Bushwalking tragedies highlight need for caution on remote country hikes

The death of two bushwalkers in separate incidents in recent days – as well as previous tragedies and a slate of lucky escapes – has once again highlighted the need for extreme caution when hiking in remote country.

The body of 64-year-old Victorian man, Alistair Thomson, was found earlier this week near a waterhole at Hugh Gorge not far outside of Alice Springs. He had set off on his own on May 13 bushwalking on the NT’s iconic Larapinta Trail. He was last heard from on May 21 and a full-scale search was launched. A report on his death will now be prepared for the coroner.

And last week, a 28-year-old bushwalker died after falling at Frenchmans Cap on Tasmania’s West Coast. He had told other walkers he had planned to climb to the summit and return to Lake Vera that day. The alarm was raised on Friday when he did not return to his camping site.

And in March, a 72-year-old Canberra man died while bushwalking with a group of people in remote southwest Tasmania. The trio became separated on a day hike at Mount Anne, and the dead man’s body was later spotted by a rescue helicopter.

While the exact circumstances of these tragedies are not known, there are ever more urgent warnings for bushwalkers to be aware that conditions in many areas have changed significantly in recent times, and are continuing to change.

Licensed wilderness guide, Stephanie Beehag, told the ABC that even very experienced walkers needed to realise things were different in wilderness areas in many places.

She said the impact of the Black Summer bushfires in the Blue Mountains, followed by more recent heavy rain, has resulted in heavy regrowth.

“A lot of tracks that used to take six hours can now take two days,” she said. “There’s still a lot of huge fallen burnt trees — we’re talking 30-metre gumtrees — fallen across where tracks used to be … which means you have to walk while bush bashing around them, then you lose your bearings, your route and a lot of things can go wrong in a really short period of time.”

And it’s not just novices who are getting caught out.

Highly experienced hiker, 59-year-old Andy Collins, had all the basic skills and thought he had done his research before setting off on the 47-kilometre Kanangra to Katoomba wilderness walk, known as K2K, in the NSW Blue Mountains back in March.

However, Mr Collins struggled to get through impenetrable bush with no visible trail and went through his water far more quickly than he thought he would do.

The ABC reports that he used a pump to add electrolytes to river water but his body rejected the water and he started getting painful cramps in his side.

Thankfully, he had a personal locaor beacon (PLB) with him, and setting that off almost certainly saved his life. Mr Collins ended up in Katoomba Hospital for five days with acute renal failure because his kidneys had stopped functioning.

But it’s not just particularly thick undergrowth which is presenting more serious challenges than ever to bushwalkers.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued its long-range forecast and it predicts warmer than average temperatures across Australia this winter, with a high chance of both days and nights being in the highest 20% of historical temperatures.

And that’s almost certainly going to mean a busy time for rescue services across the country.

On Sunday, the Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter crew had to rescue a woman bushwalker in a remote and rocky mountain range in Queensland’s Scenic Rim.  It is believed the woman, aged in her 40s, tripped while bushwalking and sprained her ankle. She was helped by other bushwalkers before the helicopter arrived.

And last month, Specialist Bush Search and Rescue members from the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) successfully located a missing bushwalker in the Blue Mountains. The 38-year-old woman had got lost in challenging conditions and was forced to spend the night out in the cold and the rain. However, she was not injured and, once located, she was able to walk out with volunteers.

NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue Deputy Unit Commander, Senior Group Officer Caro Ryan said SES members were experienced bushwalkers, canyoners and rock climbers who bring specialised skills in remote and rugged areas.

“We are highly trained in search techniques, remote communications and have extensive knowledge of the popular walking tracks in the Blue Mountains,” she dad. “We know the areas people often get lost, the mountain passes and the tricky pinches.”

The Bureau of Meteorology says hikers should always check the weather forecast and review it regularly as their bushwalking or camping trip approaches.

“Remember to tell somebody where you’re going and bring appropriate clothing, maps, and equipment,” it said. “If you are bushwalking or camping in remote areas, consider carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB) to help rescue authorities locate you in a life-threatening situation.”

  • Have you ever got lost – or nearly got lost – on a bushwalk? Do you carry some sort of emergency conmunications device on your hikrs? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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