Each book in the series has as it’s core, bushwalking track notes with plenty of photos. But the aim of this series is to include as much as the physical and cultural aspects as possible. Such as,

  • geology
  • climate
  • historical maps
  • river catchments
  • place names
  • flora
  • fauna
  • European settlement
  • forestry
  • mining
  • threatened species, etc.
Brian in the Gardens of Stone NP (Pic: Yuri Bolotin)

Brian in the Gardens of Stone NP (Pic: Yuri Bolotin)

You’re about to launch book 5 of the Gardens of Stone series, for such a relatively unknown National Park, that’s a prolific work. Why did you embark on this series?

One of our main reasons is that this huge area has never been fully documented, just small segments. Our researched books do not just cover the Gardens of Stone National Park and beyond series, but also a large slice of the adjoining Wollemi and Blue Mountains National Parks. Apart from highlighting this unique area to the general public, we wish to be able to focus the attention of the policy makers in protecting the fragile environment and to direct those such people to change the status of the State Forests which adjoin these national parks either by adding to or as State Conservation Areas. Our secondary aim is to leave a lasting legacy for the following generations.

Check out this video with cameos and explanations by Foxie taken during a walk/climb up Pantoney’s Crown in the Gardens of Stone National Park!

What’s next, after the GOS series?

While the Gardens of Stone National Park and beyond series continues, so also is my various history articles being researched for Blue Mountains History Journal, articles are submitted to various places including The Sydney Speleological Society.  While GOS continues Michael Keats and I are storing researched information on Capertee National Park,  Passes within the Jamison Valley, and we would also like to revise our book on the Passes of Narrow Neck with new information which has come to hand since it was published. Never a dull moment.

Walking in Gardens of Stone NP (Pic: Caro Ryan)

Walking in Gardens of Stone NP (Pic: Caro Ryan)

 

In summary, Brian stresses the importance of authentic documentation. Keep your records up to date, write on the back of photographs (or in the metadata of digital images). Things like dates, events, location (some camera’s include GPS data already) and people are essential.

I’ve personally found Brian and Michael to be very generous in their knowledge and expertise. They have done immense amounts of research through their books and they are passing this on. Together, they truly are leaving a lasting, positive legacy for all.

You can find out more about these two Bush Explorers at their website, as well as purchasing their books! You seriously will not find a more detailed account of these locations in any other book.

Mt Paralyser and other names that inspire fear

When looking over the topographic maps for the southern parts of the Blue Mountains, especially the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness area, a virgin navigator would be forgiven for never wanting to step foot in this part of the world, due to the array of fear inducing, high blood-pressure invoking place names.

After putting off tackling Mt Paralyser all my life, I found myself there twice last year. They were both such enjoyable trips (thanks Roysta for the first one and then I led this group from Sydney Bush Walkers club there a few months later), that I wonder why I put it off for so long.

Here’s a selection of my favourite gut-wrenching, fear inducing Kanangra-Boyd place names:

  • Mt Paralyser
  • Mt Strongleg
  • Mt Despond
  • Mt Great Groaner
  • Mt Savage
  • Mt Misery
  • Mt Hopeless
  • Sombre Dome

… I wonder if I can plan a route that will take in all of them in the one trip? 🙂

What are some place names that you visit which would put off the less fearless? Please share your suggestions in the comments below!

Blue Mountains – Open for Business!

This October has been an incredibly difficult one for many people living in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

I’ve had non-hiker friends say to me, ‘Oh, you must be so sad about your beloved Blue Mountains and the fires?’ I kind of didn’t know what to say. I don’t live there, I haven’t raised a family there, had the comfort of home and community there, been gripped by the gut wrenching fear of losing my home, physical memories and pets, let alone loved ones and friends.

Sure, I spend a lot of time there, my car can almost drive itself, but apart that, not being able to walk in the burnt or (relatively small) closed areas is only an inconvenience to me. It simply means changing my plans – not changing my life. Nearly 200 families lost everything. It’s not about me.

So what can we (those not affected by the fires) do?

