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!

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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.

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!

How to Wash a Down Jacket

When I started this bloggy thing, I never expected it to be a place where I bared my soul. But I’ve made a few confessions here that most ladies wouldn’t share amongst friends, let alone strangers.

But you know how they say, ‘confession is good for the soul’? Well, here goes another one:

My first down jacket!

My first down jacket!

I bought my first down jacket about two years ago on a ski trip to gorgeous Queenstown in New Zealand. It was a memorable week when the town was blanketed from a massive snow dump and with the airport closed for a week, the mountains in white-out, the Speight’s running low – what else could a gal to do but go shopping!

So here’s the confession bit … I washed it for the first time about 3 weeks ago.

I’d like to argue that it was because the manufacturers say to only wash when necessary or that as long as my multiple base layers underneath the jacket are washed regularly (they are), then that justifies it. But the truth is that I was nervous about washing it! I’d never owned such a puffy delight before and was scared that I was going to ruin it.

Well, check out my video for step-by-step instructions on How To Wash a Down Jacket and see me conquer my down washing demons!*

Here’s the rundown:

  1. Follow the manufacturers instructions
  2. Use ‘Pure Soap flakes‘ – (It’s a bit of an old fashioned product and one I’d never used before. When I opened the box, I was struck by the childhood memory of the smell of my Nanna’s laundry).
  3. Work to the instructions on the pack
  4. Dissolve 1 and a 1/2 cups of soap flakes in boiling water
  5. Add mixture to a bath 1/3 full of warm water
  6. Immerse the garment fully in the water, give it a good swish
  7. Soak for 10-15 mins
  8. Drain the bath and rinse the garment thoroughly, 2-3 times in cold water, until the suds disappear
  9. Lay flat in the sun/freshair to dry in its natural shape
  10. Place in clothes dryer for 2 cycles to ensure it’s fully dry and down has fluffed up again

I cheated a bit with some extra tips:

  • Put in the spin cycle of your washing machine after the bath to remove excess water before drying flat outside.
  • Add 2 tennis balls to the dryer to help create movement and extra fluffiness amongst the down inside.

*That’s 1 1/2, one and a half, one point five, 1.5… not 15 cups!

Dinner in a Bag!

I’ve always been pretty fond of the cook-in-the-bag concept out in the bush. Besides doing away with the washing up, it’s another reason not to take a plate/bowl with you, reducing the bulk and weight in your backpack.

Our fabulous Kiwi cousins at Backcountry pretty much have this concept sewn up with their tasty freeze dried meals (I totally rate the Roast Lamb and Beef Curry!). In fact, I pretty much reckon that their meals are the bench mark when it comes to tasty meals in the wilderness.

The other day, I made the decision to head out bush at the last minute and not only had my own stash of dehydrated meals run out, but I didn’t have time to get to a camping store to grab a Backcountry. Sniffing around the supermarket I thought I’d experiment with something that wasn’t promoted as cook-in-bag, but as it was in a foil lined sachet, I thought I’d give it a red hot go!

Not designed for cook-in-bag

Not designed for cook-in-bag (and the wine bladder has water in it… honest!)

Voila! Ainsley Harriott’s Roasted Vegetable Cous Cous, cooked in it’s own sachet!

I knew that the ‘roasted vegetable’ component of the product would be pretty light on, probably needing a magnifying glass to find the vegies, so I took a ziploc bag with some dried vegies (dried peas and dried shallots) from the supermarket and two types of dried mushrooms from the Asian supermarket, added herbs & chilli powder and some good ol’ Biltong, which I threw in before adding the water.

Then, just like a Backcountry, I simply added boiling water, folded over the top and sat upright for about 10 mins, waiting for it all to get hot, gooey and tasty – then ate it right out of the bag. Easy!

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8 Tips to Using a Dehydrator to make tasty hiking food!

One of the questions I get asked most is what do I eat in the bush? It might also explain why my Basic Food for Hiking Video is the 2nd most popular on the channel. Us hikers love our food!

With all that fresh air and exercise, we sure build up healthy appetites and I’m not convinced that all of it is about ensuring correct nutrition (see A Little Tipple in the Bush). So how do we guarantee tasty, healthy food, whilst keeping pack weights to a minimum? How do we enjoy such treats as Mussaman Lamb or Spag Bol in the middle of the wilderness?… The answer is dehydrating!

If alchemy is the art of turning lead into gold, then dehydrating is like some strange kind of bushwalking alchemy. Here’s some tips to get you started!

  1. The Dehydrator

    Dehydrators - like a series of trays with a hairdryer!

    Dehydrators – like a series of trays with a hairdryer!

    Dehydrators are made up of a number of trays.  In this example there are 5 trays sitting on the base tray. The bottom of each tray is grids which allow for air to flow freely throughout the various trays and around the food. There are also inlay sheets which sit inside the trays and allow you to dry liquids, sauces or fruit leathers. The dry air is generated in the lid section, which is very similar to a low voltage hair dryer. There are quite a few options out there on the market, this one (Sunbeam Healthy Food Dryer) is one of the cheapest at around AUD$100 new. You can pay up to $400+ depending on the model and the functions available. For instance, this model doesn’t have a timer, which would be a helpful thing.  However, you can get around this by using a basic electrical timer that you use between the powerpoint and the plug of the dryer.

  2. Preparation

    Broccoli keeps it's colour if it's blanched first!

    Broccoli keeps it’s colour if it’s blanched first!

