[pct-l] It's map AND compass

Barry Teschlog tokencivilian at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 9 11:31:04 CDT 2014

2015 and beyond hikers:

While GPS, halfmile's app, etc are great, as has been pointed out by others, electronics break, run out of battery, get dropped in a creek (or dunked when you slip), etc.

In the end, there is no substitute for being able to use the old school tools of paper map (kept in a ziplock bag) and compass to stay on track.  The skill to do so requires honing.  I'd suggest to future hikers that one way to learn or to polish your land navigation skills is by way of the sport of orienteering.  Google Orienteering USA (for those of us in the States) and find some local meets to participate in.  

Once you've mastered the basics of land navigation in your local parks with orienteering, try a rogaine or two (rogaines are similar to orienteering in that it's a foot land navigation race, the difference being that in orienteering it's a set course, typically of about 1-2 hours duration, and fastest time wins, while for a rogaine, it's a set time, often 4 to 8 hours or even longer, to get as many of the control points as possible).  Rogaine's are typically much longer than an orienteering meet and take place in terrain that is more like what you'll encounter on the trail.  Those of us in the Pacific Northwest have plenty of opportunities for both of these types of navigation races.

If there are no meets going on nearby, often times there are permanent 
orienteering courses with maps published by the local parks department 
or orienteering club.

As Ned said, try to imagine the terrain as depicted on the map in 3D....but without practice, especially for someone new to maps, that can be difficult.  The way to really learn it is to practice, practice, practice.

As for those that may say the trail is well marked, don't need maps, etc.....sure, when there is no snow and your electronic toys work, have battery, etc.  This year, when there was no snow in the Sierra and you could walk on the trail tread pretty much the entire way.  Try that in a high ('05, '06 for example), or even normal snow year - you'll be on snow for miles on either side of the Sierra passes.  In a high snow year the snow will extend north to Tahoe and beyond and you'll have to be working to stay near the trail through forest, which is much more difficult than up above treeline.

As to the original link / event that started this thread - Really?!?  

"...[the lost hiker] had been unable to find the trail along the edge of the lava flow near 
Belknap Crater and hiked up a ridge line of Mount Washington until she 
got cell reception, when she called 911."  

That terrain is so simple to orient a map on it would be trivial for someone with decent map skills to find their way to the trail without a compass.  Hello.....you're up on Mt. Washington, look for the crater...the trail is between the two.  Head from where you are on Mt. Washington toward the crater until you intercept the trail.  Don't be this person for crying out loud.

YMMV, HYOH, 2 cents, yadda, yadda, yadda......

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