Given the recent spate of airlift and paramedic emergencies throughout our local bushwalking tracks over the summer, it’s time to talk safety. Yes, the details that might just save your life, or at least some uncomfortable experiences out there in the wilderness.
Take heed of the following seven important points for everyday bushwalking ...
Don’t walk alone. It’s not safe for so many reasons. Take a friend or small group.
Talk about safety together, plan your strategy if there is an issue – what’s the plan?
Tell other people (ie. partner, friend, mum or dad) exactly where you’re going and when they should expect you home. They can then swing into action if they think there might be an issue.
Walk with an organised group or association. They know the trails, are prepared for the worst and should be first-aid trained. Talk to them about insurance coverage so you know what is and isn’t covered if there is an incident.
Stick together. Don’t separate. The old rule still remains true – safety in numbers.
There’s a common misconception about grade of walks in the Illawarra and surrounds. No, it’s not Everest, you won’t get altitude sickness, and you probably don’t need any special equipment or the strength to dangle from a rock cliff by your finger tips – but some trails can be deceptively difficult.
Take for example the popular Sublime Point track. Yes, it’s cool to post your accomplished “I made it” selfie and a great inspirational fitness goal to aim for – but are you fit enough? Do you have asthma? Do you have other medical concerns? Have you prepared for this? And who are you walking with – are you going with someone who is prepared to wait if you need to go slowly?
Think about some of these scenarios I’ve experienced:
Do your research on the trail prior to the walk, have a plan and, most importantly, adjust it according to the conditions.
I haven’t mentioned age. I don’t think it’s relevant - it’s fitness, agility and overall health that matters, not a number.
This summer has been particularly warm, with extreme temps and little rain. Bushwalking has been brutal. Are you prepared?
Unless you are returning to a familiar trail and you can run out the door in five-minutes flat with your gear ready, you need to prepare. This means:
Some hazards are easy to avoid, others are simply accidents. With the hot weather this summer, people tend to flock to the creeks and waterholes. This means hazards. Slippery rocks, boulders, crevices and water. Take your time and plan your footing. Wriggle that rock before you put your full weight down, don’t run, use your arms and hands, get your bum dirty and ask for a steadying hand to help you cross or get up trickier sections.
Another major risk around the Illawarra is cliff danger, made worse by the escarpment’s unstable sandstone geology. It’s important to exercise maximum caution when walking around cliffs. Consider unstable rocky outcrops and wind gusts, which can be unpredictable and knock you off your feet. No selfie is worth falling off a cliff for.
6. Water hazards
This summer also gave us a heartbreaking amount of fatalities. Our waterholes are generally murky and contain underwater hazards such as logs and rocks. The risk is exacerbated with the younger crowd doing backflips off rocks. Yes, we all get it’s a lot of fun, but suss things out first. Gently get into the water and assess the risks, don’t run on the rocks that are generally slippery and know your limits.
Bushwalking with kids is a rewarding and pleasurable experience for both you and your kids, one that they will cherish for life. Just remember on many walks there is water. If your children cannot swim, you need to be diligent to ensure you are watching them at all times around water on the walk – even shallow water and puddles can lead to tragedy.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I do because I’ve seen you out there doing this. And worse I’ve seen the rubbish you have left behind … our local trails are not for partying. It’s not good for severe hangovers and it’s certainly not good to go out there and plan to get intoxicated on either alcohol or anything else. You need to keep your full wits about you while out walking. Being drunk whilst bushwalking is stupid and irresponsible. Don’t do it, and don’t let your mates do it.
This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have concerns or questions in regards to bushwalking and our local trails, please contact me via www.bushwalkthegong.com and I can assist. If you are out on the trails and an emergency strikes, call triple-zero immediately for expert assistance.
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