Learning to use map/compass/gps?

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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scramble
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Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby scramble » Sun Nov 27, 2011 11:14 am

Hi all,
I am starting to think hmm what if I get stuck in an unexpected whiteout and the trail is covered in snow.
How did you learn basic mountain navigation? How did you safely move beyond really obvious trails/cairned scrambles?
It would be cool if there was an inexpensive and not-during-a-weekday way to do this. Like a good book or somethin' to get me up to speed (ish) so I can go out with more experienced folks and not be totally useless? :-)
Thanks for any advice!
-Sara

If it helps others, there is this free thing at REI smack in the middle of the workday:
http://www.rei.com/event/12990/session/15924

and this $170 course:
http://www.totalclimbing.com/page.php?pname=course&course_id=41&category_id=11
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AndYouSeeMe
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby AndYouSeeMe » Sun Nov 27, 2011 11:26 am

I am taking an Orienteering course through Metro State in Denver next semester. It meets on a Saturday and then two sundays and thats it.

I know it is free to apply and everyone gets accepted, might be worth it just to take the one class....

just a thought, might not work for your situation, good luck!
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SurfNTurf
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby SurfNTurf » Sun Nov 27, 2011 11:27 am

The CMC's Wilderness Trekking School places a heavy emphasis on map and compass work. It's a great curriculum with excellent instructors, but as with most CMC trips and classes, you can only move as fast as the slowest member. I personally got frustrated spending hours on something it took most of us minutes to understand. Looking back, I'd rather pay more for a shortened time commitment.
“There are two kinds of climbers: those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.” - Alex Lowe

"There have been joys too great to describe in words, and there have been griefs upon which I cannot dare to dwell; and with those in mind I say, 'Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.'" - Edward Whymper
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Monster5
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby Monster5 » Sun Nov 27, 2011 12:31 pm

Perhaps another 14ers.com learning/teaching day on orientation is in order? No need to shell out $ when we have so many knowledgeable people here!

Topo map/compass skills are fairly easy to learn, but it takes a lot of practice to get comfortable using them and selecting which technique for the desired goal. Triangulation and reading contours can get a bit tricky, especially when visibility is limited (hence the need for compass skills). A lot of people think they have a good grasp on how to use a topo map, but when you give them a task or have them locate themselves, they tend to find they aren't as familiar with maps/compasses as previously thought! One thing to do once you have the basics down, is to print off a topo of an area you are familiar with and really try to visualize what the contours are telling you in relation to what you're seeing. Pay attention to the smaller-scale features and note how they appear on your map - do they even show up at your contour interval? A 40 ft interval is about the best you'll find in the back country, but that could still hide a fairly size-able cliff!

Another very useful tool to learn is interpreting aerial photographs, which should become even more popular with Google maps. Whenever I do field work, I typically bring both topo maps and aerial photos - they compliment each other very well and provides the vegetation aspect.

GPS units can be a bit finicky and variable, depending on the option you pay for. In the most basic case, you enter a known location (waypoint), and it tells you which direction to go to reach it. This can be a problem when one cannot evaluate the terrain between themselves and the waypoint. In my opinion (and in a non-professional setting), GPS units should be left in the pack and only pulled out when visibilty drops or an exact key waypoint is needed (like which boulder your snowshoes are stashed under). Similarly, overusing a topographic map can be a problem - an over-reliance on somebody's route on a map can lead one to ignore evaluating terrain.
"The road to alpine climbing is pocked and poorly marked, ending at an unexpectedly closed gate 5 miles from the trailhead." - MP user Beckerich
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby jeremy27 » Sun Nov 27, 2011 1:18 pm

I found this document from Garmin helpful, as a supplement to a map and compass class I took in college, when I got my GPS a couple years ago.
http://www8.garmin.com/manuals/UsingaGarminGPSwithPaperLandMaps_Manual.pdf
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby PJMiller » Sun Nov 27, 2011 2:23 pm

