BACKCOUNTRY SAFETY

The information on this page was produced as a brochure by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in May 2000 in conjunction with the NSW Police and NSW Fire Brigade and is published here by KCros with permission, in the hope that EVERY person who ventures into the mountains is aware of the ways to make their trip safe and reduce the risk of misadventure.

For further information be sure to visit the links at the bottom of this page.

PREPARATION

  • Never travel alone.
  • Know where you are going.
  • If you are going into the backcountry, take a topographic map and a compass and be dure you know how to use them.

On any backcountry trip, make sure every member of your group has:

  • Warm clothing
  • A waterproof jacket with a hood and waterproof overpants.
  • Beanie.
  • Plenty of food and drink.
  • The party should also have a first aid kit, bivouac bag or space blanket.

Tell a reliable friend or relative your:

  • Destination and intended route.
  • Alternative destination in case of bad weather.
  • Equipment list.
  • When you expect to get back.

Don’t forget to tell your friend when you do return.

WEATHER

  • Weather can change very rapidly in the mountains.
  • The alpine area of Kosciuszko National park experiences extreme weather conditions. A winter storm can bring gusts of 150 km per hour and potentially one metre of snow.
  • Do not head off into the backcountry with bad weather (low pressure system) approaching.

TECHNOLOGY

Mobile phones:   coverage within Kosciuszko National Park is patchy and cold can severely affect batteries.

GPS    (Global Positioning System) devices use a satellite network to provide you with your location. To be of real use they must be used with topographic maps and a compass. Cold can affect batteries.

EPIRB’s   (Emergency Position Indicating Response Beacons) – for an emergency situation only!

They transmit a signal through a satellite network to the emergency centre in Canberra.

If you are in the bush a lot consider buying one, otherwise consider hiring one.

Technology will not guarantee your safety: even if you set off an EPIRB in an emergency, mountain weather means that helicopters can only fly about 50 percent of the time

SHELTER

Tents

  • Carry a tent if you are going into the backcountry.
  • For winter camping, you need a quality mountain tent that will handle the strong winds and heavy snow loads.
  • Mountain tents can be hired.

Snow Caves

You’ll need a snow shovel for construction and ski stock for ventilation hole. Keep the shovel inside the snow cave.
See note on VENTILATION below.

Advantages:

Can provide complete protection from extreme weather, remains at a constant temperature just above 0 degrees C.

Disadvantages:

You’re likely to get very wet during construction. Can take 2 – 4 hours to construct and uses up lots of energy.

Igloos

Advantages:

Can provide complete protection from extreme weather.

Disadvantages:

Can take 2 – 5 hours to build, difficult for the inexperienced.  

Huts

Huts provide useful emergency shelter. If you are caught out in bad weather and you are at a hut, stay there until the weather improves. Don’t rely on finding or staying in a hut. Bad weather or the fitness/ skills/ health of your party may prevent you from reaching the hut.

VENTILATION

Ventilation in shelters is critical, wether in a snow cave, igloo or tent. It needs to be checked regularly, particularly in windy snowy weather. There are two dangers:

  • Inadequate ventilation can cause a shortage of oxygen.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning caused by incomplete combustion of stove fuel.

                Both can be fatal.

IF LOST OR INJURED

  • Stay where you are.
  • If you’re on the move you’ll be harder to find and will use valuable energy.
  • Find a spot out of the wind and make a shelter. Leave something visible for searchers such as an item of colourful clothing, skis or a snowboard.
  • If you’re on the Main Range (above the treeline) area, do not drop down into the trees except for temporary shelter. The forest areas are dense and rugged. It is almost impossible for helicopters to see people on the ground. If you do drop down into the trees, climb back up into the alpine area where you will be more visible to searchers, when the weather improves.

HYPOTHERMIA

In cold and / or wet conditions inadequate clothing, tiredness and insufficient food can combine to cause a lowering of normal body temperature (hypothermia) which can result in collapse or death if untreated.

Danger signs

  • Victim is exhausted, lags behind, stumbles, may have slurred speech and appear drunk, and is reluctant to keep walking or skiing.
  • Victim is cold to touch, pulse is slow and shallow.  They may be difficult to reason with.  
  • Be aware, signs of hypothermia are often mistaken for fatigue.

Treatment

Treat the victim immediately by providing shelter and warmth, dry clothes, sleeping bag or shared body warmth. Warm the person from the inside out to avoid excessive external heat such as placing them near a fire or rubbing the skin. Give warm sweet tea if the person is conscious.

Let their body temperature rise gradually and allow them to rest



back to index