Please take care in High Country Vic

Submitted: Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 11:21
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For the second time in two weeks a substantial rescue effort is underway to retrieve patients from a 4wd rollover in the Victorian High Country as I type.

Easter last year was not a lot different when two were killed in the Wonnangatta on Hearns Spur in a troopy rollover. Some of the comments below apply to trail bike riders, horse riders, bush walkers and other bush users too.

The resources required to undertake these exercises are not insignificant. Helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, 4wd ambulances, rescue teams, police 4wds, CFA & DSE. Radio communications are difficult at best in this terrain even for emergency services, and response times are understandably poor due to distance and terrain, which can impact heavily on patient survival rates.

People travelling in these areas need to understand that they are undertaking some of the more difficult 4wding Australia has to offer and in many places inexperience or poor decision making skills lead to serious injury or even death and expensive recovery operations of vehicles, patients and bodies. Something as seemingly inconsequential as an incorrect gear change or poor gear selection, which in sand or flat country has no consequence at all, can in the high country on a steep track, render control of the vehicle to the gods in a split second. The outcome can be as catastrophic as the descent can be quick and there's not much give in a big mountain ash. A 4wd rollover in this country is often all the way to the valley floor or creek below, which may be several hundred metres.

4wd recovery undertaken in many situations carries the added risk that remoteness brings. Winch cables breaking or flying shackles can cause death or injuries serious enough to cause it even when help is close by, add two to three hours to get access to the patient and the prognosis becomes poorer by the hour. The human body only compensates for serious injury/blood loss for a relatively short time without advanced care.

Don't be thinking that if you have a four wheel drive that it is a magic carpet, nor that you necessarily have the ability to take it where ever you so choose. If you are new to this fantastic pastime do a course, hell, do two or three (& include a first aid course). Then travel with experienced people for your first few trips in to what can only be described as god's own country, the high country.

Always travel in groups where ever possible. I see far too many solo trippers in this country. If you are on your own and in trouble there is no one to call for help, the response time for an epirb rescue is many more hours than a direct call too, if that's what you rely on. An air search of 10-20 square kilometres of heavily timbered mountainous country is a long search.

Pay your ambulance subscription before you go. The helicopter costs $2500 to start up and $45 a minute thereafter in addition to whatever else is sent. The current job they are on has been going for over 2 hours now with two ambulances, a helicopter and an aeroplane.

As a final note, learn how to read maps well, know where you are at all times, learn to not only read your GPS but relate that location to a map using both Lat/Lon and UTM references. Travel with good maps of the area and some form of communications in your group other than terrestrial mobile or UHF, they don't work up here. (UHF is okay for convoy work but not getting help). It staggers me how many 4wders who travel in these areas with out any of the knowledge or nav equipment.

If you have a HF or Satphone and do call for help it will come much faster if we can pinpoint exactly where to send it.

Take care out there and enjoy it. It's a great place but it needs to be treated with the respect it commands. We are but mere mortals.

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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 11:41

Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 11:41
Bloody good advice Dave.

In the last 2 months I have done 3 trips to the High Country and on each of those trip's we have come across people who asked to be shown where they are on the map they are carrying, they genuinely did not have a clue.

In each instance they where shown the shortest route to the nearest 2 wd road with the appropriate suggestion to head that way out.

It also amazes me the numbers of people who have inappropriate tyres fitted to their vehicles. Allterains of virtually all brands at the minimum struggle on the steep tracks when they are wet.
And yes Surprise Surprise it does rain in the HC on a regular basis and the Melb forecast does not apply up there.
I won't begin to mention the people with road tyres fitted to there vehicles.

People should also consider the quality of there camping gear, Kmart air beds and $25 sleeping bags don't cut it at zero degrees.
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Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 17:04

Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 17:04
Well said Dave.

It seems we do agree on some things John :)

I'm heading up that way (on my own - as usual) tomorrow for 5 to 10 days and like you guys I am _amazed_ at some of the people I meet - like the solo motorcyclist a couple of years ago who had: no maps, no compass (never mind GPS), no supplies and (honestly!) did not know what a topographic map was when I showed him where we were ("So where do you get these then?"). Apparently he had become lost a few months earlier and had used his mobile phone (I'm amazed it worked!) to call police who sent in a helicopter to guide him out - cost him $3000 but didn't deter him.

