Highlands bushwalker emphasises importance of preparation after being rescued

After being rescued on a bushwalk earlier this month, a Highlands bushwalker has reminded people of the importance of being prepared.

RESCUED: An experienced bushwalker, Gordon Markwart (inset) quickly found himself lost en route to Katoomba. Pictures: Supplied.

RESCUED: An experienced bushwalker, Gordon Markwart (inset) quickly found himself lost en route to Katoomba. Pictures: Supplied.

Gordon Markwart had planned to walk solo from Wattle Ridge, High Range to Katoomba in eight or nine days.

He had walked a longer version of this walk two years ago.

With him, as usual, he carried a compass, GPS device, topographic maps and mobile phone. 

Mr Markwart checked the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) site for closed tracks and fire danger two weeks before the walk but did not notice any closed parks or tracks.

He set off on Tuesday, April 3.

At Wollondilly River he saw a NPWS sign advising of aerial feral animal extermination starting on April 9 south of Coxs River. 

Water in dams along Scotts Main Range firetrail was often poor so he took a detour down to the Kowmung River for water and this added at least a day to the trip.

Mr Markwart camped at Coxs River on Saturday, April 7. In the morning he heard helicopters but was unsure if this was feral animal shooting. 

He then headed up the hill and got off track which meant he lost time and reached the last scheduled camp site at 4.30pmon Sunday, April 8.

After setting up camp, he looked at the nearby signs which said there would be back burning the next day and the track to Katoomba would be closed.

Mr Markwart then weighed up his options and decided going back would be too far and going around, which would add an extra day, would be tough as he did not have maps of the area and didn’t know about available water.

He decided to undertake a 13km uphill walk to public fire trail access which he believed he could do before morning.

He headed off to Katoomba an hour before sunset with a light and powered up Narrow Neck for a couple of hours.

Mr Markwart then had to climb Tarros Ladder - a 15m rock face with steel spikes used as a ladder- in the dark.

After switching on his torch, he realised he missed the base of Clear Hill and walked along a ledge for about 10m before deciding this was not the right way and sat down to have a drink.

As soon as he put his light down it rolled down the slope and disappeared.

Again Mr Markwart had to weigh up his options.

Continuing in the dark without a light was dangerous and if he waited till morning, he believed he could have ended up in the middle of back burning.

Mr Markwart decided to call his girlfriend and ask her to contact rescue support. He provided his location from his GPS device.

After making the call, he put his phone down to wait but when he went to contact her again 15 minutes later he couldn’t find his phone in the dark.

Three hours later (Monday, April 9) two Police Rescue officers arrived, handed Mr Markwart a head lamp and they walked 10 minutes up and over Clear Hill to their car on the firetrail.

Over the eight days, he lost about 10kg, mainly fluids.

“A combination of factors resulted in me being in a challenging situation. It was important to make considered decisions, not panic and know when it is time to seek help,” he said. 

“Getting somewhere is optional, getting home is mandatory. I thank the Police Rescue guys who were very professional, confident and a pleasure to meet.”

Mr Markwart said bushwalkers should always check and double check park closures close to their departure day to make sure they don’t get caught out.

He also said if anyone ended up in a similar situation, they should remain calm and take some time before making a decision as panicking could lead to a person making a risky choice.

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