Tag Archives: risk

Bushwalking Trip Plan | Routeburn Track, New Zealand | Pt 1

How should I plan a bushwalk in NZ? What are the logistics of such a trip from Australia and within NZ? What maps do I need? Can I upload them to my GPS? What are the risk management requirements of the Routeburn Track ? What is the weather likely to be in November? What special equipment will I need? To whom do I send my trip intentions form, if they are needed? Do I need a permit, and if so from whom? How do I obtain stove fuel or is it provided? Are there huts which I can use or will I need a tent? What emergency communications are available? What is special about the flora and fauna of the area and what field guides should I take? What are the photographic features? How much will it cost?

Invitation to Contribute

I have just started planning a week long trip to the Routeburn Track, in the South Island of New Zealand in November 2011 and thought I would share the process with you as it evolves.  This may not be the way you would do it, and if we differ,  I would encourage you to make alternative suggestions. I will be planning the walk on the basis that it will be independently walked by two experienced, fit bushwalkers, who will share equipment.

The questions listed above came randomly to mind and will all need to be answered before I leave. You may have some other questions you would like answered, if you are intending to do the same trip, or think I have left out and need to add. Your suggestions will be incorporated.

As the planning is a work in progress, it may need to be amended as I progress or receive better advice from others. I am particularly seeking wisdom from those who have walked the track recently and will incorporate your advice with appropriate acknowledgement.

Sequence of planning | Where should I start?

I guess for most people, with limited holidays, the suitability of the time of the year and duration needed are actually the critical  factors, followed closely by the cost.

  • Can I do this trip in November? 
  • How long do I need?
  • Can I afford the trip?

There are four good places to start  for this sort of general information:

  • commercial tramping tours
  • regional tourist associations
  • government departments
  • tramping guide books

With some thorough research,  these sources should provide me with the answers to the following questions:

  • Do they go in November? 
  • How long do they take? 
  • What sightseeing do they incorporate?
  • What are the highlights of the trip that should not be missed?
  • What options ( linking walks) do they provide?
  • Where do they start and finish?
  • What do they charge?

Hopefully, you will be able to help me with this research process.

Other Relevant Posts

Bushwalking Workflow | Planning a Bushwalk
Bushwalking Rescue | Emergency Beacons and Personal Tracking Systems
How do You Organise Your Food for a Multi-day Hike?
Packing for a Bushwalk 
Plan Safer Bushwalks | Weather Forecasts and Climate Records
How much fuel do I need?

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Bushwalk Leadership Training | Is it necessary?

Do bushwalk leaders need training from qualified instructors? Can you learn on-the-job?  Will formal leadership training spoil the informality of Club walks?

First of all, I have to admit that I need no convincing of the benefits of skill training for the outdoors.  I have always believed that training from qualified and experienced practitioners is the best and quickest way to develop skills and confidence in the outdoors. Whenever I have wanted to broaden my outdoor skills,  seeking qualified instructors has always been my first step, and I have then applied this training in my own environment and refined it to suit my personality and goals.

The argument about whether young adults should be taught to drive by their parents or by a qualified driving instructor is similar in my view to how you should learn a new outdoor skill? When I decided to get a small  bus licence a few years ago, my employer paid for some lessons and this taught me that parents are not the best instructors for a learner-driver to have. I soon found that I had developed lots of bad habits over the many years since I first sat for my own driving test, some of which would have been sufficiently serious to fail me in my bus driving test, if not corrected. What if I had tried to teach my own children to drive? Would I have passed on my bad habits to them?

Learning-on-the-job is often the best way to learn, but only if the mentor has kept up-to-date with recent advances and has broad experience outside the Club. Many Clubs have a leadership structure where “leaders-in-training” are assessed and coached by experience Club members, almost all of whom have had no formal training and most of whom, have learnt from other “senior” Club members, who in turn have learnt from other “senior” Club members. There is a real risk that bad habits are passed from one generation of Club members to the next and that this “in-breeding” becomes a Club tradition.

