When I’m planning a trip into an unknown or dangerous location, I like to know every possible detail about the location. There’s a wealth of info available on the Internet so there is no reason for being unprepared. I use maps and Google Earth to consider …
- Emergency exit points – beaches, roads, tracks, and farms that might lead me to safety. Basically I like to know where I can get out if shit hits the fan.
- Plan B and C – other routes that I might need to use if the weather doesn’t allow me to take my intended course.
- Point of no return – an imaginary point that I know I can turn back from and still get home safely. For Cook Strait this is 1 hour (or roughly 10km) from shore.
We all know that NZ has some of the most unpredictable weather conditions in the world…we’re a skinny island with a huge mountain range in the middle after all! Getting perfect conditions in your chosen time frame is often very difficult so it’s important that you consider all the facts and set yourself a range that you’re acceptable with. A few things that I know...
- A ‘high’ will often bring settled weather and a ‘low’ will bring dodgy weather.
- Anything with southerly winds will be dodgy. Southerlies suck up cooler air from the southern ocean and it often means cold, strong winds and rain.
- Any kayaker can handle wind up to 10 knots and swell up to 1 meter. Above these points, conditions start to become more challenging.
- Above 20 knots and you shouldn’t be on the water.
- Check and compare two, if not three forecasts to get the best interpretation of what’s going on.
In this modern world it’s no longer acceptable to head into the wilds and cut off all communication. If something dire happens to you, people like to know where to start looking, and you’ll be chastised if you haven’t kept in touch…
- Intentions sheet – write down your plans and leave it with someone who you know will check up if you aren’t back on time. I simply email my mum before heading out.
- Cell phones – reception is pretty good these days but it’s not perfect. They also don’t like water…so don’t rely on these for 100% of your safety.
- Radio’s – on the ocean I always have a VHF radio and I’ve registered my kayak to a particular callsign. Before heading out on a big trip I research the local VHF channels so that I can file a trip report with the local authorities e.g. Coast Guard.
- EPIRB – an emergency locator beacon is something you never want to use, but dang, you’ll be pleased you have it if you ever need to!
- Tracking devices – these are becoming very popular for the more serious adventurers because they allow friends and followers to track where you are on a Google Earth page. Devices such as SPOT or DeLorme are well worth the cost for bigger trips.
Knowing your way from Point A – B might be pretty obvious, especially if you can see point B. However what happens when you can’t see point B? I’ve had it when rain or fog completely obscures my destination and when my chosen point is hidden in amongst many other similar points. To combat this I…
- Have a map – you can download for free almost any topo map or nautical chart. I select the part I want, print it, and get it laminated. Maps are still useful because they’re often easier to interpret than a small GPS, and they allow other people to have an input when making decisions.
- GPS – small, hand-held GPS units are cheap and reliable
- Compass – paddling on a compass bearing is relatively easy and they’re a great backup when the GPS fails. I’ve been paddling in complete whiteout conditions but safely followed my compass to shore.
During a big trip your kit will often save your life and at the very least it will mean the difference between success and failure. It also has a big influence on comfort.
- For critical items get the best you can afford. Things like base-layers, tents, and sleeping bags.
- Beg and borrow items – many of your friends and family will have gear that you might like to use, and often it’s as simple as asking.
- Cut back on the weight – if possible, cut out all unnecessary items as weight only makes your life more difficult. Things like multiple changes of clothes (one wet and one dry is all you need), cooking gear (a small pot, and spoon), and heavy shoes (jandals are great) are common areas to reduce.
An army marches on its stomach and so does an adventurer. During a big day of activity the average person burns around 2000 calories (more than twice a normal day) and needs 3 litres of water…so pack lots and love the fact you can smash it without the consequences.
- Look for high energy, low weight food – pasta, rice and couscous are staples for any meal.
- Drink…regularly! Many people forget to drink enough throughout the day, and dehydration is a proven cause of poor decision making.
- Freeze dried meals are great and I highly recommend Back Country Cuisine if you can afford them. You could also consider purchasing your own dehydrator and making up similar meals.
- Mix it up – spices, sauces, and flavours all weigh next to nothing and can turn an ordinary plate of rice into a masterpiece.
- Don’t forget the treats – nothing gets me to a campsite faster than the thought of a big block of chocolate or a bag of jet planes.
- End of the trip – when you arrive at your final destination you’re going to be tired and hungry. Depending on where this point is, I either have a wad of cash (to race to the nearest shop) or have a specially prepared meal stashed in my vehicle (normally in the chilly bin). Getting in a quick feed will keep the motor running for those final hours while you tidy up and drive home.
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