The journals that follow come from my experiences of five decades of bushwalking with friends and family. They are accounts of bushwalks and kayak trips that range from long distance treks… occasionally arduous, through to easy day walks or maybe even just an hour or two poking around in my sea kayak. For those of you addicted to those interminable blow by blow navigational track notes, track logs and lists of waypoints, look elsewhere. But if you share a geographer’s enthusiasm for maps and journeys across landscapes, read on. I hope you find them informative and perhaps entertaining. And as that great 16th century Dutch maritime explorer, Abel Tasman noted: “He who might wish to know his country must first walk over it.”
Bushwalking is an Australian word. You may know it as hiking, tramping, hill walking, rambling or trekking.
Using a map and compass is a basic skill that should be mastered by any walkers who intend to venture away from marked tracks and trails. There is nothing mystical about the use of a map and compass or a GPS for that matter. These skills are very easy to learn and there are numerous publications and web sites that can give assistance. My favourite publication is a little booklet published by Geoscience Australia: Natmap: Map Reading Guide (Geoscience Australia, Canberra. 2013). I confess to using GPS regularly, usually to clarify tricky navigational issues. While I like my map and compass for navigation, I was an early adopter of GPS technology and have been using a GPS and GIS software since the early 1990s. In addition to a map and compass my walking kit does contain an Android phone using geo-referenced map files. As insurance I cart along a small solar powered phone power bank. Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy unfolding a map sheet and get a feel for the elements of the broader landscape as well as the satisfaction of finding my way across an unknown landscape.
Useful links on Bush Navigation
- Bushwalking NSW has a very good tutorial webpage covering the basics of map and compass navigation.
- Kosciuszko Huts Association has an excellent webpage with links to a tutorial on GPS useage and a downloadable copy of the book Exploring GPS: A GPS Users Guide ( NSW Dept of Lands 2007).
Tricks from an old track dog
- Packing your rucksack. Get your pack as light as possible without sacrificing too much comfort. This means leaving out gimmicky junk, avoid duplicating group gear and for the well-heeled walker treating yourself to light-weight gear. For example, one GPS or PLB per group is enough. All gear that you need for the day: water, compass, map, lunch, raincoat should be readily accessible, usually at the top of the pack. My AARN pack has front pockets which makes everything so much easier. Well done Mr Aarn. Don’t tie stuff to the outside of your pack, it looks messy and can catch on shrubs or fall off. Waterproof your kit by sealing in dry bags or plastic bags. Again my Aarn pack has built -in dry bags. A pack cover as well is a good measure.
- Know your limits and be prepared for the conditions. You should always dress for the conditions expected and carry safety gear: first aid kit, sun screen, hat, water, food, torch, PLB ( if you own one) and a small survival kit which includes matches.
- Separation & getting “lost”. Don’t panic. Unless you are absolutely certain of your mistake & how to retrieve the situation STAY PUT. It is easier for a search party to find a stationary hiker than someone who keeps moving around. Find some shelter and water and try to attract attention by three blasts on your whistle. Your whistle should be attached to your rucksack where it is quickly available. A smoky fire is also useful to attract searchers. Avoid setting off a PLB unless it is a dire emergency.
- First Aid Kit: Every hiker should carry their own first aid kit on all walks in the bush in a waterproof container & have it readily accessible. I’m not a great fan of splitting up first aid items between members of a hiking party just to save a few grams in weight.
- Water: A very important consideration in Australia. Two litres per person per day is a good starting point. In hot open country you will need more. While through walking I often carry three litres per day & and top up whenever possible. A good splash down or swim is always a great method of cooling your body. Water from creeks can no longer be trusted and should always be treated before drinking. I always treat my water now, even from campground tanks. Never rely on someone else to provide you with water.
- Walking Poles: I use a pair of Leki poles especially when carrying heavy loads over long distances. They are very useful for creek crossings and downhill travel.
- Footwear: Whatever footwear you decide on, make sure they are comfortable with plenty of toe room and are well worn-in. I prefer leather boots but trail shoes are also good option. I wear two pair of socks to help reduce the possibility of blisters.
- Blisters: On very long walks blisters are possible even with well fitting and comfortable foot wear. If you feel a “hot-spot” developing, pull over as soon as possible and apply plenty of tape over the spot. This is your last chance to avoid getting a blister. I use strapping tape but my friends use those excellent commercial grade blister pads.
- Emergency Contact: Make sure that someone you can trust knows where you are walking. Provide them with your itinerary and a mud map. But remind them that delays are always a possibility, so agree on a time for them to wait before raising an alarm. Give your leader contact details for emergencies. This could be a relative or a friend.