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Old 01-22-2011, 10:43 AM   #1
DSettahr
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Does anyone else here do this? (off-trail navigation)

Just curious... my preferred method for navigating while bushwhacking is to just walk with the map in hand. Not compass, no gps, just the map. I still carry a compass and will occasionally use it to sight distant landmarks to double check my position, but rarely if ever use it to follow a bearing.

Am I a freak?
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:07 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
Just curious... my preferred method for navigating while bushwhacking is to just walk with the map in hand. Not compass, no gps, just the map. I still carry a compass and will occasionally use it to sight distant landmarks to double check my position, but rarely if ever use it to follow a bearing.

Am I a freak?
Yes to both questions.
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:36 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
Just curious... my preferred method for navigating while bushwhacking is to just walk with the map in hand. Not compass, no gps, just the map. I still carry a compass and will occasionally use it to sight distant landmarks to double check my position, but rarely if ever use it to follow a bearing.

Am I a freak?
Have you ever tried to sight on a distant landmark in the Pepperbox?? It ain't happenin'. I think of a trail as just a means to take me to where I can get off trail. Navigation, especially on a bushwhack, by landscape observation and terrain matching is a highly effective learned skill. Nature offers dozens of navigation clues most people don't much think about. Combine these with detailed understanding of what the map tells you, and you can throw away your gps for all necessary accuracy. The successful navigator has learned how to use all those natural clues, and to know how to ask questions and resolve what may at times seem like confusing information. Nature is always right if you learn to properly interpret what you see. It is my preferred way to go, but it does take some pre-trip study to make most use of expectations in terrain features to guide you on your way. Practice in this method yields many benefits and satisfaction with increasing ability.
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Old 01-22-2011, 12:06 PM   #4
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Yes to both questions.
Chuckle! Good answer, I'll second that.
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:12 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
Just curious... my preferred method for navigating while bushwhacking is to just walk with the map in hand. Not compass, no gps, just the map. I still carry a compass and will occasionally use it to sight distant landmarks to double check my position, but rarely if ever use it to follow a bearing.

Am I a freak?
That may work fine when open terrain is what your walking in, and you can see quite a distance ahead of you. If your in the low lands, even medium high ground, before you know it, you'll wish you had the compass in hand instead of the map. That said, I never move around with either in my hand. The concentration needs to be on your entire surroundings, the rear being just as important { maybe more so} as to your front travel.
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:31 PM   #6
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Navigation, especially on a bushwhack, by landscape observation and terrain matching is a highly effective learned skill.
But that's just it- I've never received any formal off trail navigation training. It's not something I learned, it's something I've always been able to do.

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It is my preferred way to go, but it does take some pre-trip study to make most use of expectations in terrain features to guide you on your way. Practice in this method yields many benefits and satisfaction with increasing ability.
I don't study the map in advance for navigation purposes. I'll study it to develop an itinerary, and to see what I can expect to encounter in terms of terrain, but never to plan a bushwhack route or any such thing. When I'm out in the woods, I just pull out the map, glance at it, and immediately have a mental image in my head of the "lay of the land" so to speak.

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That may work fine when open terrain is what your walking in, and you can see quite a distance ahead of you. If your in the low lands, even medium high ground, before you know it, you'll wish you had the compass in hand instead of the map. That said, I never move around with either in my hand. The concentration needs to be on your entire surroundings, the rear being just as important { maybe more so} as to your front travel.
It works fine for me regardless of my surroundings. I've done this even in the densest, flattest areas of the West Canada Lakes and been able to navigate quite well. Even without the map, my mind carries in it a constant mental model of my surroundings.

Paddlewheel will probably accuse me of being egotistical for posting this , but it's all true, and it's something that I thought was pretty common. I've been starting to find out otherwise, and I was just wondering if there was anyone else out there who navigated this way.

Of course, now that I've posted this, you'll all probably be reading about me in the news next week for being the next hiker to get lost and need rescuing.
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:01 PM   #7
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I don't study the map in advance for navigation purposes. I'll study it to develop an itinerary, and to see what I can expect to encounter in terms of terrain, but never to plan a bushwhack route or any such thing. When I'm out in the woods, I just pull out the map, glance at it, and immediately have a mental image in my head of the "lay of the land" so to speak.
My dad always did that, but he had grown up traveling in so many vast but familiar areas of the woods he rarely even used a map, and only glanced at a lapel compass from time to time. I learned a lot about observation from him.

