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Finding Your Way

I was once on a hillside in the early evening, preparing some food, when a party of walkers approached me, led by a flustered looking gentleman with a map and compass in his hand.

They looked well equipped for the hill, expensive goretex jackets, treking poles the lot. The only problem was that they were on the wrong hill.

Norway. In terrain like this use every landmark to check your navigation.

It would seem that they had parked in the wrong car park. Following their leader’s compass they had then taken the wrong path.

Following this wrong path they had walked all the way to the wrong peak and then got lost when the wrong path down, took them in the wrong direction and then suddenly disappeared in the wrong place.

They had been walking all day without a clue as to where they actually were.

When I pointed out their actual position on their map, at first they refused to believe me. I eventually had to dig out a handheld GPS that was in the bottom of my bergen and then the “leader” said the GPS must be wrong.

I asked them where they thought their cars were and they pointed to the map. I asked them again more carefully, where in this landscape they had parked the cars. They looked at me blankly. I asked where they had walked down from. They pointed at three different peaks.

At this point I decided to walk them down from the hill myself.

The point to this story is that the map is not the land. The compass bearing is not the way and the GPS co-ordinate is not your location. They are all useful representations of these things but they are not actually these things.

I’m certainly not saying you should not use these things when outdoors, but I am saying you should learn to navigate without them at times.

Batteries and electronics fail, even compasses are thrown off by objects in your kit or even the landscape and maps get blown away in the wind.

Navigation-Point

I’ve seen all these things happen and if you do not know how to read the landscape and the signs around you, then you can quickly become very lost.

The most reliable guide you have is the land itself. unlike some other signs it will not quickly change.

Look at the landscape as you walk through it. Work out where on the horizon you are heading and look back to see where you have come from. As you look around, remember objects or features that you will be able to see if you have to retrace your steps. Look at the relationship between your route and these features and make notes if you need them.

Being in the habit of doing these things will mean that if you lose your navigation equipment or the mist closes in, you will have a good mental picture of the landscape that will be an enormous help in getting you home in one piece.

These are things you should do even if you are using navigational aids, as you should be able to fit this information to what you can see on your map and compass. If you can’t make it fit, stop, take a break and consider if you are actually where you think you are.

If you are navigating with just a GPS then retrace your steps to a city and do not enter the wilderness again until you have bought a good map and compass. Mountain rescue teams have enough to do without having to recover corpses with failed GPS units.

 

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