Some Clubs are openly antagonistic to ideas from outside which threaten the status quo and challenge the Club’s way of doing things. Sadly I can recall many years ago, when I was about to attend my first Club walk, being warned never to mention I had any formal bushwalking training.

In many Clubs things have not changed.

Formal leadership and skills training should not spoil the informality of Club walks, rather it should improve the enjoyment and safety of all.

Visit other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Are the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) Relevant to Bushwalking Clubs?

Are the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) relevant to bushwalking Clubs? What are the benefits of adopting the AAS for bushwalking Clubs? What changes would need to be made to Club organisation to do so? Are their legal implications if AAS were adopted? How do the AAS mesh with Club risk management?

“The Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) are voluntary guidelines for undertaking potentially risky activities in a manner designed to promote:

  1. Safety for both participants and providers,
  2. Protection for providers against legal liability claims and criminal penalties, and
  3. Assistance in obtaining insurance cover.

These AAS are NOT statutory standards imposed by law.” (Recreation SA, Bushwalking AAS 2006)

What could be more relevant than that to a bushwalking Club?

Two key statements appear in the AAS:

 “The AAS ……reflects minimal acceptable standards of behaviour expected when planning and undertaking outdoor adventure activities with inexperienced and dependent participants.”

This statement  makes it clear that the AAS are minimal standards which all Clubs should already have adopted when leaders are taking inexperienced walkers and therefore dependent walkers, on Club walks. Dependent does not mean school age, it means having to rely upon others for their safety and well being. In most Club walks there are dependents, whose safety is sometimes ignored by leaders, simply because the leader thinks that as adults they are responsible for their own safety.  The AAS makes it clear that this is not the case.

“Regardless of the extent to which the AAS is adopted, each organisation, guide and leader has a duty of care to its participants to have completed a risk analysis of the activity, and developed a risk management approach to address potential and unexpected situations.”  (Recreation SA, Bushwalking AAS 2006)

Many Clubs don’t take this seriously, with few leaders skilled in making a risk analysis for a bushwalk and even less having the necessary experience to anticipate risks. Pre-walk documentation is often sadly lacking and there is sometimes little vetting of this documentation where it is provided.

Benefits of AAS

I believe adoption of the AAS by Clubs will provide a framework and focus for upgrading the skills of  leaders, which will in turn make walks more enjoyable and safer for participants. The AAS have a focus on risk management and hopefully this will provide the impetus for each Club to develop their own risk management policies.

Each AAS has been developed in the following key areas:

    * Planning
    * Responsibility of the leaders
    * Equipment
    * Environment.

Changes Needed.

To adopt the AAS, your Club will probably need to do some of the following:

  • fine tune your Club walks (group size, leader; assistant: participant ratios, communication)
  • both broaden and deepen your training, both external and internal, to meet the needs of any proposed  leadership structure that you decide to adopt (eg first aid, clothing, group equipment, environment)
  • document the informal procedures your leaders already follow and do very well (eg activity plan, pre-trip documentation, risk management, emergency strategy)
  • more formally and transparently map your leaders and participants skills and experience with the walks they are allowed to lead and partake (eg restrict participation, devise a participation grid)
  • better inform participants of their obligations (eg voluntary assumption of risk,  inherent risks)
  • review the legal implications of your Club’s Constitution and Mission statement (duty to warn, waivers)

Legal Implications

If you can show that you have a transparent and public process to approve leaders and participants for walks based on their skill level and experience, then current advice is that you should be safe from legal claims and penalties.

Are the AAS a liability?  Read more from an alternative viewpoint

To download the relevant Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) click on one of the links below

NSW  AAS
Victorian AAS
Western Australian AAS
South Australian AAS
Queensland AAS
Tasmania AAS

For a less positive viewpoint on the value of the Adventure Activity Standards visit the Adventure Victoria website

Visit other relevant posts in this Bushwalk Leadership Series

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Weighing Up the Benefits of Lightweight Bushwalking.

What are the problems with carrying a heavy pack? Why do some people carry heavier packs than they need? Are there any risks with associated with ultra-light backpacking? Is there a happy median? Why is debate on these topics often controversial?

