A couple of weeks ago, two tourists were winched off Wedding Cake Rock, one with a serious spinal injury. Thousands and counting have realised their social media zenith on its other-worldly edge, despite entry forbidden by protective fencing, signage and the prediction the rock will fall into the ocean within 10 years.
It had to catch up sometime.
Search the adventure hashtag on Instagram - you'll find over 14 million results. There are Facebook pages liked by millions dedicated purely to showcasing people doing epic sh*t in epic places.
According to travel intelligence company, Skift, the most significant, systemic trend in worldwide tourism today is the demand for "experiential travel," ... the idea of more immersive, local, authentic, adventurous and/or active travel.
So I wasn't surprised that someone had been seriously or fatally injured (again) at Wedding Cake Rock in their quest for an insta-thrill. I was surprised we don't hear this news story more frequently.
And how very easily, it could have been me.
Rewind to two weeks previous and the idea something untoward could happen whilst climbing a mountain with a "closed" sign across the entrance, hiking to some godforsaken (but always spectacular) clifftop or jumping into a murky waterhole without testing the depths first wasn't even on my radar.
That was before, overexcited and rushing, I tripped and hit the deck hard on the return journey from seeing the Figure 8 Pools (below) in the Royal National Park (yes, the same national park that houses Wedding Cake Rock). It would have usually been something to laugh off, except in the fall I dislocated my shoulder for the very first time.
In the dusky light filtered by an eerie canopy with almost no reception, sprawled like an overturned turtle in the dirt, rendered helpless by shock and pain, I felt something I've never felt whilst out in nature: genuine, panicky, out-of-body fear. What saved the situation was my girlfriend by my side, who kept me calm and called an ambulance, which we cancelled moments later when by some miracle I managed to relocate my shoulder. Don't ask me how.
This short but traumatic episode has left its mark, not just on my tender shoulder, but on how I'll be going about expeditions in the future -- with a new focus on safety. Yes, I do this stuff for fun, but so do thousands of emerging experience collectors, and that appalling feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach has propelled me to share 10 safety tips below, applicable to many an amateur adventure traveller:
- Repeat after me: the perfect shot is never worth putting your life in danger. Say it until you believe it.
- I know it's inconvenient, but always take a backpack, with the necessary supplies, including snacks, water and first aid. Failing this, ALWAYS carry water, no matter how short the trail.
- Speaking of first aid, do a course! Yes they're boring, but even the basic knowledge you'll walk away with is helpful, plus you can pop it on your resume. Win-win.
- Travel in packs. I understand the appeal of #soloadventuring, but unless you're experienced and know exactly what you're doing, take a mate. If you get hurt or lost, you are so much more screwed by yourself than with someone. If I'd been by myself when my shoulder dislocated I would have been in serious trouble. The more the merrier!
- Everyone in your travel party should know exactly how to get where you're going. During my most recent debacle, when my girlfriend called the ambulance, the operator needed exact directions to our location. As I am generally chief navigator, it was lucky I was conscious and was able to provide precise information about how the paramedics could reach us. I'd also recommend doing as much research as possible and then screenshotting directions, trail name and characteristics on your phone as a helpful prompt.
- Take heed of local safety warnings. For example, in Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, local authorities don't recommend hiking Kata Tjuta after 11.00 am when it's extremely hot. A friend and I ignored this warning on a trip last year and I now see there's only one word for this -- reckless. We were extremely fit at the time, but nearing the end of the eight-plus kilometres we were both praying for the ordeal to be over, our clothing soaked, water bottles empty and resilience drained. Insane scenery, but it could have ended very differently.
- Always stop in at the visitor's centre if there's one. The people here are incredibly knowledgeable -- they can set expectations and/or discuss any concerns you might have about where you're heading.
- On occasion, you have to listen to the weather and accept some things aren't meant to be. For example, a friend and I used to be obsessed with climbing Mt Tibrogargan in the Glasshouse Mountains and one time we did so during a storm. We had to ditch our shoes because it was so slippery and while it was an amazing experience, looking back it was unbelievably dangerous. Great photo op, dumb idea.
- Chances are, if you're going hiking or climbing, you've got to drive to get there. Buy a car charger for your phone and plug it in on the way. For you to not be able to get immediate help if required because you didn't charge it prior is ludicrous. While we're on the subject, always keep an eye on your phone's battery life. I appreciate we're all snap-happy with smartphones when out and about, but make sure it's on low-battery mode. If you see it sliding below 20 per cent, especially if night is approaching put it away immediately. Even if there's no reception, you'll need it as a torch should you get stuck after dark.
- Be aware. If a trail is poorly marked, do something that will help you find the way back, even if it's just making obvious scuff marks on the track. Similarly, if you haven't seen a trail marking for a little while, vigilantly re-trace your steps and make sure you haven't missed anything to avoid getting lost. There is no rush.
- Don't get distracted. Look where you're going at all times. This is especially important during the Australian summer months when snakes are active.
- Be self-aware and know your physical limits. If you can tell early on the demands of the trail are too much for you, listen to those internal red flags.
Finally, and most importantly, appreciate where you are and stop worrying about who'll be double tapping on your photos later. One day it will end up being the least of your concerns.
Read more by Bonny O'Shea at www.checkin-out.com.