More Fun in the Rain

Ponchos, Umbrellas or Raincoats? That is the question. What’s the best way to stay dry in the rain and enjoy yourself in the outdoors while doing so? I have been soaking wet, all over, every ‘warm’ layer down to my skin, more times than I can count. Mostly of course it was when I was hunting sambar deer with hounds in the Gippsland mountains, a pastime I loved passionately and pursued enthusiastically for over thirty years. I regret nothing.

This was my second ‘Harpoon’ whom I had to give away to fox hunters when foxhounds were (stupidly) banned by the ‘government’ of Victoria in 2005. The Government alleged that these hounds would attack deer or other game, but my beloved hounds never laid a glove on anyone or any thing. He had gotten a bit fat from his enforced retirement here. On a single hunt he could run himself from this condition to looking more like a greyhound in shape – and might have covered 70-150 kilometres in a day. (On the flat he could do 40kph for a sustained period). I had often covered 30 myself chasing after him – I could take some short-cuts; he had perforce to follow wherever the deer led!

This is he in the dog pens on the day he left me forever, a very sad day for me as three generations of Joneses had hunted with hounds in Oz (four, counting my kids) – but no more! – strangely I do not have a (decent) photo of a single hound in the forest in all that time, or more than a handful of blurry photos of my actual hunting.

It was all much more about ‘doing’ than anything else – and pictures were very expensive. I mostly have to rely on memory alone to conjure up images of those faraway days. He would be long ago dust now, but what a magnificent hound he was – and so too the first Harpoon. I hope he has descendants somewhere,  and that they still get to hunt something.

A Flourbag Stag 1990 – another wet day by the look of the raincoat, the waterproof hat and the sodden woolen trous. I often used to hunt it by myself back then sometimes taking a deer bailed in the Thomson at sunset, perhaps below Bruntons. After the 2008 fire there was a huge pile of the poor beasts boiled alive in a hole just below the Flourbag Bridge not quite being able to make the refuge of the deeper water of the river in time before the awful flames consumed them. Poor forest management is such a dreadful thing.

This chap I put up just by myself. He was on the other side of this overgrown track which I was running along towards the hunt. He foolishly decided to cross it just as I came around the corner. The old SMLE or Mauser (I forget which) spoke, and stopped him in his tracks. There are lots of folks think you have to own some expensive gun, but there is no better gun than these old WW1 weapons that you can have for a song (just A$100 or so) – and they are indestructible! They were the only ones I owned until my wonderful wife gifted me a new gun for my 50th birthday in 1999! A Browning Lightning.

A Deep Creek Stag 1990. You can see I wore heavy wool clothes back then. I recall I had to wear yet another layer in the 80’s and warmer socks too – it was much, much colder back then, though it was warmer still than it is today earlier on than that. Weather is changeable.

A Ross Creek Stag also 1990 – I must have afforded a roll of film for the camera that year. Times were often that tight! This stag was so large bodied that it needed the two of us to roll him over to gut him – even on that steep slope. He probably weighed well over half a tonne!

Frankly I loved wet day hunting. Everything seems slowed and quieted by the prevailing dampness. Usually there was no-one else about. Most folks think they will dissolve. Once you find a deer, it is easy to follow his tracks in the moist earth. Though the echoing voices of the hounds are somewhat muffled too, the sound is controlled by the rain; everything seems to move more slowly yet you can keep up better as you don’t overheat so much. There has never been rain wear made which will not soak you to the skin while pushing as hard as you can go through wet bush in a deluge.

Remember too that I always did this in winter in the mountains where the temperature was never much above freezing. Moving along a ridge or walking up a creek where the vegetation was thinner would enable your body heat to dry you out somewhat, then you would be ploughing through the thick stuff again trying to get to a bail-up or to cut off a deer eg heading for a saddle, and you would soon be soaked with ice-cold water again.

Maybe you can imagine me thundering around this rock pile, slipping and sliding.

And then splashing on upstream hoping to get to a bail-up, or forcing my way through that thick wet stuff to the side of the creek?

Of course I would often also fall over in a creek when I was hurrying up or down it, my feet slipping on wet rocks (some boots are better/worse for this, mostly worse) and over I would go, often completely under the water.

Yet I was young(er) and fat enough I never felt cold till the end of the day when I stopped.  And of course I always wore wool which insulates you well even when it is wet. Then I was back at my truck and had a dry change of clothes and (soon) a warm fire (you really must learn to light a fire in the wet) and a cook-up of sausages and onions on bread (with sauce of course) and potatoes roasted in the coals smothered in fresh butter. What a delicious repast.

A couple of stubbies of beer never hurt either! In recent years I swapped to overproof rum – when hiking at least, as my toddy at day’s end. Now I am completely tea total, which at least lightens your pack substantially on a multi-day hike – in my case by more than a kilo! The penalties one has to pay to be ‘the ultralight hiker’!

And of course I always had a shelter such as the one below to keep me dry while I ate my evening meal and maybe waited for a few last hounds to come in – or often enough I would sleep in the shelter and hunt again the next day – rain or shine. I do so miss those days, but I am enormously glad I had them. I am greedy for such pleasures – thirty years or more was not enough! I have had another dozen years hunting without the hounds now – and they have brought me many pleasures.

Here is one of my old mates Brett Irving enjoying a couple of cans of VB as he shelters from the rain before a cheery fire on the Tambo years ago (c2000). A couple of blokes can easily sleep dry and cosy under such a simple shelter – you might drop the height a bit for sleeping to create more horizontal room. This height is for standing or sitting. This tarp probably cost me less than $A10 and was used for decades and is most likely still hiding in a corner of my shed even now! Well I know exactly where actually.