  1. Donate money – Cold, hard, cash can bring warm, soft and practical outcomes! There are various charities and funds set up. Choose one that resonates with you. My pick is http://www.salvos.org.au | ph: 137 258
  2. Help a mate – Do you personally know people who are affected? Maybe a member of your bushwalking club? A colleague? Ask them what they need or just be there for them and simply listen.
  3. Encourage anyone you know who may be affected to seek help. The Salvo’s are providing a range of services from trauma counselling, practical supplies, short and  long term assistance, helping people plan for the future, financial counselling and legal advice. I mean seriously, when you’ve lost everything… where do you even start?
  4. And here’s the fun one… Visit the Blueys! – It’s bad enough that people lost homes and suffered so much during the height of the fires, but now, the lack of tourists and visitors to the region is damaging local businesses. If it continues, people could lose their jobs. What are you waiting for? Get off your toosh and get up there! Sure, you might not be able to visit some of the tracks or canyons for a while, but it’s an ideal time to see all those other attractions, canyons or tracks that you’ve, ‘always been meaning to do.’ Here’s some thoughts:
  • So often, us bushwalkers/canyoners, will leave Sydney at 6am, arrive in the mountains at 8am and head straight to the track-head. We’ll spend an awesome day out in the bush, then turn around and head back. 4 hrs in the car for 9 hrs on the P1020760track. Why not leave work a bit early on a Friday and spend a night in a local hotel/YHA/B&B, before starting out on the Saturday morning? I’ve recently become a fan of the wonderful warm hospitality at the Ivanhoe Hotel at Blackheath. If you’re on a budget (or had a few too many cooling ales with their enormous steak, salad, chips and pepper sauce after a hike – I deny all rumours to that effect!) this pub is perfect! I recently had a room upstairs, set back from the main road and slept very well. I think I paid $30 for a room with share bathroom. Good old fashioned Aussie pub accommodation and the squeaky floorboards are thrown in for free!
  • Spend a day, ‘doing all the touristy’ things. You’ve whinged about the tourists blocking the tracks in a dazed state at the bottom of the Scenic Skyway/Railway/Cableway for years… when was the last time you checked it out for yourself? Scenic World might surprise you! Oh, and the lovely staff have just put up their favourite things to do in the mountains… good tips there!
  • Whilst you’re down that way in the Jamison Valley, see what millions of tourists each year see of our Blue Mountains… look through their eyes… imagine you’re seeing it for the first time and walk the Prince Henry Clifftop walk. Then, put your adventure hat on and research the options for continuing further around the valley, above or below the clifflines.
  • P1020796And my new personal favourite… The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. The audio/visual exhibition about the Blueys World Heritage is really amazing. There’s an art gallery, shop, cafe and lovely rooftop open space. A real surprise.
  • Go for a wander up and down Katoomba Street and check out the Antique and other shops. There’s been a lot of change in the last few years and wizzing past at 7.30am, you’ve probably missed it all except Elephant Bean (my favourite Katoomba coffee) which is usually the only place open at that time.
  • Stretch your legs from Katoomba and walk through the back streets to Leura. Dream about owning one of those lovely old timber mountain cottages… maybe even buy one! That’s supporting the locals, eh?
  • Join the Sunday driver crowds in Leura and wander the main drag.
  • Drink and eat at Red Door coffee (my Leura favourite)
  • Drink and eat at Anonymous cafe (my Blackheath favourite)
  • Check out (and BUY) from the local artists at Bespoke and Found and The Nook, Leura. P1020783A great co-op of local artists and artisans. Huge variety – from edgy out there stuff, to things that even your Nanna would love. Thankfully, they’re a PFZ – potpourri free-zone.
  • And from the, ‘where have you been all my life?’ files… Mrs Peel. Deep love indeed.P1020772
  • Come to the mountains and do ALL your Christmas shopping in the Mountains.
  • Buy accommodation gift vouchers for friends and family… then they can come too!
  • Don’t just drop in to the Apple Bar for a meal/soothing ale on the way home after a canyon or walk… you Stink! Haven’t you often thought, “Geez, it would be nice to spend a P1020830weekend up here.” What could be better than a long, lazy, lunch, chowing down on one of their amazing woodfire pizzas with more than one or two shandies, and walk back to a nearby B&B? Sigh, Apple Bar… How do I love thee? I cannot count the ways.
  • How often have you P1020824driven past Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens (Now called Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens) and never actually ventured inside? It’s truly beautiful and the home to the Royal Botanic Gardens (in Sydney), cool climate plants.
  • Sick of hearing Simon Marnie talk on ABC702 about the Farm Gate Trail every Saturday morning and never actually visited any of the farms? Giving particular focus to the farms nearby the bushfire area..Stop listening… start visiting. www.hawkesburyharvest.com.au
  • Go wine tasting… not quite BLOR area, but Ebenezer not only has a couple of great wineries (especially www.tizzana.com.au), but is also home to Australia’s oldest church!
  • Do a high ropes / zip line course at Treesadventure.com.au in Yarramundi, at the junction of the Nepean and Grose Rivers. If you like being up close and personal with Blue Gums, this put you right UP in them. Oh, and someone else can do the rigging and safety for once!
  • Challenge yourself to eat the menu (or the list) at the Fat Canyoners Good Grub Guide. Awesome resource (the whole site that is, not just the food page), which outlines all the places to eat on the way to/from bushwalks and canyons. Check it out and then email the Fat Canyoner himself with some new finds!

