6 DAYS IN THE BUDAWANGS – A MISSED TRIP & A LOOK AT GEAR

I should be out on a 6 day hike in the wild Budawang Ranges east of Canberra. Instead, I am sitting indoors typing this.

I had been looking forward to this hike for weeks, but events got on top of me. For various reasons my walking had run down quite a bit, then I had a wonderful, but easy trip to the Flinders Ranges. When I arrived home I was laid low by a virus which stopped me hiking for 5 weeks.   Now the Budawangs trip was looming and I needed to get fit, so I loaded up my pack to 13 kg and started going out every other day, gradually extending the distance and the height gain. I felt really good and knew that if I could do the Mt Tennent/Bushfold Flat walk ( about 17 km and 900m climb) I would have no worries at all on a rugged trip into the Budawangs.   But I had progressed too fast and the Tennent/bushfold walk was my downfall, carrying a 14 kg pack.   The descent of Mt Tennent is a horror: an hour of steep and irregular steps.   My back and knees complained loud and long.   Honestly, the Mt Tennent track is the worst designed one I have come across in a life time of walking. Haven’t the national parks people heard about designing tracks which are lazy, gaining height slowly, easing over the contours rather than going straight up and having to build hundreds of steps?

Anyway, I didn’t dare go off into the Budawangs with a back and a knee which were not 100%. Too late, but the back and knee are slowly getting better and I have been going off in the early mornings for only an hour.   These Canberra mornings are just out of this world. Temperatures are still going pretty low at night and the early mornings are decidedly chilly. But the sky is blue, the air is crystal clear and the birds are singing. I go up onto the Cooleman Ridge, some 10 minutes from where I live, rarely seeing anyone else. Wild flowers are coming into bloom, the Murrumbidgee Valley to the west is green. Beyond, the blue ranges rise , running north to south. I spend a few minutes sitting on Mt Arawang, or further, on Mt Taylor, and am in awe of the incredible beauty of the morning and the view in front of me. A view of unspoiled landscape. How many other cities in the world offer this? And how long will it remain like this?

Seeing that I had a pack ready to go for the Budawangs trip, I decided to list my gear and weigh it all. My gear list is below.

The all-up pack weight came to 13.7 kg for the 6 days, and included 2 litres of water.   To be honest, I could have cut this down to 13 kg. I measure out my stove fuel on the basis of 2 mugs of tea in the morning plus a mug of boiled water for my porridge, and then 4 mugs to boil for dinner – two for tea, one for soup, and one for freeze dried dinner, and I know that each mug takes about 12 mm fuel to boil a mug. I then take a bit of extra fuel. I think that I could have easily cut the fuel down by 250 gms. I could also have omitted 2-3 chocolate and marzipan bars, thus saving another 250 gms, and the first aid kit could have been reduced – I usually take too much when I am in remote, rugged country and have never used any of it in the past. On this occasion I had also included a knee support bandage.

The days of carrying large, heavy packs with heavy gear are now well past. Apart from being a very early adherent of “going light” as a principle I have reached the age where, if I don’t, I will be unable to packwalk. Of course, it took a little while to replace my gear.   From what I can see though, “going light” in Australia is nowhere near as advanced as it is in the USA and it is certainly not something which is espoused by the outfitters here, to judge from the gear they sell. I first came into contact with the principle of going light years ago when I read a book by Ray Jardine  , the person who really got the going light revolution going. In fact my partner and I made a double quilt to replace sleeping bags from his pattern and materials.   He is still selling what appears to be excellent make it yourself gear such as tents and quilts.

For some years now I have looked closely at what the long distance hikers in the USA use, see which are the most popular brands/items and use that as the basis for further research. I think that my two favourite shops are ZPacks and Gossamer Gear, both of which might be termed “cottage Industries” , both leaders in high quality lightweight gear and both are great to deal with (Joe Valesko of Zpacks and Glen van Peski of Gossamer Gear, both of whom are the owners) I go there first for virtually any item I need. Having said that, my Notch Tent is by Tarptent. It is first rate and I found Henry Shires, the owner, just so helpful. My alcohol stove is just great, the Caldera Ti Tri by Trail Designs.   I should say that I have never bothered to use the wood burning or solid fuel options. It has nothing that can go wrong and is completely silent, never imposing on the wilderness with the familiar roar of other stoves. At the time, I thought there might be the possibility of using the one stove for two of us and so opted for the 900 ml pot. I wish now that I had gone for the 600 ml one.   The windshields are integrated with the pots and are made specifically for the particular pot size.

Would I buy the Notch Tent again or go for one of ZPacks excellent ones?   ZPacks tents are made from ultralight cuben fibre, so for example, the Solplex, excluding the required 8 stakes, weighs 439 gms (and 8 ti wire stakes at a min. would weigh 44 gms although I doubt the holding power of such stakes) and costs $US555.   The Notch, including the stakes, weighs 770 gms and costs $US285.   So the difference in weight is equal to 2-3 chocolate bars but the cost differential is a great deal more that 2-3 choc bars. Certainly from the reviews and my own experience, the Notch is an excellent tent.

I have no doubt about the quality of any of the products made by the above-mentioned companies and my ZPacks sleeping bag/quilt (the 10o F model) is outstanding – well made, light, compact and well-rated).

