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Preparing for WA's Toughest Hikes

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Step 1: Assess the trail and your capability as a hiker

As with most other physical endeavours, it’s important to be self-aware of what your capabilities are. Some trails are simply not going to be possible without a high level of fitness and experience. The reality is, hiking can be extremely dangerous for yourself and also for your rescuers if you find yourself stranded in a remote location.

What to consider?

  • Distance
  • Elevation Change
  • Terrain
  • Weather

Once you are aware of what’s ahead, it’s time to assess the likelihood of safely completing the hike. Some questions to ask yourself;

  • Have I hiked similarly difficult trails before?
  • Am I comfortable hiking on the expected terrain?
  • Will unexpected weather impact my ability to complete the hike?

If you have any major doubts about safely completing your chosen hike then it’s probably a good idea to continue training and preparing first. Start with some more intermediate hikes and build up to your ultimate goal.

Step 2: Choosing the right gear

Once you have decided that you are ready for the hike, you’ll want to be bringing along the correct gear. Everyone has their own preferences on brands and gear types - I’ll leave that choice up to you. The main things to consider when choosing your gear are; comfort, weight and durability. It’s always good idea to test before you buy and definitely reach out to other hikers for recommendations.

Basic gear list, needed for most hikes:

  • Trail shoes or hiking boots
  • Durable + comfortable clothing
  • Backpack
  • First aid including snake bite kit
  • Water container
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

If multi-day, these are important additions:

  • Larger Pack
  • Lightweight sleeping gear (sleeping bag, pad and pillow, tent)
  • Cooking gear (hiking stove, fuel, cutlery and cookware)
  • Spare clothes

Weather conditions will affect your gear choices;

  • Colder temperatures: Extra layers of clothing, warmer sleeping equipment (if multi-day).
  • Hotter temperatures: Extra water, sun safe gear (hat, long sleeves etc.).
  • Wet weather: Rain gear (rain jacket, poncho, umbrella, pack cover)

Step 3: Hydration and nutrition

Completing challenging and long hikes requires you to dial in your nutrition and hydration. This will differ person to person but it’s important to plan accordingly.

Hydration: A good rule of thumb is to drink .5L of water every hour of moderate intensity hiking. This will increase or decrease depending on your body type, age, hiking intensity and outside temperature.

Hydration tips:

  1. Drink a decent amount of water before you start your hike, as well as at ever water refill. This will help to reduce pack weight.
  2. Add electrolytes to your water to replace key vitamins and minerals that you lose while sweating.
  3. Sip at your water throughout the day.
  4. Hotter temperatures will greatly increase your sweat rate and therefore how much water you’ll need to consume.

Nutrition: Energy is a necessity when hiking on tough terrain and over long distances, and that energy is replenished with food. The amount of calories you will need varies widely depending on the intensity of the hike. A good rule of thumb is somewhere in the range of 300-600 calories per hour. This should be adjusted based on your personal needs.

Nutrition tips:

  1. Snack consistency throughout the day.
  2. Use easy-to-eat, pre-prepared food while on the move (trail mix, muesli bars etc.)
  3. Dehydrated foods make for lightweight, easy to prepare meals.
  4. Avoid canned food or other foods with heavy packaging.
  5. Consume fresh produce whenever there is an opportunity (fruits and veg won’t last long on the trail).

Step 4: Preparing for emergencies

Roadblocks WILL emerge at some point on your hiking adventures. Whether it’s a small inconvenience or a life-threatening emergency, being as prepared as possible will enable you to react quickly and effectively.

Potential emergency situations:

  • Injuries (soft tissue, broken bones, dehydration, hyperthermia, snake bites etc.)

Injuries come in many forms. It’s important to always carry with you a fully stocked first aid and snake bite management kit. These can be lightweight and small but can make all the difference if something goes wrong. It’s also highly recommended that multiple (ideally all) people in your hiking group have undertaken some form of first aid training.

  • Extreme weather conditions (storms, hot or cold temperatures, bushfires)

Weather forecasts are usually relatively accurate and so proper research should be done prior to all extreme hikes to make sure the weather is appropriate and safe. There is always the possibility of unexpected turns in the weather which is why choosing the correct gear based on time of year and weather forecast is important. Always plan for the worst case scenario.

  • Getting lost or stranded

It’s an unfortunate reality that some of the longest and most treacherous hikes in Western Australia can sometimes be poorly marked or overgrown. In some circumstances there isn’t even a trail to follow. This means that your navigation skills and tools become increasingly more important. A good GPS and map is imperative, your smart phone can be a good option for this. Paper maps can be a good backup in case of battery loss on your device. A PLB is another valuable tool in case you do get lost or stranded and need rescue. The personal locator beacon will alert rescuers to your exact position in case of emergency. Some trails require you to inform the national park rangers of your hike, this is for your own safety. I would recommend letting at least one trustworthy person know of your route and expected finish time on ANY hike.

  • Dangerous terrain

Dangerous terrain can be caused by weather conditions (flooding, bushfires, rain) but also are a persistent reality to some of WAs biggest hikes. This includes sleep descents, rocky and uneven trails or unexpected drop offs. Always be diligent in your research of the trail you are attempting. Reach out to previous hikers and any online resources and media depicting the trail. If you come across a piece of unexpected and dangerous terrain on your hike, take your time to assess the safest way to overcome it.

Step 5: Enjoy it!

Western Australia has some of the most spectacular hikes in the world. Once you are prepared, enjoy every moment. These are some of my favourite tough hikes in our beautiful state;

  • The Bibbulmun Track - the world renowned 1000km thru-hike is one of WAs best. From Kalamunda in Perth City all the way to the south coast in Albany. Hikers spend anywhere from 20 - 70 days on the trail and traverse a diverse range of classic West Aussie landscapes.
  • The Cape to Cape Track - one of WAs most beautiful trails, following 130kms of coastline from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin in the Margaret River region. Sandy beaches, beautiful forests and coastal cliffs make for an unforgettable 3-7 day hike.
  • Mt. Toolbrunup - a short but treacherous mountain hike in the Stirling Range National Park. Doable in a half-day, this hike involves rock scrambling and steep ascents. This is my favourite WA mountain and the views from the top are unbelievable (especially with the sun on the horizon).
  • Bald Head Walk Trail (currently closed May 2022) - a 13km day hike that follows the spectacular Flinders Peninsular of Torndirrup National Park. This coastal trail has a surprising amount of elevation change and no shortage of sandy trails. It’s my favourite day hike in the Albany region.

While tough, the challenge and adventure of these hikes is something that you will never forget. I encourage you to look into some of these challenging hikes in WA and push yourself as a hiker to experience things you never thought you could. With proper preparation and training, you can feel confident that you can complete your dream trails with minimal setbacks and make some awesome memories.

Credit: Cam Bostock