    Before placing your food in the dehydrator, you will need to do some preparation.  At the easy end of the spectrum is simply slicing fruit or veggies into small pieces, whereas at the other end of things, is cooking and preparing a full meal. Check your instruction manual which contains loads of helpful advice and tables about the necessary preparation.  Some veggies or fruit need prep such as dipping in lemon juice or blanching in hot water first.  From experience, these simple steps certainly enhance the end product – so if possible, don’t skip this step.

  3. Choosing what to dehydrate

    When choosing meat to dehydrate, the best way to get the most effective drying (and let’s face it, we don’t want to get sick out in the bush) is to use mince meat.  Thankfully, there are lots of options available at your local supermarket – beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork and for us Aussies, kangaroo.  (If you ask your butcher nicely, he will mince almost anything for you. Tripe anyone?) Almost everything that goes into the dryer will need to be sliced small to ensure that you get the most surface area, allowing the warm dry air to circulate around as much of the food as possible.

    Butter Chicken after drying

    Butter Chicken after drying

  4. Cook it up!

    For this example, I cooked up a big pot of lamb mince and used a packet sauce mix of Mussaman Lamb.  I followed the recipe on the packet (except for using mince instead of pieces of meat), but also added a stack of my own (small cut) vegetables and fresh herbs.

    Just make a normal meal - but use mince!

    Just make a normal meal – but use mince!

  5. Drying

    Slice things thinly and uniformly for best results

    Slice things thinly and uniformly for best results

    Once the preparation or cooking is done, place the food onto the trays in a single layer.  Again, this is to ensure maximum space around the food to aid drying.
    Dishes with sauce or liquid need to sit on the inlay tray and obviously not onto the normal hole covered trays.  With my dehydrator, I can use the base tray for saucy dishes also.  Note that this base tray dries food quicker than any other area in the dryer. Check the manual that came with the appliance for estimated drying times.  There are no definitive drying times for each type of food as times depend on not only the size of each piece of food, but also the humidity and outside temperature.

    For example:  I once dried Mussaman Lamb in December (Aussie Summer) and it took 14 hrs to dry.  Then, in April (Aussie Autumn) I also dried Mussaman Lamb and it took 8hrs 15mins.

    To make the most of your drying time, don’t just fill one or two trays.  Put a meat dish into two trays, then fill the others with veggies and fruit.  As each type of food will dry at different times, it is important to keep checking on them throughout the process. Each person will find a way that works for them in this, however I tend to check after 6 hrs which will give me an idea of what the overall time is going to be. If you’re doing this overnight, your alarm clock will become your noisy partner in the dehydrating process. The finished product will differ for each type of food. Your instruction manual will give you a description of what to expect and how to know that it is done. The best description I’ve heard for correctly dried mince meat, is kitty litter. Meow!

    Dried Mince looking a bit like kitty litter!

    Dried Mince looking a bit like kitty litter!

  6. Storing the dehydrated food

    Once the food has finished drying, store them in portion sized Ziploc bags. You’ll find that when it is dried, it’s hard to figure out how much a portion is. So make this calculation before you dry. Look at your cooking pot and decide that how many dinners it will cover. Then divide the dried food into this many Ziploc bags.
    Write the date and contents on the bag with indelible pen and place in the freezer.

    Keep notes on your dehydrating efforts

    Keep notes on your dehydrating efforts

    Check your instruction manual for details on storage life. Keep a record of your dehydrating history, rating the humidity on the day and the start/finish times, along with any pre-treatment needed.  This is how you can learn and tweak for your next time.

  7. Out on the track 

    To make it easier for yourself, you may wish to add your other dry ingredients to the Ziploc bag before you head off on your trip.   For example:  Add in other dehydrated veggies such as Surprise Peas or Beans or rice noodles.  This way you have a full meal in a bag. When you arrive at camp, simply pop all the contents of the bag into a billy and cover with cold water.  Put the lid on (to keep the craw

    P1010541

    Meal in a bag!

    lies out) and set aside for an hour.  Perfect time to light the fire and have happy hour! After an hour, simply place the billy over the heat.  Check by tasting the meat.  If it’s still chewy, continue to heat through – leave the lid on and simmer.  Stir frequently. Bon Appetit!

  8. What not to dry

    Being a regular eater of tofu at home, I thought I’d give this a go for the track as well.  Yes, it dried quite successfully, however (thankfully) I gave it a test rehydrate at home before risking taking it out into the bush.

    Whatever you do... don't dehydrate tofu!

    Whatever you do… don’t dehydrate tofu!

    This photo shows the slice of tofu after sitting in water for 24hrs. The best way to describe the texture of it at this stage would be like the bicycle inner tube that I take as an emergency fire lighting tool. Sorry vegetarians… I tried.

  • HOT TIP! Mince represents the major tip in choosing what to dry – Good things come in small packages!
  • HOT TIP!  If you’re a busy person (who isn’t these days?) and you are trying to get a stack of dehydrating done for an upcoming extended trip, I suggest cooking up enough for dinner that night, and then putting all the leftovers into the dehydrator and letting it run through the night.

Goodluck with your dehydrating efforts. I’d love to hear your experiences, recipes and other tips!

Thanks to Swantje and her lovely family (from http://textileshed.wordpress.com) I met at Kanangra Walls over Easter for the inspiration for this post!

Lightweight Dental Hygiene

I’ve always thought that the concept of cutting off your toothbrush handle to reduce space and weight in your pack was either a joke, or a bit of an urban myth.

Tim and his weight reduced toothbrush

Lightweight Dental Hygiene

However, as you can see from this shot taken in the Grose Valley last weekend, my mate Dr Tim has proven that it is in fact, a reality.

There are downsides however, as he reports that it’s actually quite tricky to clean your teeth (especially the back ones) without the leverage that a handle gives you…

… who knew?