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Newsletter 68, October 2013 - Willis's Walkabouts

Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 68, October 2013

Kakadu. Beginning on 6 October, the ABC will screen a four part documentary on Kakadu, Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm. More below. I've omitted a few things I had hoped to include so that I could get this out before the TV program.

Note. The NY Times allows non-subscribers to look at ten free articles each month. I've got more links than that in this newsletter so I've marked them with a red asterisk (*) so that you can choose which are of most interest to you.

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Kakadu on TV

As mentioned above, beginning on 6 October, the ABC will screen a four part documentary on Kakadu, Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm. The web page contains links to a number of interesting pages. The episode summary page tells you a bit about each of the programs.

Every single link on the overview page is worth a look.

There are a few things worth remembering as you watch.

  • Most visitors never get into the escarpment country where we do our walks.
  • The big crocs you see in the documentary inhabit the lowlands. There are none where we do more than 95% of our walks.
  • If you want to see Jim Jim Falls like it looks in the wet season, no one else can take you there.

If you miss an episode, you can see them all at ABC iview. They be available for only a limited time, two weeks at most, perhaps less.

If you are not in Australia, it's harder but possible. The Australian Business Traveller website explains one way to do it (at a cost of US$40 per year). If you do a Google search for how to see geographically blocked websites, you'll find many other options. I won't advocate any particular way to do something like that, I'll just say it's possible.

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Gudjewg — The Wet Season

If you didn't have a look at the Gudjewg — The Wet Season link in our last newsletter, you ought to do so. Even if you did, it's worth revisiting. The wet season is so different to what most people expect that it's also worth clicking the links that take you from one page to the next.

As the old Tourism NT slogan said, "You'll never never know if you never never go."

We've already got two Kakadu wet season trips that are certain to run.

  • Kakadu Super Circle No. 1: 5-25 January
    Probable guide: Paul Blattman. A major expedition. This is the only trip where you get to Jim Jim and Twin Falls in the Wet. We need to put out a food drop before the end of October. People who book before then get to pick what goes into the drop for their breakfasts & lunches.
  • Kakadu Light: 4-16 February
    Probable guide: Russell. The easiest wet season trip we offer. I had a great time working out a new itinerary with the first two who booked. How could I not do the trip?

There's more, much more.

  • Our Kimberley Trips page lists several wet season trips, each of which comes with a detailed description.
  • Our Kakadu Reports page links to a number of reports our clients have written about their wet season trips in Kakadu.
  • Our Kimberley Reports page links to a number of reports our clients have written about their wet season trips in the Kimberley.
  • Several of the photo galleries on our Kakadu Galleries page are from wet season trips.
  • Similarly, several of the photo galleries on our Kimberley Galleries page are from wet season trips.

If you have the time, we have the information. Browse at your leisure and you may come to understand why many of our clients have done multiple wet season trips. There's nothing like them anywhere else on earth.

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New Caledonia

I recently spent ten days in New Caledonia on what was going to be a simple holiday. It became much more.

New Caledonia has one of the most amazing floras in the world — example: a tree with blue sap which has a dry weight that contains up to 25% nickel. It is full of outstanding bushwalking opportunities. There is good canoeing and kayaking. My little taste made me want to go back. There is a wealth of information about the walks but it is almost entirely in French. Very little of that information is on the web. I collected all the information I could find. With at least one guide who speaks French plus some local contacts I met, you can be sure that there will be a trip to New Caledonia scheduled next year, probably in September, possibly overlapping into October.

Watch the website and this newsletter for updates.

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Ultralight Walking

The last time I had a good section on light-pack walking in this newsletter was in Newsletter 31, October 2007. A lot has happened since then, but, if your' re curious, the original is at the bottom of this section.

I'll start with a definition. "Ultralight is generally defined as a total pack weight excluding consumables (food, fuel, water) of under 4.5kg, or under 5kg for snow camping." You can do a two week walk carrying everything in a pack weighing 10 kg or less.

Now for a bit of history, some of which is still useful. Browse at your leisure.