www.visitbluemountains.com.au/events.php

www.hawkesburytourism.com.au

My advice?

Visit

Eat

Drink

Spend

Stay

Walk

Repeat

How to Convert a Tent to Fly-only

I really wanted to call this post, ‘How to Pimp Your Tent’, but seeing as there’s no fluffy dice, disco balls or shagpile carpet involved, I think How to Convert a Tent is slightly more appropriate.

There are different kinds of lightweight hikers out there. I sit somewhere in the middle between hard-core Cuban Fibre or Tyvek purists and traditional ‘smart’ packing for bushwalkers.

Before this experiment, I’ve never tried to ‘tweak the factory settings’ on any of my hiking gear. What drove me to it was being sold the footprint for my Easton Kilo 2P tent from an outdoor retailer, who assured me that with the footprint I can use the tent as fly-only. All the design cues were there in the full tent, so it made logical sense that this would be the case.

Just some of the tools needed to pimp my tent

Just some of the tools needed to pimp my tent

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be true, so rather than return the footprint, I thought I’d try a bit of DIY handiwork after being inspired by several of my bushwalking mates who regularly tweak their gear to suit themselves. (Hello to Little Blue Walker, Melinda, Mr Mallo and many others!).

It was not altogether without dramas, as I did manage to snap the fancy-schmancy Carbon Fibre crossover pole. Thankfully, the manufacturer does include a temporary pole fix tube which held everything in place, however I did have to buy a replacement pole. (Nice work by the way to Easton for their fast customer service).

Easton Kilo 2P tent setup as Fly Only

Easton Kilo 2P tent setup as Fly Only

As each one of us has our own opinions and preferences for stuff in life, it makes sense that one size doesn’t fit all. If you ever find yourself not fully satisfied with the way something is made, maybe it is time to think about how you can tweak it to make it fit for your purpose.

Ah, now it's fit for MY purpose at <750grams.

Ah, now it’s fit for MY purpose at <720grams.

Six Foot Track Project Launch!

Ok, so you know how they always say, ‘Never start with an apology – it’s too negative.’?

Well, here I am breaking with tradition because for the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken leave of my blogging senses to concentrate on a very exciting new project that is launching this week!

For the past year, I’ve been working with the fabulous Matt McClelland (www.wildwalks.com and bushwalk.com) and Geoff Mallinson (geoffmallinson.com and Dad of danmallo.com) on a new approach to multi-day hike websites. We’re getting down to the pointy end of the work these last two weeks and we’re racing to get it all ready in time!

We all share the same aims of wanting to encourage people to get out into (and enjoy) the bush in a safe and fun way, so we pooled our collective skills into this project.

Geoff goes for a slide at Norths Lookout

Geoff goes for a slide at Norths Lookout

The Six Foot Track is one of Australia’s best known multi-day hikes and although the 45kms is usually done as a 3 day trip, it is also run during the annual Six Foot Marathon in around 5.5hrs.

The book, website and associated YouTube channel are full of information, photos, track notes, videos and an exciting new development called, ‘EmuView’ which adds a 360VR experience to the interactive maps on the site.

Guess who on the bridge?

Guess who on the bridge?

We’re launching this Thursday night with a shindig at the Hornsby RSL, so once that’s out of the way, I hope to return you to your regular weekly blog programming!

