[pct-l] It's map AND compass

Ned Tibbits ned at mountaineducation.org
Mon Sep 8 18:50:56 CDT 2014

In SAR Academy, triangulating our position and following a bearing was a 
learning experience, especially at night, but for casual backpackers and PCT 
thru hikers, Mountain Education teaches that it is better to know how to 
"read" a topo map as if in 3-D and identify landmarks you can anticipate 
finding during the day. Paying attention to your surroundings is something 
that you will constantly do and what you notice may just bring you a little 
peace of mind!

A paper topo map (Halfmile's work just fine, to a point*):

Use your imagination, while you're still planning your next hike, such that 
when you pour over a topo of your route, you "see" the map in 3-dimensions, 
peaks jump off the page and creeks splash between them (at least in your 
mind's eye). Good.

Now, imagine yourself walking the trail and noticing stuff ahead, the 
sudden, 90-degree bend in the creek, the perfectly round lake, the treeless 
avalanche path cut across the trail, the fact that you are going uphill to a 
rocky pass with a mountain on your right and the creek on your left. Simple.

When you hit the trail, expect to see those things and details. Rejoice a 
little on the inside when you see them. It can be a game! You are paying 
attention to the environment you came to see and appreciate!

So, you're trucking along, fully expecting that sharp, 90-degree turn in the 
creek and it doesn't show up.

Hit the brakes. S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan) and pull out your map. 
Look around for identifiable details/characteristics in the land. You simply 
see a narrow, climbing canyon with a little creek and no trees after leaving 
a big meadow. Ok, so you simply got lost in thought for a while and missed a 
turn. Maybe.

Use your map and memory to locate yourself. Was the big meadow on your 
route? Yes? Good. Find your trail on the map, especially where it takes a 
turn on the right edge of the meadow and goes up a drainage to that 
90-degree turn in the creek. Could you have missed the turn and gone up the 
wrong drainage?

What shows on the map as next, if you did? Ah, another trail junction up the 
next drainage!

On topo maps, green represents trees. Notice on your map that the creek 
drainage your trail goes up is green and the next one is not. Could you be 
in this drainage?

Re-confirm. Look around for more details. Look up, too. Can you see the 
ridgeline above you? Are there any unique, identifiable landmarks up there 
that you might be able to find on that detailed topo map of yours? There is 
an old volcanic plug up on the ridge! Find it on your map. Since you are 
below it, now you know where you are!

Back-track back to where you need to be.

No compass, just good environmental awareness skills.

Know where you are going and what it might look like. Anticipate landmarks 
and look for them. If you don't see one, look for the next. If you find that 
one, then you just missed the last! No big deal, just a wake-up call.

If you're out there to enjoy what you can't see at home, then this little 
exercise will be easy and life-saving. And realize, if someone else is lost, 
you'll be able to explain to them where to go by following landmarks!

This method of following a trail works great when you can't see it because 
it is buried under feet of snow!

A compass has its time and place. Before you head out on your next trip, 
learn how to use one...and read a map! I don't leave home without either 
(even though I have never used my compass except during drills).

* Any map that only shows the trail, as if in a little corridor, won't be 
able to help you when you need to find an escape route to the nearest 
trailhead. Keep with you a larger scale map, like one from the USFS, that 
will show the roads in your area. This is especially vital when hiking 
through an area being logged that will have new, dirt roads every year 
crossing the trail. Next, and especially important if you are going to be 
driving or hitch-hiking anywhere, bring a state highway map. For PCT thru 
hikers who may need to flip around a fire or flop on up to a snowless 
section of trail, this will help a lot!

Ned Tibbits, Director
Mountain Education, Inc.
ned at mountaineducation.org

"To minimize wilderness accidents, injury, and illness in order to maximize 
wilderness enjoyment, safety, and personal growth, all through experiential 
education and risk awareness training."
-----Original Message----- 
From: Sean Nordeen
Sent: Monday, September 08, 2014 3:46 PM
To: pct-l at backcountry.net
Subject: Re: [pct-l] It's map AND compass

I can remember having several conversations/arguments with other PCT
hikers about the merits of carrying a compass on the PCT as some argue
that one wasn't needed.  Given that you can get some pretty
lightweight ones that are even multiple use items, I don't see why
some people don't carry one.  Even that keyring thermometer with the
tiny compass that REI sells would be better then nothing.

The one I use weighs 0.8oz (Brunton 27LU) and has a sight mirror which
was useful of fishing mosquitos out of my eye (twice) and putting
in/taking out contacts, it was a nice dual use item.  I like to argue
that it also could be used as a signaling mirror, but the small size
suggests it would be a poor one.

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