Category Archives: skills

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Water Treatment

When, where, how and why to treat water

We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one Jacques Cousteau

Water treatment is the act of cleaning water to make it safe for drinking. Clean, fresh drinking water is essential for survival and healthy living, yet access to the equipment and technology to do so is not something to take for granted. A 2007 study found that 3900 children died a day due to unsafe drinking supplies1. More recent studies fear that due to water scarcity the situation will only get worse, and engineering companies are working hard to develop technological aids to combat the situation.2

Adequate safe drinking water is something that is easy to take for granted in developed countries because the process of how clean drinking water gets to a household tap is hidden. In Sydney, 80% of drinking water supply comes from the Warragamba Dam. The rest comes from a variety of sources, including a small amount from the Kurnell Desalination Plant. Sydney Water, the supplier of Sydney’s drinking water supply, follows the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) to provide a clean source of water.

The first principle listed in these guidelines states “The greatest risks to consumers of drinking water are pathogenic microorganisms. Protection of water sources and treatment are of paramount importance and must never be compromised.” Therefore, ensuring access to clean water supplies is also important on a bushwalk. Sometimes this means searching for clean sources or water, and at other times this means treating water.

In the end, the choice to treat or not treat water is a personal one based on knowledge of how clean the source is and what the individual’s immune system can handle. If unsure, err on the side of caution and treat water before using.

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Water Collection

How to find and collect water in the bush

Access to good drinking water is essential for human life. The human body can last for several weeks without food but only a few days without water. In developed countries, most urban-dwellers take potable water for granted – turn on a tap and water is there – but outside of cities, and especially in remote areas, reliable water sources are precious.
Not all campsites have water, so walks must be planned such that everyone in the group carries sufficient water supplies or collects water from reliable sources en-route. Hence, managing water on a bushwalk requires adequate research and planning regarding the itinerary and gear requirements (e.g. water containers to collect and carry enough water), the expected pace of the group, campsites and water sources.
It’s common that daywalkers carry all their water supplies, but since every extra litre of water adds an extra kilo of weight, it’s extremely challenging to take sufficient water supplies for more than a day or two. Overnight walkers ideally select campsites close to water or organise water drops at regular intervals along the track.
The amount of water an individual needs to carry depends on the distance to the next reliable water source, the effort to get there, the air temperature, and individual needs, but as a general guideline, when walking in moderate spring conditions allocate half a litre for every hour of walking. On hotter days, ideally aim to hit a water source towards the middle of the day. On overnight trips where bushwalkers don’t expect to find additional water supplies, they tend to carry 4-6 litres of water.
Over time, individual water needs will become known, and it becomes easier to estimate water requirements for particular tracks and conditions.

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On-track Navigation

Learning how to navigate along a pre-existing route

When you think about navigation, thick impenetrable scrub and vast empty wilderness spring to mind. But navigation is not only for off-track walking. It’s just as important when following established routes, that is, on-track walking. Unlike other parts of the world, not every route is signposted in the Australian bush! Also, routes fade, reform and changed over time. Following a track, trail or path blindly can very quickly take you to somewhere completely different to where you intended.

Typical navigation decisions that bushwalkers face on an established routes include:

  • “Do I take the right or left fork at the junction?”,
  • “Does the track continue on the other side of the creek now”, and
  • “Is this the last water source for 10km?”

On-track walking means using pre-existing ways to get from A to B. On-track navigation involves planning a route that links these ways together. By comparison, off-track navigation is where bushwalkers plan and walk their route without following established ways. Both types of navigation rely on following the plan, staying found and recognising reliable map features.

Famous on-track walks in and around Australia include: the Great North Walk, the Overland Track and the Larapinta Trail.

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Map Reading

An introduction to map reading

Maps are a fantastic resource to bushwalkers, and many love them for their simplistic detail. Maps can tell details as simply as the name of a road, right through to the side of a rock which a river flows past. An entire rescue operation can be planned and executed based on the knowledge of grid coordinates alone, and many people owe their lives to the wealth of information that users can extract from a simple map.

Learning to read a map is like learning a new language. Individual features are like words, and how the features are presented together create sentences. Being able to extract meaning from these sentences involves understanding what particular features represent, and putting them all together. This interpretation enables the reader to make sense of how the environment fits the map, and the map fits into the environment. Map reading is one step towards being able to navigate with confidence through the bush.

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Personal Locator Beacons

What they are and why to carry them

The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Personal locator beacons (PLBs) are devices that transmit your location via satellite to emergency services. They are used in life-threatening situations to signal that emergency help is required (e.g. group is lost, someone is injured or very unwell), and usually only activate when other forms of two-way communication such as a phone call cannot be made (e.g. group is out of mobile phone reception). PLBs are an important safety backup for groups traveling through areas with poor or no mobile phone reception, and have been proven time and time again to be a life-saving device for bushwalkers.

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Bites and stings

How to manage unexpected wildlife interactions

Don't let the same dog bite you twice. Chuck Berry

The terms ‘bite’ and ‘sting’ refer to when an animal or plant breaks the skin surface, potentially transferring germs or venom that can result in anything from a minor irritation to a severe medical condition.