Hope you enjoy it!

Gear Review – Macpac Tasman 45


Supertramp hardness with hydration pack. Surprisingly comfy with good load distribution.

Supertramp hardness with hydration pack. Surprisingly comfy with good load distribution.

Manufacturer:  Macpac

Product:   Tasman 45

Link:  Macpac Product Info

Empty Weight: 1.1kg (size 2)

RRP: AUD$299

Test Packed Weight: 13kgs (incl 2 litres water)

Test Date: 4-6 October 2013

Location: Ettrema Wilderness, Morton National Park, NSW, Australia

Terrain:  Everything! Firetrail, tracks, off-track scrub (light to extreme including Hakea and Banksia) rock scrambling, narrow slots and cliff lines, creek crossings and bitumen roads!

Introduction

When I first started bushwalking in 1999, completely green and eager to learn, the word on the track from those with greater knowledge in my Bushwalking Club, was to buy a Macpac Esprit pack, along with a Microlight tent.

In the 14 years since, the types of gear on the market and the demands of the outdoors community has undergone enormous change.

From the early pioneering days, even before the legendary Tiger Walkers forged new ground in the Blue Mountains, (when a pack was made from an old pillowcase with two straps attached), to today, it feels as though the majority of the change has taken place in the past 5 years.

I’m wondering if this is due to the increase in new manufacturers eyeing a growing market for outdoors pursuits, the shrinking global marketplace or the influence of an ever vocal online community. With the growth of the internet, us consumers are not restricted by what our local retail outlet sells. We share ideas and experiences with people all over the world and if we are so inclined, can now research products, materials and design and hear first hand from users.

How I’ve changed

Back in 1999, what I went looking for as a consumer, was a product that was bomb proof. The thought about lightweight never crossed my mind. Without realising it, I’d entered the mysterious world of the notoriously tight-arsed bushie. This meant that I viewed my gear as an investment in this brave new world I’d entered and if I was going to spend $400 on a piece of gear, it was going to last me a lifetime. Dammit.

What Macpac were known for back then was exactly that. Bomb proof gear that would last a lifetime.

Crossing the Kowmung River on the Mittagong to Katoomba 7 day trip. My trusty first pack - Macpac Glissade - a whopping 75ltr pack.

Crossing the Kowmung River on the Mittagong to Katoomba 6 day trip in 2005. My trusty first pack – Macpac Glissade – a whopping 75ltr pack!

My first pack was a Macpac Glissade. A heavy duty 75L mother of a thing that weighs around 3kgs (6.6lbs) empty, using a traditional hardcore canvas fabric. It saw me through many adventures and I still have it, and true to its origins, it shows very little sign of wear… But to be honest, I haven’t used it in over 8 years. I feel a little guilty every time I go into my storeroom and see it hanging there on the wall… I imagine it’s voice, saying, “Pick me, pick me!”, whenever the light goes on. Sorry old friend, you’re just too heavy these days.

Nowadays, not only are outdoor consumers better informed about options, materials and products, we’re also a lot wiser about our own bodies and their limits. We know, by looking at those before us, that knee joints can wear out and that this damage can be aggravated by carrying heavy loads. For those of us who spend most weekends each month carrying a pack, then 50 years of ‘a few extra kilos’, can really take its toll.

Whatever the reason, the focus for many in the outdoors community has turned away from buying a single bomb proof piece of kit to last a lifetime – to buying a smartly designed,  lightweight, comfortable product that will give the most comfortable experience now, and for our knees… into the future.

Paul's beaten up GoLite

Paul’s beaten up GoLite

This decision comes with the knowledge that, depending on the places we hike in, it may not be so long lasting and depending how often we’re in scrubby, off-track conditions, we may need to replace it in 5 years or make running repairs along the way.

Besides, in 5 years time, design and technology may well have taken another leap and I can get a pack half the weight and twice the capacity!

My walking buddy Paul summed it up pretty well (whilst carrying his beaten up GoLite pack), “I’d much rather replace my pack, than my knees.”