I would agree with Monster5. I am active with SAR and have been for 13 years. I only use one screen on my Magellan 315 and it's the one that shows me my location in LAT/LON and UTM's (on the same screen). I need to understand the best way to get from Point A to Point B and it usually isn't a straight line so I rely on my map and compass skills, or on my Teammate's, most of the time. Even though I have been using these skills for several years, I consider myself an "average" navigator. It takes a lot of field use to get good at it. Going to a class is a good way to understanding the basics but then you need to get out in the field and "get lost" (at night). Two books I can suggest are "Staying Found" by Fleming and "Land Navigation Handbook" by Kals. Practice, practice, practice...
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby jrbren_vt » Sun Nov 27, 2011 5:15 pm

There are also a couple of chapters in the Mountaineers "Freedom of the Hills" defacto text book for back country mountain travel. You could just read & understand those and then practice, practice, practice (too steal PJ's quote). For me, I know I won't do that, I will procrastinate until it never happens. Hence I sign up for the class offered by my local mountain club (Green Mountain Club in my case). The financial commitment forces me to do it at a set date and not put it off forever in lieu of doing a more interesting day hike somewhere with well marked trails. How to practice ? Pretty much any wood lot or other area of land where you can get legal access to roam about freely and have a detailed topo map of will do. The land must have several features that show up clearly on the map and you can identify to be interesting. I would start with good easy to find features then throw in harder problems later after you are more proficient (like night time). You can also check yourself as you go on a well known hike with trail, imagine there was no trail. Or go off the trail for various problem solving. I generally would have map + compass + altimeter. As for GPS, I have been to over 5500' on our local 4089' mountain here in Vermont, according to my Garmin. Anyone climb any 15ers or 16ers in Colorado since they started using GPS ? IMHO, GPS for amusement only.
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby DaveLanders » Sun Nov 27, 2011 5:19 pm

scramble wrote:Hi all,
I am starting to think hmm what if I get stuck in an unexpected whiteout and the trail is covered in snow.
How did you learn basic mountain navigation? How did you safely move beyond really obvious trails/cairned scrambles?
It would be cool if there was an inexpensive and not-during-a-weekday way to do this. Like a good book or somethin' to get me up to speed (ish) so I can go out with more experienced folks and not be totally useless? :-)
Thanks for any advice!
-Sara

If it helps others, there is this free thing at REI smack in the middle of the workday:
http://www.rei.com/event/12990/session/15924

and this $170 course:
http://www.totalclimbing.com/page.php?pname=course&course_id=41&category_id=11


If you want a good introductory book, the best would be "Be Expert with Map and Compass" by Bjorn Kjellstrom.
REI used to have this; I don't know if they still do, but it's available on Amazon. Then lots of practice in the field.
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby rlw49 » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:02 pm

Good place to practice, which CMC uses, is Green Mountain @ I-70 and 470. Has many features which are on the topo, and is bare so you can't get lost.
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby Monster5 » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:16 pm

And it has rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes. But don't let that turn you away!


rlw49 wrote:Good place to practice, which CMC uses, is Green Mountain @ I-70 and 470. Has many features which are on the topo, and is bare so you can't get lost.
"The road to alpine climbing is pocked and poorly marked, ending at an unexpectedly closed gate 5 miles from the trailhead." - MP user Beckerich
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scramble
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby scramble » Tue Nov 29, 2011 11:14 pm

Hey thank you so much everyone! I will probably go out and screw around not this coming weekend but the one after 12/10-12/11 if anyone cares to join. Found the chapter in FOTH and thanks a bunch for the other book recommendations, I'll check 'em out when I am hungry for more. jrbren your comment about procrastination is spot-on. Except.... I can use this to procrastinate on my homework!! :P
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Re: Learning to use map/compass/gps?

Postby Birdie » Fri Dec 02, 2011 8:55 am

Good idea :) I would be interested in joining you.

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