Tomorrow I'll have enough food for 2 weeks+, 35lt of water, a UHF CB, a HF radio, CDMA, a GPS, 2 compasses, computer mapping at 1:25000 and a backup paper map at 1:250000 plus an EPIRB and, most important of all, a healthy sense of cowardice. In addition I have left full details of where I'm going and how to make HF contact with me and when to send in the cavalry if I'm not heard from. I don't want to be big, butch and tough - I just want to enjoy myself and stay alive.

Mike Harding
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Reply By: Crackles - Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 14:12

Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 14:12
All too true Dave. With the advent of trip notes many have absolutely no idea where they are after taking a wrong turn & often don't even have a proper map. Helped 2 such individuals over Easter. The influx of interstate drivers who have found the Vic high country lately often come ill prepared as the guide books don't really give enough detail on track condition particually how dangerous it can get after it rains. It actually surprises me that more people don't slide off the track than already do. You mention the accident on Hearn Spur, a track that looks pretty strait forward but one I've seen 3 major incidents on. Wet brakes out of the river then missed a gear on the steep pinch sent all of them flying backwards down the hill. Suppose it comes down to a need to serve your Apprenticeship on the easy tracks first before tackling the rough ones or at least travel with someone who knows the area well.
Cheers Craig.......
PS: Are you from Shep?
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Follow Up By: geocacher (djcache) - Thursday, Apr 14, 2005 at 22:14

Thursday, Apr 14, 2005 at 22:14

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Reply By: duncs - Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 15:02

Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 15:02
I agree with what all of you are saying above.

I recently drove through the High Country on my way back from the east coast to Broken Hill. I have doen my training in the Blue Mountains of NSW where the tracks get pretty rough and steep. However, haveing spent a couple of years out in the "outback" (an area that has it's own set of risks and dangers) I was suprised at how steep this area was. I did not have any problems but appreciate how easy it would be to find some.

One of the problems I have had in trip planning generally, is what standard is used to describe and "grade" tracks in guide books. Just what is meant by "easy" "moderate" or "difficult".

I have shelves full of books covering all areas of Aus and only one has a defined scale for track grading. One guide book grades tracks from 1 to 10 but doesn't say which is most difficult or easiest. The only way to work out the scale was to go and drive a couple of tracks of different grades and compare them. If an inexperienced driver happened to choose a more difficult track for their first day out they could well get into real trouble.

Just how we get the publishers of these books to include a consistent track grading scale is beyond me but it would certainly help and may even reduce the number of accidents occuring in 4wd areas. Particularly those areas close to major cities.

Well that's my 2c worth
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 15:30

Sunday, Apr 03, 2005 at 15:30
4wd Victoria is currently working with Parks Vic and DSE to start a track grading system.
My understanding is the discussions are in early stages at the moment and are a very difficult issue to address as a track that may be graded say easy changes to say hard or very hard with a bit of rain.

This may be a step in the right direction for a standard measure to be used if it can be agreed and kept up to date.
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Reply By: gqpat - Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 11:23

Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 11:23
as mentioned b4 just finished grimme track and blue plains spur track and now i see its closed for repair seams ashame to repair as was a great trk i guess some people try and do to much have been in high country many times always with 2-3 vehicles and havnt found it that hard just some common sense is all it takes hope fully our trip in november will see us back at grimme and blue plains maybe try hearns spur ???
If anyone has some more adventurous tracks please let me know...
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Follow Up By: Member - bushfix - Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 12:41

Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 12:41
Armstrong track at Mt Bulla Bulla, near Deddick.

yep, with the rain leading up to Easter weekend it did not auger well when you have people who might put "gung ho" before track care. Unfortunately, sometimes you can't back track and conditions might result in track maintenance by the 4by driver being minimal at best.
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Follow Up By: geocacher (djcache) - Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 12:49

Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 12:49

Your definition of hard and an inexperienced persons definition of hard though are two different things, and a track you found easy can be hard in different conditions. I personally love the trip out along the Blue Rag, I don't find it particularly taxing, others I know who went out there recently will never go back and will take years to get some passengers fingernails out of their dashes, not to mention their own out of the steering wheel.