As far as packs are concerned, I have, over a lifetime of hiking, gone through many packs. My first one was a frameless canvas sack which was awful. The next one was a rectangular canvas pack on a tubular steel frame, a UK-made pack by BB called a Cresta High Pack deluxe. .   In those days in South Africa this seemed to be the most popular pack amongst men, whereas the women tended to go for Bergans packs, which had a more triangular shape and also had a steel frame. My pack could certainly carry a huge amount, and so it had to as all our gear tended to be heavy and bulky, As a young man I carried about 65 pounds which usually included some rock climbing gear. In those days, the best packs for load carrying seemed to be Kelty packs but coming from the USA they were prohibitively expensive.   A friend of mine, an engineer in the aluminium industry, a creative fellow and a fellow mountaineer, looked closely at the Kelty packs and the packs carried by Native Americans and trappers, and came up with a wonderful design . We made a couple, from canvas, on aluminium frames we bent ourselves. These two packs were well- balanced and wonderful load carriers. There were times when I had over 70 pounds in mine when the walking was off track and up and down mountains. They were fairly wide, shallow and tall and carried the weight high and close to the back .

Later, I moved to a 70 litre, New Zealand-made pack. Yes, it had all the bells and whistles and a good harness which made for good load carrying. But, you guessed it, it was heavy, about 3 kg.!

Then, through being in touch with developments in the UK and USA I became aware of the developing light weight revolution, years ahead of any general awareness in Australia (even now Australia lags well behind the UK and the USA)  and bought a Golite Pinnacle 60 litre pack.   What a relief to have a lighter pack and gear. My only complaint with the Pinnacle was that it didn’t carry well if I had more than about 11 kg in it. So from there I went to the Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack, also a 60 l one.   The difference was amazing. Having that internal frame and good design made all the difference. On one trip a few years ago, due to the amount of water I needed to carry, I had over 20 kg in it and it was still comfortable to carry.

But, with advancing age, I began to wonder if I really needed a 60 kg pack.  Perhaps in winter when I would need warmer clothing.   But for how much longer would I be able to do trips of more than 3 days duration.   Could I get by with a smaller and lighter pack?   Of course, I knew about the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, but that was only 40 litres. Come on! 40 l !   That is almost a day pack!   Then one day I noticed that Backpacker Magazine (from memory) had voted the Gorilla the best medium size pack on the market. So I read the reviews and was greatly impressed.   Hmmm!   Oh yes!   But what sort of gear were the reviewers using?   Then I noticed that my favourite hiker and blogger , Christy Rossander, aka ladyonarock used one and said how good it is. And she does 5-6 day hikes in between resupplying. I then had a look at her gear list, and saw that her gear was pretty much the same as mine, except for the female underwear etc. So I took a chance and ordered one.   Well!   I am so impressed. Glenn has thought of everything. It is extremely well designed, looks good, is extremely well made, and will indeed take everything for 6 days.   But more than that, it is the most comfortable, well-balanced, pack I have ever carried. I am amazed at how good it is. Why do people go into outfitters and buy “supermarket” packs when they can buy a Gorilla?   Having the Gorilla has definitely extended my packwalking days and my comfort..

The gear list:-

Item gms gms
PACK Gossamer Gear Gorilla 954
CARRIED IN PACK :-
TENT – Notch by Tarptent 770
GROUNDSHEET – polycryo – 53
SLEEPING BAG/ QUILT   Zpacks 10 degree (f) 627
THERMA REST NEO AIR 334
INSUL FOAM STRIP 68
COOKING
Trail designs Caldera Ti Tri stove
burner 15
windshield – ti 40
Pot, – Evernew, 900 ml, ti 111
2 ti tent pegs as pot support 13
mug 15
fuel – methylated spirits 638 832
                   spoon 12
                   lighter 21
                 matches 18
                 dishdrops 52
                 scourer
                 (striker)   ( 32 gms) not packed
CLOTHING
puffy jacket – MH Ghost Whisperer 232
rain pants (rebel sports) 204
rain jacket – RAB, eVent 490
Thermals – top & bottoms 258
Socks – wool – by Aldi 110
buff 30
shirt 207
underpants – 2 pairs – REI 104
beany – fleece 50
gloves – pile 97
liner gloves 33
overmitts – waterproof – goretex – OR 108
extra baselayer – wool, short sleeves 159
Fleece light, short pullover 228
scrub gloves 89 2399
FOOD 2981
BATHROOM
toothbrush 8
paste 29
soap 35
deodorant 35
spectacles wash 15
towel – bandana 36
comb 8
razor 9 175
TOILET
Trowel – deuce of spades 17
Toilet paper, handwash gel, wet wipes 206 223
GPS 241
PLB 216
COMPASS 38
MAPS & MAP CASE 257
CAMERA 493
EMERGENCY 267
spare batteries
shoelace
notebook, pencil
duct tape
emergency blanket
421
FIRST AID
88
HEAD TORCH – TIKKA   XP2
HEAD NET 14
WATER PURIFIER – SQUEEZE 101
WATER – 2 Litres 2052
WATER CONTAINER, empty, 2lt, wine bladder 25
TOTAL 13732
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