BSAR Training at Lake Mountain

I hadn’t been to the snow in years, so I thought this year’s winter Bush Search And Rescue training would be a good opportunity to play in the snow somewhere new.

I was closely following the snow report in the lead up to the weekend, so I had an idea of what to expect. The forecast was about -5 to 0 over the course of the weekend and there was no snow, and perhaps a bit of snowfall to occur overnight or on the Sunday.

Saturday morning we were loading the SAR bus, and those with snow shoes were told to leave them in their cars as there was no snow up there.

I hadn’t slept very well the previous couple of nights, so I used the bus ride as a chance for a bit of a snooze.

When we arrived at Lake Mountain it was snowing. A lot. It snowed constantly the whole entire day. It was very cold.

On Saturday a lot of our training consisted of standing around learning different search techniques, and practising these search techniques, which was very slow going, and very very cold.

Here’s the campsite shortly after 5pm. Our tents had been pitched for just a few hours:

005 campsite 5pm

At this time we had a couple of hours for dinner. I didn’t bring my stove because I hate cleaning, and it didn’t fit in my pack with all my bazillions of thermal clothing… and also because it takes 15 mins to boil water, which is too long for me to wait for a cup of tea if I’m watching the pot while standing outside in the snow shivering. So I ate some home made muesli bars while wrapped in the sleeping bag, reading a book, and shivering.

That night we did sound and light night search practise, using whistles and torches. They were originally going to make us hang out in the cold for 4-5 hours but due to the conditions it was shortened to about 2 hours. Again, this was very slow going and I was shivering. I have a cheap little thermometer I keep with my whistle. It said it was -15 degrees. About half way through, we got to quicken the pace for a bit, and while moving I was nice and warm.

That was it for Saturday’s training. I learnt a lot about different search techniques, as I had only done line searching before, and we covered quite a few techniques.

I also learnt that I really really don’t handle the cold well at all. I was wearing: 3 polypropylene thermal tops, 1 polar fleece, 1 wind fleece, 1 gortex jacket, 1 polar fleece headband/ear muff, 1 polar fleece beanie, 1 buff worn around my neck, polypro gloves (hopeless in the wet), polypro thermal pants, softshell pants, 3 pairs socks (1 thin cotton, 2 explorer), gortex runners and gaiters. My feet and legs were good, but my hands and upper body were freezing. Only my hands got wet because of my gloves. The rest of me was perfectly dry.

A few people commented on my shoes and asked me if my feet were wet, because I think I was the only person not in normal bush walking boots. My feet stayed perfectly dry and warm. Even if I had sno-sealed my boots, they would only have stayed dry for half a day. My shoes only started to get a little bit damp right at the end of Sunday while waiting for the bus.

I have to say that my softshell pants really were the highlight of my outfit! I ordered them from REI and they only arrived a few days ago. They are wind resistant, water resistant, have pockets with zips, are stretchy so you have freedom of movement, and they actually look good! They are soooooooo comfortable and my legs stayed 100% dry. They are also very durable, and look brand new, even after some very rough bush bashing. They are the Mistral Pants from REI. With thermals underneath, they are the perfect snow pants. I would not have survived the weekend without these pants.

During the night time search, I also had my small day pack on under my gortex jacket. Then over the top over everything a flouro vest, and the radio holster. Because of my pack, the radio holster over the top of everything really jammed me in tight. This was great as it provided some extra warmth, although I could only move my upper body around like a robot.

At night I just took off my softshell pants, gortex jacket, wind fleece and gloves. I hopped into my sleeping bag, with sleeping bag liner, pulled my beanie down over my ears and eyes, my buff over my mouth, then sleeping bag & liner hoods over my head and tried to sleep. I alternated between shivering, suffocating, opening up a gap around my nose to breathe, and shivering some more. I probably slept for 1, maybe 2 hours. My feet and legs were still ok, but my core was just frozen. This is quite normal for me generally speaking during Melbourne’s winter, but on a worse scale out here.

My alarm went off at 7am, and I checked the temperature:

008 morning temp small

I don’t know where the forecast ranges of -5 to 0 etc come from, but they definitely don’t make those numbers up based on where I was.

My tent held up really well. It was perfectly dry inside and no condensation. I heard from others who had condensation that froze, so they had ice in their tents!

After leisurely snacking on scroggin and chocolate coated coffee beans, I kicked some snow off half the vestibule opening, and emerged to find my tent looking like this:

009 morning tent

011 morning tent

From morning until lunch time we were in groups of 4 doing a practise search. We found various clues such as a VB can, a tent, and some footprints. My group then had to join another group for a line search from near the top of a hill down to 1200m.

Bush bashing was tough going through incredibly rough terrain (even if there wasn’t snow), including very thick regrowth from the Black Saturday fires, waist deep undergrowth, boulders and fallen trees hidden and buried in the snow.

Small fern trees completely covered in snow looked like great places to shelter if you really were stuck out there:

022 Snow ferns

I fell over many times while doing this. After one fall, it seemed like too much effort to get up,  so I just roly polyed directly over the snow covered undergrowth for a bit. (Obviously taking the line search very seriously here).

After a while, one of my gaiters came undone. There was too much snow over the velcro so I couldn’t do it up again. I wrapped this gaiter round my radio holster, and then tucked my softshell pants into the outer explorer sock, pulled up high. My pants would keep dry the other explorer sock and cotton sock underneath. I must have looked ridiculous with one purple gaiter on one leg and one thick red sock on the outside of my pants on the other leg.

Once we made it down to 1200 metres, our 2 groups joined another group to head back up to a trail. By then the “casualties” had been found by other groups, and we had to meet up with one to help them with the sled.

As we were heading up to the trail, there was some even thicker regrowth of eucalyptus saplings. We were kind of crowd surfing over the top. I got a bit stuck though, so tunnelled through underneath.

I did not take too many photos while bush bashing, as it was quite tough, and I had fallen over enough already. I was focusing on not losing my radio or gaiter, and didn’t want to be thinking about losing my phone either.

Here are some random pics over the course of the day:

021 SAR Training

023 SAR Training

028 SAR Training

We were out and about for around 3 or 4 hours and I was very warm in all my layers while getting through the thick stuff. I realised I was well dressed for moving around in the snow, but there was no way my core can stay warm when not moving.

After this activity, we had what seemed like plenty of time to have lunch and pack up, but I knew it was going to take me a while to dig out my tent from the snow.

Once we were ready to go, we waited for the bus. It was soooo nice to board a nice HEATED bus! I immediately removed several layers.

A minute later the bus was stuck in the snow. While waiting for someone to come along with a shovel, the door was open, and it got cold. I was sure I’d warm up once we got moving again, so I didn’t put my layers back on. I never did warm up, and continued to shiver all the way home. It was too much effort to try and get my thermal tops back on. 

Interestingly enough, late at night, toasty warm in bed, I was woken up by the phone ringing. I didn’t answer it, but in the morning, I noticed an SMS for a call out in the snow! They wanted skiers though, and that’s not me.

c-c-c-cold

c-c-c-cold

Now I am over all that, I think with some waterproof gloves, and if I can find the warmest jacket in the world, I’ll be ready for the next winter training 🙂

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