Staff Adventures: Oliver's Real-Life Kozi PLB Rescue
Within the world of adventure activities everyone understands that there is inherent risk involved, but we usually think in the beginning that ‘it will never happen to me’. I would think this to myself all the time until my recent trip to Kosciuszko National Park. My friends and I had planned to complete a four day circuit starting from the ski station at Guthega, up on to the Main Range, and coming back past Charlotte’s Pass. We checked the weather forecast which said that the wind would be strong, with some rain and possible snow flurries. Nothing we couldn’t handle.
We started walking at about ten o’clock in the morning. The wind was quite brisk but not particularly notable, and by 5:30pm we had made good time, ending up getting further than we had expected. The wind was picking up by then so we set up camp behind a small outcrop of boulders in the hope that they would create enough of a wind shield to protect us through to the morning.
The wind gained speed and by 8:30pm it was incredibly strong, barrelling onto our tent and pressing the poles inwards. With the tent roof smacking us in the face as if punishing us for bringing it on the trip, we decided to add more guy lines with a spare bit of cord. Outside the porch we were met with lashing snow, which bit painfully into any uncovered skin. As we attempted to support the tent better with the guy lines, the tent fly violently rippled and the poles struggled to remain upright against the attack. “Well, that wasn’t fun,” commented one of my fellow campers on our return to the tent, but it would feel like fun compared to what was coming.
Come 10:30pm the wind and snow had decided to bring their good mates thunder and lightning. The tent shook with such enthusiasm it was as if hundreds of wombats were using it as a trampoline, while a newly-ripped hole was letting in a huge amount rain and snow. We zipped all our sleeping bags together and shivered under space blankets, but as the night progressed the weather did not improve and we struggled to keep warm. With our tent and sleeping bags in a horrible condition one member was beginning to show symptoms of hypothermia. With the tent barely standing, and struggling to keep warm, we all looked towards the top pocket of my bag where I kept the PLB, or Personal Locator Beacon.
Ollie struggling in the wind, somewhere on the Main Range Circuit.
After a lot of thinking and shivering we made the difficult decision to set off our beacon. It was only afterwards that we thought to check cellphone reception and discovered that we had a signal. Having made sure that we brought fully-charged phones with us, we were able to call 000 to give them as much information on our location as possible. By the time we called they had found the trip intentions form that we had left at the National Parks office in Jindabyne before our departure, and asked us various questions, such as the location of the closest road head, information on our surroundings and any landmarks nearby. They told us someone was on their way and the call ended, then we huddled under our sleeping bags, wrapped up in any dry clothing we had and attempted to sleep.
While I can’t say that we slept well the collective warmth and layers brought a bit of comfort. We got small bursts of five minutes sleep in between which the storm would rattle us awake. As the early hours of the morning rolled around we awoke to the wall of the tent lit up by what we thought was the sun, but checking the time it turned out to be only one o' clock in the morning. The storm had magically passed, leaving the mountain eerily quiet, and poking my head out of the tent I saw the source of this mysterious light - a heavy 4WD with Police markings was parked 200m down the mountain.
Two officers made their way towards our battered shelter, and chucking on my shoes I crawled out of the tent to meet them. They made sure we were okay and helped us pack up our gear, and on the drive back they asked as what happened, our names, address and phone numbers for their paperwork. They dropped us off back at Guthega and said they would help us find a place to stay. We thanked them and apologised for any inconvenience, to which they replied that we had made the right choice. On the drive back we received a call from the manager at the Banjo Patterson Inn who told us that that they had a room for us.
Drying off with Banjo Patterson
Of all my adventures this has been the one on which I have learned the most; not only how to avoid such situations but also how to extricate myself if the worst has already happened. I always take a PLB and to be perfectly honest I never had any idea what would happen if I had an emergency. Also, the response time to a PLB is unclear for many people, whic becomes very important when you do require help. It is also comforting to know that the systems in place are effective and the teams that use them are efficient. I would recommend taking a PLB such as the ACR ResQLink on any adventure. It could just save your life.