Brett had to go home to his wife but I had a couple more wet days of it to myself which was grand! The river flooded and neither deer nor hounds could cross, yet I was out all day every day sloshing through it, and loving it. I don’t remember whether I took a deer or not, but it doesn’t matter.Being out in the wet bush enjoying yourself while all the world is at work (and thankfully somewhere else) is just delightful!

Actually I recall I did take a deer, a small doe on the third day, small enough to carry out whole, rigged like a backpack (I was younger then). They have mysteriously closed most of this splendid area to hunting now (hounds anyway). I don’t know who is supposed to manage the very numerous deer there in this case. On one of the days walking up a side gully I put up a mob of over ten of them. There would be more than that now!

Oh, here are two of my favourite old hounds: Poono (Triclour) and Belle her mother a Bloodhound-Foxhound cross – no better bitch was ever whelped. In Jacob’s Creek in 1996.

There was a time (as you can see) when Della and I (at least) wore ponchos. Here we were in 2008 just after the fires walking along the Moroka (to have a good look at the fishing in the Gorge, apparently) These ponchos don’t look the height of sartorial elegance do they, but this was a sub-zero day even though it was February? It was so hot at home we were looking for somewhere cool to go, but not that cool.

The thermometer on Stephen’s truck read -6C when we started hiking. I own I was all for heading home (Della gets cold) but Stephen was all for forging on, so we did. We walked all day in the rain and camped that night somewhere by the Moroka. It was cold enough to freeze the water in your drinking bottle if you left it outside! Some of us did.

All day I had been being chyacked for collecting small bits of dry kindling along the way into a shopping bag I happened to have in the back pocket of my pack. Sometimes I would find a handful of dry leaves or twigs inside a hollow log, or some small dry twigs under an overhang, or s strip of the dry inner bark of a stringybark on the lea side of the tree – and so on. By day’s end I had the beginnings of a fire – and Stephen did not. The Cleavers, needless to say had to warm themselves by our fire!

Mind you Stephen did catch a fish – something he was brilliant at. Here is one of my last photographs of him doing the same on the Tyers River in 2009. I can’t believe it is eight years since I last talked to him. Carpe that old diem little ones. Tempus Fugit.

The home made ponchos kept Della and I perfectly dry whilst the Cleavers’ much more expensive (bought & guaranteed) rain coats had them wet to the skin by the end of the day – and cold. You do get more air flow in a poncho, particularly one that your pack thrusts up like this to make you look more like a pregnant camel! Nonetheless their roof-like structure has plenty of air under it so that you don’ t drown in that dreadful humidity we ran into that day, and this other day (below) on the South Coast Track, Fiordland New Zealand. We walked a long way downriver past the beautiful Moroka Falls:

Can you believe people have actually canoed over that? Here are the instructions from folks who have done it – and a stolen photo:

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Della is still smiling through it as is her wont: she is a trooper.

But mind you we were all much more comfortable back in the lovely shelter of the Moroka Hut.

I walked to the Wilsons Prom Lighthouse with the Cleavers in 2006. They had even worse raincoats then…

I had this small ultralight home made poncho. They both laughed at it when I put it on as it began to shower as we were coming down onto Little Waterloo Beach – as good a beach as anything they have anywhere in Qld, or anywhere in the world for that matter. By the time we had walked back up to the Telegraph Track (maybe two km) such an icy rain had fallen that they were both soaked to the skin and were starting to suffer from hypothermia. The top half of my body was perfectly warm and dry in my ‘ridiculous’ poncho (though my hands were very cold). We retired to the tea trees at the intersection and I brewed a cuppa for us all and rifled through my back pack for dry clothes and emergency ponchos for them for the walk out. Though I am ‘the ultralight hiker’ I always have just a little too much gear ‘just in case’. It never pays to be ‘dead right’.

This is my new ‘pocket poncho tent’. It too looks bloody awful compared to a tailored fit of a $500 raincoat which will nonetheless not keep you dry in those awful humid conditions. This poncho weighs 185 grams and doubles as a tent. I am going (soon) to make a slightly ‘stretched’ model of this which will sleep us both. The second person’s poncho will make a more than adequate tent floor – so that two can be perfectly cosy in the most terrific rain!

Here we were on the South Coast Track Fiordland New Zealand 2016 on the last day (or eight) coming out from the Port Craig Schoolhouse. The day  turned very wet, humid and cold. Della is still smiling bravely here as she admires this swollen stream but by the time we reached the relative shelter of this bach’s woodshed for a lunch stop she was pretty wet and cold. Lunch and a cuppa cheered her, but she put all her layers on for the afternoon’s walk out to our car – and a hot meal and a bottle of champagne (for her) at the Hotel in Tuatapere.

It was so humid in the woodshed that my waterproof camera fogged up so completely I was lucky to be able to snap a photo of her finishing a last apple – yes, an apple at the end of an eight day hike. You will have to read about it here:

The benefits of an umbrella are seriously overlooked. I have written many posts about them. My lightest is 86 grams. For anyone hiking tracks or in large open areas they area good option for avoiding getting soaked in a raincoat when humidity really strikes. You can even rig them no hands if you want, as below:

There are folks who claim that the humidity will not soak you if he raincoat is tight enough. Now often I put on a bit more weight in training than I would necessarily want to, so last year’s raincoat is pretty well skin tight before I have run off a bit of that condition. I can assure you it is not true. The wicking action does not overcome the humidity but an air space such as an umbrella or a poncho affords certainly does.

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