Most bushwalkers would agree that a light pack is an ideal to which all should subscribe. Some go to extremes to achieve this, and others will never achieve it.  In many bushwalking circles ultra-lightweight backpacking is a hot topic which brings raw emotions to the surface.

Carrying a heavy pack means more stress on your body, slower progress and therefore longer days on the track. The longer you take, the more food you need, the less likely you are to get that window of opportunity between weather fronts, the more likely you will need to cope with a variety of weathers and therefore the more clothing you will need to carry. The problem becomes cyclical: the heavier your pack, the slower you walk , the longer you take, the heavier your pack needs to be!

There are three groups of people who carry heavy packs; those who don’t know better, those who don’t like to take risks and take gear for all eventualities and those who have no choice due to the length of their trip or special needs eg photography. The first group will only learn  from hard experience,  from others and from reading bushwalking forums/blogs. The second group knows better, but due to their personality they don’t want to take the perceived risks of going “unprepared”. The third group have little choice.

Ultra-lightweight backpacking has its risks too! There is a small group who are prepared  compromise safety to save weight. Sometimes the jacket is not durable enough for  the environment, the tent is 3 season instead of 4, the amount of food taken doesn’t cater for possible delays, the shoes/boots won’t stand up to the rigors of the track, safety equipment is left at home, the first aid kit contains little more than a band-aid. I’ve seen it all! Obviously there is another group of experienced lightweight bushwalkers who weigh up all the risks before they set off and are not compromising safety. They select high tech equipment which is lighter but still as durable.

With experience most people reach a happy median; some items are lightweight, some are left behind because the person is prepared to a suffer a little to save weight, others are added because the perceived risk is high. My concern is for those who have just started bushwalking and decide that saving weight is more important than safety.

Any discussion of whether ultra-lightweight/heavy weight bushwalking is risky is often confused by individual walkers perception of what is risky, whether they have a right to take risks and whether their lightweight equipment is more likely to be subject to failure than heavier equipment.

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Plan Safer Bushwalks: Weather Forecasts and Climate Records

Why check the weather forecast before you go bushwalking? How should you use the weather forecast and climate records to help pack and plan your hike?  How can climate records help you?  How can you check the weather during your walk?

Trip Planning

An essential component of trip planning is to check the climate statistics for the region you will be visiting and for the time of the year. This can be a critical component of your planning because there are enormous variations in the weather both within and between States. I usually look at both last years and average statistics for the month I am intending to visit. Finding the nearest weather station often takes a bit of hunting.

You should check out the climate statistics before you go, so that you take the right clothing, food, water and tent and can allow extra days for extreme weather. The stats will give the likelihood of this happening.

For those of you planning a trip to the Tasmanian Central Highlands, you will need to expect lots of rain and some snow even in summer. A winter trip will require special expertise and equipment, which will beyond the expertise of most hikers.

Check the statistics for Scott Peak Dam, just north of Western Arthurs and near Mt Anne . Long term stats show February would be the best time to go if you wanted the least number of rain days. But what clothing should you take?

Daily records for February show: Max temp 35, minimum temp 3, highest rain 42 mm. Long term averages show: 15 raindays, mean max temp  21, mean min temp 9, mean rain 65 mm

I’d be taking a full range of gear: sun hat, sunburn cream, long shirt and maybe long lightweight trousers for the hot days then overpants, rain jacket, perhaps down vest, thermals for the cold.

If you are planning a trip to northern SA (eg the Gammons) in spring check the forecast carefully as the temperature is often in the high twenties or low thirties, when it is high teens in Adelaide. My experience is that it is often 5 -10 degrees warmer than Adelaide but colder at night. 

Check the climate statistics for Arkarooola the nearest weather station.

Long term averages show May to August look best from a temperature perspective (19-20 deg C). Mean min temp are 3-7 deg C, (lightweight sleeping bag weather). Days of rain 3, mean rain 6-10 mm (you may even risk just a fly depending on the month)

Further north in the Gammons, water can also be short supply after six months with little rain. A spring/summer trip is a no, no! Surprisingly, most rain falls in December-March as the tail ends of monsoons sweep down SE from the Kimberley, so May will still have lots of water in rock holes.

