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?

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How To Light a Camp Fire

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you’ll know that I’m a fan of the saying, ‘there’s many ways to skin a cat.’ This couldn’t be more true than when it comes to lighting a campfire and I’ve seen many different methods used over the years.

When choosing your particular skinning method however, the two important things to bear in mind are going to be:

  1. Safety
  2. Environment

To Fire or Not to Fire:  There are several schools of thought (and also laws) that guide an approach to making a campfire in the bush. In some national parks and other sensitive locations (such as above the snowline), all types of fires are banned, so you’ll need to carry and cook on a camp stove. It’s also important to check the bushfire rating level for days of your trip, which could mean a total fire ban. In some areas of Australia, this includes gas stoves… so be prepared for a no-cook dinner option!

Some clubs and hikers are more comfortable with not having cooking fires as they feel that the environmental impact is not appropriate. Again, many cats… many skins.

The approach I take is one that ensures you leave the campfire area in the same, or better, condition to when you found it. For example, if you are in an off-track area, where there’s been no campfire before, when you leave the campsite there should be no trace of there having been a fire. Although I personally consider this leave no trace, it is important to note that if you were to strictly adhere to the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace then you would not have a fire.

You can see in my video that there are several key points to consider:

  1. Size: Keep the fire small, manageable and containable. Always clear the leaf litter around to ensure it doesn’t catch and keep water on hand for any stray embers.
  2. Choose appropriate timber: By choosing fallen eucalyptus wood, you are choosing a timber that is high in natural oils that burn hot and for a longer time. One environmental concern of fires is using too much timber. Another way of looking at it is that by choosing wisely, you’re also helping natural fire management by getting ride of undergrowth of dead/fallen timber.
  3. Little Soldiers all in a row: Looking at my video, you’ll see an approach to placement of the timber that means you’re creating stable platforms to place billy’s and cooking pots. If you build a fire in a tee-pee/pyramid style, you need to wait for the fire to burn down and create ashes to place pots in for cooking. If you’re working with wet timber however, a tee-pee style is good for drying out the wood.
  4. Return to the Wild: After you’ve finished with the fire, ensure it is completely out by dousing with several litres of water if necessary. Be careful, as heat can still be retained in the ashes and in the ground. Using a stick, remove and scatter the (now cold) ashes and coals around a flat surface (if you’ve kept your fire small, there should be too many!) and cover with the original leaf litter that you removed to create the fire in the first place. Can you still tell that there used to be a fire?

Bushwalking/Hiking Etiquette or How to make friends in the Bush (The Unofficial List!)

So, here’s my tips for creating a bunch of happy campers aka The UNOFFICIAL list of Bushwalking or Hiking Etiquette:

  1. Don’t be late: For the leader who has planned out the walk, they may have calculated times for all sorts of things, including returning to cars/making camp by sunset or witnessing the once annual mating call of the Southern Yellow Crested Tit* that can only be heard when facing 178 degrees south at 11.57 am on the peak of Tit Hill. This type of thing is even more important if they’ve had to take things like tidal charts into consideration if crossing river mouths or walking along edges of tidal rivers/streams/beaches. What with modern technology as it is, a call or sms is appropriate if going to be late. In the circles I move in, it’s readily accepted that you wait for 15 minutes at the start for someone, then leave.
  2. Ready and raring to go: Being on time isn’t just about turning up at the start point, it means being ready to start at that time. I’ve had some people turn up for a walk and need to change clothes, call their Mum, eat breakfast, etc whilst everyone else is waiting.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 – 6 7 8 9 10 – 11 12: Our National Parks and Wilderness Areas are pretty special. It’s for this reason (and safety) that there are rules around the size of groups allowed out at the same time. Generally speaking, in Aussie National Parks it’s 12 people and 8 in Wilderness Areas. There are some very grey (I call them dodgy) times where some people believe it is OK to split the group up if they’re over subscribed. I’m not a fan of this.
  4. Burn baby burn: It’s a given that you never leave any rubbish anywhere in the bush. What’s not a given, is everyones feelings about what is acceptable to burn on a fire (if you’re having one). Some people are happy to burn plastic (green smoke and all), whereas others will let out a shrill cry if you so far as waft your noodle packet near the sacred flame. Simply ask before you burn… oh and always wait until people have finished cooking before burning.
  5. So long and thanks for all the fish: If you’re taking tins of tuna or other fish, a handy way to stop the stink is to burn the insides of the tins on the fire. Just don’t forget to dig your tin out of the ashes in the morning, along with any other bits of foil.
  6. No-one likes a gate crasher: Generally speaking, National Parks in NSW have a party limit of 12 and declared Wilderness areas of 8. This means, your Leader is probably keeping a close eye on the number of people booked on their trip. So if you’ve booked and then pulled out, don’t just turn up – not such a nice surprise!
  7. No-one likes a scab: One of the great things about bushwalking/hiking, is discovering how to be self sufficient in the wilderness. So always plan to bring all your own stuff or share food/tents/fly’s, etc with others BEFORE the trip. Don’t turn up at camp and announce, ‘Who am I sharing with?’ or ‘Does anyone have any spare food?’
  8. Leeches – The gift that keeps on taking: When removing leeches, make sure you throw them a good distance away from other people. Then move on promptly.
  9. Be honest about your experience and fitness

    The fish was ‘this’ big: … and I’m ‘this’ fit. Don’t over-estimate your fitness and experience in the bush. If it’s been a year since you’ve been out bushwalking, let your leader know. Oh and going to the gym once or twice a week, does not mean that you’re pack fit for bushwalking for 9 hours on rough tracks. Also, be honest with your leader. If you’re struggling – tell them early.

