Sunday, 13 November 2016

My tramping gear: Navigation, communications, survival, and first aid

My tramping survival equipment reviewed...

 I thought I would give you an idea of the type of navigation and safety gear I carry with me.  I have a small selection of tools to help keep me safely on track: my criteria (in order) is functionality, light weight and ruggedness.

  Navigation: GPS, compass and map

 Like many trampers I own a GPS unit, mine is a Garmin eTrex 20 GPS. It is a fairly basic unit but has the functions I require: GPS co-ordinates, way point setting, basic map/topographic information. What I generally use it for is fixing my location on a map and finding tracks in mist/heavy bush.

The Garmin eTrex 20

 When I first started tramping GPS units, as we know them now, did not exist. We had a GPS locator in my Army unit, it cost $20 000 and like the cell phones of the time weighed 1 kg & was the size of a brick. As a pleb, I was not allowed to touch it, let alone use it!

Remember this was before Desert Storm, the moment when GPS had its baptism of fire....

An early military GPS unit, the SLGR or 'Slugger"
In the Army I learnt to navigate using a prismatic compass and map, I think these are still fundamental skills every outdoor person needs. A GPS unit can break or the batteries can fail. If you do not have a back up compass, or do not know how to use it correctly you could end up in a world of hurt.

 I use a Silva Ranger compass calibrated for the Southern Hemisphere, yes there is a difference between a northern and southern hemisphere compass. It is "workman like" and does the job without too many fancy frills that can break.

The Silva Ranger compass

 For maps I have access to a program called Map Toaster at work (one of my few perks....), I just print colour copies of the maps I need and either laminate them or carry them in a plastic zip lock bag.

Topographic map in a Ziploc bag

I have also been using the free maps available on the Topomap website. Just a point: if you are using Topomap add the longitude and latitude markers as these are not shown when you print them out. Got myself in a spot of bother not doing that one time....

Topomap page view...note how the maps were loaded on a bit of an angle.

  This works for me.....

For a master class in using map and compass to navigate check out Ashley Burkes website. This is an Australian site but the information is also relevant to New Zealand conditions. 

Communications: Smart Phone

  Yeah...Ive got a smart phone, although I seldom if ever carry it with me on the trail. It is a Samsung Galaxy S3 and because it is a smart phone I have downloaded some useful apps. I have a digital compass, GPS locator and map software loaded which all work without cell coverage. 

Samsung Galaxy S3

I'm not a massive fan of phones, in fact I have only had a smart phone for about 10 months now.....I just don't see the point really.

(Jon you dirty Luddite...wash your mouth out!)

Survival Equipment:The Emergency Kit

Everyone should build themselves an emergency kit containing the vital equipment you need to keep yourself alive for a couple of days. I carry this kit on my body whenever I am separated from pack i.e. if I drop pack to take some photos or have a "comfort stop". 

My emergency survival kit

My emergency kit includes:

  • Fire Starting materials: 4 waterproof matches and a small mini "Bic" lighter + cut up inner tube as a fire starter. 
  • A cutting tool:  A small folding Gerber knife.
  • Signalling: In my opinion you can use the tin lid itself for signalling. 
  • A small whistle
  • A button Compass
  • Duct Tape:  I wrap a couple of metre's worth around my walking pole.

Example of duct tape wrapped on trek pole

  • Needle & Thread
  • Note Paper & Pencil
  • Wire
  • Safety Pins
  • Fishing Hooks
  • Flashlight
  • Water Purification: 4 x Aquatab tablets
  • Medical Supplies:4 Band Aids, 4 Panadol and 2 Antihistamine tablets
  • Random Items: Salt Pack,  Sugar Pack,  Paper Clip,  Barley sugars
  • A tin to hold it all, mine is an old Altoids tin from the US, it needs to be light weight.
Go and read my previous post to see how to make a kit and how the elements are used.....

Survival Equipment: Personal Locator Beacon

 This has been covered in a previous post, suffice to say I own and carry a Personal Locator Beacon or PLB. A PLB is a electronic device which can send a distress signal to an satellite network, a message is then sent to your local rescue services. People have been rescued in under an hour using a PLB, but the usual response time is 3-6 hours.

My PLB in its waterproof Sil-Nylon bag

I think every outdoor person should own a PLB, in an emergency it could be the difference between life and death.

ACR ResQlink PLB

My PLB is a ACR ResQLink, it cost me $600 two years ago and IMHO is worth every cent in terms of security of life. The battery in mine lasts until 2020, at that time I will need to send it away for a replacement battery which normally costs about $200.