From Newsletter 31 — October 2007

The last couple of years have seen a tremendous growth in light-pack bushwalking with more and more light items appearing on the market. If you think carrying a full pack is going to be so heavy that you couldn't enjoy a long distance trip, you ought to think again.

In February this year, the VMTC, a Melbourne Bushwalking Club, held a special light-pack weekend walk. Not including water, five people began the weekend with packs weighing 7 kg or less. After eating all their food (again not counting water), seven people finished the walk carrying 6 kg or less. This was in Victoria. It should be even easier in the Top End.

In August, the Coast and Mountain Walkers, a Sydney Bushwalking Club, published a good article on ultralight walking. The authors recently did a one week winter walk in Tasmania with amazingly light packs. Read this new article on ultralight bushwalking to see how they did it. The many web links make it easy for you to find or make the gear you need to join the ultralight movement.

Our own originals

Somewhat out of date but still useful.

The Bushwalk Australia website is a forum of "information for bushwalkers by bushwalkers". There's an amazing amount of information on their site including a forum about ultralight backpacking.

The only reasons to carry a heavy pack are because you want to or because you are too lazy or afraid to try the light-pack alternative.

Special thanks to the Coast & Mountain Walkers for allowing me to use their info here.

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Climate Tales

Surprising science, spectacular photography, extreme weather and guess who's talking about climate change now.

Falling Sea Levels

Falling sea levels? As the world warms, sea levels rise, don't they? On average yes, but there are going to be some major differences. "The sea is not as flat as it looks from a distance. Instead of being as level as a bathtub of still water, its surface is marked by watery hills and valleys. They are invisible to our eyes because the slopes are so gradual, but they can be many metres high or deep."

"If all Greenland's ice melts, local sea level will fall by 100 metres This waterscape has remained essentially the same for the past few thousand years, but now it is beginning to change. As the ice sheets melt, there will not only be more water in the oceans, but the positions of those hills and valleys will shift. Depending on what happens, Boston and New York might face the threat of a new summit in the sea. Or the waves could retreat from Scotland to expose new land."

The quotes above are from a New Scientist story Where melting ice means retreating seas which appeared in the 4 May issue this year. It's worth a read.

Disappearing Ice

I recently saw the documentary Chasing Ice which documents how remarkably fast glaciers have been receding in recent times. The work that went into making the film was almost beyond belief. You can see the trailer and find out a lot more by visiting www.chasingice.com. The Extreme Ice Survey website has some great time lapse videos of disappearing glaciers. Both sites contain some spectacular photos and are full of information — including ways you can get involved.

Two recent stories from the NY Times tell how disappearing glaciers are affecting people nearby.
   Alaska Looks for Answers in Glacier's Summer Flood Surges * explains how "Torrents of water shooting out from beneath the thinning Mendenhall Glacier have become a new element of Juneau's brief, high summer season, threatening property."
   As Glaciers Melt, Alpine Mountains Lose Their Glue, Threatening Swiss Village * tells how, "in a stark example of what's happening to Switzerland's glaciers, global warming is melting the ice that buttresses the mountains around Grindelwald, menacing the region with rock slides and flood threats."

Extreme Weather

Three from the NY Times and two from New Scientist.

