Hiking Poles and Nordic Walking – What’s the story?

It’s been a few years since I’ve used hiking poles, but lately I’ve had a dodgy knee and have thought that they might be helpful once more. Actually, after a rather spectacular face plant whilst trail running a month ago, I’ve now got two of them. Dodgy knees that is.

With the speed at which technology changes, I thought I’d do some research and find out what’s the latest thinking around poles, their uses and benefits.

Helen - Nordic Walking Instructor… amongst many other inspiring achievements!

Helen – Nordic Walking Instructor… amongst many other inspiring achievements!

Thankfully, I have a good buddy who apart from having an awe inspiring record of marathons and ultra marathons, she is also a qualified Nordic Walking instructor. Yep… those wacky folk who can look like preying mantis on tracks with poles.

Here’s her inspiring creds – makes me go weak at the knees just thinking about it!

  • Hiking Killimanjaro
  • Wild Endurance 50 & 100km
  • Oxfam Trailwalker 100km
  • Six Foot Track Marathon
  • Kepler Challenge NZ
  • Marathon des Sables, Morocco (250km staged race in the Sahara desert)
  • The North Face 100km
  • Everest Marathon, Nepal (3 week trek to start line at 5100m then a 42.2km race back down)
  • Verdon Canyon Challenge, France
  • Great North Walk 100’s (173km non-stop race)
  • Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, France (unfinished business!)
  • Ultimate Trails 100km, Lake District UK

Plus some handy qualifications to back up her experience:

  • Level 2 – Cert IV Personal Trainer
  • Wellness Coach
  • Nordic Walking Instructor

She generously agreed to this interview – thanks Helen!

Tell me a little bit about your experience and how you got into fitness in the outdoors.

In 2008 I joined Sydney Bushwalkers and soon became a walks leader for the more popular tracks around Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  Favourite walking areas are around the Grose River, Mount Solitary and Lions Head in the Blue Mountains and locally around Sydney Harbour and Ku-ring-gai & Berowra NP’s.

After taking on the challenge of Kanangra to Katoomba in a day and Six Foot Track in a day with SBW, I soon developed a healthy appetite for endurance walks which grew into a love of ultra marathons.

Arms should be comfortably at the 90 degree angle to check for correct length in Nordic Walking.

Arms should be comfortably at the 90 degree angle to check for correct length in Nordic Walking.

Why should someone use trekking poles? What’s the benefits? How can they help?

There are lots of benefits from using trekking poles but the most significant would be the reduction of wear and damage to the lower joints.  Using poles reduces impact loads on the legs by about 5kg when walking on level ground and about 8kg on an incline.  This reduction in impact stress on the lower joints significantly reduces wear and risk of injury to the knees, feet, ankles and hips.

Using trekking poles can also help prevent back pain and injury.  Walkers tend to naturally lean forward.  When carrying a backpack, they tend to lean further forward bringing the load over the weight bearing forward leg.  Weight is then being supported by a bent spine with the potential for back pain and injury.  Correct pole technique introduces a forwards and lifting force from below and behind that balances things and posture becomes more erect and allows the walker to more comfortably and safely carry the load.  An upright posture also helps us breathe more easily.

What’s the difference between Nordic Walking Poles and Trekking Poles?

They are very similar, the noticeable difference being that Nordic walking poles have a removable ‘glove’ that allows a specific exercise technique where the hand is opened on the backswing.  The ‘glove’ isn’t required for bushwalking where the arm swing doesn’t change much from the walker’s natural rhythm and style, however, a wrist strap is still a necessity as the wrist straps take the weight NOT the hands.

As the pole moves to behind you, the hand should be loose and free, resting on the strap.

As the pole moves to behind you, the hand should be loose and free, resting on the strap.

Nordic walking instruction teaches you how to use all types of poles correctly using a natural alternate arm leg action.

Opposite legs in action. Right leg and left pole forward.

Opposite legs in action. Right leg and left pole forward.

Also, Hiking Poles have adjustable heights, whereas most Nordic Poles are bought for a set height that you can’t change.

When should poles be used?