The Philosophy Corner

This is a significant change to how things used to be and I can’t help but weigh up the conflicting interests of recycling, land-fill and the environmental impacts of such high turnover consumerism, for a hobby that strives to leave no trace. To over simplify it, is it personal interest (health/joints/comfort and long term ability) versus the greater good (the environment). Hmmm, all food for thought indeed and one that could make a good discussion point around the campfire/stove. I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

That’s quite a long winded way of introducing my review of the new Macpac Tasman 45L.

Joanna smiling whilst dragging packs through the narrow slot pass

Joanna smiling whilst dragging packs through the narrow slot pass – A good testing ground for a pack

The Basics

Specs measure up on the scales

Specs measure up on the scales (2.42lbs)

This seems to be Macpac’s first serious foray into the brave world of lightweight hiking gear. At the outset, it’s important to understand where this pack sits in the world of lightweight outdoors gear. It’s not down the Tyvek ie. the ultra lightweight end of things, where enthusiasts tinker on grandma’s old Singer and new micro-businesses are popping up as a result. This product sits comfortably between ultra lightweight and traditional – let’s simply call it Lightweight for now.

Everything about this pack is new and different for Macpac, although there are significant nods to design influences from other brands such as Deuter, Osprey and even Lowe Alpine, it thankfully still holds true to what I perceive the Macpac brand has always been about. Smart design, good workmanship and innovation. More than anything, it says to me that they’ve clearly done their homework and have looked at how they can apply the Macpac know-how to improve on what is already out there.

I love when I look at a product and I find myself saying, “Someone’s been thinking”. This is obvious in this pack. It feels as though every aspect and element has been well thought through, tested, pared back, simplified and then utilised. As with any lightweight design, everything is there for a reason.

Ettrema Wilderness - A perfect testing ground.

Ettrema Wilderness – A perfect testing ground.

Harness

The most obvious new feature in this pack is what they call the Supertramp harness system. In every other Macpac pack I’ve owned, their harness has always been heavily padded and a point of both balance and comfort. To be honest, this was one of my concerns about this pack and something that I was keen to test. Gone are the chunky, cushioned shoulder straps and they’ve been replaced with <1cm thick lightweight alternatives.

Reduced padding on shoulder straps

Reduced padding on shoulder straps

But the real change in this harness is what I’ve affectionately called the, “no sweaty back”, style of design, that has been seen in Deuter packs for some years and more recently, Osprey day packs.

I personally love the orange /grey colour combo!

I personally love the orange /grey colour combo!

Through utilising a curved back and strong mesh, they’ve achieved a style of harness that provides a gap between the wearers back and the pack. Whereas the Deuter pack that I’ve used in the past achieved this with a solid piece of curved plastic, Macpac have done this with two external (yes, external) frame spines.

Comfort

In wearing the pack, I was very surprised to find the harness super comfy, even without all the traditional padding.

Perhaps because of the minimal padding, the manufacturer’s guidelines give this pack a range of 6-14kg for a comfy user experience. I was testing it with 13kg (11hrs on our feet on day 1 and 8hrs on day 3) which was fine. The  45L capacity is going to mean that you need to be choosy about what you take anyway, so unless I make stupid packing decisions, I can’t see myself pushing this weight up any further.

One of the slightly unusual sensations I found though, was that when travelling along a firetrail at good pace (5.5-6km/hr), the pack seems to have a certain “bouncy” characteristic. Although this might sound a negative, after a while, I came to

Yep. That's all that's there across your back.

Yep. That’s all that’s there… the mesh against your back, then the spines behind.

actually enjoy it. The bounce didn’t come as a shock back down on the shoulders and hips with each step, rather the opposite, it actually felt like I had added momentum and a lightness of step. I know, odd.

Fabric

I’m not one of those gear gurus who spend hours researching the science behind each of the components in a piece of gear and can argue the relative pros and cons of each one. So apart from seeing how the Titan Grid™ Fabric performed in the field, I can’t really say anything about it.

“Our lightweight and durable Titan Grid fabric is a 100d high tenacity nylon The silicon outer coating and PU inner coating add weatherproofness and at only 116g/m2 it is ideal for applications where conserving weight is critical. Compared to similar weight fabrics Titan Grid offers improved durability as the grid structure and raised fibres enhance its ability to absorb abrasion.” (Source: Macpac website)

When dragged through rock slots, signs of wear show where a solid object (e.g. zipper) is behind.

