It has been three months since we walked with the walking club we joined in Tasmania, and, finally a trip that promised to be a bit longer at a bit faster pace came up on the schedule and I convinced Doug to take a day off from the "billables" and join me. It turned out to be quite a long day for Doug and I, as we left the house at 6.30 am and it was 6.00 pm when we returned. All this time to walk a distance of roughly 14 or 15 km with about 1,000 metres of elevation gain. How is it possible to be so slow? Well, I'm glad you asked, or I'm glad you asked how to become faster and more efficient.
Sunrise, Katherine Gorge, a good time to get started
D. Brown, photo
First, make sure everyone knows where the meeting place is, not just thinks they know based on previous trips. We were delayed at least 40 minutes in the morning by two people who went to the wrong meeting place. This will probably mean restating the obvious, but I've found that when you get a group of people together things that seem obvious, suddenly are not.
Second, avoid the impulse to sprint out from the start at a pace that is clearly unsustainable. I have no idea why people with a good deal of outdoor experience do this almost universally, but they do. Going at an all out sprint might seem faster initially, but, in the long run - and generally within the first 15 to 30 minutes - this strategy quickly reveals itself to be much slower than travelling at a pace that you can keep up all day. There's a reason why sprint races are short and marathons long. Humans simply cannot go all out for a long period of time but we can go for a very long time at a moderate pace.
Early morning on the water, Whitsunday Islands
D. Brown, photo
Third, if you need to drink a lot of water during the day, buy a hydration bladder so that you can take a quick drink without having to take your backpack on and off constantly wasting time and energy digging through the depths of your pack to find your water bottle. Hydration bladders can be bought for the price of a pie and chips so there is no use pretending you can't afford one. If you add up all the five minute intermissions you'll save throughout the day you'll come up with a fairly impressive amount of time and one that might make the difference between being out in the dark or strolling into the pub for a quick one before you head home.
One last sunset run,
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, BC, Canada
Fourth, get fat adapted by kicking your carbohydrate addiction so that you do not need to stop and eat every one to two hours. Your energy levels will be more even and you'll recover faster for the next days hike.
Navigate smart. This is way easier said than done, but, in many instances there really is no need to keep stopping and taking GPS readings. On our walk yesterday we had to descend about 180 metres from the top of a small mountain to the valley below. The track ran through the valley below providing a very obvious backstop - there simply was no way we could (unless we were complete idiots) walk across this track and not notice. In this instance, all we had to do was follow an easterly bearing for about 30 minutes (a guesstimate of the time it would take to descend 180 metres without a track) until we intersected the track. Stopping numerous times to take GPS readings and/or randomly changing direction just eats up time. The moral is understand the basics of navigation, make a sensible plan, then follow the plan for a reasonable period of time before you stop to reassess. This does not mean plugging away pig-headed into obviously bad terrain or conditions. It simply means that if you know what you are doing and have a solid plan you need to execute that plan without wasting more time.
Wasting time staring at a GPS
Mount Heinze, Rossland Range, BC, Canada
Try not to dither about decisions for more than a few minutes. If you have to stand about for 10 or 15 minutes trying to decide whether to go forward or not, you should not go.
Finally, and this should be obvious but obviously is not always so, keep moving. Stopping to regroup or to make sure no-one misses a junction in the track is a great idea, and will even save some time, but, don't keep stopping for no reason, and, once the reason you stopped has been accomplished (for example, giving everyone in the group a chance to adjust clothing) move off smartly. Don't stand about gawking at each other in some weird game of chicken.
Early morning launch, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland
I don't have any empirical data to back up my assertion, but, I am pretty sure if people went out and instituted all seven of these strategies they could shave significant time off their trips. Of course, not everyone is interested in moving smartly and efficiently, but, even if you are the most lackadaisical of hikers one day, if you keep heading out, you'll be in a situation where you need to move faster and more efficiently to prevent a major epic from unfolding. That's when you'll be glad that swift, efficient movement comes naturally.
End of a long day out on Mount Tilley,
Monashee Mountains, BC, Canada