AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDY REYNOLDS, OWNER OF SOULFREE ADVENTURES
By Andrew Reynolds with Frank Wall, Our Hiking Blog
Figure 1 Andy Reynolds, owner Soulfree Adventures
Frank O.K. Let ’s keep it simple. How about a bit of background on yourself. Where do you live? Where do you work?
Andy: Frank, I live in beautiful downtown Buninyong, a small rural village whose key claims to fame I suppose are (1) being Victoria’s first proclaimed inland settlement (Wiki) and being the home of the Scody Australian Road Cycling Championships, on our notoriously gruelling hilly course on the slopes of Mount Buninyong, an extinct volcano. It’s also a pretty nice place to live.
I run my own walking company Soulfree Adventures from my home office on Buninyong, which gives me the freedom to work as long as I want (!) and is a great base for work and play.
Figure 2. Andy in the Flinders Rabges on St Mary'sPeak, May 2010
Frank: Let’s get into your early bushwalking experiences. How did you first get into bushwalking? Any particular mentor or group?
Andy: I first got into bushwalking as a student at a well known Melbourne private school. Back in the 70’s we still had 3 term school years and each school holidays our loosely described bushwalking group would head for Breakfast Creek, north of Licola in the heart of Victorian Alps. There after some pretty basic rudimentary training we would leave the luxury of this ex forestry camp and head off on our planned bushwalks. We did 5 day walks in May, 7 day walks in September and 10 day walks in summer, all on our own, leading ourselves with no teachers, no radios, no phones, no GPS heck this was even pre Gore Tex. How well I remember the arrival of Gore Tex and so called ‘lightweight’ camping – back when we were teenagers, we had competitions to see who could carry the most, a constant teenage macho contest in one upmanship. Jaffle irons were packed in, cold roast chickens were packed in, cans were packed in, we all packed in camp stools - but not your basic stool, heck no, ours had backs on them! We camped in style but sweated every step of the way!
We didn't just bushwalk, we kayaked our hand-made Olymp '75 kayaks down a swollen and icy Wellington River; skiied our wooden skis with hickory poles across the Snowy and Wellington Plains, practised river crossings in the freezing Weillington River, froze, sweated and loved every politically and environmentally incorrect minute of it! Early bushwalking memories include:
- my first ever bushwalk, 5 days, camping in the CVhromite Mine after countless river crossings of the Wellington & Dolodrook rivers, then climbing and scrambling up a steep and exposed summit of Mount Hump along the Razorback. Sleeping on a bed or rocks on the stony summit and awakening above a sea of clouds
- freezing ourselves in the 'brass monkey' water of Lake Tali Karng and having competitions of who could stay in the longest!
- leading early bushwalks across the Wombat Plains and climbing up and down the Gable End to the Razorback, as well as down the scree slopes from the Gable End descending directly into Lake Tali Karng
- countless hours spent puring over maps at home and at school, planning my next bushwalk. I still have most of my early maps, including the next-to-useless contour maps at 1:100,000 scale and my prized early Stuart Brookes maps, lovingly annotated with the most minute detail. I have retained a near photographic memory of these maps and this terrain and would have little trouble finding my way amongst these mountains unassisted today
- trundling boulders off the summit of Mount Wellington, spending them vcrashing into the (hopefully) unpopulated forest below
- stopping off in Drouin (who remembers Drouin!) on the way to a 7 day snow camping hiking trip and purchasing incredibly warm $5 woollen sports coats from the Drouin Salvos Op Shop
- hitch hiking up the Snowy Plains Road near the start of our 10 day summer hikes, sticking out the thumb and our exuberance when the loggers pulled over and allowed us to throw our packs on the back, jump on and hold on for dear life as they barrelled up the road, one hand on the wheel, the other on the CB, empty beer cans and wrappers littering the cabin floor (if our parents only knew) and the ensuing lazy day that followed when we'd knocked off a 30km 'road bash' in one exhilarating hour
- then there was the time we had to escort a violently ill student out of the Caledonia River valley up to the Snowy Plains Road, camped the night, then hitched a ride with a logger the next morning down to our camp at Brekky Creek, rudely waking up the teachers at 3:00am in the morning with logging truck's horn loudly blaring
- sunsets from our canvas makeshift tents (sticks for poles) on top of the Crosscut Saw
- blazing huge binfires in the middle of winter
- 'vegie bombs' on the fire, sometimes exploding and sending shrapnel flying into nearby tents
- and there was the time my trusty Optimus 8R shellite stove almost exploded, sending a pencil thin jet of flame 3-4 feet in the aire from the fuel tank
- crouching late into the night inside our tents with billies of water ready to throw at the possums as they descended from the trees to eat our dinner left-overs
My earliest mentor was a teacher at our school, Peter Dick. “Oh for God’s Sake” was both his nickname and favourite saying (and hence, his nickname). I think he was a Pom but could have been from New Zealand, certainly he had both an accent and extensive experience. His passion for the outdoors was palpable – he made a much better outdoors instructor then science teacher, a trait I would later share with him. Our bushwalking group was called LGR and it still exists to this day, in a somewhat more modern and safety conscious incarnation.
