The magnificence of the Australian outdoors on a sunny summer's day, can blind us to the reality, if bad weather hits.
This photograph was taken in April 1985 at Blue Lake, a time when snow is not normally expected. When the tent was pitched the evening before, the weather was fine and warm and there was no snow at all.
WARNING: the 121.5MHz EPRIB System will cease to operate from 1 February 2009. Walkers should replace their old EPIRBs with the new PLB (Personal Locator Beacons) on 406 MHz which are now available in Australia (at a higher price, but with direct identification for each unit)
Hypothermia is the reduction in the core temperature, by a few degrees, of a human being. It can result in death in an hour.
It is agravated by the combination of cold, wind and wet.A person suffering from hypothermia is likely to walk aimlessly, talk non-sense and feel unconcerned about their fate - ie sit and "wait untill it all gets better".
The condition is very hard to judge without lots of experience. A person who is wet, in ANY wind is likely to suffer to some degree. Get them out of the wind, in a hut, a tent, behind a boulder or off the ridge. Get them into a sleeping bag, or wrapped in a foil groundsheet. Feed warm liquid, but not alcohol. Nor put them too near a fire, as their heat will be drawn to their outer skin. Warm against other bodies.
To avoid getting hypothermia, wear multi-layered clothing, that keeps the wind out.
The NPWS has the view (given in writing) that EPIRBs will save a person in this state. This is unlikely, as a helicopter would rarely arrive in time. However, they are better than nothing. Huts, tents and correctly built snow caves provide immediate shelter.
Are you ready? Any time of the year?
EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. An EPIRB (or PLB Personal Locator Beacon) is a small radio device that sends a signal to a satellite or airplane, indicating that you are lost or in trouble.
Ppocket versions have become available between $213 and $305 RRP, in particular the GME Model MT310, which is made in Australia. This device is being phased out now, in preference for the newer 406 MHz models, which will be mandatory from 1 February 2009.
This particular device weighs 175 grams, and is about the same size as a medium grade mobile phone.
It will transmit an emergency signal on 121.5 and 243 MHz which can be received by both COSPAS (USA) and SARSAT(Russian) satellites, and commercial aircraft.
They have been proven highly reliable (up to 48 hours) and have already saved a number of lives.
There is a safety cover so that it cannot be inadvertantly set off, and a test mode, to make sure it is working before you start walking or skiing. Kosciusko National Park offer these for hire.
There are many other brands and more sophisticated models, but these tend to be both much more expensive AND larger and heavier.
There are minor issues with this device - firstly it may take some hours for the signal to be received and acted upon. Secondly it won't work in a cave, inside a hut, or under heavy tree cover. Thirdly, to set one off in a non-emergency situation is likely tro bring the force of the law down on you.
Still, with GPS, Mobile Phone (in a few locations) and an EPIRB, a lot some of the risks of bushwalking and skiing are very much reduced for a party.
Renting or buying an EPIRB
EPIRBS can be rented from the Kosciusko National Parks Visitors Centre (Ph 02-6450 5600) for about $10 per day or from Getaway Equipment Rentals Ph 02-9456 0457).
Marine retailers such as BIAS Boating or Whitworths, or outdoor shops such as Paddy Pallins sell them for about $300.
Updated 28 April 2008.