Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bear Grylls Challenge


Headed off yesterday with 3 friends (Brett, Nico & Teresa) and my youngest daughter, Zoe, to Frys Flat, near Mansfield, for what we called a 24 hour Bear Grylls Challenge. 

The basic idea was to spend 24 hours in the bush, with a knife, a flint (fire sparker), some cord, a litre of water, the clothes on your back ...and nothing much more.

We kicked off at 11.30am in bright sunshine.

The Bureau of Met was forecasting a wet couple of days, so when the clouds started ominously rolling in , we knew it was only a matter of time...

Took the walking track down river to Tobacco Flat.  We needed to do quite a few river crossings on the way.

Met a group of horseriders coming the other way - horses are really good at river crossing!

Came across an interesting old shack that someone had been using as as semi-permanent dwelling. 

To honour a pre-event agreement with Zoe, I ate something I found in tree bark that resembled a large slater and Zoe ate a cricket.   Neither of us were keen to go back for seconds.

The journey down river was not without mishap - those river rocks are slippery!

Spotted a snake on a riverbank. It sparked a bit of discussion around the topic of survival cuisine. In the end, a mixture of safety concerns  (could we catch it without getting bitten), legal concerns (they are protected, after all) and a natural reluctance to kill an animal when we weren't actually starving kept the snake vs man score at 0-0.  [I have since been told it was a tiger snake - not as aggressive as a brown snake, but still a snake to be very wary of, particularly when it's had a couple of hours in the sun to warm up.]

The rain finally started mid afternoon, when we were about 40 minutes out of Tobacco Flats.  By this time we'd has enough of river crossings and chose instead to follow the four wheel drive track the rest of the way.

The original plan was that from Tobacco Track we would make our way down the Howqua Walking Track towards the Running Creek camping area, about 10 km down river.  However, with the rain now falling steadily and the day well advanced, we decided to make camp a few hundred metres down the track.

At this point  as per the agreed rules we divided up to each make our own shelter.  Brett decided to make his shelter in the style of a lean-to.   Teresa used a small tarp for hers.   Zoe & I went for a wiki-up style shelter.  Meanwhile, our appointed support person, Nico, got himself comfortably set up with a tarp, hammock and mosquito net.

A wiki-up is in the form of a teepee and requires having a lot of tall poles to form a vertical frame.    I set to work cutting up the required poles.  For this job I used by newly acquired Gerber Big Rock Camp Knife.  I was using it primarily for chopping down then stripping small  (20-50mm) saplings and I have to say that I was very happy with its performance - well weighted, very sharp and with a solid grip.   I did manage to give myself a small cut (requiring a bandaid), but I will put that down mostly to being a newbie to knifecraft.  Anyway, I consider it $50 well spent.  If you're interested, I got it on eBay, from a Sydney-based reseller called Safarex.

To insulate the shelter we used ferns (of which Zoe was an enthusiatic gatherer) and large strips of bark. 

With the shelter mostly done, the next task was to start a fire.  The plan was to do this inside the wiki-up - it would warm up and dry the shelter and the smoke would help keep the mossies away.  This task proved very challenging in the wet conditions.   Although we had collected some dry materials earlier, we simply could not get this to burn using the flint.  

In the meantime one of the other challengers, Teresa, had cut herself on the forehead. It looked like it might need stitches so she and the others decided to walk out.

Zoe & I stayed on, now using a blend of cottonwool/wax donated by our thoughtful support guy.  However, while the wax burned nicely, we could not get the twigs and old fern fronds to stay alight.   In the end, facing the prospect of a night in the rain without a fire (and we were already soaking wet by this time), we too decided to walk out.

It took us about an hour to walk to the car, via the four wheel drive tracks.  That should have been the end of the story..however, more was to come. 

It is a 2 1/2 hour drive from Sheepyard Flats to our home in Melbourne.   To have enough fuel to get us home we needed to refuel in Mansfield; however, by the time we got there, around 10:30pm, all the service stations were closed for the night!   So I went to a drive through bottle shop (at least the pubs were open!) and picked up a few bags of chips and some chocolate bars for our dinner and we drove to the local caravan park, where we were able to rent a cabin for the night.

It rained hard all night.  The next day (after a much-enjoyed breakfast in the town) we found that a few areas had actually flooded - we were very pleased to have not spent the night in the bush!

So that was our Bear Grylls experience. We didn't get to spend the night in the bush or to do any serious food gathering, but we got to build a half-decent shelter and we had a a bunch of fun.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Camping at Huggett's Crossing

I joined friends Brett & Fiona, plus their 2 kids (Amy & Fraser) for a bit of camping during the Melbourne Cup long week.  

We headed to the Huggett's Crossing camping area, near Maffra, in East Gippsland.    Brett drove his Prado & I had the Patrol.  I got the chance to see the fitout Brett had had done to his vehicle for a desert trip earlier in the year - shelving, converters, fridge and a few other bits and pieces.  Very nice.