The beacon and the neoprene flotation pouch you get

Note: I have a color coding system for the stuff sacks containing my gear:
Blue = Clothing
Orange= Safety/survival gear
Green= Cooking/food preparation
Yellow= Food/snack items

Register your Locator Beacon with  registration is free and takes all of 3 seconds. If it is not registered it will still be notified, but it can take an additional 12 hours for the messages to get through to New Zealand Rescue Services as the satellites are U.S. owned.


Survival Equipment:Fire starting kit

I always carry a small fire starting kit, this is a small plastic bag with water proof matches, a striker, cut up inner tube and fuchsia bark. Inner tube wrapped around dry twigs makes an awesome fire starter and super light fuchsia bark is the best native tinder I know of. 

Bark on a native New Zealand Fuchsia tree

I grab handfuls of bark every time I pass a fuchsia tree and dry and bag it for future use, I probably have about 2 kilos of it. Fibre waste gathered from the filter on your clothes drier is also a good option.

Survival Equipment: Ancillary Gear

 When you go tramping you should ideally have some form of shelter with you in case you find you cant quite reach your hut/car/home before darkness falls.

This is what the old timers call being "be-nighted".  

I ran out of time: Fly camp set up on the side of a  track
If I am doing an overnight tramp I will be carrying a sleeping bag, air mattress and either a tent or fly sheet. On a day tramp this would be too much to carry - but you still need some shelter.

The SOL breathable Bivy Bag

On day tramps I carry a SOL Escape Bivy Bag and a plastic pack liner to provide materials for building an expedient shelter. The SOL Bivy is made of a waterproof, heat reflective material (think space blanket) but has the advantage of also being breathable. I would put some branches/tussock/pine needles etc. down to insulate me from the cold ground and climb inside the bivy.

SOL Bivy looks something like this in use.....

 I would use the man sized pack liner and the 2 meters of lightweight tent cord I carry to fashion a shelter that keeps the rain off my body.

Lightweight tent cordage

This expedient shelter in concert with my wet weather/warm clothing would be enough to stave off hypothermia in all but the worst weather conditions.

Pack liner used as a makeshift shelter
It would not be a comfortable nights sleep by any measure but at least you would survive.

First Aid kit

  There are many fine pre-packaged first aid kits on the market but I actually think it is a good idea to build your own. Building your own allows you to customise it to suit your style of tramping.

A typical commercial trampers first aid kit

 Once when walking a Port Hills track I fell and injured my elbow and my leg: all I had to assist me were half a dozen plasters and it was not enough. Since then I carry comprehensive supplies any-time I am walking or tramping. 

I do a lot of solo tramping, for this reason my first aid kit is bulkier than those other trampers carry. The first aid kit weighs 180 gms and is packed in a waterproof bag.

My First Aid kit removed from its protective bag

Bear in mind the worst thing I usually have to cope with are splinters, blisters or a small cut/abrasion. I'm not performing life saving surgery, I lack both the supplies and skills to do so.

My first aid kit contains:
A triangular bandage
 a selection of plasters, band aids and medical tape
 2 blister plasters, 3 antiseptic wipes
 2 x 2m gauze bandages, 2 x gauze pad
 a prepacked suture kit
 a phial of saline solution
 anti histamine tablets, paracetamol, Imodium tablets, water purification tablets
 examination gloves, tweezers, scissors,  a needle, 6 small safety pins (I once assisted someone using safety pins as sutures on a injured it was not pleasant!)
  a mini Bic lighter.
a CPR card and small first aid sheet

Contents of my First Aid kit

This covers all of the minor injuries/ health issues you face on trail, if I need more gear than this I would require a rescue would be time to fire up the PLB!

So there you go, a quick glance at my safety/survival equipment.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Mt Grey, North Canterbury: 31 October 2016

Mt Grey: A tale of three tramping plans.....

Plan 1:
So.... I had this plan to go up to Arthur's Pass NP over the weekend and tramp the Cass - Lagoon Saddle, lets just have a look at the weather...oh what...rain, high wind, snow, high avalanche risk.... Unghhh!

Plan 2:
So instead I had this plan to go tramp up the Nina Valley to revisit Nina Hut on the Sunday when the rain had passed, stay for the night and then walk out on Monday morning...I'll just have a look at my diary to see what I'm doing on Tuesday...what...I'm working on Sunday...Unghhhhhh!
Anyway, this plan was to go tramp one of the tracks to the summit of Mt Grey in North Canterbury and surprise it actually worked out this time!
 This is my third visit to Mt Grey; the first was an army exercise in 1988 where we drove up to the summit to practice communication tasks, the second was an off track crossing from near the Grey River Campsite to Lees Valley via Mt Grey again with the army in 1989 or 1990. 