We generally use the word ‘bite’ when it occurs with teeth (e.g. a dog bite), and sting when it occurs with another part of the body (e.g. a bee stings with a barbed stinger; a plant stings with tiny hairs on its leaves).

In the case of insect bites and stings, while both hurt, the difference in the two terms refers to whether any toxic venom is transferred. An insect bite occurs when the insect pierces the skin. Often the insect injects anticoagulant saliva so they can feed on your blood. By contrast, an insect sting is when the animal transfers toxic venom into your system, often as a defence mechanism.

While both can result in a pain, itchiness, or even an allergic reaction for some people, the causes are quite different. For an insect bite, our bodies are responding to the potential infection by the breakdown of the skin barrier and potential transfer of infectious agents from the insect (e.g. malaria transferred to humans via mosquito bites). For an insect sting, your body in addition to potential infection is dealing with a foreign toxic substance, that may have severe medical consequences. The same is true for spiders, although they are not if fact insects – a general misconception for many of us!

In the case of snakes, however, the term ‘bite’ can refer to both venomous and non-venomous attacks, however, for practical purposes all snakes bites are treated as venomous until proven otherwise.

And in the plant kingdom, ‘stinging’ plants have tiny needles that break off and lodge into the skin, causing extreme discomfort.

Having said all this, the chance of being bitten by a snake or spider on a bushwalk is relatively low. In Australia there are about 3,000 snake bites per year, of which 200 to 500 receive antivenom; on average one or two will prove fatal. By contrast, spider-related deaths are almost unheard of:although approximately 2000 people are bitten each year by Redback Spiders, there has only been 1 spider-related death since antivenoms for funnel web and redback spiders were developed in 1980s.

To put this in perspective, there were 1290 road crash deaths and fatal road crashes in Australia during only 2016 And in 2015, there were 45,392 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease in Australia.

While fatal outcomes of bites and stings by Australian wildlife is unlikely, nevertheless, it’s worth having the knowledge and skill set to deal with unexpected situations in the bush because emergency medical help is often delayed.

Although the likelihood of getting bitten, stung or scratched by an animal on a bushwalk by an animal that will envenomate (or similar) is fairly low, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce that risk further. The information here is based on current guidelines from the NSW Health Direct website.

Some general advice for avoiding wildlife bites, scratches and stings, and good for mozzies too!

  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and closed-top shoes to cover up your skin and reduce the risk of bites.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace principles and leave wild animals be. Do not touch, corner or startle a wild animals, especially for the sake of a photo.
  • If you notice a wild animal, warn others in the group. If you can, wait for it to move off on it’s own accord or make a wide berth around the animal.
  • Insect repellant is great for preventing insect and leech bites.

DEET is an extremely effective way of avoiding insect bites including mosquito bites, and is particularly important in areas with known mosquito-borne diseases. The DEET (Diethytoluamide) chemical conceals us to insects by stopping the detection Carbon Dioxide, which we emit from our skin, a stimuli for blood feeding 1.

The Department of Medical Entomology at the University of Sydney & Westmead Hospital released the following guidelines for using repellants:

  • DEET repellants = recommended, but in different strengths depending on situation.
  • Plant-based repellents = good, but need to be reapplied regularly.
  • Wrist-band and patch repellents = ineffective.

Always check the label before applying insect repellent for instructions on how to apply and how often to reapply, and test it first on a small patch of skin before applying fully.

MORE INFORMATION
Health direct is a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information:
https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bites-and-stings

Free app on to help identify and deal with bites and stings: http://www.seqirus.com.au/bites-app

Resources at the Australian Museum website (e.g. spider bites and venoms)

SPECIAL THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING EXPERTS FOR REVIEWING AND CONTRIBUTING MATERIAL TO THIS ARTICLE:

JOHN TURNBULL
Author of Marine Explorer and Ex-President of National Parks Association of NSW.

MARGOT LAW
Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW

Ticks:
HENRY LYDECKER | PhD Candidate
School of Life and Environmental Sciences | Faculty of Science
The University of Sydney

Spiders:
FRAN VAN DEN BERG
Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW

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Using weather forecasts

What is ‘weather’ and does it differ to ‘climate’?

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather”.
John Ruskin

Weather forecasts are a handy tool for predicting future weather conditions and packing appropriate gear on a bushwalk. Knowing in advance if the trip will be particularly cool, hot, wet or dry means you can tweak your gear to best meet your needs.

In Australia, we are a land of extremes, from snow-capped peaks to arid desert conditions. Bushfire awareness is a key part of weather forecasting for us, as well as knowing when to pack warm clothes for Alpine conditions.

Of course, no weather forecast will ever be 100% reliable, but as technology improves, experts are better than ever before at predicting conditions. And technology like weather radars, maps and satellite images mean that you can get a fairly good idea into what to expect. Long-term datasets also enable walkers to select walks based on typical seasonal weather patterns so you can avoid (if you wish) camping out in the rainiest months of the year! As a general rule shorter term forecasts are more reliable than longer term forecasts. Forecast for the next 24hrs from a reputable source (such as BOM or NOAA) tend to be very reliable.

Dive into this topic by first learning more about weather and then how to check conditions before and during a bushwalk.