Current Musing: Murray and Darling River Systems (In Progress)
Sunset

Safety

Fire

Fire is a real risk in many areas of the world.

  • Stay informed and follow all advice authorities provide.
  • Avoid trips into remote areas when there are extreme fire conditions forecast.
  • If there is a risk, consider leaving the area. Additional people in fire zones make the jobs of the Firies and other support crews harder as their resources are spread thinner protecting everybody.
  • Dry lightning strikes are a common cause of fires in remote areas. If you hear thunder, stay vigilant!
  • If you are caught up in a bushfire, avoid the radiant heat by escaping into water or large clearings. A rock or earth barrier could help.
  • Normally fires will burn uphill much faster than downhill. If you are in a defendable position in say a river, consider the risks if you try to escape the fire by moving into higher ground.
  • Use natural fibre clothing. Thick woollen or leather clothes are best. Synthetic may melt and stick to your skin.
  • After the fire has past, stay vigilant. Many fatalities occur due to falling trees / infrastructure that were damaged in the main fire.

In Australia we are having our worst ever fire season due to hotter conditions on top of a prolonged drought.

Map of bushfire seasons

Source: Bushfire weather, Bureau of Meteorology.

The Corryong (Green Valley) fire started the day I had left the area when dry lightning struck and provides an excellent example about the dangers.

Just four days later, it has grown to 104,000 hectares in size and is currently affecting every area of the upper Murray River, including many places from my trip such as;

  • Cascade trailhead (intersects the only road through the area),
  • Tin Mine & Leather Barrel confluences (no communication and multiple day walk to escape),
  • Tom Groggin Campground (base camp for the trip), and
  • the fire front is currently burning through the entire 35 km length of the Murray River Gorge.
Map of hotspots

Even if I was safe, this would have completely ruined all of my plans if I was still in the area. Kosciuszko National Park was closed with mandatory evacuations yesterday, with a state of emergency mandating evacuation of nearby towns including Biggara, Khancoban and Towong today. Conditions are expected to get worse tomorrow where it could potentially merge up with other fires to both the north and south, creating a massive mega-fire.

Snakes

Stripped snake on a log

Giving an honourable mention to our little legless friends.

Firstly, remember that horses and honey bees are much more likely to kill than these little guys, and secondly, most snake bites occur when people are attacking or trying to handle the snake.

In fact, an unprovoked fatal snake bite has similar odds to being killed by lightning or having a coconut falling on you when you are in the tropics!

Prevention

  • Watch where you step and sit, including at night by using a bright touch. Many snakes are nocturnal.
  • Walk nosily and consider using long walking sticks to poke the ground in front of you. Albeit, avoid poking off to the side of a track too much, I've accidentally disturbed a snake into my path doing that before and nearly stood on the poor little fellow.
  • Avoid places where snakes might live such as fairly much anywhere off the track where they get some cover. Snakes are generally low down in the food chain and seek out places to hide to avoid being eaten by birds and other predators.
  • Wearing high boots and loose long pants. Long gaiters should be considered if hiking off trail.
  • Keep a clean camp to avoid attracting vermin that in turn could attract snakes.
  • Never attempt to catch or kill a snake. This is the most common reason why people get bitten. It is also illegal to kill or harm snakes in Australia.

First Aid

This is informational only and you should get training by professionals on proper care of snake bites.

  • Stay calm and keep the patient as still as possible.
  • Call 000 or activate any emergency beacons.
  • Use the pressure immobilisation technique to slow the spread of the venom. The bandages should be confitable enough for the patient to leave these on for several hours.
  • Do not try to capture the snake.
  • Do not cut, suck or wash the bite site. Skin tests can be used to determine what snake bite the patient.
  • Do not apply an arterial tourniquet.

Please refer to the Australian Venom Research Unit for more information and consider first-aid training courses.

Water

According to the World Health Organisation, there are about a half million deaths worldwide due to water borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and even polio. Polluted water is no joke!

In Australia, the biggest risk is from Cryptosporidium in remote areas, Giardia and other common agricultural borne bacteria. Australia reports the second highest rate of cryptosporidium illness in humans across developed nations, especially with children in remote areas. These are worse in times of drought.

Blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) are common, particularily in summer where there are low flows. Some of these algae produce toxins or chemicals that can affect the taste and odour of the water, as well as making it dangerous to drink. Activated carbon (removal) and chlorine (oxidation) help to reduce toxin levels, but it is best to avoid this water completely.

Water Treatment

Basically, boil, filter or chemically treat all water before you drink this:

Boiling
After the water has reached a rolling boil, it should be removed from the heat, allowed to cool naturally, without the addition of ice. This should be sufficient to inactivate pathogenic bacteria, viruses and protozoa. WHO
Filter
There are many options on the market, and most filters that are portable do not filter viruses. This is mostly a concern for third world countries where water borne viruses are more common. These range for cheap sawyer life straws through to pumped / gravity filters. The best choice is dependent on the conditions that you will experience and the number of people in the team.
Chemical

Purchased tablets usually contain sodium chlorite, iodine compounds and / or sodium dichloroisocyanurate. Most should provide effective measures against most pathogenic agents, however Cryptosporidium treatment is limited to sodium dichloroisocyanurate such as those found in Katadyn Micropur Forte tablets as well as some other brands.

Water may be disinfected using household bleach containing chlorine, but not containing added perfumes, ammonia or other detergents. Rate depends on the amount of available chlorine (double the rate for turbid water) and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes. You should notice a slight chloride order but this will dissipate if you let the water stand for longer. It seems harder to find plain bleach these days! The WA government contains a lot of information on emergency water treatment options.

Water Clarification

Turbid water can settle overnight in many areas. This will ensure a longer life of water filters and to improve the taste of the water. In really bad conditions, chemical agents such as alum (aluminium sulphate) as a flocculent.

Sock filters and Mil bank bags can be used as a pre-filter filter to remove large particulates from the water. A sock filter is simply sand, charcoal, small stones and grass in a sock and water is run through it. A Milbank bag is a canvas bag that you run the water through. Soak the Milbank bag before use to ensure the canvas absorbs water to provide a better filter.

There are a number of chemical agents used, but Alum seems to be the most common and can be purchased in swimming pool supplies. The Alum rates is 15mg/L to 100mg/L and the pH should be within the 6.5 - 7.5 range. The correct dose of alum will flocculate suspended solids in the water together into large fluffy lumps. These will then be heavy enough to settle out the water naturally within an hour or two. It is recommended that you first test in a jar to determie the correct dosage.

For my solo trips, I used a life straw for the alpine areas where there was high water quality, and it worked for 2 weeks before the bag / connections died and I was forced to boil my water. For the Darling trip, I'm planning for a clarification step using Alumi, Milbank Bag (maybe with inactive charcoal), and finally an MSR filter that has a ceramic filter that will allow me to clean it on the trip itself. However, my main source of water will be carried whenever possible to minimise drinking agricultural runoff that will contain a possible horrible mix of herbicides, pesticides and goodness knows what. Large scale gas fracking also occurs, so even more nasty chemicals have potentially leached out into the environment.