Reading Time: 7 minutes
Bushwalking and ski touring are most enjoyable recreational activities, providing healthy exercise in clean, fresh air, access to beautiful, unspoiled environments and the freedom to participate at your own pace or that of a well-matched group. They also provide opportunities to pursue a range of complementary interests, mix with enjoyable company, share experiences and gain mutual support; and achieve a sense of satisfaction when objectives are reached.
In practice, however, these activities have only the potential to yield all these pleasures. These great outcomes do not all happen automatically on every trip. Good planning helps make them happen.
Bushwalking and ski touring are activities that can give a great deal of pleasure to many people. Good planning and leadership will increase the likelihood of a successful and enjoyable trip for all.
To help achieve this a good leader will:
- choose an area suitable for the particular time of year the trip is to be held
- select a route suited to the area and group skills, experience and fitness
- ensure group members understand and appreciate the skills, experience and fitness required for the trip
- ensure participants are aware of the nature and size of the group
- understand weather conditions for the area at particular times of the year
- give guidance to the group regarding equipment, food and expectations for the trip
- plan options to suit changed conditions, e.g. an alternative route
Why do people want to undertake adventurous outdoor activities? There is, of course, no simple, universal answer to the question. People are different. However, the search for adventure with enjoyable company along the way is a common motivation.
A group of beginner bushwalkers may undertake a delightful walk with beautiful views and endless interest in the natural history of the area, but what really brings them to life could be some off track navigation in challenging terrain with a river crossing. A long haul up a spur on a warm day may seem like a slog, but when it is time to look back and enjoy the view, a positive charge surges through everyone.
Level of challenge
Planning should include challenging elements at a level of difficulty where group members are unsure of how they will go, but are prepared to make an attempt. To climb a long spur, to cover a large distance, to negotiate some rocky ground, to carry a heavy pack and to camp in the snow are all examples that particular individuals may find challenging in a trip. For individuals facing such personal challenges, the support and encouragement of the group can be critical for success.
If the challenges of a trip are too great for the experience of the participants then they may fail to meet them and suffer serious physical or emotional harm. Thus leaders must be careful to assess the experience and capability of every member of the group, and pitch the challenges at a level that will stimulate rather than dismay.
The greatest challenge is often the unknown. Usually group members will derive considerable support and reassurance from a leader’s knowledge and experience, e.g. “we are halfway there” or “the water in the river will be up to your knees and the bottom is sandy”.
If a leader undertakes a trip beyond their personal limits, the challenge for the group members is dramatically increased, and safety may be compromised.
At the planning stage it is not only critical to choose the right level of challenge, but also to arrange the challenging elements in the best possible way. Thought should be given to the sequence and timing of these planned challenges. For example, a difficulty early in the trip can do wonders to speed up the process of group development, creating a sense of common purpose.
The right level of challenge depends on the experience and motivation of the group. They will not always want to be challenged – sometimes they may simply want to photograph wildflowers, look at the views or enjoy a relaxing stroll through the bush. Every group member’s motivation will vary from time to time, as well as undergoing gradual long-term changes.
Group members will gain the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment from a trip if they feel that they themselves overcame obstacles and made discoveries (with just a little help from the leader!).
Trip leaders should:
- Strive to let group members discover these things for themselves, but make it easy for them to do so.
- Demonstrate confidence in the common sense and ability of group members to take care of themselves.
In some situations trip leaders will need to exercise careful judgement to decide the degree of warning or active protection which may be appropriate when the group faces more significant hazards.
Flexibility and safety
Bushwalking and similar outdoor activities such as ski touring, canoeing and rafting all contain elements of unpredictability. The weather may change quickly or a group member may have an accident. Plans must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate suddenly imposed difficulties.
Flexible planning does not mean incomplete planning. In fact, it goes beyond basic planning. Leaders must first consider where some difficulties might arise, what those difficulties might be, and possible responses and their consequences.
Bushwalking is generally a safe activity. Repeated general warnings of danger may seem over the top and should be avoided. It is better to make people aware of any specific hazards and explain how they can be avoided and/or managed.
The elements of enjoyment, challenge/achievement and safety/flexibility are very important to the success of any trip. Equally important is the balance of these three. A trip which is very safe but has no satisfying achievements will be rather dull. Alternatively, a trip where all thought and energy is devoted to achieving some ambitious goal may be very risky.
Strike an appropriate balance between the three areas of concern. The right balance for one group may be very different from that for another or in other circumstances, and the balance may change during the trip. Flexibility can be learned and will be more easily applied if options have been considered. Judgement will improve with experience.
Physical conditioning and morale
Sound preparation and conditioning for bushwalks or ski tours includes both physical fitness and attitude.
