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Getting Help in a Bushwalking Emergency: Devices to Consider

 

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Back in the day, a bushwalker’s emergency devices comprised a whistle, a box of matches and a mirror! Thankfully, things have moved on. When an emergency arises in the bush, contacting help can be stressful, but, by being prepared, you can be confident you will get help when required.

To ensure you’re adequately equipped, you’ll need to first consider the duration and location of your walk, mobile phone reception and whether it’s a solo or group walk. Here’s a short overview that explains how various devices work. The Bushwalking Manual contains a more detailed analysis.

Mobile phone

  • If you have mobile reception, dial 000 and ask for the Police
  • The Emergency Plus app lists a location in three ways: address, Latitude/Longitude and what3words. Emergency Plus is only an app, so it relies on the capabilities of the phone. When there is no phone reception, the app provides an error message when opened: hence it cannot replace a PLB or satellite communicator.
  • what3words is an app that provides position as a unique combination of three words. It’s not actually an emergency app, as it simply specifies location, but CANNOT connect you to emergency services. Interestingly, it still operates to some degree if your mobile has no reception, because the app downloads a considerable library of the 3-word positions, and it can match these to a position via the phone’s GPS, which is independent of phone coverage.

REMEMBER: No mobile reception = no connection to emergency services.

A variety of other devices are useful when there’s no mobile reception. A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is the simplest and most cost-effective, with a one-off purchase cost of approx. $320, free access to satellites and a battery life of 5-10 years.  Other devices that access satellite networks also have an upfront cost, plus the ongoing cost of a subscription to a satellite network, which can easily overshadow the cost of the device.

Here’s a comparison of devices:

PLB
A PLB works completely differently to a phone. A modern PLB contains an accurate GPS: when activated, it transmits its position to a worldwide satellite distress network about once every five minutes. It will also transmit a rapid homing signal that can be picked up by air- and sea-craft. PLBs also contain a high-intensity strobe to attract search aircraft. No satellite subscription is required.
PLBs can be hired online, or from outdoor equipment suppliers.

Satellite Phone
This is the most expensive option – over $1000 for a handset before you sign up for a subscription. There are four networks for Australia, with Iridium (the most expensive) being the only really global network. An active satellite subscription is required. More information

Satellite phones can also be hired.

Other Satellite Communicators

  1. Garmin devices with inReach technology: this includes the Mini Orange, Explorer+, GPSMAP 66i, Montana 700i and Montana 750i. inReach technology allows the user to SMS, send positions for tracking, get weather info and send an SOS message in an emergency. inReach uses the Iridium satellite network, which has the best coverage and largest number of satellites. An active satellite subscription is required; Garmin has a variety of packages. More information
  2. SPOT devices, including SPOT GEN 3 & 4 and SPOT X 2-way. These devices send out a GPS location and message, which is relayed via satellites and read via the internet using email or text. The SPOT X can both send and receive texts and emails. These devices are particularly popular with solo walkers or searchers who have a base support team. SPOT uses the Globalstar satellite network (less satellites than Iridium) and an active subscription is required. There are a number of packages. More information
  3. Zoleo Communicator: Zoleo links with a mobile phone app to provide satellite texting of GPS position and emergency contact via the Iridium satellite network. An active satellite subscription is required; Zoleo has various packages. More information

REMEMBER: A PLB or SOS button on a Satellite Communicator MUST ONLY be used in situations of grave and imminent danger, where you feel you are facing a life-threatening situation.

The difference between Mobile and Satellite Networks:

When in range of a phone tower, a mobile phone, being a communication system, is generally connected and instantly available; not so a satellite. Even using the Iridium network – which is primarily used for communication and has 66 satellites, each whizzing around the earth 14 times a day at an astonishing 27,000 kph – a satellite may not be ‘in view’ when your communication device is activated. Connection to the satellite network will also depend on terrain.  One may need to wait quite a few minutes, or get to a better position, in order for the device to ‘see’ a satellite.

In comparison with other devices, a PLB uses six distinct satellite arrays, not one, and about 30 mission control centres. It usually takes only a few minutes for the registered next of kin to be notified if a PLB has been activated, and only a little longer to confirm the position and raise the alarm with the local search and rescue organisation. A PLB is designed for emergencies and uses a well-established emergency system. The other satellite communication devices have multiple functions, use only one satellite array and do not transmit the same emergency signals as a PLB.

So … if I were lying in the bush with no mobile reception and a broken leg, I’d have a PLB with me  (as well as my ancient, trusty whistle!)

Andrew Robinson (Bushwalker, Navigation Trainer)

Last updated: November, 2021

Review of The Pyrenees Touring Guide 1st Edition

A New Map from Meridian

Pyrenees Touring Guide 1st Edition

Lots of interesting, varied walks, fine wines, delicious food, comfortable accommodation, camping and picnic grounds, cycling trails, stunning vistas and tracks to explore with a 4WD or SUV: this is the beautiful Pyrenees region. Located between Ballarat and Ararat, north of the Western Highway, it’s a little too far from Melbourne for a simple day trip. As you plan post-lockdown activities, why not spend at least a few days exploring and sampling the activities the Pyrenees has to offer? The Pyrenees Touring Guide is an excellent map of the area which will suit all types of visitors.

The map, which is packed with information, is a large double-sided sheet scaled at 1:50,000. While this scale does not allow every walking track to be marked, the main ones are there and, with contours at an interval of 10 meters, there is plenty of detail for walkers. The more-detailed 1:35,000 inset of the southern part of Mount Cole and Mount Buangor areas will be of particular interest to bushwalkers.

