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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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?

How to Convert a Tent to Fly-only

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

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

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

Just some of the tools needed to pimp my tent

Just some of the tools needed to pimp my tent

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

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

Easton Kilo 2P tent setup as Fly Only

Easton Kilo 2P tent setup as Fly Only

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

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

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

Six Foot Track Project Launch!

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

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

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

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

Geoff goes for a slide at Norths Lookout

Geoff goes for a slide at Norths Lookout

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

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

Guess who on the bridge?

Guess who on the bridge?

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

Hope you enjoy it!

Gear Review – Macpac Tasman 45


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

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

Manufacturer:  Macpac

Product:   Tasman 45

Link:  Macpac Product Info

Empty Weight: 1.1kg (size 2)

RRP: AUD$299

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

Test Date: 4-6 October 2013

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

How I’ve changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul's beaten up GoLite

Paul’s beaten up GoLite

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

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

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

The Philosophy Corner

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

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

Joanna smiling whilst dragging packs through the narrow slot pass

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

The Basics

Specs measure up on the scales

Specs measure up on the scales (2.42lbs)

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

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

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

Ettrema Wilderness - A perfect testing ground.

Ettrema Wilderness – A perfect testing ground.

Harness

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

Reduced padding on shoulder straps

Reduced padding on shoulder straps

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

I personally love the orange /grey colour combo!

I personally love the orange /grey colour combo!

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

Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabric

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

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

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

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

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

Hydration Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOT TIP

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

WHAT I LOVE

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

    Fold over edge on side pockets help stop stuff falling out

    Fold over edge on side pockets help stop stuff falling out

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

JURY’S OUT

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

    Shoulder straps couldn’t really be tightened any further

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

THE VERDICT

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

Hell yeah!

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?