Bushwalking and ski touring have their own specific fitness requirements that are best acquired through practice. Proper training and a gradual build up are essential prior to undertaking extended trips. Accidents can occur and potentially dangerous situations develop when group members are unequal to the task set for them.
Training should include familiarisation with the different conditions that may be encountered, thus strengthening attitudes and responses to situations of apparent stress and discomfort. Trip conditions may be wet, cold, hot or scrubby. Nevertheless, participants can learn to cope and enjoy themselves despite possible sore feet and a heavy pack.
Good morale enhances trip enjoyment and helps when coping with difficult conditions.
Physical and mental fitness for bushwalking and skiing can be supplemented by other physical activities. However, a series of trips that gradually increase in difficulty is the best way to develop and strengthen personal ability and confidence.
Maximum pack weight
Careful attention to what is carried is needed to strike a balance between pack weight on one hand and safety and comfort on the other. Consider adequate equipment, clothing and food, while ensuring pack weight is not excessive for expected trip conditions.
“Maximum pack weight” is sometimes said to be 25-30% of a person’s body weight.
However, pack weight should also take into account a person’s fitness and training for the specific activity. For example, a fit small-framed person may comfortably carry more than a third of their body weight while an overweight larger-framed person could not safely carry this weight.
It is obviously desirable to carry as little as possible within the bounds of safety and comfort. Bushwalkers generally consider a pack weight approaching 30kg to be very heavy.
Having decided where to go, a good trip leader will consider what can be achieved on the trip and how it can be made enriching and enjoyable. There are many objectives ranging from purely physical ones, such as climbing a mountain peak in the shortest possible time to more abstract ones such as enjoying the landscape or the feeling of wilderness.
Trips are often planned around one or two main objectives, plus some minor objectives contributing to the feeling of enrichment. For instance, a trip can be planned in spring to the Grampians with the specific objective of looking at the wildflowers, but at the same time participants will be stimulated by the varied landscape, the unique geology and hopefully the pleasant weather and a congenial group. Table 1 lists some issues which should be considered in trip planning.
All group members should be clear about the objectives of the trip. How that is achieved will vary. A trip could be promoted by publishing details in a club newsletter or by sending an email to friends who might be interested in coming along and are capable of undertaking the trip.
After deciding on broad objectives, try to plan for specific highlights on each day of the walk. Psychologically it is often quite helpful to ‘arrange’ for highlights after tedious or difficult stretches of walking or skiing. On a two or three-day trip, plan a climax during the last afternoon. These trips can sometimes deteriorate on the last day as people become keen to get back home. Try to arrange a good view or an interesting feature toward the end of the trip and they will go home feeling pleased with the day.
|Table 1. Some issues to be considered for trip planning|
|Seasons||Plan trips with the seasons in mind: visit the foothills in spring, alpine areas in summer and winter, the tall forests and beaches in spring and autumn.|
|Botany and zoology||Become familiar with major plant and animal communities in different areas. Learn to recognise features of contrast such as changes in vegetation with altitude and soil (rock) type, and the different ages of forests. Small booklets can help identify flowers, plants and birds.|
|History||Find out about the historic features of an area and plan to visit some of these. A whole walk may be based on visits to historic sites.|
|Geology and geography||Geological and geographical features of the area such as base rock, stream pattern and mountain ranges may be of interest along with features e.g. mountain tops, gorges, rock outcrops, fossils and old mines. Some geological maps are also excellent topographical maps.|
|Conservation||Conservation issues of an area may be of considerable interest, e.g. threatened flora and fauna species, logging, commercial development.|
|Entertainment||Consider a songbook, a book of verse, a small musical instrument or a pack of cards.|
There are a number of classic walks across the country, e.g. Australian Alps Walking Track, Bibbulmun Track and Western Arthur Range. Some classic walks have gained ‘icon’ status either by reputation or from promotion by Parks or Tourism Departments, e.g. the Overland Track and the Larapinta Trail.
These walks offer opportunities to enjoy unique scenery, traversing world heritage landscapes and may include significant cultural features such as aboriginal sites or early European historic sites. The completion of such a walk can be an objective in itself.
Generally these walks follow specifically marked tracks which aids route finding. Other walkers are often encountered on the track or at campsites to share information and provide a sense of safety.
Planning for these walks is easier with information readily available in guidebooks and park notes. Commercial services may provide transport to starting points, locations along the route and pick ups at the end and accommodation options.
A great deal of the planning is therefore already done so a relatively challenging walk can be planned fairly easily, making these walks popular with interstate and overseas visitors.
Note that some of these walks must be booked well in advance. As a consequence, groups may be forced to choose an unfavourable time of year and encounter adverse weather.
The desire to complete and “tick off” a classic walk on a fixed schedule can override safety considerations that are addressed throughout this manual.
Some further information on classic and iconic walks is provided in the state sections of this manual.