With proper technique, poles can be used almost anywhere.  I wouldn’t really use them off-track in scrubby environments as the risk of getting caught up in scrub and causing injury to self or fellow walkers is greatly increased!  It is best to practice stowing them away quickly inside your backpack for the off-track sections and get them back out for fire trails, steep ascents, steep descents or river crossings.

Put your hand up through the strap, the same way as ski poles.

Put your hand up through the strap, the same way as ski poles.

After inserting your hand up through the strap, bring it down over the handle.

After inserting your hand up through the strap, bring it down over the handle.

How the strap should look if using it correctly.

How the strap should look if using it correctly.

I’ve heard that using poles helps me get a full body workout. Is this true? In what ways?

Almost. Walking is known to increase blood flow which in turn reduces the risk of heart attack and other health concerns.  When we walk we engage about 35% of our muscles.  This increases to 90% when walking with poles.  By engaging more muscles, blood flow increases by 20% without increasing exercise intensity.  Walking poles make a good exercise 20% better.

In the Nordic Walking instruction you will also be taught how to use poles for strength and resistance training exercises without the need to go to a gym.

Is there an etiquette to using / not using poles?

When using your poles be especially considerate of your fellow bushwalkers  – not everyone wants to listen to the click clack of trekking poles when they are out to enjoy the natural environment – keep the rubber stoppers handy!

Use the rubber tips if walking on rocks or footpaths.

Use the rubber tips if walking on rocks or footpaths.

I personally wouldn’t recommend using poles in sensitive environmental areas where flora and fauna need to be protected and scraping the pole tips on boulders is also not a good look.   It’s worth practicing your technique so that you keep your poles in check at all times and can put them away easily when not in use.

[Caro: And my personal favourite, if you’ve got them stowed in your pack or if you tend to swing back, don’t stab your fellow walker behind you with them. You will be most unpopular!]

What should I look for when buying a good set of poles?

Poles should be reliable and strong as you will have to trust them for stability and safety.  Cheap poles are not engineered for the task and for the high loads of bushwalking, especially with a backpack.  Serious injuries have been caused by the sudden failure of cheap poles.

Use the poles with the opposite legs.

Use the poles with the opposite legs.

Choose poles for quality and simplicity.  Experienced walkers choose simple poles without overly bulky hand grips or shock absorbers.  Fixed length poles can be cheaper, lighter and easier to use than adjustable poles but aren’t suitable for off track bushwalking when you want to fold them away in your pack.

Look for poles that have minimal protrusions to catch on undergrowth and lawyer vine!   Strong, light weight material options are carbon fibre (graphite) and ‘high tech’ aluminium alloys.  Graphite can suffer impact damage so the more robust aluminium is preferred for bushwalking.

In summary

Walking poles help bushwalkers enjoy their activity more, with less fatigue, less risk of fall injuries, less risk of wear/damage to lower body joints and with improved exercise to remain fitter, healthier and more physically active for longer.

Two poles or one?

Bushwalkers who use just one pole for some added stability get only that one benefit.  Poles are used as a pair to receive the full health and fitness benefits.

Other uses

  • Poles can be used to hold up a ‘fly’ shelter when there are no convenient trees or branches lying around.
  • In emergencies can be used as a splint or put 2 inside a sleeping bag to make a stretcher

P1000166

Can’t I just use a fallen branch?

As they have no wrist strap to take the weight – muscles in the forearm will become stiff from holding on too tightly and branches are more likely to break and cause injury.

The plug!

In September 2014, Helen will be starting Nordic Walking/Trekking Pole instruction sessions in Sydney for those who may be interested in learning correct technique or looking for a 90% muscle workout – let’s make that 95% if you smile. Dates/location TBC. You can contact Helen at GrpExAus@bigpond.com.

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Easy Hiking Food for Overnight Trips (That’s lightweight too!)

I’m still staggered by the number of people who say that planning and organising food is the issue that stops them from doing overnight hikes.

There’s really no reason these days for using that excuse and my suspicion is that if you’re still using it, then the real issue isn’t to do with the food, but something else. (Ouch!)

I’ve already done this video on Basic Food for Hiking last year, so here’s a refresher to prove that it can be as easy as a trip to your local supermarket or even hopping online and letting someone else do all the work for you.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of supermarket options, and only if you’re keen, you can worry about dehydrating your own food and getting into the other myriad of options available to you.