When I first taught myself to bushwhack long distances using what I thought were slightly more precise techniques, I accepted the idea of going from one major known feature to the next without paying much attention to where I was in between. Often I would just trust the compass for an hour or more without knowing exactly where I was. Sight distance is mostly nonexistant in my part of the westerns Adirondacks, so triangulation is out of the question, and sighting on a single distant object is almost as rare. But my rough early dead reckoning methods always worked and I accepted that my exact location would be unknown between major landforms. Mistakes became valuable learning opportunities, as long as I didn't make too many in a row.

After a few times it didn't stress me, but I thought there had to be a better way. I noticed that I didn't have to always choose those big unmissable landscape features. I could "fill in" the missing area between locations with smaller features closer together. I found 20 minutes apart became an easy goal. Then I began to see that the landscape is just full of clues and features of all kinds. Even "featureless" terrain doesn't last very long (in this part of the country), and "featurelessness" itself is a navigation aid. Eventually, with enough practice I believe anyone can pinpoint their location on a topo map to any reasonable degree of accuracy just by paying attention along the way.

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That may work fine when open terrain is what your walking in, and you can see quite a distance ahead of you. If your in the low lands, even medium high ground, before you know it, you'll wish you had the compass in hand instead of the map.
Quite the opposite... the map is more valuable than the compass when there is any kind of varied terrain to be followed in close quarters. Spend some time deep in the Pepperbox with me and I'll show you what I mean. Sight distance is typically very limited. It is pretty tough to maintain a compass bearing when the terrain constantly alters your course. The terrain in fact becomes your compass, as long as you understand its orientation and how it changes. The magnetic compass is there for confirmation only. I look for any kind of change in the terrain, even a gentle slope change will be ONE of the MANY terrain clues that all combine to determine my position. Terrain change, however slight, is the navigator's friend. Every slight squiggle of a contour line can be traced to a terrain variation on the ground. You do have to expect it, look for it, and interpret it when you see it. That is part of the reason I stress map study whenever possible. It's about expectation.
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The concentration needs to be on your entire surroundings, the rear being just as important { maybe more so} as to your front travel.
Exactly. Complete comprehension of your 360 surroundings. But no matter how well you observe, you can't just be dropped into totally unknown territory and expect observation to mean anything in terms of navigation. Unless you know what to expect in terms of observation and terrain matching, which comes from glancing at your map, observation doesn't do much for you. I travel with a map in a case in my hand virtually all of the time, although I may not look at it very often when I'm following a known terrain feature, at least I know where it is at all times. I know when to expect a change in terrain ahead, and what it means when I don't see it when expected as much as when I do see it.

For several years I was an instructor navigator in the Air Force, specifically in SAC, a command that forced navigators to know how to navigate with time honored rudimentary tools (map, compass, clock, and sextant) because the electronics that did exist could not be counted on to work in the event of the "big one". Of course GPS did not exist then, but even if it did we would have trained long mission hours without it. While observing the ground from 35,000 feet at 500 mph is vastly different than observing the ground stationary from 6 feet, thought synapses of how to navigate run much the same.

Now long after my days as an AF Nav, I've been teaching my own style of land navigation to students who wish to work as summer wilderness trek guides for the Boy Scouts, now in my 20th year as instructor. I take them west of Lows Lake, deep into the blowdown area. They learn very well there how it all works. I have also established intensive basic and advanced courses for SAR personnel.

EDIT/Added: I should mention that as the density of blowdown/vegetation increases to the point of making sight distance a matter of feet, then the compass will come more into play. However, the general slope of the land underfoot is still as important in direction maintenance and position fixing, as is the sun, the wind, and any change in vegetation or terrain type. General observation in 4-pi-steradians is as important as ever.
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:14 PM   #8
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Recently I have become involved with competitive orienteering. Great sport!

An orienteering compass used in competition has no markings on it. It is only used to "orient" the map. Skills in map reading, identifying elevation changes and understanding topography are the skills needed for success. The same carries over to backwoods travel.