After a couple of years teaching, I did a post grad diploma of Outdoor Ed at Latrobe Uni Bendigo and was introduced to modern principles, ethics, philosophies and skills of Outdoor Education, an education I badly needed and I guess soaked up. I took up rock climbing, white water kayaking and skiing and re-engaged with the outdoors with a passion. After years of climbing, I managed to struggle up a few 23’s and even managed to leave my name on a few new routes at Arapiles and in the Gramps, but most of all I just had a ball, climbing in Victoria, NSW, SA and Queensland. In between I taught Outdoor Ed.
During this climbing phase of my outdoors life most of my walking was associated with finding our way into new “secret” and “hidden” cliffs in the Grampians and Blue Mountains. I ended up in Outdoor Education and remained an Outdoor Edder for the unlikely term of 20 years. Following a final 10 year stint as Director of Outdoor Education at Ballarat Grammar, I resigned, burnt out and badly in need of a change in career – there’s only so many hundred nights you can spend under canvas, camping with teenagers and their accompanying teachers and still remain sane. Sanity questionably intact I managed to get out before being carried out and resolved to use my skills to start up my own business. It’s been a steep learning curve learning business and tourism. Starting a boutique walking business in the heart of a global financial crisis did not make things any easier, either.
Frank: O.K. What about your walking now, Andy. Do you walk solo or with someone? Who is your preferred walking partner?
Andy: Most of my walking I now do solo, checking out new areas for our guided walking tours. I still enjoy my walking, in fact so much so that I have set up my own walking company, Soulfree Adventures. We offer boutique guided walking tours for those who prefer “glamping” to camping. Our walks are all multi day, 3 – 6 days and combine sensational walking, with great food, wine and 4 star accommodations; this model certainly has appeal and glampers are a growing market as more people search for something different in their travel. We currently offer guided walks along the Great Ocean Walk and are looking offering further guided walking holidays in Victoria and South Australia.
Figure 3. Soulfree walking guides Andy and Mitch, Ryans Den, Victoria's Great Ocean Walk
I recently returned from the Flinders Ranges, where I was reccying new areas for our walks. I had the bizarre experience on the one hand walking solo in this beautiful, rugged and remote location and on the other being ‘tracked’ in real time by a colleague in Melbourne via the SPOT satellite tracking device I was carrying.
I have recently being exploring the Flinders Ranges, Yarra Valley, Daylesford-Hepburn Springs and Adelaide Hills areas for new guided walking locations for Soulfree Adventures walks. Another highlight has been exploring the rugged northern coastline of Kangaroo Island, where we shortly hope to open a completely new and stunning walking location – no-one else currently goes there and this country just has to be seen to be believed! It will a truly new guided walking location and one we here at Soulfree are very excited about.
I am an active member of Bush Search and Rescue (BSAR and Alpine Search and Rescue (AlpineSAR) Victoria. I enjoy my walking and SAR exercises with the AlpSAR crew and also enjoy backcountry skiing with my local buddies from Harrietville and Hotham.
I also enjoy walking with my wife and young boys, Jack & Sam. They have really enjoyed their walking along the Great Ocean Walk and even helped me carry in supplies for camping clients along this track.
Frank: If you had a couple of months off just to hike, what would be the three multi day hikes in Australia you would complete?
Andy: Easy: the Jatbula, Larapinta and I’d also love to do the whole Alpine Walking Track in winter, as a couple of my mates did a few years back in 2005. I’m definitely attracted to doing some exploring in Litchfield NP in the NT.
Frank: Alright, unlimited finances, money and time what would be the three multi day international walks you would complete?
Andy: Torres Del Paine, Patagonia, I've always dreamed over heading there. I used to want to climb Fitzroy but now I'd just be content trekking through this amazing area.
Carpathians – there’s just something haunting about Transylvania, gypsys and hiking in the Carpathians. I would love to some exploring here, but then the Atlas mountains beckon as well...
Concordia – follow the Baltoro glacier, the longest glacier in the world to Concordia, where you are surrounded by 8000 metre peaks in the heart of the Karakoram.
A good friend and AlpineSAR buddy of mine, Linda Beilharz recently became the first Australian woman to ski to the North Pole, having already skied to the South Pole and across Greenland. She is still planning to cross the Patagonian icecap having been forced back once already. The Poles aren’t calling me though I would definitely like to explore Patagonia and Chile, given unlimited finances...
Frank: My favourite bits of gear are? Why?