1.  The “Let someone else worry about it” option

Ready to go 24hr Ration Packs

Let someone else do all the work - Strive Food 24hr Ration Pack.

Let someone else do all the work – Strive Food 24hr Ration Pack.

I mean really. If you just want the easiest option and don’t want to think about it, order a 24hr ration pack that is ready to go. There’s a few varieties that I’ve come across and they’re pretty good. Just check the overall weight and what cooking/preparation you need. eg. do you need to take a stove and billy? (PS: I’m going to be doing a video review on the Strive Food 24hr Ration Pack very soon!)

 2. The “I’ll do some of the thinking” option

Pre-packed Dehydrated Meals

This is simply a trip to your outdoors store (or buy online) purpose made dehydrated hiking meals. There’s a stack of different varieties available these days and some brands, such as Backcountry, come with the easiest of all preparations. ie. Open and stand up the pack, pour in boiling water, close the pack for 10 mins, then eat. Many of these are surprisingly tasty. You can buy packs for all meals, but you might just want to grab the evening meal and substitute it with your supermarket options below.

Enjoying the view from Mt Solitary whilst the billy boils.

Enjoying the view from Mt Solitary whilst the billy boils.

3. The “I’ll grab what I need when I’m shopping and save money” option

DIY Supermarket Option

No offence, but if you can go to a supermarket, you can organise easy overnight hiking meals. Here’s my super simple meal plan for a weekend trip. (Australian available product names used.)

And to make it even easier, you can Download my Hiking Food Shopping and Prep List here, and take it with you to the shops!

Seeds, Fruit & Nuts - The foundation of every good Scroggin.

Seeds, Fruit & Nuts – The foundation of every good Scroggin.

Saturday

Breakfast

  • N/A. Eat it at home super early before you hit the road for the track or take it with you. I usually take a coffee and toast in the car.

Morning Tea

  • Muesli Bar and handful of Scroggin (nuts, dried fruit, etc)
Muesli Bars - Loads of choice!

Muesli Bars – Loads of choice!

Lunch

  • Crackers or flat bread of your choice (Vita-Weats, Rice cakes,  Mountain Bread, Lebanese Bread)
Crackers are easy and lightweight.

Crackers are easy and lightweight.

  • Cheese (Baby-Bell, Laughing Cow, Picon, etc)

Processed cheese like these can be kept out of the fridge.

Processed cheese like these can be kept out of the fridge.

BabyBel Cheese

BabyBel Cheese

  • Salmon/Tuna sachet (smaller 100g) or little 95g tin eg. Tuna with lemon pepper, tuna with tomato and onion, salmon with smokey flavour
Salmon or Tuna slices in sachet.

Salmon or Tuna slices in sachet.

      • A few slices of Salami (1/3 of your supply)
      • Handful of Scroggin if you’re still hungry

Afternoon Tea

      • Muesli Bar and handful of scroggin
      • Jelly snakes/sweets
By late afternoon, you might appreciate a sugar hit to get you up the last hill.

By late afternoon, you might appreciate a sugar hit to get you up the last hill.

Dinner

      • Happy Hour to share (eg. Bag of soy chips, tube of Pringles)
Pringles or similar keep well in your pack. It's nice to have something to share with your mates before dinner!

Pringles or similar keep well in your pack. It’s nice to have something to share with your mates before dinner!

      • Cuppa Soup
You can now buy individual sachets of Cuppa Soup. Perfect if you never touch the stuff in the city.

You can now buy individual sachets of Cuppa Soup. Perfect if you never touch the stuff in the city.

      • Pasta and sauce sachet (eg. Continental – Napoletana)

Packet Pasta & Sauce - loads of options

Packet Pasta & Sauce – loads of options

The tomato based flavour ones work best with your salami

The tomato based flavour ones work best with your salami

      • Salami (non-heat treated)
      • Chocolate to share for dessert

Chocolate - every hikers perfect dessert!

Chocolate – every hikers perfect dessert – How to make friends around the campfire!

And if you really want something to drink before bed (think about it), a hot choccie could be nice.

