Written by: Wade Howlett
Wade’s Photography Page: Photography by Wade
Ok. We have all seen them. Just as we are gathering the group for our grand adventure whether it be a day trip or your first overnight hike etc down the trail comes this sole person with a determined look on their face. You stop to say hello and this mysterious individual enthrals you all with tales of the wild places that they have just experienced.
How are they able to do such things? Surely, it’s not safe? After all, how often do we read or are told “don’t hike alone!”.
Well, let me give you an insight into my world which enables me to see, photograph and endure the tribulations of the wilderness around us.
I suppose the first thing to come to grips with is that hiking alone is not necessarily for everyone and that’s fine. Nor is it something that you should just wake up one day and think “that’s me!” and off you go. If not done properly the consequences can be serious as many have found out the hard way.
Some of the larger issues which YOU must accept can be that if injured or geographically embarrassed, there is nobody else to assist and get you out of trouble (PLB aside). Also, there is no sharing of weights such as tent components, cooking gear or food. You are the one and only pack horse.
So how did I get to this stage of this wonderful pastime and why?
I have been doing extended bushwalking for about 45 years of which 20 years has been largely solo.
In those early years I gathered expertise in equipment selection, packing, lightweight food, hiking technique and of course the big one……navigation. All of which are essential when out alone. Being a member of several clubs and groups over the years has been an excellent experience and a source of valuable information.
So, what would I recommend as some of the essentials when conducting this style of adventuring?
- Start with shorter trips and on track. Off track can come with experience and knowledge. This will also give you an idea of whether going solo is for you.
- Research is essential. I spend hours and sometimes days gathering information for some fully isolated or longer trips.
- If seriously going down this path don’t be afraid to spend good money on the best gear available. If you think a gear failure is bad on a group walk, believe me when I say that it’s nothing compared to having a boot delamination or a tent pole failure etc and no spare parts available that the group may share.
- If you thought that first aid courses were an option, I recommend that a good first aid course is a definite requirement because, you will be your own first responder, paramedic and possibly ambulance driver to get to a place of rescue or notice.
- Now this one I consider a very important solo hiking clause. Know when to turn back or set camp for the night! This can be for lack of light, thicker undergrowth than expected, lack of time or just weather conditions.
I have lost count of how many times I’ve turned back from my objective just a few hundred metres away when time was disappearing fast or because the trail ahead was choked with impenetrable creepers.
A good number of people over the years have lost their lives because they have not followed this rule.
- Keep a good level of fitness especially if going off trail. While this can be said for all bushwalking activities it is vitally important when by yourself and essential when off trail.
Now as if that hasn’t been enough to scare you off, why do I do it?
- I just love being able to stop any time I wish for as long as I want to providing, I can still achieve my objectives in a safe manner. As a photographer I am always seeing things and wanting to stop and explore. This is easier when I must only convince myself rather than others in a group.
- Any decisions such as turning around or going just a bit further (haven’t we all been there), sightseeing or lunch stops are all my choice.
- How often do we all think to ourselves; I wonder what is over there or around that bend? Going solo I am at full liberty to have a look.
- The chances of observing wildlife is way advanced. Only recently in the wilderness rainforest to the south of Paluma Nth Queensland I came face to beak with an adult Cassowary only 5 or so meters away. Yes, it could have happened in a group, but the chances are greatly increased when quietly walking alone in the bush.
Now, while all of this sounds like paradise there must be some downsides to being alone in the wilderness and the following are just a few, I’m sure that my readers could add more
- First and foremost is that you have no one to share those amazing moments with. No one else saw that Cassowary or experienced the terror of severe lightning striking the rock tors around my campsite on top of Mount Jugungal in the Snowy Mountains in NSW back in 1986 (yes it did happen).
- Any and all decisions are yours alone therefore if the proverbial hits the fan you only have yourself to blame.
- Similar to the previous point you are 100% responsible for your own welfare.
- Everything that you need to safely and comfortably conduct a venture must be carried by yourself, no sharing weights.
This can be an important consideration when extending walks e.g. in 2019 I solo walked the magnificent Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island Nth Queensland. Most people do this walk in three to four days with relatively light packs, approximately 15-20kg. The photographer and explorer in me wanted to make the utmost of this trip so I stretched it out to seven days and camped at nearly every campsite. The advantage was much shorter daily walking and more time to explore/photograph. The disadvantage was a starting pack weight of nearly 28kg (5kg camera gear alone) This equipment is shown in the attached image.
Was the extra weight worth it? I think so as I was able to fully absorb the many facets of the island and the images I captured I think speak for themselves.
So there we go, this solo bushwalking that has taken up so much of my time is an incredible pastime that has given me many amazing stories although at times I have been that guy at the beginning of this story coming down the track with the determined look on his face after another gruelling adventure stopping to talk with a group of people about to tackle the day’s surprises. Perhaps if you would like a glimpse of some of my solo hiking life then the images on this page highlight a few of the walks that I have covered over past years.
Please enjoy my story and have fun exploring our great outdoors, SAFELY.