  10. No-one likes a tight arse: Some bushwalkers are notorious tight wads. So if you’ve been lucky enough to grab a lift in someone’s car – offer them a reasonable amount of cash towards the petrol and running costs. If they won’t accept it, maybe consider popping it into their glove box for a treat when they least expect it.
  11. Say Cheese: Most people are keen on taking a couple of photos on their bushwalks. But there is a limit… like the time when I was in a party escorting a group in difficulty back to their cars (the other half were lost in the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness and I’d activated a Police Search) and one of their party was stopping to take photos… lots of them. Simply be aware of the rest of your party. If everyone else isn’t taking a cazillion of shots – then maybe you should tone it down too.
  12. Karma-Tentra or Tentra-Sutra: You know that really awkward moment when you bump into your neighbour at the letterboxes, the day after you’ve heard them having really loud and presumably athletic sex during the night? Now, imagine the side-ways glances around the breakfast fire or during the day when everyone heard you going for it through the night. So perhaps either exercise the “Boarding School cone-of-silence” or Catholic School abstinence, to avoid the call of ‘AWKWARD”!

    Tents in close proximity at Splendour Rock

  13. Shout out loud: Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so why not buy the Leader/organiser a drink or meal if you stop somewhere on the way home.
  14. Beans means you’re at the back: There’s nothing quite like taking a big deep breath of fresh, wilderness air – Ahhhhh. Unless the person in front of you has been adding to the planet’s methane levels for the last 2 hrs. Of course, it’s better out than in, so if you know you’re having a bit of a windy day down there… volunteer to be ‘Tail End Charlie/Charlene’. If you’re really interested, there’s research that says runners (and other athletes) produce more farts than non-athletes.
  15. Smoking in the bush: Even worse than a lung full of fluffy intestinal-air-pillows is a tasty gulp of tobacco. If you’re addicted and feel the need to smoke when in the bush, use a patch or please move down-wind from everyone, at a good distance away and carry your butts out in an old film canister or similar. And if you are someone who has a penchant for, ‘the green, green grass of home’, remember that quite a few people don’t appreciate another dope on the trip.
  16. Responsibility of the Flickee: … not the Flicker to ensure that you’re not hit in the face with a branch that springs back. You shouldn’t walk so close to the person in front ie. it’s your fault if you cop a mouthful/eyeful/faceful of flora.

    The Flickee

  17. Stick it to em: Along the same lines as above, if the person in front is using walking poles, watch out! However, on this one, there is a bit of responsibility on the Pole-er to ensure they use them correctly and don’t wave them about with no clue.
  18. Windows to the Soul: Sure, you’ve got two of them, but your eyes are so precious and fragile and damage to your eyes in the bush is tricky to treat. If you’re planning on walking through scrub off-track, especially in areas notorious for the spiky and thorny forms of Hakea, wearing a pair of safety glasses is a great way to protect yourself.
  19. Draw breath: Everyone walks for different reasons. The niche group of solo walkers enjoy the silence and solitude. If you’re a ‘walker n’ talker’, consider that not everyone needs to hear your voice all day. If you keep talking, you might find your leader suddenly changing course to ascend a 1000m climb, just to shut you up.
  20. Mobile Phones: If there’s no reason for you to be contacted for important reasons on a walk, please switch them to silent or turn them off. If you’re on call for work or family reasons, just an explanation to everyone at the start might be appreciated by some. Also, a subtle ring-tone might be good, rather than having a bit of GaGa suddenly sprout from your pack in the middle of a quiet rainforest moment.
  21. iPods/MP3 Players: Some people don’t like these at all on walks. But I feel that if the volume isn’t loud enough for others to hear, why should they care if someone wants to listen to music rather than their chatter? On a recent trip up Perry’s Lookdown someone brought out the tunes to help them keep a rhythm and get up quicker. Great idea. Likewise on an extended trip with a lot of road bashing, I’ve been known to listen to podcasts or audio books to pass the time.
  22. You’ve been warned: There’s nothing worse than

    Perfect Lunch Spot on Splendour Rock

    realising that everyone is ready to leave the lunch spot and you still need to pee, re-apply sunscreen, finish reading The Odyssey. The leader should call a 5 minute warning before expecting everyone to be up and walking again. Even better, establish the duration of a rest at the start, eg: “We’ll be having a 40 minute break for lunch”, and then call a series of warnings at 10 mins, 5 mins, etc