Andy: Being a bit of a gear freak, I’ll have to think on that one. O.K. here’s a bit of a short list of my fave bits of gear:
· Cactus Patrol rucksack – Cactus gear is all bomber, the Patrol pack is my ‘go to’ guiding pack and I can pack enough for a 3 day alpine lightweight snow camping trip inside
· My Bluewater super dry 9mm rope, best rope I ever owned
· My Wilderness Equipment (Sea to Summit) sil_nylon small tarp, a super lightweight tarp shelter great for packing light and rigging emergency shelters
· My custom made One Planet down sleeping bag. Ah ... sweet warmth
· My Bomber Bishop tele bindings, super bomber, super solid, best tele bindings I’ve ever used
· Black Diamond Whippet self arrest pole
· My Obsidian Mantles – lcally made twin tips, I had’ em mounted tele, now their mounted alpine after one two many knee reconstructions
· Not forgetting my Garmin eTrex Vista GPS, the easiest to use GPS I’ve ever owned
· My SPOT satellite messenger – in the midst of equipping all our groups with SPOTS. After using these on the Holding rescue on Feathertop last year, we could see their value. Police in Bright could “see” one of SAR groups turning around from the summit in blizzard conditions even before the group radioed in. Now we can track Soulfree groups in the field from our office in real time and our guests’ families & friends can also follow their progress in real time via a private link to Google Maps. Pretty neat huh?
· My Snow Peak super lightweight titanium stove
· Mee Goreng noodles, gotta be satay flavour
· Sushi roller – the BEST stove base for the snow ever made, check it out!
· My bum mat – three layers of closed foam and no wet bum in the snow kitchen
· Cactus SPG gloves & Cactus HD Dreadnoughts – my “dreadies” are the best, hardest working ski pants I’ve ever owned and can handle all the abuse full time snowshoe guiding and skiing can throw at ‘em
· Is that enough?!
Frank: I really hate it when I am bushwalking and ... ?
Andy: “..... I step on a snake!” Yes this happened to me in April this year, guiding along the Great Ocean Walk. We had come from Moonlight Head and had enjoyed a magic lunch stop at Ryans Den (above). We had rested at the saddle at Bowker Point and I was just leading off when I inadvertently trod on a tiger snake who had obviously been enjoying the warmth of the rock steps. I don’t know who was more scared, but jumped about three feet up and backwards and the snake quickly slithered off into the bush. Needless to say all our guests were very glad they were wearing the gaiters as we’d advised.
Leeches are another thing I, well I don’t hate them but I do dislike tiger leeches, especially when they burrow under your shorts.
Frank: What trips have you planned in the next 12 months?
I also really hate it when I am bushwalking and .....
..... I get to camp and realise I’ve left the sleeping mat/fuel/coffee behind
..... I get back to the car and realise I’ve locked the keys in the car
..... I choose to go lightweight, pack a tiny sil_nylon tarp, and then it pours
..... I run out of coffee
..... my camera goes flat just when there’s the best sunset anyone has ever seen
Frank: What trips have you planned in the next 12 months?
Andy: OK, N0 1 priority at the moment is getting our new trips up and running. That’s Flinders Ranges, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley and Spa Country (Daylesford-Hepburn Springs). We’ll be heading back over to Kangaroo Island soon to fully explore and GPS map our walks before sitting down with DEH staff on KI. Apart from that I’ve got a couple shorter fast & light trips planned:
· Diamantina > High Knob > Kiewa River > North West Spur > Feathertop > Diamantina (in winter)
Actually that’s it, if I can get that one done in the next 12 months, I’ll be happy
Frank: What is your favourite outdoor website?
Andy: http://ski.com.au/forum/index.html Moosh! I hang out here for all the ski news and gossip. I posted frenetically last year but then I was living full time in Harrietville running my snowshoe business and shuttle. I’m not doing that this year, so will be posting less. Sites like this are great though and allow people not living in the snowfields to really find out what the conditions are doing, rather than have to rely the resorts’ own reports.
http://tasmania.bushwalk.com/forum/ Tasmanian bushwalking site. There’s heaps of great info and discussions here, not just about Tasmania but all other states and territories as well,
Frank: What is your favourite outdoor hiking store?
Andy: That’s an easy one, Bogong Equipment, in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne. A small specialist equipment store whom I’ve always supported, I’d much rather support guys like Bogong than the larger supermarket style chain equipment suppliers. They hand pick their gear and don’t stock rubbish. All their gear is good and their staff actually know the products they sell.Frank: What trips have you got planned in the next 12 months?
Andy: OK, N0 1 priority at the moment is getting our new trips up and running. That’s Flinders Ranges, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley and Spa Country (Daylesford-Hepburn Springs). We’ll be heading back over to Kangaroo Island soon to fully explore and GPS