And if you really want something to drink before bed (think about it), a hot choccie could be nice.

Sunday

Breakfast

      • Muesli or cereal of your choice in ziplock bag (add dessert spoon of powdered milk to bag at home)
      • add some dried fruit if you wish for some flavour and fibre!
There's great varieties of dried fruit now available. Add it to your brekkie.

There’s great varieties of dried fruit now available. Add it to your brekkie.

      • Moccona coffee sachet or coffee bag or tea
There's also coffee bags available, which tend to have a stronger flavour.

There’s also coffee bags available, which tend to have a stronger flavour.

Morning  Tea

      • Muesli Bar and handful of scroggin

Lunch

      • same as Saturday (different flavour tuna)
I've been known to use the lid and ring pull as a spoon to scoop out the salmon… be careful though!

I’ve been known to use the lid and ring pull as a spoon to scoop out the salmon… be careful though!

Afternoon Tea

      • same as morning tea

…and if you screw your nose up at having the same thing 2 days in a row, or no fresh food, suck it up Princess. It’s two days for goodness sake!

This gives you a shopping list (Which you can download here) for the weekend as follows:

      • 1 box sandwich size ziplock bags
      • 500g fruit and nut mix (the yummiest looking you can find)
      • 1 bag  M&Ms
      • 1 bag snakes or sweets of your choice
      • 1 box muesli bars
      • 1 packet of crackers or flat bread
      • 2 small packets (100g) or small tins (95g) of flavoured tuna or salmon
      • 1 x 20cm salami (non-heat treated)
      • 1 bag Baby Bell cheeses (‘little baby cheeses’) or similar
      • Happy Hour (1 large tube of Pringles)
      • 1 packet Pasta and Sauce
      • 1 sachet Cuppa soup
      • 1 family block chocolate
      • 1 box Moccona coffee sachets (I like the cappuccino ones, but wouldn’t drink them in town)
      • Dried fruit (option) I like dried mango or blueberries
      • 1 packet 2min noodles (emergency food)
Every hikers best friend.

Every hikers best friend.

Now the key is not to just pack everything above in your backpack. Here’s the simple prep that I do with these items before I start packing. It’s all about breaking it down, removing the packaging and only taking what you need.

Preparation at home

SNACKS

      • Remove muesli bars from box.
      • Take 4 only and leave the rest.
      • Put 3 large handfuls of fruit and nut mixture into a ziplock bag. Leave the rest.
      • Add 1 handful of M&Ms to fruit and nut ziploc bag. Leave the rest.
      • Take your packet of snakes/sweets as is.

BREAKFAST

      • Put one serve of muesli/cereal in ziploc bag.
      • Add 1 heaped dessert spoon of powdered milk
      • Add sugar if you must
      • Add small handful of dried fruit (optional)
      • Put 2 tea bags or coffee sachets in a ziploc bag. Leave the rest.

LUNCH

      • Put salami in ziploc bag and make sure you have a small pen knife to cut it with. You might even want to put the knife the bag.
      • Take salmon/tuna tins as is.
      • Take 4 baby cheeses. Leave the rest.
      • Count out the number of crackers you will eat for each lunch and put into one ziploc bag. (I take 4 rice crackers for each lunch = 8)

DINNER

      • Take happy hour as is (Pringles tubes are a good way of protecting the chips).
      • Take 1 cuppa soup and leave the rest.
      • Take pasta and sauce packet as is.

Oh and don't forget to take something as emergency food, just in case you get back late or are benighted.

Oh and don’t forget to take something as emergency food, just in case you get back late or are benighted.

Beef Jerky makes a good alternative to salami, especially if you're hiking in the tropics or hot weather!

Beef Jerky makes a good alternative to salami, especially if you’re hiking in the tropics or hot weather!

Tents as Tiny Houses

Up until a week ago, I’d never heard the term, Tiny House.

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

My tent – My ultimate Tiny House

That was until I read this blog post by Wild and Scruffy, who writes one of my favourite blogs. On the surface, she doesn’t seem to have anything in common with me. For one, she is married with kids, but that doesn’t make her a Mummy Blogger; She takes nice photos, but that doesn’t make her a photographic blogger; she writes about the bush and outdoors only occasionally, so she’s no hiking blogger. Essentially, she is a good writer with a great way of bringing me back to the simple things in life. She reminds me to reflect on what’s truly important, sometimes through the mundane of day to day life.