When dragged through rock slots, signs of wear show where a solid object (e.g. zipper) is behind.

Please watch the video of my gear test, as you will see that I put the pack through much more than the average hiker would expect to do on a weekend trip. The fact is, not everyone likes to go off-track, which is fine. However, the shots of the wear on the zipper will make sense when you see what I put it through!

Hydration Options

With only 45L of internal space to play with, something I really liked about this pack is that it gives me the option of putting my hydration bladder on the outside, hanging securely within the gap between the mesh and the spines. The simplicity of using this option is made easier by way of an access they’ve created from the inside. There are two hooks and a robust piece of velcro to help hold your bladder in place. Yep, I was dubious about this concept at first. Wouldn’t the water get warm from my back? Will my back get wet? Is there more potential to pierce or burst the bladder?

Easy to see/feel how much water you've got left with the Hydration pack hidden inside the harness

Easy to see/feel how much water you’ve got left with the Hydration pack hidden inside the harness

Well, I can report that after a couple of hours of walking in full sun, on a day of 28 degrees, I am converted. One of the arguments against hydration systems is that you can’t see how much you’re drinking, but the handy thing with this design is that not only does it free up internal space, but I can easily feel how much I’m drinking by simply reaching around, feeling the bladder and giving it a bit of a jiggle. If this concept doesn’t work for you, they haven’t locked you into it. The pack also includes the traditional internal pocket for stowing the bladder. Both options work with a hose hole on both the left and right shoulders.

Belt pockets are a good size with my camera in one and phone/GPS in the other

Belt pockets are a good size with my camera in one and phone/GPS in the other

HOT TIP

  • It’s a good idea to pack any solid or hard objects (like a billy) deep inside the pack and surround it with soft things to minimise wear on the outside fabric, especially if you’re going to be dragging it over rocks!

WHAT I LOVE

  • Hydration bladder stowage in the harness
  • Zip pockets on the hip belt that are a good size. Perfect for camera, compass, snacks and chapstick, whilst not being so big to get in the way of big step ups and rock scrambling.
  • Lightweight at 1.1kg (2.42lbs). Yes, I independently checked this. See image.
  • Fold over edge in side stretchy pockets. Less chance of things falling out.

    Fold over edge on side pockets help stop stuff falling out

    Fold over edge on side pockets help stop stuff falling out

  • That my rain jacket fits in the outside pocket. Doesn’t get stuff inside wet.
  • Ample space in the lid pocket. 3 days of snacks, sunnies, safety glasses (for scrub) sunscreen, scrub gloves, torch, toothbrush, notepad, GPS/iPhone battery, keys… with room to move.
  • Supertramp harness. Super comfy, body hugging and bouncy.
  • It’s a frivolous thing, but I like the overall look and colours (grey/orange).
  • I can still stash my map case behind my back in the harness as I walk.

JURY’S OUT

  • Side compression straps being all in one piece. If it breaks in one spot, does this mean the whole side compression is unusable?
  • Shoulder straps couldn't really be tightened any further

    Shoulder straps couldn’t really be tightened any further

    I’m a tall gal at around 177cm (5’9″) and the size 3 pack was a good choice, although the shoulder straps were at their ‘almost’ tightest. It would be good to have some lee-way of an extra 5 cm of adjustment.

THE VERDICT

So, are my 3 days giving the Tasman 45L a workout going to change my behaviour?

Hell yeah!

As much as I still love my Pursuit 55L, it’s going to be reserved for times I need the extra space, such as longer trips. I’m moving across to the Tasman for my ‘every weekend’ type pack.

All I can say, is that if this is Macpac’s first dive into lightweight packs, I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Caro is a Macpac Ambassador and super grateful to her awesome bushwalking buddies from www.sbw.org.au, for putting up with her muttering to herself on camera in wild places. 

Ludicrously long belt straps - something I am going to cut off.

Comedically long belt straps – something I am going to cut off!

Missing Cessna VH-MDX : Where in Barrington Tops is it?

Do a search for “VH-MDX” in Google and you’ll find all sorts of things. Unfortunately, what you won’t find (yet) is the location of this missing Cessna aircraft, that disappeared over Barrington Tops National Park, north-west of Sydney in August 1981.