Read more on Trip Planning
Taking Enough Water
The weather stats are useful because you can check rainfall for the current and previous few months. You should be able to work out whether rock holes will be full, creeks flowing and surface water available. In Tasmania in summer in certain locations eg Mt Anne, Frenchmans Cap, you can often rely upon deep “yabbie” holes which will usually contain water even when the surface is dry, and can be drained  with a short piece of tubing.
Expected temperature has a significant bearing on how much water you will need to carry. On a warm day, carrying a full pack I need about 4 L during the day, add to that a dry overnight camp and breakfast and 6 litres becomes the minimum to carry between “wet” campsites. You should hydrate before you leave your source of water each day, to reduce the amount you need to carry. Have a couple of extra cups of tea , even drink your teeth cleaning water if you are short.

Spare days
If you are walking in alpine areas, areas subject to flash flooding or in places which are exposed to weather blowing in from the sea, for example the central highlands of Tasmania or the west coast of the South Island in NZ, allowing extra days to sit out a storm or wait for a river to fall ( Franklin or South Coast Track, Tasmania) is essential for safety.

Risk Avoidance and Response

Most bushwalks require some risk analysis  during the route planning stage and this should automatically involve a check of the weather and climate statistics for the locality.
The Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) specifies two units from the Outdoor Recreation Industry Training Package which are helpful
Bushfire Alert
Many Parks close and evacuate walkers when there is an imminent threat of bushfire or on days of high bushfire danger. While  most of us try to avoid walking in the middle of summer, those of us who walk in Tasmania by choice, have to expect the occasional park closure. A little commonsense helps too… check for Park closures before going, don’t walk towards smoke and always have an alternative escape route in case you are cut off by a bushfire.
The Victorian Outdoor Recreation Centre’s Newsletter has some excellent advice. A great resource is their Guidance Note Management of Outdoor Activities for Severe Weather Conditions (November 2009) which is available for download.

Check for bushfire alerts:

Try the iPhone apps

FiresAU . For those of you who live in NSW, Tasmania, SA.

This app lists bushfire alerts ranking them according to proximity to your location, using the built-in GPS. Bushfires are also shown on a map by red pins and your current location by a blue pin. In the case of an emergency, a “canned message” can be emailed to a contact giving your location.

Fires Near Me NSW

This is the official iPhone application of the NSW Rural Fire Service. This application provides information on current incidents across NSW attended by the RFS and other agencies. It also provides information on total fire bans.

Lightning Warnings

Thunderstorms can be dangerous if your caught on an exposed ridge or under a tree while its raining. One way to avoid being caught is to try to work out how far the storm is away, using the lightning flash and the time taken for the thunder to be heard.

One iPhone app that does just this is Thunderstorm-Calculator

Tides
Knowing the predicted tides can be invaluable for those bushwalks where you will be walking along the coast. Two walks come to mind: The Great Ocean Walk along the coast near the Otway Ranges in Victoria and the South Coast Track in Tasmania. Both of these walks require decisions to be made about whether it is safe to walk along the shoreline or whether an inland route should be taken. …and these are decisions not to be taken lightly as both coasts are subject to big waves and strong southerly winds.
There are several iPhone apps which give tide information and in some cases store it on your smartphone so you don’t need internet access to view the data:

Moonlight
Well, there have been a few occasions when I would have liked some moonlight to complete a long walk, but most of us like to be in camp by mid-afternoon. If you are an aspiring alpine mountain climber, then moonlight becomes more important, as you often need to make a start in the early hours of the morning to catch the snow while it is hard.
Check out the iPhone Moonlight app.

Moonlight features a photorealistic display. The program takes the observer’s  current position and time into account for exact rendering of images. Moonlight not only displays a pretty 3D image but also shows various essential data points: moon phase, distance between earth and moon, julian date or local sideral time.