The Earth Fights Back

Action Now

  • A Republican Case for Climate Action *
    Four former heads of the US Environmental Protection Agency who were appointed by Republican presidents weigh into the debate. "The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally."
  • The New Normal — Some Expensive Consequences
    This came from one of John Mauldin's Newsletters. He has four free newsletters, all of which I find worthwhile.
    I'll start with an excerpt and a comment.
    "Everybody talks about the weather, but there's not much we can do about it except make plans that take into account what mother nature may throw at us. For most of us that means planning for the next few days, but we should all be aware of climate patterns that are going to affect us for the next 20 to 30 years. And those patterns are changing not just because of global climate change but also due to long-term periodic changes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
    Look at what my friend and one of the world's preeminent climatologists Evelyn Browning Gariss writes:
    The "New Normal" [climate pattern], with a warm Atlantic and a Pacific that tends to be cool (interrupted by El Niños) is changing US temperature and precipitation patterns. This in turn has had a major impact on sectors of the US economy. Remember, companies doing long-term planning often use records that are only 25 to 30 years in duration. The PDO (Pacific decadal oscillation) tipped only 7 years ago. Most of the records that are used by policy-makers are biased towards times when the PDO was wetter than it is today. This has resulted in mistaken ideas of how rare a weather event may be. We saw what a potential disaster this 25-30 year approach could be when NOAA tropical storm concerns were brushed aside by New York and New Jersey because there had been no landfalls since the 1950s.
    We are dealing with the same Atlantic and Pacific configurations that shaped the 1950s. Our economy and society will have to learn to cope with this New Normal."
    I grew up in New York in the 1950s. I remember hurricanes regularly making landfall and doing a fair bit of damage in areas that weren't all that developed back then. The storms stopped for a while and people forgot. Now they pay. It's the same in Australia.
    You can read the relevant issue of the Browning Newsletter here. Australia doesn't get much mention but it does show most of the rest of the world. World wide climate patterns affect us so they are worth understanding.
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Your Health

No particular order, just a few NY Times articles I found interesting. My comments in italics.

  • Do Clinical Trials Work? *
    Companies spend billions of dollars on drug testing each year. And yet for a surprising number of medicines, we still don't know if they're safe or effective.
  • A Computer Swallowed to Monitor Inner Space *
    Scientists, researchers and some start-ups are preparing the next, even more intrusive wave of computing: ingestible computers and sensors in pills.
  • Counterfeit Food More Widespread Than Suspected *
    Investigators have uncovered thousands of schemes involving counterfeit or adulterated food, some on an industrial scale and in developed countries. Shaun Kennedy, associate professor at the University of Minnesota, estimated that 10 percent of food that consumers buy in the developed world was adulterated. Because the profit margins for foodstuffs are often within single digits, "if you dilute by 2 percent, that's a big deal."
    This one reminded me of a study here in Australia some years ago which showed that most of the fish sold in southern markets as barramundi was actually something else. I wonder what it's like now.
  • Pressure Grows to Create Drugs for 'Superbugs' *
    Government officials, drug companies and medical experts are considering options to speed development of medicines to combat infections that have developed resistance to the available countermeasures.
    While the best place to catch these new bugs is in hospitals, some have already escaped into the wider world.
  • The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill *
    While the American medical system is famous for expensive drugs and heroic care at the end of life, a more significant factor in the nation's annual health care bill may be the high price tag of ordinary services.
    In Australia, we do spend what I consider too big a percent of our health budget on "heroic care at the end of life", we do spend more than we need on tests, but, thankfully, our system prevents the worst of the excesses that plague America. At least I think that's the case. Anyone have any comments?

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Willis's Walkabouts Overseas


Our 2013-14 trip to Patagonia went from "no" to "go" with a new date in a few days last week. Our trip runs 9 December to 7 or 9 January. Some of the group are going over early and some staying later. We'll use two 4WD vehicles during the trip. We can take two more. It was a great trip when I did it two years ago. Hopefully I can make this one even better.


While I really need more time to sort out the details, I'm hoping to offer all of the following.
Note. Links below refer to older trips but they give you an idea what to expect.
  • Scandinavia
    I MIGHT be able to do a winter trip in March. The alternative is a later one in August-September as was originally offered this year.
  • Vanuatu
    We are looking at doing one or two trips like this years.
  • New Caledonia
    As above this is a work in progress.
  • South Africa
    As I head to South Africa on 12 October doing things I've never done before, I'll wait until after this year's trip to work out next year's.
    The notes for our originally advertised 2013 trip will give you an idea of the kinds of things we are likely to include.
  • Patagonia
    Probably something very similar to this year's.

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Technology That Affects You

If the following don't affect you yet, they may well do so before too long.

