Nick Jennings, a club member from way back, five times Club President and Life Member for his many contributions over the years, came to share his wisdom at a Wednesday Night club meeting recently. Here is his advice, gleaned from decades in the bush over the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and later.
Don’t start reading Science Fiction novels late at night, just before a tramping trip.
I went off by myself one night by myself. I was a bit late and headed into Tirinekau valley in the dark.
Someone – something! – kept shining lights all around me. Don’t panic I thought – keep going. There’ll be a reasonable explanation for this. But I got more and more scared.
Turned out it was reflections of my torch on the puddles, shining up around me. The book I’d been reading certainly spurred my imagination to think all sorts of things!
If you want to walk efficiently, put your foot flat on the ground as if you are wearing crampons.
Nowadays I belong to a garden club and it’s interesting watching people trying to walk on muddy, slippery slopes. They don’t know to keep their feet flat on the ground and get so much more purchase that way.
Work out the time remaining in the day, without a watch
We are built in such a way that if you hold your hand up and measure the number of finger widths between sun and horizon, each finger width is worth 15 minutes of daylight.
Last time I used this was on a one of these S-K nonsenses on my way from Alpha hut to the roadend. Using this, I suddenly realised I only had an hour and a half of daylight remaining! I did make it, just.
The Topo map shows the correct direction of every ridge off a Tararua peak
On the top of peak in the Tararuas on the map – the ridges are shown in the correct direction for walking off the ridge. This was confirmed to me by Ralph Jorgensen, a well-known surveyor.
The map doesn’t show all of the bends and twists of the ridge, but you can be certain if you to know what peak you are on, you can get out your compass and choose the correct ridge you need to go down, based on the directions of the ridges off the peak on the map.
This doesn’t work everywhere in New Zealand, but it does work in Tararuas.
Use your eyes in the bush – look for discontinuities.
I’ve been involved in a number of Search and Rescue searches over the years.
I learned to look for discontinuities – things that aren’t as they should be – rather than the actual thing I was searching for.
I was looking for a plane that crashed in Paraparaumu – no-one else could find it, but was able to point out where it was in a valley we were looking down on.
It wasn’t that I could see the plane – but I could see a change in the pattern of the bush, in a valley, and that was where the plane was.
So, don’t look for what you’re looking for – look for discontinuities.
Another search was in Kapakapanui – I was coming in at back of a search team on the third day and the rest of the team, 4 people, walked straight past a tree that had obviously been sat upon – the moss was compressed, and there were crusts from sandwiches spread around it. The body was found just 10 metres away, and I was the only one that noticed this.
So keep your eyes open.
Use your eyes in the bush – remember details
I was up on a track on Arête that was not well defined; I saw a pile of stones and filed that away mentally. A few months later I was up there with a group in misty conditions such as what one meets on Arête, and recognised this same pile of stones so I knew to head right to get to the tarn just below. Later one of the youngsters in the group asked me how I knew to turn right just when I did. ‘I’d seen that pile of stones’, I replied.
‘What do you mean? There’s stones everywhere!’
‘But not that particular pile of stones’ I replied.
It’s all the little things like that, that make life a great deal easier when you’re in the bush.
Use your eyes in the bush – look behind you
One of my early trips was up Gable End near Ohau. No-one had been that way for years and I got totally bushed at the top. I ended up on my hands and knees pushing my pack through the scrub. I eventually found a place to stand up and looked around – and saw a marker disk just three feet BEHIND me.
In the SAR search for Brian Carey, a boy who fell down a gully and then had crawled off by the time we got back to find him, he was found when Jon Pemberton looked behind himself and saw a movement across the river from where he was.
One embarrassing moment involved my parents! They got lost in Egmont national park on the way BACK from a trip, crossing back across a creek they’d already gone across that morning.
Use your eyes in the bush – Identify your target (and remember that your mind will play tricks on you!)
It grieves me whenever someone shoots someone else in the bush.
One trip I did, we came out of Mitre track at the road end. Two of our group – Laurie Gallagher and Barry Briggs – had not arrived. So I said to the others, you go on back to Wellington – give me your spare cash, I’ll go find them and we’ll catch up one way or another. I walked back up the farm track. There’s a bulldozed track to the creek on the other side.
