High Country Survival – Stay Alive

When venturing into the High Country, appropriate preparation, knowledge and experience is essential. As I posted earlier about Maps and GPS, knowing where you’re going and how to make alternate plans if the original goes asunder is vital. However, there are other things that are also vital when venturing into the High Country, regardless of the time of year, and that’s having some important and basic equipment with you pretty much all the time. This equipment constitutes not just a reliable and capable vehicle, but also tools, recovery aids, safety gear, first aid gear, personal equipment and supplies that will allow you to survive in the worst of conditions. You often don’t need a lot, but if you leave out even a seemingly minor item, it could be the difference between pleasure and pain on a High Country trip. The thing is, conditions in the High Country can change dramatically in a matter of hours, from warm and dry to freezing cold and wet without any notice, any time of the year.

Arbuckle Junction Late Oct 2016 - Moroka Road Victoria

Arbuckle Junction Late Oct 2016 – Moroka Road Victoria

Obviously the first thing to consider is your vehicle, it really does need to be in serviceable condition. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an old or new vehicle, if it’s not maintained, then Murphy will be waiting for you somewhere along the track, as I found out on two Cruises where winches failed, which led to replacing old and increasingly unreliable winches with newer and more reliable ones. Now in both cases, the winches were working before the Cruise, but age had taken their toll and Murphy played his mischief. A similar incident happened on an earlier Cruise where an aftermarket lift pump failed on my Patrol and caused some temporary delay while it was removed. Again, the lift pump had been working fine for years, but for whatever reason (probably due to sub-zero conditions overnight) gave up the ghost in the morning. As I said, Murphy is always about, so when things like this happen, it’s important to have a reasonable tool kit, know how to use it, as well as knowledge of your vehicle so that you have some chance of making repairs, temporary or otherwise.

Something is amiss - Kelly Hut Track Victoria

Something is amiss – Kelly Hut Track Victoria

Diesel Lift Pump - Good when it's good, bad when it's not.

Diesel Lift Pump – Good when it’s good, bad when it’s not.

I’ve long maintained that there’s a hierarchy of things needed to make a 4WD capable when venturing into the High Country. Firstly, to get anywhere, you need traction and that means appropriate tyres. You don’t necessarily need the chunkiest of mud tyres, as all-terrain tyres have proven quite capable even in winter conditions, but without traction, you’re going to be in difficulties from the outset. Secondly, if you can’t keep the wheels on the ground you won’t be able to maintain traction, so a good, aftermarket, suspension kit offering a legal lift is always a must, especially given that stock suspension is usually pretty ordinary, on or off-road. Thirdly, if you really start to get serious, traction aids become the next line of defence, usually by way of differential locks. That said, many modern 4WDs already come equipped with numerous traction aids so, for many, this is no longer an issue (though nothing beats differential locks). Finally, when all else fails, you need recovery gear such as hand or electric winches, winch straps, winch blocks, tree-trunk protectors, snatch straps etc.

Going nowhere - Fultons Creek Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Going nowhere – Fultons Creek Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Reverse winching required - Fultons Creek Track Victoria

Reverse winching required – Fultons Creek Track Victoria

Tirfor to the rescue - Fultons Creek Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Tirfor to the rescue – Fultons Creek Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

In the olden days, that’s back in the 70s and 80s, most 4WDrivers took along a range of spares regardless of the nature of the trip, so that they could be prepared for most eventualities. There used to be a joke about Landrovers and when they went into the High Country as a group (always), they’d carry enough spares to make a complete vehicle. It wasn’t as far fetched as it sounds, as spare axles and the like were always carried. Nowadays vehicles tend to be fairly reliable and, if serviced regularly, shouldn’t require an arsenal of spares. That said, I always carry with me things like turbo hoses and a serpentine belt (old ones from prior servicing), just in case, as they don’t take up that much space. As mentioned earlier, tools etc are also something that should always be carried, for even if you’re not mechanically minded someone else may well be, but without tools, won’t be able to help.

Sometimes it's beyond repair - Monument Creek Track Victoria

Sometimes it’s beyond repair – Monument Creek Track Victoria

It must be the fuse - Collins Hut Victoria

It must be the fuse – Collins Hut Victoria

Following on, there is also a need for ‘bush tools’. At least one chainsaw is essential on any Cruise, as you will all too often encounter trees that have fallen across a track and you have little option but to clear the track or do a long diversion. A chainsaw is also very useful for cutting firewood for a campfire to keep you warm at night, whether it’s in a hut or not. A shovel or spade is also an under-rated tool in the bush, but can become essential in many situations, such as fixing a deteriorated track. But it’s also a really essential tool for many camp functions, especially ablutions which, clearly, is a problem for many given what we’ve observed over the years. An axe is also something that should be carried, especially for splitting firewood for your campfire.