It truly is Australia’s greatest aviation mystery and one that has confounded everyone from search & rescue and aviation experts, locals, bushwalkers and conspiracy theorists for over 30 years.

The main reason I started this blog was to encourage people to get out into the great outdoors and to demystify some of the dark arts of moving and living in our wild places.

But I also want to use my blog to encourage people with the necessary skills and experience to get involved through volunteering in their local outdoors community.

I produced this video above to give a glimpse into some of the work that has gone on behind-the-scenes this year to help bring closure to this long standing mystery. To hopefully answer some of the unanswered questions.

For many years, Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad has been running an annual SAREX (Search and Rescue Exercise) in different parts of this rugged and wild National Park, to not only test and train ourselves, but to inch closer to knowing the truth.

Each year, we’ve been supported and joined by other squads, in particular the NSW Police Rescue and Bomb Disposal Squad and PolAir and our volunteer brothers and sisters in WICEN, the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service.

Next weekend is a big one. This year has seen the great guys over at Police Rescue really throw themselves into seeing this SAREX as an opportunity for all squads to work together, train together and learn from each other, under the authority of the State Rescue Board. The logistical exercise of this type of activity can’t be underestimated and the teams from Police logistics have been heavily involved in bringing this together.

Personally, this is my 3rd SAREX for this missing plane over the years and the weight of the families, the sense of expectation and the management of risk for us sits heavily upon all our shoulders. We’re certainly not going in with gung-ho hero attitudes. We take this serious terrain, very seriously indeed.

I’ll be heading up one of the small teams in the primary search box and we’re preparing ourselves for a gruelling few days, looking out for any clues and for each other.

Maybe this year, next weekend, we will know the answer.

Hiking on the Gold Coast… Really?

It’s fair to say that there are different types of hikers out there and that the outdoors is a very subjective place. What is one person’s Everest, is another’s anthill.

Mt Tambourine Rainforest

Mt Tambourine Rainforest

For those of us who venture out weekly and find that the weight of an overnight pack on our backs brings a comforting sense of home, it can be easy to forget what it’s like for the rest of the population.

For all those friends and family who think we’re a little nuts and no matter how much we bang on about the unwordable moments of delight we experience in wild places, they will simply never get it.


Recently, I had a great day being hosted by Gold Coast Tourism as part of the ProBlogger Conference which was held at the QT hotel (totally rate it!) at Surfers Paradise. It was a day packed with various adventurous activities, but the one I looked most forward to was the visit to the Skywalk in Mt Tambourine. It was to be the closest I’d get to my beloved wilderness amidst other action packed moments which included jet boating (yes, that’s me clapping and laughing like a child in the front row yelling, ‘faster! faster!’), screaming

Never too old for roller coasters!

Never too old for roller coasters!

down rollercoasters at Movieworld and beer drinking… just not at the same time.

The incredibly lush, green colour of the Mt Tambourine rainforest was a stark contrast to the white sand and blue waters of the coastal areas I’d cycled past in the morning.

A perfect day cycling along the coast to breakfast

A perfect day cycling along the coast to breakfast

As I ventured out onto the raised walkway, high above my normal route, suspended in the canopy I found myself looking around at the other people enjoying the moment. You couldn’t get further away from my usual ragtag bunch of smelly hikers (sorry guys!), but standing in the sunny moment, I was loving this.

Suspended high in the canopy at Mt Tambourine

Suspended high in the canopy at Mt Tambourine

Here was a family business that was set up to allow “the rest of the population”, to enjoy a taste of what us hardened types get to see regularly. All shapes and size, cultures and backgrounds, were breathing in deeply the lush green atmosphere.

Boutique Beer Tasting at MT Brewery

Boutique Beer Tasting at MT Brewery

To be honest, before I went on this day out, I couldn’t think of anywhere less I would want to go, than the Gold Coast. In my head, it was all about highrise buildings, casinos and schoolies (shudder).

However, I very quickly had to change my mind, when I realised that that picture belongs only to Surfers Paradise – one small aspect of the Gold Coast. I can’t wait to go back and discover more hidden gems of this much maligned Aussie holiday icon.

Q: What’s one place that you’ve had to change your mind about when the reality was not what you had been led to believe?

Witches Chase Cheese Platter... to die for!

Witches Chase Cheese Platter… to die for!