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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Adventure: Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness

A Big Sky Place

A Big Sky over Kanangra

A Big Sky over Kanangra

It would really suck to suffer from vertigo. And I don’t mean watching Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak run amok in San Francisco only to discover the DVD is missing the last 10 minutes.

I’m talking about having an unhealthy urge to throw oneself off of cliffs when it has nothing to do with mental health or abseiling.

Thankfully, neither myself nor my 5 other intrepid adventurers from Sydney Bush Walkers Club suffer from such a fate. Just as well really, considering what we planned on doing over Easter 2013.

I planned this Easter trip to start on Saturday, which meant that Good Friday was spent as a leisurely day packing and slowly heading up to the Walls carpark where we camped for the night. Checkout a 360 of the sunset which I enjoyed with just one or two glasses of red. Ah, a great start to a holiday!

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and we tucked into a quick breakfast at the shelter shed before heading out.

After a quick briefing, I broke the news to the 3 newer members of the club that I wanted them to really work on their navigation skills and take the lead with map and compass. Nothing like being thrown into the deep end. Kind of like Celebrity Splash… But thankfully not.

Not feeling in too much of a rush and slightly delirious from the amazing Autumn day we were having, we took our time passing Dance Floor Cave and headed up onto Seymour Tops to take in the views across to Kanangra Main Canyon.

I was a tough leader and pushed the new members to work on their navigation

I was a tough leader and pushed the new members to work on their navigation

The navigators located the correct turn off and we headed off towards Coal Seam Cave. As the video explains, this is a great little spot, where some far-sighted individuals installed a bucket underneath one of the (almost) permanent water drips from the cliff lines above. This bucket has quenched the thirst of many tired hikers, after lugging themselves up one of the many alternate ridges from the Kowmung River on a hot day. The water is a little brackish, but I’d be happy to drink it.

Speaking of these alternate ridge routes, this was what our trusty navigators now focused on. For the rest of the day, they followed the toppo diligently and after what seemed longer than I thought it should have (an elastic ridge no less!) we arrived at the river for a refreshing dip, just as the sun was sinking over the tops.

It was here that the newer members of our club also narrowly avoided one of the little known hazards sometimes associated with the dear Sydney Bush Walkers Club.

You see, there’s been something of a tradition in the past of some members, well… getting their members (and other bits) out.

Not just a young person's game...

Not just a young person’s game… DR on the right, will be 80 in 2013.

You’ll notice from the above pic that our club has an incredibly diverse age range, having started in 1927, with an influx of younger people in their 20s and 30s joining in the last 5 years or so.

I love it when new members come on their first walk and see what they perceive as “elderly” people at the briefing in the morning. I can see what they’re thinking. What they don’t realise, is that these ‘old dears’ have been walking their arses off since they were teenagers, with exceptional fitness and endurance. These grey haired gurus can carry a full pack up and down any Kanangra 850m ridge, for 10 hours without blinking or breaking a sweat, whereas most gym junkies only workout for a couple of hours… tops.

I then have a secret delight when about 3 hrs into a walk, the Crusties (my term of endearment for the older members) are going strong and the 20 something’s are struggling to keep up.

So… Back to the, ahem Member’s member…

DR thoughtfully went ahead on the track and beat us younger types to the river, allowing himself to feel the breeze, splash in the river and truly be one with nature, without scaring the younger, Member’s members.

Finding a campsite was next on the agenda and although there was one nearby our swimming spot, I would only give it a 2.5-3 star rating. Surely we can do better than that! You know when you just “feel” that there’s got to be somewhere better… just a little further along? Now sometimes that type of thinking can lead to disappointment and plodding by head torch, “just another 500m”, through thick scrub for another 5kms or so. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go that far before we came upon a truly amazing clearing with lush green grass – a true 5 star campsite and just as the sun was disappearing behind the hills.

Sorry... this one's a secret!

Sorry… this one’s a secret!

After a deep nights sleep, we woke up to Easter Sunday and what was going to be the hardest day of the trip. There was a whole lot of UP involved and a fair bit of navigating by map and compass to ensure that we hit the old pass in exactly the right spot.

The lower ridges were pretty clear and the going was fairly easy, with only the last pinch up one of the buttresses of Ti Willa Plateau causing us all to huff n’ puff. We pulled ourselves up through rock falls and through scrub, occasionally experiencing the two steps up, one slide back on loose scree, constantly checking our compass bearing and reading the terrain, before magically… we looked up… and right in front of us was the bottom spike of the pass. Our navigators had done extremely well!