My tiny home tent on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

My tiny home tent on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

As I was watching the documentary by Kirsten Dirksen I was inspired to think differently about home and what constitutes it.

We’ve all thought about it at one time or another… When is enough, enough? When does the hunting-gathering drive of stuff, overtake the need that the stuff was originally fulfilling?

Home for the night in 100 Man Cave, Kanangra-Boyd NP.

Home for the night in 100 Man Cave, Kanangra-Boyd NP.

Wild & Scruffy’s post and the doco got me thinking about my own tiny house (which only met the bank’s criteria for granting a mortgage whereby it had to be >50m2, because it has a parking space and a storeroom) and my even tinier house, my tent, fly and other shelters that I sleep under in wild places.

Various shelters on the Colo River, NSW. Walrus optional for floating down river!

Various shelters on the Colo River, NSW. Blue walrus optional for floating down river!

I’ve been living in the same place for over 10 years now, and over the past few years I’ve been tossing around the concept of stepping up in size. From one bedroom to two and a balcony would be nice. There seems to be this cultural drive, a momentum to be continually seeking ‘the next thing’, which invariably means, the next ‘bigger’ thing. Where improvement is measured by a change of status, perceived from your home, which apparently… is meant to bring happiness.

Having watched the doco and done some thinking, all that the endless striving seems to bring is debt. Debt which means your life is controlled by the necessity to earn a certain income, work a certain job and debt that brings incalculable fear and anxiety if you lose that job.

Sunset on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru.

Sunset on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru.

Are we designed to live in that cycle of control and fear?

One of the very basic things that draws me to wild places, especially overnight and extended walks, is the ability to be self sufficient. To know that when I leave the carpark, I have everything I need to eat, sleep, drink and be happy for x number of days. This isn’t about chest-beating, hunter-gatherer, knife-carrying, beast-killing, Bear Grylls urine-drinking survival style techniques. My friends and I don’t belong to that style of wilderness living, sorry.

Sleeping in an overhang

Sleeping in an overhang

But the comfort that the few items I carry comfortably on my back all have a purpose and that everything will be used – although hopefully not the first aid kit or PLB!

Essentially, our shelters that we build for ourselves, whether they be tents, fly-only, hammocks or even under an over-hang or cave, are tiny houses in the extreme. How can you describe the feeling you get when you look around your shelter by head torch and realise that you have everything you need?

Turtle like, we carry what we need and live simply for those few days that we venture out. The challenge to myself (maybe to you to?) is how can we bring this philosophy into our everyday lives?

This rethink stopped me in my tracks. I’ve discovered a new joy for my existing tiny house and rather than looking to the unknown of the bigger and better, (more debt, more control, more fear), I’m excited and refreshed about living in the now, living deliberately with what I have and continuing a practice I started in 2013, which was the ‘Urge to Purge’… but more on that another time!

Q:  What tips do you have for finding and maintaining simplicity in your life?

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?

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!

What’s Your Excuse?

When I started this whole bushwalking/hiking thing about 13 years ago, I was astounded at how unfit I was.

If you’d asked me to fill out a form that included a question about my fitness, e.g.: unfit / average / fit / marathon fit, I thought I was average, possibly even average-fit. As a desk junkie during the week, I still managed to get out and walk the suburbs regularly, could happily walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge (one of my favourite past-times) and would take the stairs at work.

But it wasn’t until I started venturing in the outdoors with people who had serious fitness (especially the ‘rock-scrambling-up-800m-elevation-with-an-overnight-pack-and-still-holding-a-conversation-type-of-fitness’), did I begin to learn what being fit is really all about.

Talk about everything being relative!

During that painful first 12 months, I discovered a range of techniques to blend in with the others and now, over time, I’ve learnt that there are often more actors in the outdoors than in NIDA.

The video above shows some of my excuses… what’s yours?

Backcountry Bakery

This week we say g’day to Matt McClelland*, who has kindly contributed this tasty guest post!

I love good food when walking.

