IB Radio

My comments about the Mountain Radio Service in Uncle Jacko’s last column earned a few responses. The best was a story of a tramping party holed up in a snow cave on the Olivine Ice Plateau for a week. They worked out that a whitebaiter with a mountain radio would tune in before the (radio) sked to listen to his wife remonstrate with him. But Jimmy the whitebaiter wasn’t always so keen to listen, they decided, because sometimes he claimed poor reception, though their reception was just fine.

One of the friends in the snow cave, Christine, decided one day to relay his wife’s message when Jimmy the whitebaiter feigned particularly bad reception. ‘What she said was …,’ said Christine. There was a long pause, broken by an indignant question from Jimmy’s wife: ‘Jimmy! Jimmy! Have you got a woman with you?’

Hut Shoes

Gaz wryly observes that cheap Crocs are better than top-of-the-line Crocs for hut shoes, but only for aficionados. He knows this, he told me, because at one hut someone stole his cheap Crocs and left an apparently inferior, but infinitely more expensive pair in their place. A man of simple tastes, Gaz noticed no appreciable difference, so much so that he didn’t notice his upgrade until he got home, when his wife did. Gaz did note that both pairs were the same colour, which may have had something to do with it.

Ice Axes

This year I joined an Easter outing of the Occasional Patunamu Tramping Club, wandering around the alpine head basins to the east of the McKerrow Range behind Makarora. Autumn is the time of year when there is not enough snow to be useful, but the south slopes can be frozen up. I always carry an ice axe and crampons at this time of year, because who knows what sort of conditions you will encounter? Both tussock and scree slopes can go rather solid and offer less purchase than I normally feel comfortable with.

An ice axe can deal to the scree – some concerted swipes can cut through the surface ice layer to something a little easier underneath. The ice axe also offers reassurance on the snowgrass. The others had walking poles, but I have never found them to provide robust support. We did walk over some frozen scree wearing crampons, but one of the party’s lightweight aluminium crampons didn’t appreciate the terrain and started to wear out faster than he had anticipated.

Compass Magnetising

We are all taught to believe our compasses, even when they seem completely wrong. From experience, every time someone has argued that the compass was wrong – because we just had to be standing on a magnetic anomaly, or some other implausible but expeditiously convenient explanation – things have subsequently gone wrong. On our last trip, Gaz tried to persuade us that north was south, but this time he had a compass to prove it. Could we doubt such compelling evidence?

Two smartphone compasses and two Silva hand-held compasses disagreed with Gaz’s compass. Gaz was unimpressed, as this was a new compass bought because I had shamed him for only owning a compass on which all the numbers on the rose had long worn off. Gaz fixed the problem when he got into work after the trip and passed his compass over a strong magnet normally used for turning off implantable defibrillators, which is not a field item. This is the first time any of us had experienced compasses getting disorientated.


Geoff owns a lightweight air mattress that is prone to skating around the floor of his lightweight tent in the middle of the night. A resourceful chap, he super-glued 20 x 60-centimetre patches of rubber non-skid mat material at the head and foot of the underside of the mattress. He tells me it works a treat, without adding much to the weight.

Geoff’s other technological breakthrough, he claims, is Sealskinz socks. These are a three-layer waterproof sock made of wool, a waterproof barrier and a variety of plastics. See www.sealskinz.com for details. He likes the fact that they are waterproof. To prove the point on our last trip, for our sole river crossing he took his socks off and crossed wearing only boots on his feet. At the end of the day, he was claiming that his feet and socks were still dry.

I have now given my titanium mug a workout. Yes, I like that it is light. I don’t like the uncomfortable wire handle and I soon discarded the optional rubber lip-guard. Titanium is such a poor conductor of heat (which is why titanium billies are hopeless) that there was no chance of burning my lips. For unfathomable reasons, I strongly dislike the sensation of plastic when drinking hot drinks, so that is all good news for me.

Sonja brought along an LED inflatable lantern to illuminate the hut. It came complete with a solar panel to charge the batteries. We didn’t get much past dinner before the batteries died, but Sonja reckoned this was unusual. A subsequent trawl through the internet found a variety of waterproof, inflatable LED lanterns for sale at Enzed, with and without solar panels, ranging in price from $40 to $110. I can say that, while it worked, the lantern did illuminate the hut nicely. I am still unsure why it needs to be inflated, though. Perhaps someone can enlighten me?

Water Intake

One lunchtime discussion concerned water intake when climbing or tramping. Dr Gaz observed that one’s kidneys do a good job of managing your hydration and one shouldn’t worry too much about one’s water intake: if you are thirsty, you should drink some water and if you aren’t, well there is no need to drink. A recent NPR Life Kit article agreed with Dr Gaz. In short, the article concluded, you don’t need an app to tell you how much water to drink, or feel you need to guzzle a gallon of water a day. Just trust your body to let you know when to drink water, says Tamara Hew-Butler, Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at Wayne State University.

Fancy electrolytes and salt got short shrift in the article, too. After analysing five years of research on ultra-marathon runners in northern California, Hew-Butler came to the conclusion that when your body has a hankering for salt, it’s time to eat some salty food, but otherwise don’t worry about ingesting salt and electrolytes. The researchers found that the ultra-marathon runners in the study were able to keep their salt-balance levels in check just by following their thirst and appetite. Again, let your cravings be your guide, is the simple answer.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill

This article was re-published from the June 2023 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountryWe will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.