More on Jetboil

Terra Dumont writes that she uses a Jetboil all the time and absolutely loves it. Despite use for many years, it has yet to explode from cooking curries, pasta, scrambled eggs, bacon, couscous, porridge, soup and, yes, even melting snow. Terra thinks that the Jetboil is not as fragile as the instruction manual would have you believe. She adds that she turns a very blind eye to the ‘do not fill above this line’ and tops it up with nice steaming curry. Like any other pot, she advises, just make sure it doesn’t boil over and burn you. 

Satellite navigation

In the course of my work, I have recently had to learn a bit about global navigation satellite systems, of which GPS is the best known. What I hadn’t realised before I started mapping their orbits, was that these satellites don’t go too close to the South Celestial Pole, which means that you can be sure that you will never see a GPS satellite within 35 degrees of either side of the South Pole, unless it is pretty much directly overhead. So, if you are having a brew-up while waiting for a GPS fix, it pays to place your GPS where it has views of the sky to the north and not the south. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble getting a GPS fix in a canyon facing south.

What I also hadn’t realised is the extent to which GPS receivers have a mind of their own when it comes to accuracy. Armed with an atomic clock and a very fancy receiver, I can verify that indeed your reported location can happily jump a few metres and stay there for perhaps half an hour. I was already aware of this with my own tramping GPS, noting that on different days a waypoint, which the GPS claimed on both occasions to locate with three metres accuracy, could be 10 metres apart. Paul Denys at the University of Otago has done work on this and to roughly summarise his paper on the topic, 95% of the time you can expect a good handheld GPS receiver to put you within seven metres of where it claims to be. But don’t be surprised when sometimes it puts you 20 metres away from where it really is. This is not going to be an imposition for most trampers, but if you are looking for an important waypoint, you need to keep your wits about you. 

Pointy corners

Who else has noticed that the corners of the aluminium foil used for wrapping painkillers, food and suchlike have a tendency to puncture plastic bags? I keep my food in one or two plastic bags when I stuff it into my pack and used to find that these corners would tend to cause stress points followed by rips in the bags. There are only two solutions, depending on the material to be packed:  either discard the wrapper and put the contents into a zip-lock bag before leaving home, or assiduously bend each corner of the wrapper over onto itself. It’s a pain, but the alternative is even worse, especially on a longer tramp.

Winter tramping

Winter tramping in the South Island has some big advantages over summer trips. For one thing, the sandflies take a holiday and that is no small blessing. Longer nights means more time to yarn with mates around the fire, or read a book. However, frozen boots are one of the downsides. A desperate but satisfying solution is to boil up a little extra water at breakfast time and pour it into your boots. It is highly likely that you will be wading a river sooner or later, so a slosh of water earlier rather than later is not a problem. Of course, the ice in your boots is going to melt anyway and soak your socks. If your boots are not too wet, you could first put a very watertight plastic bag into your frozen boot and then pour boiling water into the plastic bag. It never fails to astound me how quickly the boiling water goes cold – all I can say is that I would sooner have the Primus heat the boot than my toes. I shouldn’t have to add that thawing your boots directly over a Primus is a silly idea unless you plan to eat barbequed leather for breakfast.

Down jackets

The price for down jackets has dropped markedly in recent times. Once they were absurdly expensive, but with the help of Chinese ducks and High Street marketing, they are now within everyone’s price range; no one heading off on a winter trip should neglect taking one. I have one made with very thin material, so it packs down into a small size and doesn’t weigh much. Until I melted a hole in the sleeve with a hot wood stove (at home), for some time it was the only piece of my tramping apparel that I could wear in town. You do not want to wear these jackets while on the move as they don’t much appreciate getting wet from rain or perspiration, so keep them for when you stop.

Track lopping

A few months ago, I spent a day on Stewart Island in the company of Dale, a very skilled DOC worker. I learnt that while you can do a lot with a pruning saw to clear wind-throw on tracks, there are places where chainsaws come into their own. That said, not everyone has the skills required:  Dale could effortlessly work his way along a fallen tree trunk, giving his chainsaw a flick in about three places, each time cutting about half of the way through and then going all the way through with the final cut that then caused all the previous cuts to snap through, leaving a pile of firewood sized pieces for us to turf off the track. I don’t have that skill and I don’t think I ever will, but it’s always good to watch a master at work. 

There is more skill required to using chainsaws in the bush than cutting up firewood on a chopping block at home. For example, if you start chopping up a fallen tree at the top end and it is caught at the top, you risk finding yourself in orbit as the tree flings you up with all the released energy. You also don’t want to be standing under the roots of a fallen tree when a mate gets to work on sawing it up, as you now risk being crushed and buried if the tree frees itself.

Track marking

Later the next day, we cleared some bush and marked a track. For those of you interested in marking tracks, the skill comes in placing plenty of markers so that you can find your way back along the route you’ve just marked. It doesn’t take too long to get to grips with the idea that you need to look both ways as you go, so that you can actually find the now marked route back the way you came by. But it’s advisable to do some quality control on your work as you go to make sure that theory matches practice. 

When you fix markers to trees, it becomes even more important to check in both directions. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to see two markers from the last marker. Technically, you don’t need the middle marker, but think about what happens if one of the branches holding a marker falls down in the next storm. A bit of built-in redundancy is not such a bad thing and it doesn’t detract from the wilderness experience.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill
‘Altagore’, 85 Sunrise Drive, Seaward
Bush, Invercargill 9812.

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