Clearing the path - Mt Wong Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Clearing the path – Mt Wong Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Track Maintenance - Buchan River Victoria

Track Maintenance – Buchan River Victoria

And finally there’s food, water (plain and flavoured), cooking equipment and camping gear that needs to be considered, with often that little bit extra in case you end up having to stay out longer than anticipated. I will always keep a can or two of baked beans or the like in my camp box as a backup, as these things will last for years in storage and, while not High Country Cuisine, will certainly suffice in an emergency. Water, however, is one essential item to carry with you, for even if you do have the luxury of camping by a river, that’s not always going to be the case. Of course sleeping gear is an obvious consideration and while some may vary these depending on time of year, I keep everything in one place and take the same regardless of the time of year. The moment that you start being selective is the moment when you forget something important.

Dawson City Camp - Haunted Stream Track Victoria

Dawson City Camp – Haunted Stream Track Victoria

A cold night ahead - Nunniong Plains Victoria

A cold night ahead – Nunniong Plains Victoria

A first aid kit is something that should always be carried and some understanding of how to do basic first aid. I’ve had formal training several times, but the qualification always lapses, even if the basic knowledge doesn’t. As a final note, some may consider looking for general information sources that offer tips and guidance on survival in the Australian environment. I’ve had the following book for a long time (note the $2.90 price) and it’s been an additional and excellent source of general knowledge on a range of things applicable to bush survival. I did a quick check to see if this is still available, but couldn’t find any source selling it at the moment. But then there’s always video tuition available.

Stay Alive: A Handbook on Survival - Maurice Dunlevy, AGPS Canberra 1978

Stay Alive: A Handbook on Survival – Maurice Dunlevy, AGPS Canberra 1978

Video – Bush lessons from the experts

But perhaps the most important aspect of High Country survival is knowing your capabilities and that of your vehicle, reading and understanding the conditions and not taking undue risks.

Wongungarra River - Crooked River Road Victoria

Wongungarra River – Crooked River Road Victoria

Update 1. This is why going it alone, especially depending on location and time of year is not a good idea:

Two men trapped in their vehicle for days due to heavy snow have been rescued.

The men had been stuck in rough terrain near Moroka in East Gippsland since Saturday, a State Emergency Services spokesman said.

6 thoughts on “High Country Survival – Stay Alive

  1. Shawn K.

    I’m trying to get a friend to see the necessity of going through his 10 year old Jeep and start replacing parts that he’s sure are perfectly good, like hoses, belts, and bushes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll blow a swollen hose in town, and that’ll motivate him to do the rest.

    1. Ray Post author

      I blew a turbo hose at the most inopportune time recently (taking my wife to hospital at night) and it wasn’t a fun experience. That’s why I carry the old ones as spares.

  2. Shawn K.

    My truck is right at 5 yrs / 80,000 km, so I’m starting to consider replacement of a few of the more perishable parts. I already keep a serpentine belt in the bin, but I’m keeping a closer eye on the hoses. I’ll replace them all at 10 years, if not sooner. I can manage field repairs, but it’s hard to magic up a hose or belt.

    Having a good repair manual along can be very helpful, especially for electrical problems. I have mine stored on my phone.

  3. Mike Harding

    An often forgotten service item which is *especially* important for serious off-road travel is brake fluid. Ensure it is changed at least every three years.

    Brake fluid is hygroscopic (absorbs water) and water gradually builds up in it but your brakes still work because water won’t easily compress. Then one day you are doing a track with a lot of serious descents and your brakes get very hot because you’re using them frequently (why I like manuals and low range one for this task). As the brakes get hot so do the callipers and in turn the hydraulic fluid and pipework. Once they reach the boiling point of water the water which has accumulated in your brake fluid boils and becomes compressible and your brakes no longer work! Instantly!

    It happened to me once in the (European) Pyrenees after descending from a 2500m high pass, it’s very scary.

    1. Ray Post author

      Indeed. I also ensure that all vehicle fluids are replaced at designated intervals, coolant, gear/transmission oils, power steering. I always check diff oils after doing lots of river crossings.

  4. Shawn K.

    Thanks, Mike.

    I change brake fluid in my vehicles every two years. It’s cheap, and easy with a vacuum bleeder. My truck uses ABS-derived traction aids, which I think may make it harder on brake fluid, too. Much better to replace fluid than those expensive components.

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