DSettahr......have you tried orienteering? Is PS active in any orienteering competition?
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:27 PM   #9
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There's a long-ish article on terrain observation navigation methods linked here.
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Old 01-23-2011, 02:22 AM   #10
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Usually when bushwhacking, I'll look at the map periodically-once an hour or so, and more often if I am in a very confusing area. Otherwise, I'll just follow the compass bearing for the most part.
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Old 01-23-2011, 09:50 AM   #11
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Holy cow, you people are good! Thanks for the time to relay your knowledge, very good in deed. I'm afraid these concepts are obscure and fading fast and its refreshing to see some rays of light.
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Old 01-23-2011, 10:01 AM   #12
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My brother and I used to bushwack with map and compass, I loved it.
We work well as a team, if one of us was getting off course, the other would question the route and we made out real well.

Currently I have just been using a mapping GPS.
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Old 01-23-2011, 10:17 AM   #13
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When in thick blowdown I use the compass to orient the map then I use my altimeter to determine where we are and which way to go. This works very well in the mountains and give us a good idea of surrounding terrain. Over the years we've avoided many cliffs and walked to many small brooks/ravines to find our way "up". My altimeter is purely mechanical and dates from 1965. We gone up some under 4000 footers that I don't think anyone bothers with,( Little Nipple Top - it's got a real interesting glacial erratic 20' x 20' x 20' near the top, marked with a single small circular contour line on the SSouth East flank. The view is nice from the top of this square block of rock.)
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Old 01-23-2011, 10:39 AM   #14
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When in thick blowdown I use the compass to orient the map then I use my altimeter to determine where we are and which way to go. This works very well in the mountains and give us a good idea of surrounding terrain. Over the years we've avoided many cliffs and walked to many small brooks/ravines to find our way "up". My altimeter is purely mechanical and dates from 1965. We gone up some under 4000 footers that I don't think anyone bothers with,( Little Nipple Top - it's got a real interesting glacial erratic 20' x 20' x 20' near the top, marked with a single small circular contour line on the SSouth East flank. The view is nice from the top of this square block of rock.)
I have zero experience with an altimeter, can you explain further, if you please?
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Old 01-23-2011, 10:46 AM   #15
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I have zero experience with an altimeter, can you explain further, if you please?
Having an altimeter gives you another "line" on the map, so to speak, that you can be sure your current position lies somewhere along, although this line isn't straight like a bearing, so it can be a bit confusing to use this method.

For example- you're bushwhacking up a mountain, and you turn around and sight another mountain in the distance with your compass. Unfortunately, you don't have any views of a second landmark, so you can't triangulate your position. If you're carrying an altimeter, and know that you are on a certain side of the mountain you are climbing, you can use a topo map to look for where the bearing from the distant landmark crosses the elevation line that you are at, and therefore figure out exactly where you are on the map.

More simply, if you are on a trail, you can also use an altimeter to find your exact location by looking for where the trail crosses the elevation that you get from the altimeter.
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Old 01-23-2011, 12:39 PM   #16
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Your navigation technique is truly incredible (no joke)! I've never heard of someone who can consistently navigate at at high level in near featureless terrain without compass aid. Not sure if you are a freak but you most certainly possess a rare gift.

Can you give us a specific example of a compass free off-trail outing, say one of yours in the West Canada Lakes region, or which ever you prefer? Perhaps you could include:

- start, finish locations
- clues (landmarks) you use to guide you along the way (if any)
- length of the hike, including pace, if you keep track of that parm. (Do you use a watch?)
- map scale (1:50000, 1:10000?)

We can all follow along by pulling up a topo from the USGS site:
http://store.usgs.gov/b2c_usgs/usgs/...%24ROOT%29/.do

Also, you say you develop an "itinerary" but do not plan a "bushwhack route". Please elaborate on what you mean by itinerary.

Finally, as you are making your way over the landscape, do you know pretty well where you are on the map at all times?