Matt cooking up a treat in a classic Tassie Hut

Matt cooking up a treat in a classic Tassie Hut

Actually, I love good food anytime and fresh bread is my favourite. Years ago I used to carry one of those stove top oven things – they weigh a ton and use a loooooot of fuel – now a plastic bag does the trick. It all started with muffins. When I said, ‘I love good food’, perhaps I should say yummy food!

OK – so do you want a fresh bread roll on day 4 of your next walk? Here’s how…

Before you set off on your walk:

  1. Buy a packet mix of bread flour and yeast from the supermarket.
  2. Add a handful of the flour (30-50 grams) to a freezer bag
  3. Add a bit more yeast than suggest for the ratio (about 1/2 – 3/4 a teaspoon) to the bag.
  4. Squeeze the air out and tie a slip knot in the bag.
Straight out of the bag!

Straight out of the bag!

Once in camp:

  1. Add a splash of water and knead the dough for about 10 mins till it is a sticky but firm dough.
  2. Leave a bit of air in the bag and tie off with a slip knot and let it rise in your pocket or under your sleeping bag for about 20 mins (ie. a warm place).
  3. Knead it a bit more and then let it raise again (back in the warm place) for another 20 mins.
  4. Now the simple trick… Squeeze the air out of the bag (without squashing your roll) and tie another slip knot.
  5. Drop it in a pot of simmering water for about 25 mins leaving a lid on the pot.  Try turning the roll over about half way through the cooking.
  6. Take your roll out of the water and let it cool for a bit before taking it out of the bag.
  7. Enjoy the smell of fresh soft roll!
  8. If you want to add a crust, a few seconds over a flame will do the trick.
Hmmm, I can almost smell it from here!

Hmmm, I can almost smell it from here!

Now all you have to do is use the hot water to make up a tasty soup, add a smidge of butter for your bread, then sit back and enjoy the stars, pondering how great life can be.

A luxury smidge of butter

A luxury smidge of butter

The deal is – if you meet me in camp – you have to share 🙂

A few tips:

  • Bake your first one at home to get the hang of it. Getting the water and kneading right is a tad tricky.
  • Carry a small amount of extra flour in another bag in case you add too much water.
  • Make sure your freezer bags are okay for cooking in.
  • Try to use the hot water for part of your meal so as not to waste the fuel.
  • You can make longer thinner rolls – they cook faster, but can be a bit trickier in the pot.
  • I use a Jetboil stove which has that fancy wetsuit insulation and simmers really well, so it does not use a lot of fuel.
  • You can get by with just one raising – but I prefer two.
  • If cooking muffins or biscuits – use the same baking trick but you don’t need to let them rise (there is no yeast) – choc-chip muffins – yummmmmm!

*Matt McClelland got into bushwalking through Scouts and developed a love for walking and wild places during this time.  Matt lives on the north side of Sydney with his two young kids and one wife.  Matt runs Wildwalks.com and Bushwalk.com and is also the author of “Great North Walk”, “Best River and Alpine walks around Mt Kosciuszko”, “Best Bush and Coast walks on the Central Coast” and the upcoming book, “The Six Foot Track”.  

 

Carrier Carry-on to avoid being Carrion

Quote

Wikipedia states that Wilderness is:

“… a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by human activity. It may also be defined as: “The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.”

Farewell Kanangra... until next time.

Looking down Kanangra Gorge towards Mt Cloudmaker (Favours Telstra)

One of the wonderful things about our wild places, is that they are just that, wild. That’s one of the reasons that we’re drawn to them, to feel, live amongst and experience a place that has remained as it is for thousands of years.

So, although these places entice and delight us with their sense of being off the grid, (excellent article BTW), as with any outdoor adventure, there is always some risk of mis-adventure.

So, being the super-safety-chick that I am (kinda embarrassing if someone involved in Search and Rescue doesn’t take precautions for when things go pear shaped), I took heed when my good mate, Roysta [he of many Kanangra NP adventures], mentioned that he has got a ‘backup-SIM’.

You see, in Australia, there are two main mobile phone (cell) carriers; Telstra and Optus.

