I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Learning to navigate in a beautiful area
When I was twenty, I got lost in the Tasmanian wilderness in winter and spent a freezing night in the bush. When I saw the Brisbane bushwalking club was having a navigation weekend recently, I signed up for it as I thought it was way past time I learnt how to find my way around in the bush.
The memorable and very scary trip in Tassie was organised by the Launceston Bushwalking Club. Fourteen walkers got lost after climbing 1286 metre Mt Wylds Craig. Clag came in when we were on top of the snow-covered mountain and we couldn't see anything in front of us. We went down the wrong side of the mountain. After walking up and down ridges for hours, we had to camp out for the night. No one on the trip had a map or compass and luckily one person had a box of matches. We gathered bracken fern to sleep on, lit a huge fire and all huddled around it. We woke at 3am to the smell of burning rubber. Someone's boots had caught on fire.
We found our way out at lunchtime the next day by following the Florentine river to an old logging road. We were all exhausted and starving. All we had to eat from lunchtime Saturday until we got back to camp was a small piece of cold sausage and a slice of orange. One girl had two sausages and an orange left over from lunch, which we shared between fourteen of us for breakfast.
The Brisbane Bushwalker's navigation course was held on private property near the D'Aguilar National Park. It was in a beautiful area only 200 m downstream from the beautiful Diana's Bath pool on Reedy Creek, about 100km from Brisbane. There were some lovely swimming holes in the creek, and the whole area was very good for navigation practice. There were knolls, spurs, saddles, ridges and creeks, all with minimal undergrowth.
We had the option of camping or staying in a magnificent house perched high above a creek with steep ladders leading to the rock pools. The people who stayed in the house had a flushing toilet. I chose to camp, and the toilet in the camping area was very rustic. We had to cross a wooden bridge to get to the kitchen. We set up camp and relaxed on Friday night.
There was a spectacular bush kitchen and dining area in a huge rock cathedral. Peter, our navigation expert teacher got us working on Saturday. We covered maps and contour lines, compass and bearings, and then went out to practice in the field.
Everyone had their own map and compass and we had to find our way from set points. After practising around trees near the campsite, we set out in groups up and over the hills. We were a mixed group. Some had expert navigation skills and others like me were beginners. I learnt a lot, but feel I still need a lot more practice. I went with the beginner group and we learnt to read the lie and features of the land, as well as using our maps and compass to find out where we were and where we wanted to go. We learnt a bit about triangulation and magnetic variance. We also compared our readings with GPS. After walking up and down hills for a couple of hours we rewarded ourselves with a swim in the creek below the house.
On Saturday night we had delicious gourmet pizzas cooked in the pizza oven and watched the full moon. Some adventurous people went off to do some nighttime navigating, but I didn't feel experienced enough for that challenge.
We put all our education into practice on Sunday. After revision, we broke into small groups and had to find flags in the bush using navigation bearings. We were given the grid references and some clues such as Spur, Implied knoll, South Side of Saddle, Head of Gully and Implied Creek Junction. We took it in turns to lead our small group to the flag. I waited till last and found my flag (with help). It was tricky because roads on the map didn't coincide with the real road and the creek bed was dry, so I had to imagine where it would have been. Our instructions were to 1. Look at the grid references on the map. Find the named feature. 2. Walk to that feature (It might be 100m away from the grid reference. 3. Take the compass bearing and distance from the feature to find the flag and 4. The flag is not the feature.
We found all our flags and after all our hard navigation work, we were hot and tired, so we decided to go for a swim to Diana's Bath. It is a beautiful rock pool on Byron Creek in the D'Aguilar Ranges. It is secluded and hard to get to normally so we were very lucky to be so close. I don't know how the pool got its name, but suspect it is named after the Roman Goddess. Diana was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature in Roman mythology. She was associated with wild animals and woodland and had the power to talk to and control animals.
I remember from that Tassie trip all those years ago, someone saying late on the Sunday morning. "If we don't get back tonight, they will send out Search and Rescue". A small voice from the end of the line said "We are Search and Rescue".
The navigation weekend was great and I learnt a lot, but feel I still need to do a lot of practice. We learnt how to find out where we are in the field and on the map, and which way we need to go on the map and in the field.
Nowadays I always take a box of dry matches and extra food. Once I get more confident in reading a map and compass, I will be more prepared if I ever have the type of Tassie experience again. We could have been in serious trouble on that trip if we didn't have matches to light a fire, as it was a freezing night.