Up we went, making use of the chains and spikes along the way and being super careful on the very slippery Casuarina needles on the ledges. One slip and… well…

Steve coming up Compagnoni Pass

Steve coming up Compagnoni Pass

Lunch was had at the cairn on the top of Ti Willa plateau as a cool change moved in from the south. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees in 10 minutes and a gentle wind picked up. Off we headed (to warm up again!) to walk across of top of the Plateau and head for the sleeping cave. In the past, there have been stories about impenetrable scrub and Hakea making this journey not very enjoyable. Thankfully, we found this not to be the case. Sure, there were a few pockets of the stuff that made the going slow and painful at times, but generally speaking, it was good going.

We made good time and only felt a few of the raindrops from the threatening sky, before arriving at cave and starting the fire. Drinking water was flowing well in the usual place and before long we were enjoying a lovely afternoon’s cuppa.

As there was still at least 3 hours of good light left, I offered to take everyone to a great lookout to take in our elevated surroundings. This did involve a bit of scrub, but we be hardy types in Sydney Bushies, Argh!

P1010930The evening was calm and still at the cave and we all enjoyed the hot rum and lime drink that I brewed to a secret recipe, which no doubt helped us sleep very well. It was at this point that I broke the news to the group that I wanted to leave the cave at 7am. Oh the shock of it! They’d clearly gone soft. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that I’d told them to sacrifice their first born on the morning fire… Sheeesh. Get used to it guys – I’ve started to enjoy early starts!

Resting around the fire

Resting around the fire

The lazy bunch didn’t quite manage 7am, but around 7.20am we slogged up the hill out of the cave and made Mt Cloudmaker in good time, where we signed the logbook before heading off along the footpad towards the Walls.

This stretch of track-ette, is the most used piece of terrain in the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness Area and forms part of the traditional Kanangra to Katoomba (K2K) route. Although there is a footpad, there are no signs and the track does disappear here and there along the way. For those experienced types, you might find it hard to believe that there have been people lost between here and the carpark, even in recent times.

The views along this track are truly amazing, not only north or south into the valleys and gorges, but all around – I am a big fan of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) and spots along here literally explode with them.

Looking down Kanangra Gorge

Looking down Kanangra Gorge

All too soon, we found ourselves having lunch on the top of Gordon Smith’s Pass which always signals to me that the end is nigh… the Kanangra-Walls carpark is just a few kms away.

Back at the cars, we changed clothes and decided to head to the Gardener’s Inn at Blackheath for a well deserved cooling ale before heading home.

A truly wonderful Easter break and a great adventure!

So what’s your favourite big sky place?

Adventure: Trip Reports

When I started this blog thingy, I didn’t really know what people wanted to see. To be honest, I’ve been a wee bit surprised when digging around in the background and seeing which posts turned out to be the most popular!

Surprise, surprise. You lot quite enjoy reading trip reports. Really? Huh.

Huayhuash Circuit - Day 9

Huayhuash Circuit (Peru) – Day 9

So I’ve decided to start posting rants and raves about my various outdoorsy adventures… and as I tend to get out around 7 times per month, I should have plenty of fodder for you my pretties!

Ah, but before I get cracking, I should warn you. I’m not going to be writing too much about the specifics of tracks, routes, grid references and locations, etc. As many of my adventures are off track and require traditional compass and topographic map navigation, it would be pretty dodgy of me to be putting that type of stuff out there and potentially leading people astray… nay!

If you’re an experienced hiker / bushwalker from the Sydney region, you’ll probably recognise many of the places and photographs. I just ask that you be a bit circumspect in your comments to avoid over-sharing of the details of our precious places 🙂

Don’t worry – I’m not elitist though! If you’d like to know more about these places and experience them for yourself – I recommend you join a bushwalking club. Not only will you meet a bunch of like-minded people, but they’ll teach you all you need to know and take you out into these wild and wonderful places. To find a club near you, visit Bushwalking NSW or Bushwalking Australia if you’re from another state.

Poos, wees and other mysteries

One of the fabulous things about going bush is eating tasty food under a blanket of stars. More often than not, especially on longer bush walks, this food is going to be dehydrated.

Now, there’s not really a delicate way of saying this, but eating dehydrated food can tend to have certain consequences for some people…

…OK, it can really give you the shits.

Whilst on a 12 day walk in Kakadu several years ago, my friends and I came up with the term, the Dehyde Dance. Every morning, upon waking up, there would be a mad dash out of the tent, whilst grasping madly about for the toilet paper and plastic trowel (aka Shit Shovel) and hoping for dear God that you could find some ground soft enough to dig your hole in enough time (let alone get far enough away from your friends) before contributing back to the great circle of life. However, as anyone who has been walking along the pristine waterways of Kakadu knows – rocks are the predominant feature.

