Safety in the Mountains

No sooner do you print 4,000 copies of a book than the obvious oversights stare the writer in the face. I have found a serious deficiency in ‘Safety in the Mountains’ section about snow shelters: a clever advertisement in the Queenstown Lakes District Council ratepayers’ newsletter points out that because a snow-cave is technically a dwelling under provision of the District Plan, before you dig a one you need resource consent, building consent and a DOC concession to build a temporary structure. We will make appropriate corrections in the next edition. It also turns out that the potentially most useful instruction in the whole book, on page 65, is also misleading: our printer was too zealous and coated the paper and as a result the book won’t burn. So much for maximising utility!


Perhaps I am too stoical about sandfly bites? Roger Brown of NZAC South Canterbury Section explains that the itch from sandfly bites results from your body producing antihistamine. Hydrocortisone provides the antidote, he says, and any ointments with B.P. 0.5% hydrocortisone will instantly relieve the itch. As plastic tubes are prone to breaking Roger recommends one called Skincalm cream, still available in a metal tube. His technique involves dabbing some ointment on his finger and then ‘squashing the little buggers with it.’ This way he ensures the ointment is applied to the appropriate spot before any itch develops. In fact, he says, you don’t even know that you’ve been bitten. He arms his family with tubes of Skincalm and Repel insect repellent before heading into the Hills and claims complete success.

Cellphone Charging

Don O’Brien of the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club agrees that multi-purpose cell-phone chargers for AA batteries are already available; however, some are specifically for iPods. He recommends Varta, bought from Bunnings or Harvey Norman for about $30. The Energiser stands in supermarkets also have some over-priced, similar devices. The Varta charger, about the size of a match box, works best using high capacity AA rechargeables, with the 5V USB socket rated at 300mA. It comes with a small USB extension lead and adaptors to suit many common phones, including mini USB. To fully charge a phone takes several hours and may require another set of batteries. The very compact charger weighs almost nothing without batteries, and will recharge almost anything that uses a USB. It can also charge the AA batteries if you can find a USB source. 

Don bought another small charging device from Pak ‘n’ Save for $5: it plugs into a USB socket, or the Varta charger, and has a spring-loaded jaw with two small movable arms to recharge most 3.6v Li-ion phone or camera batteries. It’s what you use if your charger packs up, or you lose the charger. He says these things look so Mickey Mouse that he didn’t believe they’d work, but they do. You could possibly recharge a Li-ion battery on a long trip with this plus a Varta charger – except for the 7.4V Li-ion batteries.

Battery charge

Warren Sutton amd a small group from Wanaka completed a leisurely trip around the Travers-Sabine Loop when, on about the fourth day, his camera batteries started going flat, even the fully charged spares. He could recover some of the charge by leaving the battery to warm in the sun, but this was less than completely satisfactory. We did discuss batteries in an earlier UJCC, but it is worth recapping that most batteries, and rechargables in particular, don’t like the cold. Keep them nice and warm down the front of your shirt, next to the skin.

Fancy Gear

Deeply stung by taunts about my antique gear from so-called mates on my May tramp, my gear has now undergone a severe make-over. My new Helly Hansen polyurethane/fleece Sou’wester hat is a lot warmer and more watertight than my 29-year-old japara Sou’wester. As I don’t like parka hoods when tramping, Sou’wester hats keep my glasses dry, and prevent rain trickling down the back of my neck. 

A Helly Hansen Lifa Warm Ice Crew (now, there’s a mouthful) baselayer seemed to perform more or less to specifications when I field-tested it in the Huxley Valley last month. The synthetic layer next to my skin didn’t feel cold when damp, and the outer merino layer felt nice. I’m happy. It’s a lot more comfortable than my old polyprop top, though at the price I would hesitate to wear it in scrub.

My new Black Diamond Raven Pro tramping ice-axe is a compromise between weight (400 grams) and utility. With another brand, I could have saved another 100 grams, but I found that the Raven Pro could only just manage chopping steps in hard snow, so I’m pleased not to have bought anything lighter. Besides, it came for a good price at the Bivouac sale. For cutting steps, I still prefer my old Chouinard.

My final purchase was a 75-litre Foray pack from Cactus Climbing Equipment. Its capacity probably stretches beyond 75 litres, and I find it very comfortable and solid. Its ‘made in Christchurch’ tag more than compensates for the higher price. At almost three kilograms, it’s no lighter than my 13-year-old Macpac Torre, but then I know it’s going to get a hard time. I was disappointed at the new and much cheaper Macpac Torre: perhaps a pack held together with tent poles is going to survive hard-yakka scrub bashing, but I still remember the old K2 packs that didn’t.

Hakili matagi,

Robin McNeill
44 Duke Street
Invercargill 9810

This column was originally published in the November 2012 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.