That is a long time between visits....nearly 30 years!

Tramping in the Mt Grey conservation area

Mt Grey (933 meters) is a stand alone peak about 60 km's north of Christchurch near the small country town of Amberley. The mountain is clearly visible as you travel along SH1 to points north, south and west, it is the dominant feature on the landward side of Amberley.

Mt Grey track network

Mt Grey is covered in exotic forest owned by Matariki Forestry but it also contains a significant conservation area of native bush and a nice track network on the south side of Mt Grey. The Lookout Track is on Matariki land on the SE side of the mountain.

Mt Grey Track network
The forest is usually open to allow tramping/hunting access although it will be closed if there is a high fire risk, it is windy or if there are logging operations under way. From Amberley, follow Douglas Road, then Crampon's Bush Road until the road reaches the Lake Janet picnic area (17 km from Amberley). Don't look for DOC signs, there aren't any,  make sure you take a topo map of the area with you.

All of these forest roads are high standard gravel roads so you can reach them in an ordinary car.

Starting at Lake Janet

I decided I would follow the track from Lake Janet to the summit of Mt Grey, I would then return on the same track making for a 4 hour round trip. More about that later.....

Lay by at Lake damn signage!
There is a lay by at the Lake Janet track entrance, it is big enough to hold 6-7 cars with plenty of parking on the opposite side of the logging road as an over spill area.

Looking towards the Port Hills from lay by

Lay by at Lake Janet
There is no signage here, I found out later that Matariki and DOC are having a tussle over access to the forest so DOC have removed all signs and are not maintaining the tracks anymore. Local tramping groups have taken over track maintenance to maintain some level of access.

Start of the Mt Grey Lookout track
Lake Janet is what an American from the South would call a "holler" or "hollar" i.e "Hi ben livin bout a mile up tu holler hi got a place onu". It's a small depression where rain water has collected. There is a nice looking track which goes around it, posted time is 5 minutes.  

Murky Lake Janet (Janet Holla')
Below is the only track sign you will find at this end of the track, this does not matter as the track is obvious and in good condition. The first hour of the walk is a slow climb through exotic forest to a fire lookout overlooking the forest. The track is a series of switchbacks slowly climbing the flank of the mountain and shaded except for the last 500 meters which are in the open.

Mt Grey Track: The only track sign at this end of track...

Climbing through the exotic forest, Mt Grey Track

One of the switchbacks on the Mt Grey lookout track

Below is the only sign that tells you that you are following the right track, it is about 30 minutes up the track just before you break out of the cover of the pine trees. There are still DOC track markers but they are few and far between.

Mt Grey Track: track signage and track marker, Mt Grey

Switchback track climbing through the pine forest on the Mt Grey Track
The views get progressively better as you climb; they encompass South Canterbury right out to the Kaikoura Peninsula from the trig point atop Mt Grey.

Mt Grey Track: view SW towards Oxford

Approaching the fire lookout station on Mt Grey, Mt Grey Track

Christchurch, Banks Peninsula in the far distance from Mt Grey

After about an hour you crest a small spur and reach the fire lookout. A fire lookouts are not common in New Zealand, this is probably the only commercial forest in the country that has the right conditions to favour having one.

It is certainly a good vantage point, you can see 60% of the forest from this spot.

Fire lookout station, Mt Grey

View NE towards Motunau Bay, Amberley Beach from Mt Grey Track

Mt Grey Track: Pegasus Bay from high on Mt Grey
From this point you can either follow the 4 W/D track to the repeater station near the crest or take the more scenic sidle track which rolls along the NE face of Mt Grey.

I got talking to the trip leader of the Amberley Mountain Goats group who were resting by the fire lookout. He recognised me from this blog: this is the third time this has happened in the last 2 months so people are obviously getting some value from my ramblings. He said that the sidle track was nice and it is..thanks for the info!

Steps leading to the start of the Mt Grey sidle track

On the sidle track to the TV repeater station, Mt Grey Track

Mt Grey Track: slightly further along the Mt Grey sidle track

Jon on the Mt Grey sidle track
The Sidle track is very nice, it is a mixture of bush track and tussock basin with awesome views out to the North and East. From the fire lookout it is about 30 minutes of gradual climbing to reach the TV/radio repeater station on the secondary high point of the Mt Grey massif.