Super Duper Pooper Scooper

Super Duper Pooper Scooper

It didn’t take us long to realise that we needed a plan. The plan involved pre-digging a hole before sunset and then ensuring that we didn’t enjoy our wine so much with dinner that we forgot where we dug.

Thankfully, you generally won’t need to pre-dig your holes, but there are some important rules to remember about the whole poo and wee thing.

  1. 100m from watercourses or campsites:  Now, to be honest, this is BEST PRACTICE, but the reality of poo-ing in the bush is that our fabulous landscape doesn’t always allow us to be gold star crappers. For example: On overnight canyon trips you’ll be hard pressed to get 10m from water, let alone 100m. Good luck with that one. So either eat a lot of cheese in the days leading up to the trip to bring on a rock-solid constitution or exercise your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles until you get topside again.
  2. 20cm down:  The trusty orange shit-shovel (that’s commercially available in many outdoor stores) has handy measurements on its handle to let you know when you’ve dug deep enough. Otherwise, an adult hand from wrist to tip of middle finger is just under 20cm.
  3. Don’t bury tampons or pads: Either carry them out or burn them completely. (I’m going to do a separate blog post on this).
  4. Paper: There are several schools of thought on this. Some people burn their paper (be careful not to light a bushfire!), some people bury it, some people carry it out (double zip-loc bags). If you’re going to bury, I feel that the cheapest, recycled paper (yep, the scratchy brown stuff) is probably going to break down the quickest.
  5. In the snow… down below: It’s a tough call, but officially when ski touring you should dig down into the earth to bury your treasure… again, good luck with that. But the big golden rule with poo-ing in the snow is to not use paper – a handful of snow works a treat and is like a little chilly bidet for your bottom!
  6. Mark your territory: I’m sure that when you were a toddler and proud of what you produced you felt the need to show everyone. However, we’re grown-ups. Please cover your creation completely with dirt and then mark your spot with sticks laid down – X marks the spot. If you’re in a group and the options are limited, you’ll be very thankful that everyone has followed this rule.
  7. Hygiene: Carry a small tube of hand sanitiser to use afterwards and also before eating.

These rules are for general bush and wilderness areas. Be aware that some National Parks and sensitive areas, will require you to carry out all waste.  Yep, this means you must carry out your poo and paper, in addition to tampons/pads, etc. There are a bunch of different methods on the internet of how to make a poo-tube for this purpose, but I will post a separate blog of a simple poo-tube that works for me.

Rules for using Toilet Trowel

Never shall they touch!

And now just some helpful tips…

  1. Tell someone and then leave your pack behind: This is more important during the day whilst walking, but also important first thing before departing camp in the morning. By leaving your pack behind on the track, your friends won’t leave without you (or so you’d like to think).
  2. If on a slope, squat facing down the hill: You’re less likely to lose balance and fall forward, than backward. On a steep slope squat behind a tree and hold onto the tree for balance.
  3. Keep feet perpendicular to slope: For us women, this will help us not have pee running over our shoes.
  4. Trowels are optional: … burying your poo and paper is not. I find that the heel of my shoe and then a good stick is enough to get a 20cm hole, depending on the terrain.
  5. Guys, we can see you: For some reason, there are blokes in walking parties who seem to think that just taking 5 steps and turning their back to the group, makes them invisible. We don’t need to see (or hear) you pee. Thanks.
  6. Check before you squat: Sounds obvious, but not only for snakes or stinging nettles, but leeches or sharp sticks, etc.
  7. No matter how you shake and dance: … the last few drops fall down your pants. It’s personal choice, but as a woman, I don’t feel the need to use paper for wees when I’m in the bush. Without paper you’ll need to be mindful of washing yourself properly when at camp to avoid that acidy burning sensation developing over a few days, particularly if you’re a bit dehydrated.
  8. Don’t forget where camp is: There’s a few funny stories about plaintive cries heard in the middle of the night from people who leave their tent for a quiet pee, to then lose the campsite. A good idea is to secure some reflective material to your tent or suspend in a tree.
  9. Don’t put it off: Don’t lie there thinking that the need to pee will get any better. As soon as you wake up, get out, get it done and get back into the tent. You’ll fall back to sleep much quicker.
  10. Don’t forget to look up: One of the best things about getting up to pee in the night is having the universe to yourself when you look up at the stars. Enjoy the sense of quiet, the Milky Way and deal with your silly fears of the dark once and for all… the boogeyman is not out there.

If you’d like to learn more about reducing your impact, visit Leave No Trace Australia to learn about the 7 Principles of minimal impact bushwalking.