Wilderness Navigation

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

KIMG0223
Heybrook Lookout

FRIDAY 12FEB2016

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!

KIMG0226
Happy campers

SATURDAY 13FEB2016

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.

KIMG0236
El bosque oscuro

EXERCISE #1: FIELD OF STUMPS

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.

KIMG0225
This sort of thing could have gotten you burned as a witch some years ago…

EXERCISE #2: LEAPFROGGING

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…

KIMG0240
A giant long fallen

EXERCISE #3:”KILL-OMETER”

“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.

KIMG0228
Gritty action shot

THEN WHAT?

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.

KIMG0237
Tree mining

INTERESTED IN LEARNING?

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?

Effect_20160214_114356
A blurry, hairy biped

Happy trails!

 

 

 

 

 

 

AIARE 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Upward and onward!

A couple of weeks ago I took an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) course via The Mountaineers, and taught by the good people at BC Adventure Guides.

We spent a couple lecture days in Tacoma going over the materials, watching videos and getting a handle on avalanches in general.

Questions were asked and answered, coffee was consumed and one guy had the wrong classroom.

The following weekend we met for the field portion at Snoqualmie Pass.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Witchcraft, clearly.

DAY ONE (DAY THREE OF CLASS)

Checked NWAC before leaving the house.

We marched up around Silver Fir Lodge to become acquainted with our avalanche beacons and to delve into companion rescue.

It didn’t take long to realize just how screwed you are if you are buried without a beacon.

In very little time at all we went from barely knowing how to turn the things on to locating buried beacons in the snow as a team.

If we had to find the same beacons using only probes….we’d still be looking.

Life and death right there. Seriously.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“And on the first day he dugeth a test pit and saw that it was good”

DAY TWO (DAY FOUR OF CLASS)

Checked NWAC before leaving (there is a theme here)

Today was about putting everything we learned together into a mini tour of Mt.Hyak.

We dug a couple pits and made many field observations along the way.

Whichwaysthewinda’blowin’? Howhardisshea’howlin’? Howmuchsnosa’snowin’?

With the NW slope of Mt.Catherine as our backdrop we focused on snowpack observations and field tests.

Our Rutschblock Test was particularly amusing and insightful.

Skiers curiously eyeballed us as they occasioned by, some even asked about our findings

Oh that reminds me, our “avalanche victims” deserve a round of applause as well…Daytime Emmys for everybody!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Through the woods

As we traveled back to the parking lot some ideas started congealing in my brain:

Reluctant to part with the money for a beacon…?

Experiencing firsthand the difference an avalanche beacon makes when trying to locate an avalanche victim is stunning.

If you don’t want to buy one, you could always rent one instead. BCAdventures offered rentals, as well as a list of retailers that rented beacons as well.

Remember: Money… you can’t take it with you!

“This is some serious s#!t buddy!”

Winter time travel in the mountains is inherently dangerous and many of our familiar summer routes bear grave avalanche risk in the winter months.

Sadly, some kill year after year.

Any loaded slope of sufficient grade can slide and various terrain features can exacerbate that risk.

Knowing how to choose terrain is probably the single greatest thing you can do to save your life.

I probably could have learned this stuff on my own…

Yeah I suppose you could, in theory.

I knew a lot of things going into this class, but I left it with more than I probably would have ever learned by myself.

Also, there is no substitute for learning from an experienced guide that can answer all of your questions… well, about avalanches anyway.

Would you take this course again in hindsight?

Absolutely.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Der Rutschblock

Do you know avalanche terrain?

Maybe you are missing out on deeper backcountry because you are too cautious?

Maybe you’ve had one foot in the grave for years without ever even knowing it?

Do you know?

I highly suggest taking an AIARE 1 course in your area if you ever intend to travel in avalanche terrain. (aka teh intir mowntens)

If you don’t, you’ll be happy the person who digs you out did.

If you get dug out…

Happy Trails!