  23. Make the hour happy: By now you’ve realised that I’m a big fan of happy hour. That time when you can kick back in front of the fire and chill out after a great day outdoors. Bring a nibble to share with the group and before you know it, you’ll have no room for dinner.
  24. Deer in headlights: When you’re new to wearing a head torch, it’s easy to forget that when you look up to speak with someone (it seems to happen most around the fire or when cooking dinner), you’re shining the torch right into their eyes. Unless you’re a qualified Opthalmologist who does this sort of caper for a living, please desist.
  25. Yes, you smell: It’s a bit of a tradition in my club to head to the nearest pub for a meal and a shandy after a walk. We’ve been known to be shunned from some establishments when we appear covered in leech blood and charcoal after walking through burnt out spots, so it’s a good idea to keep a change of clothes in the car. Whilst you’re at it, a small hand towel and a chux is a good idea along with a bottle of water. Oh… and if you’ve been lucky enough to get a lift with someone in their car, it is always a good idea to change before putting your stinky, dirty, bloody body into their car.
  26. Water, water everywhere: Keep a bottle of water in your car for times when you return after a trip and have run out of water. This is also handy to use with the towel and chux for a bit of a cleanup before hitting the pub.

Q: What are your ‘Unofficial’ etiquette tips for bushwalking or hiking?

* If anyone has ever seen (or heard) a Southern Yellow Crested Tit, I’d love to know.

Wilderness Camping Etiquette or How to win friends in the bush! (The Official List)

I remember when I went on my first trip with the Sydney Bushwalkers Club, (an adventure down the full length of Ettrema Creek from Bullfrog Creek to Coolendel in 4 days… um,

Setting up a Campsite

Think of your fellow campers when setting up your tent (Snowy Mts NP, NSW)

make that 5) I was so exhausted upon reaching camp on the first night, that my only thought was being horizontal. If someone had mentioned ‘jobs’ or ‘chores’ to me, I would’ve used a few choice four letter words in their direction before promptly falling asleep.

It was only after I settled into the routine of the first couple of days that I realised there’s a bit to do at camp when you arrive and it’s so much easier and quicker if everyone pitches in. (Remember: I was still pretty clueless – think “cauliflower” episode).

So here’s the top 5 things I discovered that need to be done (in order) when you get to camp: [or here’s 5 reasons for your fellow campers to get pissed off with you if you simply put up your own tent and disappear inside.]

  1. View from my tent

    Don’t pitch your tent too close (it can be creepy!)

    Selecting your spot: Depending on your shelter of choice, your needs will be different. For Tent-ers, all you want is that perfectly flat spot with soft grass, the Fly-ers have got their eyes out for the same flat spot but also want the magic two trees in perfect proximity, whereas the Hammock-ers couldn’t care less what the ground looks like, as long as the trees are solid. So when choosing your spot, just spare a thought for your fellow campers. If you don’t have a fly or hammock, don’t nab the flat spot between the two perfect trees! Oh, and now isn’t the time to put up your shelter (unless it’s raining or about to). Just drop your pack and start the other jobs. TIP: Spread out across the area. It’s kinda creepy if someone sets up real close when there’s lots of space! And if you know you’re a snorer, please set up on the outer extremes of the site.

  2. Collecting Firewood: If you’re going to be having a cooking fire (after checking there’s no Fire Ban in place and they’re allowed in the area) now is the time to get some firewood. (Watch out for an upcoming video on lighting a cooking fire). This is the hardest task to do in the dark, so do it first before the sun goes down. You can even start gathering it on your way into camp. This is especially helpful if you know you’re staying in an area where firewood is scarce. If there’s enough people, get one person to be the fire lighter/timber sorter, whilst the others are still bringing the timber in. TIP: Don’t forget to stash a small amount of kindling and small sticks inside your shelter at night, to protect from dew/rain if you want a breakfast fire.

    Warming up – Dexs Creek (Kanangra to Katoomba)… just before it snowed.

  3. Gather water: Generally speaking, you’ll always be aiming to set up camp near to a water source. If the sun has gone down, it’s an easier task to do by head-torch as opposed to gathering firewood, dependent on the terrain. Also, if you’re going to be having a bit of an APC** splash n’ dash down near the creek or river, you might appreciate the cover of darkness! If there’s enough people in the party, split the jobs so those getting firewood give their water bottles/bladders/wine bags to those getting water. TIP: Take an empty backpack with you to carry back all the water bottles and take a cup with you in case the water level isn’t deep enough to get the bottles in.
  4. Put up your shelter: OK, so now all the group jobs are done, it’s time to look to creating your own home for the night (unless it’s raining and then this is the first thing you do). If you’re not sure if your spot is exactly flat, lie down on the ground and give it a test drive. If you wake up in the night with a headache and blocked nose, you can pretty much be sure that you’re sleeping with your head below your body. If that happens to you, just spin around inside your tent for the rest of the night. Ah – home sweet home.
  5. Bring something to share: If you thought Happy Hour at your local was a treat, then just wait for Happy Hour around the fire. Bring some nibbles to share with the party as an entree for dinner. Quite often this means that there’s no room for dinner!

Think before you drink… or wash… or pee (Sassafras Creek, Blue Mts NSW)

So that’s the ‘official’ tips on etiquette during setup at camp, checkout the ‘unofficial’ list (coming soon!).

** Arm pits and crotch