I'm not about to suggest that the experienced can't get into trouble, they do and have particularly where they overestimate their ability. But in this area the inexperienced could easily get into trouble. 4wd manufacturers are more and more loading up vehicles with the likes of traction control, hill descent technologies and many more features that further the chance that an inexperienced person may end up over confident.

It's interesting to note that like P platers, 4wders are more likely to get overconfident in their own ability the longer the go out and do it without getting into trouble, the more experience you have the harder and more dangerous the situation will be that you do find yourself in trouble in.

Further to that the conditions play such an important part in the High Country. You can wake up one morning to clear blue sky and sunshine and drive anywhere you want without difficulty but then the clouds build and it either snows or rains and the same track you passed with ease in the morning can turn into a nightmare by mid afternoon.

I don't particularly care what you choose to do as long as you are prepared properly, that you and all convoy members AND their passengers know the risks involved and are capable of calling for help if or when you need it, realising that it may be a long time coming also. Too often that is not the case.

The alternatives include wheelchairs & coffins. You are a long time dead. Challenging/adventurous is great fun until it all goes horribly wrong.

Other posters here seem to indicate that my experiences are not isolated with many indicating having assisted people grossly unprepared for trips up there.

Enjoy your trip - safely,

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Reply By: gqpat - Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 15:13

Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 15:13
No Worries Dave i understand were your coming from .Myself and the other drivers usally with me always walk a track we consider a bit harder than normal keeps us out of trouble so we shall continue with it Thanks Dean
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Follow Up By: geocacher (djcache) - Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 16:13

Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 16:13
Keep you fit too.... :o)))

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Follow Up By: Member - Jeff M (WA) - Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 16:24

Monday, Apr 04, 2005 at 16:24
Yup it always amazes me how different a track can look on foot. We walked a track in Kal over easter thinking it looked a little rougher than the others, holey heck. We turned around and went the other way once we'd walked it. It was rediculous. We found a Car Jack and a Spark Plug in the ruts of the hill, not a good sign of a successful ascent! LOL
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Reply By: DaveB - Tuesday, Apr 12, 2005 at 12:25

Tuesday, Apr 12, 2005 at 12:25
I will be travelling alone to meet others in Wonnangatta Valley Friday 12th April. Dont like sole travelling - but no option. What is the best way in from Myrtleford. Looking at the map want to travel Buffalo Track (West) to Harry Shepherds Track, then Van Dammes Track to Wonnangatta Track.

I have been told East Buffalo Road, East Rileys Road, Van Dammes Track to Wonangatta Track is the way to go. On the Hema map does not look the best way.

Any help?
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Follow Up By: geocacher (djcache) - Thursday, Apr 14, 2005 at 22:20

Thursday, Apr 14, 2005 at 22:20
I've been in both ways.

Your first option is my preferred route as I love the climb up Harry Sheppard Tk.

A few of us went in the second route you mentioned last year and one towed his T-van in. No problem.

Either is fine.

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Reply By: Wayne (NSW) - Friday, Apr 15, 2005 at 07:32

Friday, Apr 15, 2005 at 07:32

Good advice, gear selection is a very good point. At the bottom of a hill it may not be steep but just around the corner or where you can't see any further that is where it gets very steep and the last thing that you want to do is a quick down shift. I have been caught out myself because the track has changed from the last time I was there.
Having said that I think that the Vic High Country has the best driving and the greatest views anywhere.

I will be heading off tomorrow (Saturday) to Bright to start a 7 day trip with 9 other vehicles. Having a convey of all types of vehicles and driver experence it sometimes becomes a challenge to select the right gear and sometime the right line for them to take, but that is what they are paying for, experience.

This will be the last trip in the VHC until November, so until then, can't wait for June, CSR.

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Follow Up By: geocacher (djcache) - Friday, Apr 15, 2005 at 10:14

Friday, Apr 15, 2005 at 10:14
PM for you in your inbox.

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