  • Living With the Surveillance State *
    We've gotten used to being watched. But who watches the watchers?
  • 3D-printed gun's first shots spark calls for ban
    The first 3D printed handgun has been fired proving that a working pistol can be made from plastic, and creating a new nightmare for gun-control advocates. The plane went online and were copied before they could be censored so they are out there in cyberspace. 3D printers are getting cheaper all the time so it's just a matter of time before someone gets shot with a printed gun.
  • New Targets for Hackers: Your Car and Your House *
    Hackers and security researchers are exploring vulnerabilities to break through the high-tech security of homes or cause car accidents.
    Same idea. $25 gadget lets hackers seize control of a car
    After journalist Michael Hastings's death, there were rumours that his car had been hacked. Now two researchers say they can do it for real.
  • High-Tech, High-Risk Forensics *
    How can DNA from an innocent person end up on a murder victim?
  • Computer-Brain Interfaces Making Big Leaps *
    We might not be far away from a day when scientists can use computer-manipulation of the mind for a host of different things.
  • Ride-Sharing Upstarts Challenge Taxi Industry *
    Companies like Uber are continually confronting entrenched government bureaucracy and resistant unions of taxi drivers and dispatchers.
    I don't think this has reached Australia yet, but it's only a matter of time.
  • LEDs Emerge as a Popular 'Green' Lighting *
    Consumers are buying more LEDs, but over time, the long-lasting bulbs will result in fewer sales, making the race for market share all the more urgent.
    Compact fluoros last a lot longer than ordinary light globes. LEDs last even longer. What will it be like when you don't have to replace any of your light globes for ten years or more.
  • Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles *
    Advances in flat-screen technology have made older monitors and televisions obsolete, decimating demand for tube glass used in them and creating vast stockpiles of useless material.
    In some places, you can theoretically put old electronics for recycling but I'm not sure what really happens to it and I do know that there is no such recycling in some parts of Australia. Any thoughts?
  • YouTube reorganises video with automated channels
    The world's most popular video website is quietly transforming itself. YouTube's massive archive of video is being automatically organised into niche channels that apparently cover everything from daredevil wingsuit flying to an odd style of finger dancing called "tutting".
    I wonder how the Willis's Walkabouts You Tube Channel will get classified.

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I thought this one deserved a section on its own. Every parent and grandparent ought to read it.

Cyberparenting and the Risk of T.M.I. *
"Parents, in an attempt to keep their children safe, access social media, but at the end of the day, is it really too much information?"

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A Special Congratulations

Willis's Walkabouts has given me the opportunity to meet many special people over the years. It's been a privilege.

There is one couple in particular who I would like to single out. They first did a walk with me in 1992. Over the years they have done many more. A number of you will have walked with them. In many ways, they have been an inspiration.

They were masters of light-pack walking long before it became popular. They gave me much of the information that got me started on my light pack pages. While they are not exactly young any more, they remain young at heart. They still go bushwalking, skiing and competitive sailing on a regular basis. I won't embarrass them by including their names, but in August this year, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. As I said above, an inspiration.


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News About This Newsletter


Before I finish one newsletter, I'm already working on the next. I often find that I've got too many interesting things for a single newsletter. I'm also always looking for other interesting items I can add. I'm particularly interested in environmental issues, especially those which might affect bushwalking and in the technology which is shaping our lives. As I said in the last newsletter, Suggestions welcome.

Sending the newsletter

The program I use to send the newsletters is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. The newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

For some reason, some servers block the newsletters no matter what you try and do. I send these in small groups from my normal email. It's not a simple problem. If anyone thinks they might have an idea how to overcome the problem, I'd love to hear from you.

Emails sent to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol @. I am trying not to put that address any place where it can be harvested by spam bots.

We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.

Our email address is walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au.

Note. The program we use to send this newsletter has an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. My newsletter mailing program will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

If you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them. The more people who get it, the more likely it is that I'll be able to run the trips which might interest you.

Dream your dreams and live in hope,
Russell Willis

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