The death of 15-year-old Nick Delaney in the Blue Mountains is a reminder that in the bush, even with experience and preparation, things can go tragically wrong. Even official safety advice needs cross-checking.
The death of 15-year-old Nick Delaney
in the Blue Mountains is a reminder that in the bush, even with experience and preparation, things can go tragically wrong. But even official safety advice needs cross-checking.
Until fixed yesterday, descriptions of some bushwalks on the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) website
were wrong, downgrading their degree of difficulty. As regular bushwalker Richard Chirgwin told Crikey
, that’s a potential safety risk.
Wentworth Pass, for example. The 2006 website
of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) described it as a "difficult" walk of five hours. DECCW had it listed as a "medium difficulty" walk of four hours.
A real howler, said Chirgwin, was the walk from Perry’s Lookdown to Blue Gum Forest. A "difficult" walk of five hours, DECWW had it as "medium difficulty" and just three hours.
The three-hour target is not just unrealistic, but downright dangerous for anyone but the most hardened bushwalker, Chirgwin said.
"To get from Perry’s Lookdown to the Blue Gum Forest is a climb, on steps but very steep ones -- other walks describe the same kind of steps as 'ladders' -- of more than 600 metres, about twice the Giant Stairway, after which you descend quite a bit further into the actual forest itself.
"I’ve seen 20-somethings looking very ill because they tried to take it too fast … Real heart-attack material … If someone reading the description set out at, say, 4pm expecting to be home before dark ... the mind boggles," he said.
The descriptions of these bushwalks are among 24 that DECCW has outsourced to Wildwalks
, an online bushwalking guidebook run by "people who are passionate about the outdoors".
A DECCW spokesperson told Crikey
that high quality, accurate information on bushwalks can help introduce a wider audience to walking in parks.
While Wildwalks is aimed at the beginner -- their 2008 pitch
notes that "If we genuinely want people to go walking we need to make it easy for them, maybe as easy as finding the local fast food shop" -- there was no attempt to make the walks look easier. Nor was it hardened bushwalkers forgetting that not everyone is as fit.
It was a cock-up.
As the DECCW spokesperson put it, "There was a migration error that led to some 'difficult' walks, such as Wentworth Pass, appearing as 'medium' on the NPWS website. This has now been rectified.
"Wildwalks uses the Australian Standard AS 2156.1-2001 Walking Tracks Classification and Signage standard to rate the walk difficulties. This creates a consistent method of classification," they said.
"It was a definite oops," Wildwalk’s Matt McClelland told Crikey
. "Walks are checked regularly and, where necessary, re-rated by trained staff and volunteers.
“The description on the [NPWS] website is just a brief summary of the walk. It’s not really intended for people to walk off," said McClelland.
"If people click on the link and come through to Wildwalks, then the information [on those walks] has always been the grade four, the grade 'hard'. There’s a link just below it which says 'go and get a map here'."
Wildwalks welcomes feedback to refine their website, and in this case the problem was fixed promptly.
"An advantage of their online system is that revisions can be quickly made with none of the turnaround issues faced by printed walk guides," DECCW said.
"We also strongly advise walkers to put safety first, and if they are attempting a walk for the first time that they talk to someone who has been on the walk before, or contact the local NPWS office."
NPWS and Wildwalks recommend carrying topographic maps for the area, and a compass or GPS, and know how to use them. They also recommend carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB), available for hire from bushwalking and outdoor shops, or borrowed from police stations and National Parks offices in the Blue Mountains and Kosciusko areas.