There are a variety of walking opportunities in the Pyrenees, including short walks (1 to 3 km) to features such as waterfalls. Longer day walks include the Sugarloaf Circuit in the Mount Buangor State Park and the Langi Ghiran-Hidden Lagoon Circuit in the Langi Ghiran State Park; both of these involve some steep, rocky tracks, so would suit energetic walkers. Experienced walkers may like to try an overnight pack-carry such as the Beeripmo Walk, which winds through both the Mount Cole State Forest and the Mount Buangor State Park. There are also opportunities for longer walks in the large Pyrenees Range State Forest: the one-way Pyrenees Endurance Walk (marked on the map) runs east to west. The forest’s extensive track network is shared with trail bikes, 4WDs and other campers. Many of these walks provide panoramic views, changing vegetation, and abundant birdlife.

Printed copies of The Pyrenees Touring Guide can be purchased from local and online retailers and through Meridian Maps; both sides of the paper map are also available in georeferenced electronic form through the phone app Avenza. It is worth noting that the inset map (Mt Cole/Mt Buangor) is not georeferenced. Having the electronic version of these maps and using the GPS capability of the phone means you always know exactly where you are. This is the beauty of having the maps available both as paper and on a phone app that has full navigational ability.

This publication is ideal for all types of visitors to the wonderful Pyrenees region – from families that enjoy short walks during their holidays, to serious bushwalkers who’d like to try a more challenging overnight pack-carry. The Pyrenees Touring Guide is certainly a welcome new guide to this fascinating region.

Written by Andrew Robinson (Bushwalker, Camper, Mapping and Navigation trainer)

Tips for Summer Bushwalking

Summer brings unique challenges; here are some tips for making bushwalks in summer enjoyable and safe. 

Summer 1  Summer 2  Summer 3

Images: Liz Robinson

Choose your walk carefully

  • Summer can be scorching, so choose a walk to suit the weather.
  • Avoid desert walks; look for routes that provide some shade.
  • Avoid any walk that involves steep climbs during the hottest part of the day.
  • Locations such as the Goldfields, Brisbane Ranges, Werribee Gorge, Long Forest and Lerderderg Gorge are not generally recommended for summer walks.

Be prepared

  • Check fire warnings before you set out. Cancel your walk if the weather forecast is Catastrophic/Code Red or Extreme. Victorian parks and forests in bushfire-prone areas are often closed to the public on Code Red days.
  • Plan to start your walk early in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day.
  • Wear light colours, long sleeves and lightweight loose-fitting clothes to facilitate sweat evaporation. Don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • Carry plenty of water. Safe, naturally-occurring drinking water is generally non-existent in the bush in summer.
  • Learn to identify the symptoms of heat exhaustion and know how to treat it.

During the walk

  • Stay well-hydrated before, during and after your walk and consider carrying extra electrolytes to replace those lost when you sweat.
  • Allow time for a slower pace and to have more frequent drink and rest stops.
  • If you’re doing a long walk, either take a lengthy midday break or see if you can reduce the distance to be covered.

You can find more detailed information about trip planning, dealing with extreme weather, walking in challenging conditions and minimum water requirements in the Bushwalking Manual.

Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing Project Update

October 2021 Project Update

Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing

Photo Source: Parks Victoria Website

The Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing (FHAC) is the third of Victoria’s Icon walks to be developed.  The FHAC was first proposed around 2005 and became government policy in 2014.  BWV's main concerns with the development of the FHAC are outlined in submissions made to Parks Victoria in 2015 and 2017.  These continue to be the BWV position and are available on the BWV website at https://bushwalkingvictoria.org.au/advocacy#  

The project has very strong support from state and local governments, tourism bodies and local businesses.  Funding of $15m for the project was included in the 2021/22 state budget.

BWV has two representatives on the Strategic Partnerships Committee (SPC) established by Parks Victoria to provide project management and consultation input to the project.  Our representatives are Chris Towers, a former BWV president and board member, Eileen Clark from Border Bushwalking Club and BTAC Field Officer for the alpine area.  Other members of the committee include a representative from the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA), with the remainder being from government agencies such as Regional Development Victoria, and Falls Creek and Hotham resort management, Alpine Shire, and Tourism North East. 

The three main aspects that concern BWV the most include:

  1. Maintaining access to existing campsites,
  2. Maintaining open access to the trail for independent walkers,
  3. The siting and scale of huts, especially in the vicinity of High Knob. 

Parks Victoria has already given commitments on the first two and plans for the accommodation are not yet detailed enough to enable an informed decision.

A comprehensive Environmental Values Assessment of the trail has recently been completed which entailed an on-ground assessment of the entire 57km route, including a 20m corridor on either side of the trail. This work gives an unprecedented insight into the flora and fauna that exist beside the existing trail and will inform further updates to the Master Plan.  Typically Parks Victoria would release just a summary but have committed to publicly release the full report.  This is expected in the next few weeks.  One early decision resulting from this assessment is that the only new section of trail that had been contemplated, from Tawonga Huts to the saddle below Mt Jaimathong and on to pole 333, will now not proceed. 

A Landscape Visual Impact Assessment will soon be undertaken by a separate consultancy that will look at minimising the visual impact of the trail and the planned accommodation.  This assessment will be critical to informing the siting of the accommodation and will be closely scrutinised by BWV.  Parks has recently stated that the trail will not be constructed as a ‘walkers highway’ with major work limited to protecting the environment from the impact of walkers e.g. track braiding on the Diamantina Spur.

BWV remains concerned about aspects of the project but is somewhat encouraged by recent decisions by Parks Victoria, and through its involvement on the SPC will continue to advocate strongly for the interests of as wide a range of bushwalkers as possible. 

For more information on the project, including a Spring 2021 Community update that answers some common questions and concerns, visit https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/projects/falls-to-hotham-alpine-crossing-project-planning

For more information contact Chris Towers on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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