The High Country in Winter

Graham Cahill. — August 14, 2014

A recent trip up into the wilds of the Victorian high country during the middle of winter (not to mention the very best snow season the region has experienced in 20 odd years) got me to thinking about gear and how to use it. Trust me, there is nothing like a 100kmph wind while camped at 1500m ASL with the threat of snow to get a bloke questioning his gear (and sanity).

Last BLOG post I rambled on about not letting the weather dictate your movements; I quipped something like “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation”. True enough but I tell you what, I may have been a little lenient on the bad weather concept; weather can get pretty bloody horrible above the snow line in the Aussie Alps!

So then, what did get me through a week’s filming for Australian 4WD Action,  in the high country in winter, without freezing my bits off? Let’s have a look at the items and techniques I managed to employ to make my experience a warm one.

Firstly clothing was paramount. I own a couple of cracking big jackets, one of which is an insulated canvas jobbies with hood that is perhaps my all-time favourite bit of clothing. However the real key up high was layering. I used a thermal layer first (long johns if you will), followed by a shirt, then a warm jumper and finally added one of two jackets once things got real serious. Extremities next and a beanie was utterly mandatory for keeping the ears attached to the head while a solid pair of insulated riggers gloves were worth their weight around the campfire. By layering I was able to shed the jacket and gloves when I got behind the wheel, yet throw them back on when I got out.

Despite conditions, I still slept under canvas in my trusty swag but I did come a little prepared. Even on the clearest of nights I slept under an awning to prevent dew settling then freezing on my swag. This works a treat! I also employed a small tarp to place my swag on to stop moisture attacking from below. Inside I added a small foam mattress to keep the cold from creeping in at ground level while a silk inner sheet plus Cold Mountain sleeping bag meant that even on nights of well below zero, I was actually a tad too warm at times! Heat loss from your head while sleeping is massive so a beanie was worn all night for added protection.

Another thing I adopted during the high wind camps we experienced atop the peaks was to position my swag feet first into the wind. The feet end is the lowest, while all openings are then facing the opposite way to the wind direction. This meant even in gale force conditions, I hardly noticed the wind ripping over my swag (nothing worse than being kept awake all night by flapping canvas).

Here is another tip; don’t drink beer! Beer is cold for a start but more importantly, it makes you need to, well, there no getting around it, it makes you need to pee…a lot. Stick to a glass of port or wine with your campfire to minimise the chance you will need a 2am, minus 5 toilet visit out of the swag!

As for the trucks, the newer models that were along for the ride didn’t skip a beat but old Shorty, my aging SWB Patrol, needed some prior TLC. My glow plug relay had died long ago, not a problem in the Gulf or up the Cape but it just wouldn’t do for a winter high country trip. As such, we put in a manual glow switch that bypassed the relay and allowed me to hold a button on for 15 seconds or so, manually activating the glow plugs. I cannot tell you just how well this worked. Shorty would burst into life even when covered in ice! Of course we all filled up prior to heading high, with Alpine diesel to stop it thickening up at ultra-cold temps.

Lastly, while many wouldn’t even contemplate the high country, in a swag, during the middle of winter, actually wanting to be there was the biggest factor of the lot. The high country is a spectacular place at any time of year but mid-winter is peak season in my opinion. We didn’t see another soul, campsites were empty and full of wood and the snow covered peaks were a dream scene. Despite the conditions, or in fact because of them, I wouldn’t have been anywhere else for all the tea in China!