Wilderness Navigation

I’m going to try something a little different today and do this all on my phone!

Heybrook Lookout


At some point in the very recent past I lost track of my compass. At this point I’ve concluded it’s either becoming one with nature or in the dark recesses of a forgotten pocket or stuff sack.

Whatever, it’s gone. Life is about change and how we deal with it, so I bought a new compass.

I was in a rush. I slipped in the door minutes before REI closed. It’s Friday, “Hey, I work for a living too!”

I’m courteous, these people wanna go home. I’m moving my ass.

Turns out in the mad flurry of all my ass moving, I left with a fixed declination compass, a Suunto A-10. Fantastic. Not an approved compass.

OK, OK no problem. I’ll just draw the declination in with a marker, good, done!

Happy campers


After an early, lethargic drive we arrived at the Mountaineer’s Heybrook Lookout parking lot. I guess there has been a problem with break-ins at the regular trailhead so they use their own instead.

Oh, get this. I found my compass, it was in my backpack. Don’t judge me, we’ve all been there.

The wilderness navigation class is a requirement for Mountaineers trips, as well as just a good idea before you try your hand at jumping off the beaten path.

As you might expect, the students represent a wildly mixed bag of experience and physical fitness.

The slowest person sets the pace.

El bosque oscuro


We all assembled at Heybrook Lookout to take a break and to split into groups.

Get this! Some meth head stole the copper lightning rod from the Lookout!

What a world.

Anyway, we marched beyond Heybrook Lookout to the vast, neo-ecosystem that is the high tension transmission wire easement.

Humbly dwelling below a pair of the stoic, steel giants are number of rotting stumps, many with a letter or number placarded atop.

The idea is to take nine sightings from three different vantages and compare your findings to the master key held by the instructors.

A two degree discrepancy or less is desired.

Some of us thought the wires were having an effect on our compasses.

Maybe a sort of electromagnetic interference or something else reasonably sciencey sounding.

One of the instructors said they had brought out science equipment in the past and detected no such sciencey sounding disturbance.

I believe him, I think it was too much or too little caffeine.

This sort of thing could have gotten you burned as a witch some years ago…


After our lesson in stump location we were told we’d be leapfrogging.

We split into teams of two and were given a bearing and a starting location.

Your team member follows a bearing for a dozen yards or so, then you take their bearing, and they take a back bearing on you. If your findings are in agreement you move to them after which the process is repeated.

It was fun, and it works. 

It worked so well it led us all to the lunching spot; an abundant, but heavily clouded panorama spanning eastward to Baring Mountain and westward to Mt.Persis.

After lunch we were told we’d be heading to the final exercise…

A giant long fallen


“We were specifically told this wouldn’t be a death march!” 

… And it wasn’t. Rather an easy mile or so up a snaggy, old logging grade. 

The rain had been constant, but mostly light up to this point. Now it was really starting to come down.

“Pick a difficulty ranging from mellow to challenging. You will then be assigned a bearing to follow for approximately one kilometer. You will travel as a pair, but work as individuals. If you complete this exercise without your partner, you will be failed.”

Up to this point the only other way you could fail was by walking on the highway during the quarter mile or so from the parking area to the trailhead. 

 Things were about to get serious.

Teams were launched about five minutes apart on their mission downhill and through the woods.

The forest was mostly free of annoying shrubs, but there were a lot of windfalls and dead snags.

There were also some monsters left over from the tree mining era just rotting away on the forest floor.

I thought the “Kill-ometer” (btw that’s NOT what they called it) was a pretty good exercise to top off the day.

If for some reason you doubt the utility of a map and compass, the “Kill-ometer” will easily put those thoughts in check.

Gritty action shot


Logically, the goal was also the assembly point and so there we all waited.

Steadily our numbers grew until there was only one pair left descending the hill.

The rain was coming down, and we’d been out in it for eight hours. Looking around you could see it in some people’s eyes. (Remember: all skill and fitness levels)

Some folks were obviously a little under prepared to spend a full day under the faucet.

However spirits remained high with laughter and conversation heating the body by warming the soul.

The last two finally arrived and after a congratulatory speech we all marched out. Like an army at first, then dwindling into groups, pairs and loners.

Our little group met a young family on their way up. Mother, father and the little one enjoying a walk in the February rain.

On the way to the Mountaineer’s parking lot we had to walk through the Heybrook parking area.

There was only one car there, probably belonging to the young family.

One window was smashed in, glass was all over the ground. Their car was robbed.

I can’t help but wonder if it was the same crackheads who stole the lighting rod.

Tree mining


Whether you are old hat or still drenched behind the ears, developing your outdoor navigation skills isn’t a bad idea.

Taking a class isn’t necessary. If you are so motivated, these are all skills you could learn on your own or with a friend.

Get yourself a copy of “Wilderness Navigation” (The Mountaineers),  a proper compass and a USGS map.

You oughta do OK.

Taking a class however has the benefit of instructors who can help you, novel exercises that you might not ever do on your own, and who knows you might even meet a friend.

Classes probably exist in your area

If you live anywhere near Seattleopolis, the Mountaineers offer their navigation course year round.

REI offers a navigation course as well, so if you live within driving distance of one of those, that could be an option.

The point is, there is probably something near you if you look.

I developed many of these skills on my own over the years, and after finally taking a class I can honestly say that maybe classes aren’t such a bad idea after all…

I’m not sure “Teenage Harry”, hiking the hills in ripped up jeans, a T-shirt and a duct taped pair of Chuck Taylor’s would still quite get it though, he was always learning the hard way.

Anyway, however you learn, with knowledge and experience we can develop the foresight to keep the odds stacked in our favor in our adventures.

So why sell yourself short?

A blurry, hairy biped

Happy trails!