August 2014  Winter Tramping

Uncle Jacko emphasises the importance of a good pair of knickers in the backcountry and how winter tramping often seems more alluring whilst in the comforts of an armchair.

I joined Patunamu Tramping Club members Gaz and Geoff (only some of the names have been changed to protect the lives of the innocent) for a winter tramping trip in early July. It had seemed a good idea the previous week, but as the snow fell to below bushline while we waded the Moeraki River running a fresh, we had some cause to reconsider how easy it is to misplace your optimism in the comforts of an armchair at home.

Weather Gods

Before we set out we consulted the oracles: I placed my trust in the Norwegian weather site www.yr.no while Geoff stuck to the older prophet Jim McGreggor at www.metvuw.com. Gaz maintained that Hughie, the weather god, wouldn’t take much notice of false idols and we would be punished for our unbelief either way. Metvuw was pretty accurate, but I thought Norwegian Blue (skies) had the edge in correctly predicting a perfect fine day that Metvuw marked as being only acceptable.

Torches

Geoff and I had recently acquired Black Diamond ReVolt rechargeable LED headlamps. What I particularly like about these headlamps is the ability to charge them from a USB charger. Five volt USB battery chargers have finally become the standard interface for all sorts of consumer electronics, thank goodness. I was anticipating late night reading as well as tramping, so for good measure I bought along a USB recharge battery pack I had been given. It wasn’t needed, even though I did spend a lot of time each evening reading and we had an hour walking in the dark.

My ReVolt is rated at 90 lumens for 12 hours, dimmable to four lumens for 190 hours. For reading a ‘yippee’ in the hut, four lumens is fine, but for following a track I felt that 90 lumens was about as dim as I felt comfortable with. Black Diamond claim that 90 lumens is good for 66 metres range, but I don’t think that applies to the West Coast. Gaz is a keen mountain biker and had a very expensive LED searchlight and separate, substantial battery pack, which put my 90 lumens to shame.

Conservative trampers may like to put off buying an LED headlamp for another seven years until laser lamps become common. Like white LED lamps, they generate white light by shining onto a phosphor coating in the bulb, but they are much more efficient. Unfortunately, they are still some time away from coming on to the market.

High-tech clothes

I had the opportunity to visit the REI store in San Francisco the other month. Overall, I wasn’t convinced it was worth the trek I made to get there now that Enzed outdoor shops carry a good range of stock, but I did succumb to the lure of a pair of Exofficio 94% nylon/6% Spandex Give-N-Go® mesh knickers. I can report that my bum didn’t feel cold, prickly and clammy after my shorts got wet from the rain and that the knickers did indeed dry out very quickly, as the advertising promised. They were comfortable and I am happy with them.

Looking at their website later (www.exofficio.com), I see Exofficio have a range of Permethrin impregnated clothes that will reputedly repel mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and midges. The repellent is claimed to last 70 washings, which must equate to 70 days’ tramping in Fiordland. Can anyone report success with this?

Thermometers

For many years now I have had a tag thermometer attached to a zipper on my pack and I find it invaluable. You need to remember that rain turns to snow at about 1°C and that the adiabatic lapse rate is -2°C/300 metres. This means that if the air temperature is 4°C where you are standing in the rain, you can be sure that somewhere between 300 and 600 metres above you, the rain will be falling as snow. I also use it to figure out how many layers of clothes to put on. I find it really hard to guess the air temperature, especially if I have been working hard, or have stopped for lunch, but I have learnt to look at my thermometer and use that to guide what I should wear. For instance, if there is no wind, one layer of polyprop is good for 5–15°C ambient temperature, as long as I keep moving. Watching the temperature drop while maintaining a steady altitude tells you that the southerly clearance is arriving.

Track clearing

We didn’t need a thermometer to know that the monkey-scrub above us had a layer of frozen snow on it when we woke on the frosty morning after the southerly had gone through. Once upon a time we wouldn’t have minded scratching our legs as we bashed our way through the stuff and freezing our fingers to way beyond the pain threshold, but instead we headed back down valley, trimming the track on the way. Track work didn’t add too much time to our travel, perhaps 50%. And sawing a tree trunk proved to be a good way to get warm.

Geoff had bought a pair of lightweight Fiskars 3X geared loppers ($100) for such an eventuality. Rated for branches up to 55mm diameter, branches up to around 80mm could be dealt to by attacking from both sides. They were fast and easy to use. We agreed that it was worth paying extra for the gearing, lightweight and precision that cheaper loppers don’t feature.

I brought along a small folding pruning saw. Although it saw only intermittent action, it was useful, being good for branches up to 140mm diameter. We could once have done with a chainsaw, but even then a track detour fixed the problem; it would have cost us more effort to carry it than it was worth. Tying pink flagging tape to branches to replace fallen down, or missing markers completed our work. It was a satisfying day.

I need to add that both the loppers and saw were useful for resupplying firewood in the huts too.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill
‘Altagore’, 85 Sunrise Drive, Seaward
Bush, Invercargill 9812.
r.mcneill@ieee.org

This column was originally published in the August 2014 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife. 

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