And, there they were, walking down the bulldozed track. Under oath in a court I could say I saw them and even what they were wearing.
I walked down to creek to meet them – and there was nobody there.
They didn’t actually arrive for 2 hours. And yet I would have sworn without any doubt I’d seen them at that time and that place.
So remember, your eyes can mislead you. Look twice, look three times before you shoot.
Practice the things mentally that you don’t want to try out for real
A study conducted by Dr. Blaslotto at the University of Chicago was done where he split people into three groups and tested each group on how many free throws they could make.
After this, he had the first group practice free throws every day for an hour. The second group just visualized themselves making free throws. The third group did nothing.
After 30 days, he tested them again.
The first group improved by 24%.
The second group improved by 23% without touching a basketball!
The third group did not improve which was expected.
If you know what to think and think it properly you can improve. Especially things you don’t actually want to practice, like falling off a mountain or falling off a motorbike.
On one Ruapehu trip I slipped and fell into a minor crevasse. I was delighted to find that I was still holding my ice axe in stopping position, which I put down to visualising falling.
A number of years later, John and I were climbing Girdlestone and were coming back round and out. And there was an ice chimney. We looked at each other and thought, yes let’s give that a go. It was 30m or so high, not terribly difficult, but we hadn’t climbed an ice chimney before so we thought we’d try it.
John led up, stopped halfway and put an anchor in. I climbed up, passed him and carried on to the top.
I remember standing on the top, looking at Parae-te-taitonga seeing the volcanic ground way in the distance. Next thing I remember John saying ‘Shit that was close!’ The ice under my feet had given way, and I’d fallen back down the chimney. I’d had something less than half a second to do what I needed to do.
And that’s what I’d done – I’d stopped myself by bracing my crampons on one side of the chimney and my back on the other. I’d come to a halt with John’s head was about a metre below me.
It’s the first time I’ve talked about this. I still have no idea how I managed to do did this – it was entirely involuntary. No memory of how I managed to do this but it worked. I would always spend quite a lot of time before and after imagining what I would do if I got into trouble.
What helps when you practice mentally is to practice with ALL your senses. What you’re going to feel, what you’ll see, what you’ll touch – everything.
PERFECT practice makes perfect.
That means you really have to know what you should be doing in the first place. ‘Practice makes perfect’ doesn’t work if you’re practicing the wrong thing!
When I was having my new hip replacement done, I was having a chat with my surgeon before he began to cut me up. He trotted out the ‘practice makes perfect’ phrase but I said, you should change the phrase to ‘perfect practice makes perfect’ and he thought it was a good idea. I’ve still got that hip so he must have been practicing perfectly alright.
Use your intuition
It’s a good thing to use your intuition, this means using it in times you can reasonably rely on it.
The first time I came across this sort of intuition was on my motorbike when I saw a parked ute way in the distance. My intuition said, ‘that ute’s going to pull out in front of me’. I slowed down and I slowed down … and just as I thought my intuition had let me down – the ute pulled out in front of me.
Another time was when Laurie and I had been out to Plateau hut on Mt cook. We’d been playing around with some guides and practicing stuff and had a long day coming down from the plateau on unusual route.
The guides had thrown their rope down and the first guide set off a minor avalanche with his rope. So Laurie and I decided not to hang around and so we started down the usual track.
About halfway down, Laurie stopped and said, someone has bum slid down here. I said without hesitation ‘and we’re not going to do that’. So off we continued.
We got down to the bottom and saw the Chief Guide and one of his mates was coming up. What had happened was, one of the group we’d been with had seen that place that looked like someone had sat and slid down, and done precisely that – and they’d set off an avalanche, and died.
I put that straight down to intuition – it didn’t look right to me so I decided we weren’t going to do it.
So it pays to practice if you can, and learn to use your intuition and start to rely on it, so you don’t make false intuitive decisions – but when you do use it it can be very useful indeed.
Finally, just to add a bit of confusion, I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation for something over 50 years. I think this has helped me with my tramping over the years.
Again, this is what worked for me. It might work for you, and you won’t know til you try it!