Now, I’m not going to get into a discussion here about how some people believe we should have our phones switched off in the bush (that’s fodder for another blog!), but there’s been many times when out on a walk someone will have ‘full bars’ with Optus, but nada with Telstra or vice-versa. Oh and as expected, Vodafail is not included in comparison … for obvious reasons.

As it turns out, both Roysta and I are with Optus, but due to a number of trips out to Kanangra – we can vouch that only Telstra will give you any joy from Seymour or Maxwell Tops.

Optus and Telstra - Hedge your bets!

Optus and Telstra – Hedge your bets!

There are a couple of things to keep in mind if you decide to go down this track:

  1. Before you do anything, backup your contacts and phone data.
  2. You’ll need to Network Unlock your phone from its existing carrier. As an example, here’s the instructions from Optus.
  3. Do your research on the different plans (why are there always so many?) for the pre-paid SIM cards. The best deal I could find was $30 for 6 months validity.
  4. Put a note in your diary to remind you when the valid time is nearly up… you’ll need to buy new credit.
  5. Don’t forget to test your new SIM with both calls and SMS.

Sure, I carry a PLB for when things get particularly dodgy and there’s no phone coverage, but I can tell you, it’s a lot easier, quicker and cheaper to make a 000 or 112 (aka 911) call (or SMS a trusted friend) from a mobile, than to set off your PLB. The Cops and AMSA will appreciate it too!

So, thanks to Roysta, I’m now the proud owner of a ‘backup SIM’ with Telstra…

… Now, if only I could remember the number.

The Point of No Return

It goes without saying that at some time in our outdoors life, we will all have to deal with injury of one type or another. If you’re lucky, it won’t happen on a trip, requiring a rescue, however one of the issues that many of us have to face over time is over-use or recurrent niggles.

Over the last month or so, I had been fighting a dodgy knee. [For us Aussies, we may even call it a Dicky Knee.*] I’d been doing all the right things and consulted a variety of professionals and had got it to a place where I wasn’t experiencing any pain. I was ready to test it out on some big hills.

The perfect opportunity came up when the fabulous Helen, a leader from my club, was leading a 22km day walk into the Grose Valley. You see, near Sydney, our mountains are more about the yawning valleys, stretching out between plateaus, than the traditional Paramount Pictures peak.

Grose Valley and it's yawning

The Grose Valley and it’s yawning valleys

Alas, not even 2kms into the trip, the stabbing 8/10 pain that only happened when stepping up, had returned. Although the pain wasn’t good, the timing was. The point of no return was still ahead. I knew that in about 500m the group was going to turn off the main rim track, that affords incredible views across the abyss, and descend around 600m to the valley floor below. And although stepping down didn’t cause me any grief, I knew that the reverse is true in what Blood, Sweat and Tears (ironic, eh?) sang about in 1969.

I had 500m (at a cracking pace that Helen was setting, mind you!) to make up my mind. It got me thinking. How many times on hikes do we have this opportunity to make a key decision before a point of no return?

Only 500m to decision time

Only 500m to decision time (Track between Pulpit Rock & Govetts Leap)

The decision for me that day was an easy one and sadly I said goodbye to the speedy group as they disappeared down into the lush ferns and waterfalls underneath Govetts Leap. However, the lesson of being constantly aware of not getting yourself into a situation that you can’t get out of, brought about this new video… kinda like a mini risk-assessment.

P1020227

Pulpit Rock through grass, Blue Mts NP

Q: When should you have made a tough decision in the past and didn’t? (Yes folks, I want some war stories!)

 

*Still curious as to how hilarious I thought Hey, Hey was when I was a kid and how downright moanable it truly was on reflection.

My favourite loo

All too often our local councils get the rough end of the pineapple when it comes to people’s opinions on the services that they do / do not deliver.

But right here, I’m going to give a massive shout out to the Blue Mountains City Council for their loos behind the Ivanhoe Hotel in Blackheath.

It’s not that they’re super clean or anything like that, it’s simply basic facilities that provide one rarely provided luxury that a gal really appreciates. Hot water. When the winter temps in Blackheath drop to zero and hiking meeting times are around 7.30am, there’s nothing nicer than warming your hands under the warm tap and then having a warm hand dryer that actually works.

Thanks BMCC!