Although it was a major holiday weekend, we had no trouble finding a decent spot in the camping ground to pitch our tents; and in spite of it being the chosen location for a well-attended bucks night for someone called 'Camo', the use of natural vegetation to break up the camping areas meant it was actually a really quiet, peaceful camping ground in the evening .

The next morning I headed off to walk the track that runs along the Avon River, between Huggetts Crossing and Dermody's camp.  Stunning area of wilderness and a decent walk to boot.  The area called the Channels is a stand-out.  The river runs through a narrow and deep gorge for about 150m.  The water looked beautiful and if there had been a few more degrees of temperature in the day, I reckon I'd have jumped in. 

Brett & Fiona kindly picked up me from Dermody's and shuttled me back to Huggetts Crossing.   This being my first major drive in the Patrol in over 6 months (something to do with too many demerit points :(), I was keen to get some rocks under the rubber.  With that in mind, I said my goodbyes to Brett & family, then headed across the Huggetts ford and northwards.

The 4WD route

 I followed the Mount Angus Road, then headed west on the Avon Road.    My first objective was to explore the 8 fords indicated on the Rooftop map in a gorge section of the Avon River.  I found them.  The river was not particularly high, but the fords were fun all the same.   There were a number of good campsites in amongst the fords, although all of these were occupied - so clearly the lack of easy access was no hindrince to the local camping enthusiasts.

I then headed west, got onto the Margaret Track.  The alpine area is a sea of flowers in the Spring and I made sure to grab a few snaps along the way.

It was getting dark and starting to rain as I descended the steep Burgoyne Track and I decided to camp in a small campsite at Big Hill, overlooking the McAlister River valley.


There had been some decent rain overnight.  How much I would soon find out.  

With the goal of heading eastwards and over the northern end of Lake Thompson, I followed a track directly opposite the exit of the Burgoyne Track onto the Heyfield-Jamieson Road.
However, 25 minutes in I came to a river crossing with high waters and 'Road Closed' sign. Damn!   

To add to the fun, while coasting along the bank, I hit an obscured tree trunk, end on. It would have been about 30cm in diameter.  The car was stopped in its tracks.  I on the other hand, did a facial on the steering wheel and windscreen, due to not having bothered putting my seatbelt after having gotten out to inspect the river.

As it turned out the car was still ok to drive and I only had a few scratches and minor bruises (mostly to my ego).
So I headed back the way I came, then drove down the main road to Heyfield.   A pie and roll from the local backery restored my spirits.
I headed directly west, towards Erica (near Walhalla).  Striking change in scenery as I moved into the Baw Baw park area - the bush became more lush and the tracks went from rocky to seriously muddy.  Now I am pretty confident on rocks, but mud  - particularly without a winch - gives me the heebee jeebees.

So, I stuck to the main tracks as I made my way to the Baw Baw Tourist Road, then up into Baw Baw village.   Sightseeing was  little restricted, due to a heavy fog.

 I stopped for a coffee, then headed off on the main drag to Noogee, Yarra Junction, then Melbourne.  (Side note for family & friends: Just out of Poweltown I passed Jamie, Mel & all my girls heading in the opposite direction, to Noogee to do some freshwater cray fishing.  Given I thought they were in Melbourne and they thought I was in Heyfield, it was one of those "What the ..?!" type experiences.

Hiking equipment list

Did a 2-day hike at Wilson's Prom a couple of weekends ago.   Here's the gear list I put together for it - this is for 2 adults and an 11 year old.   I didn't end up taking all of this.  Eg. didn't feel the need for an EPIRB, UHF radio or the cold-weather gear or gaiters and I used my iPhone as GPS (with a nifty app from MotionX).   The items in grey stayed at home.

Hiking Pack
Hiking Pack Cover
Hiking Pack Liner
Hiking Dry Bags
Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Bag Liner
Hiking Socks (2 pairs)
Hiking Boots
Clothes - to wear
Clothes - spare
Down Clothing
Waterproof Jacket
Waterproof overpants
Sun Hat
Head Lamp + Spare Batteries
Tooth Brush
Mobile Phone
Pocket Knife 
Multi Tool
Lip Balm
Hydration Bladder
Drink Bottles
Spare batteries as needed
iPhone/iPod Portable Charger
Shared Items
Hiking Tent
Tent doorway mat
Hiking Stoves 
Fuel Bottles 
Lighter / matches
Cooking Utensils (tongs/slice)
Cooking Pots and pans
Dish cleaning kit
Can opener (or FLED)
Rubbish Bags
Food Storage Containers
Water Treatment tabs
Insect Repellent
Biodegradable Soap
Toilet Paper /  Wet-ones
First Aid Kit
Map Case
Guide Book
Epirb Beacon
UHF 2-way radio
Emergency Blanket
Nylon cord
Fish hook and line
Friday night supper
Saturday - breakfast
Saturday - lunch
Saturday - dinner
Saturday - supper
Sunday - breakfast
Coffee bags
Tea bags
Sugar sachets
Salt sachets
UHT Milk (pods)
Electrolyte replacement drink