Mt Grey Track: on the sidle track: Bush

Mt Grey Track: on the sidle track: Tussock

Climbing the slope to gain the Mt Grey repeater station, Mt Grey Track

TV/radio repeater station on Mt Grey massif

Jon at the Mt Grey repeater station
From the repeater station I moved north to pt. 929 about 100 meters along the ridge, there are fantastic views from this point of all of the Canterbury Plains and Hurunui District.

Mt Grey Massif: View north from pt. 929

Mt Grey Massif: View North from Pt. 929

Mt Grey Massif: Banks Peninsula from pt. 929

Mt Grey Massif: The repeater station from Pt. 929

Mt Grey Massif: View South towards Oxford etc from pt.929

Panoramic view from Pt. 929, Mt Grey Massif, North Canterbury
After a stop for a snack and a drink (both of water and scenery) I moved off to the north along the long slowly climbing ridge line that is Mt Grey. The actual crest of the mountain is about 15 minutes to the north and is marked by a large cairn and a trig point. As I climbed to the crest I was accompanied by the members of the tramping group who had caught up to me.

On the summit of Mt Grey with Amberley Mountain Goat Group

Red Beech track heading out to NW, Mt Grey Massif
There are true 360 views from the top of Mt Grey, including a good view down into Lees Valley and the area to the north west of Amberley. This is a valley of gently rolling hills usually only visited by those who farm there.

The trig point on Mt Grey

View back down the whole Mt Grey Massif from the trig
I was invited to sit and eat lunch with the Amberley tramping group which I did. We sat on the warm hillside for about 20 minutes eating and chatting to each other. They seem like a nice group of people, mostly locals and they looked fit as a fiddle.

This is what I envision for myself when i get older, a weekday tramping club going out for interesting day walks. I was offered the opportunity to walk back to the car park with them as part of their group, which I happily accepted.

Looking out towards Lees Valley from Mt Grey

View north towards Hurunui area from Mt Grey
Originally, I had planned to follow the same track back to the car park, but the Amberley group were going down the Mt Grey Track and using the now defunct Bypass track to get back to Lake Janet. I knew about the Bypass Track but had heard that it was difficult to find so had discounted it as an option. 

This was a real treat to bush bash, something I don't get a lot of opportunity to do tramping solo.

Thanks for the offer by the way....

Descending on the nice Mt Grey Track

Alpine vegetation along the Mt Grey Track
The Mt Grey Track is very nice, a mixture of open tussock basins and beech forest, especially good to be walking DOWN on it rather than up......

Entering the bush on the Mt Grey Track
I forgot to take a photo of the Huntaway dog the Amberley group had with them, she was a real charmer and faithfully followed along at the back of the group like any good farm dog should.

Mt Grey Track: Clemensia Vines growing on track side beech tree
After travelling down the Mt Grey Track for 45 minutes you strike a small flat saddle, the turn off for the Bypass Track is in this area. It is not sign posted as it is no longer maintained or marked. If you didn't know it was an old track you would not see it because it is overgrown.

Map: Red line indicates approximate location of Bypass Track, Mt Grey Massif

I'm not going to be any more precise because, quite frankly, I don't want anyone using the track on my recommendation and getting lost. People get lost in this forest all the time, notably a local man who got separated from his tramping party on the Red Beech Track and has never been found.

Saddle at the start of the Bypass Track turnoff, Mt Grey

Mt Grey: on the overgrown Bypass Track

Regroup point on the Bypass Track, Mt Grey

Ridge the main Mt Grey Track descends
While the track is a bit rugged it is still easy to follow and is actually quite nice to walk on for most of the way. I believe that various tramping clubs in the North Canterbury area maintain the track at a basic level so they can do loops to and from Lake Janet.  It is a real pity that DOC seem to be stepping back from the area as all of the tracks in this area are very nice.

One of the better points on the Bypass Track, Mt Grey

Mt Grey Track follows this spur to Grey River Campsite
You can just make out the course of the track on the hillside in the photo below, it is the line running from left to right over the top of the spur.  Because the taller trees are removed it leaves a clear gap in the canopy which is visible to the trained eye.

The spur line the Bypass Track crosses, Mt Grey
From the end of the Bypass Track it was downhill for 20 minutes along the Mt Grey lookout track back to the car park.  Total time for this trip was 4.5-5 hours, 2 hours to reach the top of Mt Grey and about 2-3 hours back to the car park.

Last view of Ashley Forest when descending the Mt Grey Lookout Track

Another fine hill trip in the bag, so to speak, the views from the top of Mt Grey are the most spectacular from any of the Canterbury foothills in my opinion. You should head out to Amberley some day and take a tramp on one of the fine tracks in this forest.