Thanks!
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:07 PM   #17
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HH1:

I know you directed this question to DSettahr but I'll jump in because I think we may have similar techniques. I've uploaded a map exercise from a navigation training course I developed for SAR team members. This is a graphic from slide #35 in the stack (sorry for the low resolution, but high res cannot be uploaded here.) It is a section of the Wolf Mountain quad, north of Lows Lake where I often go with students.

Starting from a blank map, the classroom study exercise is to:
Select 3 possible routes from Grass Pond to Indian Mountain
- Identify handrails, backstops, catches, and intermediate checkpoints.
- Describe observations of terrain and navigation clue expectations on each leg.
- Estimate distance and timing for each leg.
- Walk the route "in your mind's eye".

The students are given a chance to select their own routes before this slide is presented. The instructor would go into a fairly lengthy detailed discussion of each of the 3 routes selected, and possible alternate side branches of each. Of course these are not the only 3 routes possible. The x's along the way mark intermediate landmark goals for discussion. Timing as a navigation aid is extremely important, which was previously covered in the dead reckoning section of the course. And yes, knowing near exact location all along the way is the goal, as well as is reaching the final destination.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg route-exercise.jpg (79.1 KB, 196 views)
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:18 PM   #18
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By itinerary, I basically mean where I will camp at night, and any particular destinations I will go to during the day. That's about it.

I guess a good example would be a multi-day bushwhack I took into Metcalf Lake in the West Canada Lakes a few years back. I spent one night on Metcalf Lake, and one night at the old lumber camp clearing on Beaudry Brook, starting and ending at Mountain Home Road.

For clues, I really just looked at the map, examined the lay of the land, and looked to see what I was experiencing first hand, and where it fit in on the map. It's mostly subconscious, it seems... I rarely look for specific landmarks, but rather examine the whole lay of the land. I came out via the gap in the Metcalf Range where Buck Pond lies. To find it, I simply bushwhacked down the lake until I was roughly opposite the large island in the middle, then turned and went uphill, allowing myself to be funneled into the gap by the hills on either side.

As for a map, I was just using the National Geographic map (1:75,000 scale).

I don't ever really keep track of pace.

And yeah, I can usually pretty much point out pretty accurately where I am on the map, within a reasonable margin. Accurately enough, at least, that I have never in my life considered myself to be "lost," or incapable of finding my way out of the woods.
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:21 PM   #19
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HH1:

I know you directed this question to DSettahr but I'll jump in because I think we may have similar techniques. I've uploaded a map exercise from a navigation training course I developed for SAR team members. This is a graphic from slide #35 in the stack (sorry for the low resolution, but high res cannot be uploaded here.) It is a section of the Wolf Mountain quad, north of Lows Lake where I often go with students.

Starting from a blank map, the classroom study exercise is to:
Select 3 possible routes from Grass Pond to Indian Mountain
- Identify handrails, backstops, catches, and intermediate checkpoints.
- Describe observations of terrain and navigation clue expectations on each leg.
- Estimate distance and timing for each leg.
- Walk the route "in your mind's eye".
This sounds pretty much like the technique that I use, with a few differences. First, I only ever have a rough idea of the route I plan to take. I will often allow the terrain to dictate the course, and am not afraid to change it as I progress if I see something interesting or decide to go check something out.

Secondly, all of these steps I think I do, but subconsciously. I never really plan it out in as much detail in advance.

I don't just keep walking until I hit a "landmark." The entire map for me seems to be my landmark. I just follow the map. Landmarks help me to pinpoint where exactly I am on the map, though.

As far as the "mind's eye" goes, I don't just have a mental image of the route itself, but of the entire map when I look at it.
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:43 PM   #20
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This sounds pretty much like the technique that I use, with a few differences. First, I only ever have a rough idea of the route I plan to take. I will often allow the terrain to dictate the course, and am not afraid to change it as I progress if I see something interesting or decide to go check something out.
Yup, but just imagine trying to teach this to someone else. I think it is a very progressive thing as experience is gained, but the basics have to be understood first. I don't always operate on my own the same way I introduce the techniques to beginners in the art. I do it much more loosely and often change my plans to fit the situation when out there. The field portion of the training I do brings those points out as students gain confidence and feel free to be not so formally structured. They learn that when encountering blowdown or a large beaver meadow that is not on the map. But teaching begins with the structure of the base method.
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