Monitoring the weather while you walk.
There are many ways to monitor the weather while you walk

  1. wristwatch
  2. portable weather station
  3. smartphone app
  4. GPS with inbuilt barometer/altimeter

    1. Wristwatch Weather

    Suunto Observer

    I have only used Suunto watches (Finland), bought from Paddy Pallin, which have been around for many years and are very reliable. Their only problem is that the batteries have a significantly shortened lifetime if the compass, backlight or GPS are used frequently and having them replaced by Suunto is NOT cheap. Be careful if you have it done at your local jeweller, even if they claim to pressure test. Like me, you may regret it when your very expensive watch fills with water, as mine did after a swim in Lake Vera, near Frenchmans Cap, Tasmania after I had the battery replaced by the local Battery Bar

    They make a great everyday watch and a good bushwalking navigation backup. PS The alarm  is very quiet for me. Must be old age!

    2. Portable Weather Station

    Light weight, compact, weather stations which can be carried in your pack have become available recently at a low cost. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but I would imagine they would be at least as accurate as a wristwatch.Many have an LCD screen so you can watch trends.

    Try Dick Smiths for some ideas. They are much cheaper than a wristwatch “weather station” and there is no need to leave your tent in the morning to check if its raining!

    …. or Kathmandu, for their combined weather station, alarm and clock at sale prices.

    3. Got an iPhone? then try an app

    iBarometer:

    Lets you easily know what is the pressure near you, using the internet. Great for calibrating your altimeter. Contrary to standard applications (with predefined cities), this version of the barometer will give you precisely the pressure of where you are. It integrates its own conversion system.Could be very useful before set out on a walk.

    Pocket-weather-au 

    Pocket Weather AU

    Highly recommended, Australian developers; the one I use!

        Forecast and observation data for hundreds of areas around Australia. Select it via GPS, Map or list.
        – Push current temp, text forecasts and state,regional and local warnings to your iPhone
        – Custom interface for browsing BOM warnings, all nicely formatted for your iPhone
        – Tide graphs for hundreds of locations around Australia
        – National Rain, Satellite and Synoptic Chart
        – Animated weather icons
        – Sunrise/sunset times
        – All of the BOM rain and wind doppler radars with Find/Track me function as well as the ability to have it auto update (see ‘Live Radar’ in settings)
        – National rain and cloud radars and Synoptic chart
        – Extended forecasts for regional areas
        – Give your locations custom names
        – Shake to refresh, simply shake your phone to refresh the data
        – Realtime UV support for some locations
        – Last update is always cached, so you don’t need a network connection to check the weather for the week, once you’ve got it once.
        – Updates are tiny (less than 10kb) so you don’t have to worry about your iPhone data cap.
        – Supports landscape and portrait view, and in landscape you get all the information on a single page. 
        – 7 day forecasts for more than 250 official forecast locations
        – Detailed local observations, typically updated every 10 mins
        – Each forecast location includes up to 6 nearest official observation locations, accessible by side-scrolling action.
        – 50 rain radar locations around Australia
        – The radar view also has a “Locate Me” feature which queries the iPhone’s GPS and then centres the radar map on your current location along with an animated cross hair cursor.
        – Radar data delivery has been carefully optimised to arrive quickly on your iPhone  (Free version available)

     It uses GPS to show your location on the radar inf ull screen landscape view. National cloud and synoptic charts.

    Time and Australian Weather, a match made in heaven. Weather sourced directly from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) displayed elegantly alongside the current time. 
    Calculate wind chill temperature by simply selecting the air temperature and wind speed. The calculated wind chill temperature is displayed “on the fly”. For those who travel by bike, motorcycle, boat, or other means where you find yourself exposed to the elements while in motion, Wooly Wind Chill now has the option to calculate the approximate effective wind chill based your current moving speed (not factoring for actual wind speeds).
       This app brings back the ancient knowledge of former generations:

    Identify conclusively a thundercloud and what kind of weather can be expected in what time frame when you see fleecy clouds.  Find out if  it is going to rain when the spider stops spinning its web and much, much more.  Detailed descriptions of all cloud types and the weather they bring. Complete cloud atlas with all cloud families, species and types according to the  International Cloud Atlas of the WMO (World Meteorological Organization). Large photo gallery with over 70 examples of all cloud types

      4. GPS with Barometer

      Garmin GPS

      Garmin, and no doubt others, have quite a few GPSs which come equipped with a barometer/altimeter eg  the wrist mounted Foretrex 401, the touch screen Oregon 450 -550 series, GPSMAP 62 series, eTrex Summit HC, eTrex Vista

      Get more iPhone  Apps for the Outdoors

      Some Great Uses of the iPhone for Bushwalkers Forums

      Check out some Forums

      Folk Lore

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      Risk Management on a Bushwalk

      The biggest risk on a bushwalk is a mismatch between the leader’s skill level, the participant’s past experience and the difficulty of the walk.

      The leader’s skill level must match closely the terrain, degree of isolation and the weather expected. That is why most leadership courses are tiered:

      • Day walk leader
      • Bushwalk leader
      • Advanced bushwalk leader

      The Adventure Activity Standards [AAS] has a good outline of the differences in skill level required at each tier and distinguishes three levels of difficulty

      1. Bushwalking Leader on Tracked or Easy Untracked (Easy)

      Tracked or easy untracked areas are reliably marked on maps and are obvious on the
      ground. Tracks are inspected on a regular basis and road or other safe catching features
      are easily reached within 2 hours by applying elementary navigation principles.

      2. Bushwalking Leader on Difficult and Trackless (Intermediate)

      Difficult or trackless areas are where there are limited modifications to the natural
      surface so that track alignment is indistinct in places; there is minimal clearance along
      the track; signage is minimal and only for management purposes; there are terrain and
      man-made hazards (such as cliff lines or dense forests); the possibility for changes in
      weather and visibility exists.

      3. Bushwalking Leader on Unmodified landscapes (Advanced)

      Unmodified landscapes are those which are totally natural where there are no
      modifications to the natural surface so that track alignment is indistinct and no clearance
      along the track; there is no signage; the track is not managed for public risk and where
      the onset of extreme environmental conditions has a significant adverse impact upon the
      bushwalk.

      Few Clubs have a formal structure to match the difficulty of the walk with the skills of the leader. Often this “approval” is an ad hoc process which involves the Club’s Walk’s Secretary, but without a formal structure it can fail eg when a there is a changeover of personnel or when the Walks Secretary has not actually walked the area himself/herself. There is a vast difference in being able to lead a walk along the Heysen trail and leading one into untracked and isolated areas such as the Mawson Plateau in SA or the Western Arthurs in Tasmania

      Matching the experience of the participants with the difficulty of the walk is usually much better handled. Usually Club walks are coded according to difficulty, duration, and terrain so in theory the participants should self-select for the walks and there should be no problem.

      Problems arise when the intended participant has no experience in the area to be walked and does not appreciate the difference between walking with a day pack in sunny weather along a well marked trail and carrying a 25 kg pack through mountainous terrain with a howling wind and sleet or snow. If the leader does not know the intended walker then there is the potential for this mismatch to be overlooked until it is too late, hence the need for a vetting system.

      One way this problem can be overcome is for all walks to logged on the walker’s profile, along with the name of each leader, so that checks can easily be made of the walkers experience. Without a walker’s log, it is difficult to either locate relevant leaders, or to determine walker’s experience.

      One alternative, is to take the group for a preparatory walk over some hilly terrain with a 25 kg bag of “lawn fertiliser” in each pack and satisfy yourself as leader that they are fit enough. Of course there is more than just physical fitness; mental fitness for a demanding walk is probably more important as is group compatibility.

      Meet with your intended participants and chat about their past experience. Clubs which insist on face-to-face meeting between leaders and potential walkers as a pre-requisite for participation are “on the right track”.

      See also:

      Outdoor Recreation Industry Training Package

      A Risk Management Framework (download pdf) (The Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW, 2004)
      RISK MANAGEMENT GUIDELINES for BUSHWALKING CLUBS  Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (VicWalk 2004) Inc. (pdf format)
      Guidelines for Leaders and Coordinators (pdf format) Canberra Bushwalking Club (June 2009)
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