Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending two days with Robert, a professor at UCONN and longtime outdoors-man. Robert came up to Northeast Mountaineering to brush up on his wilderness navigation skills. We spent Monday morning at the Bunkhouse reviewing and adding to our collective “improvised” navigation skill set before simplifying our map and compass methods (plotting whiteout navigation plans, re-section, triangulation). After an introduction to the powerful trip planning tools CalTopo and Avenza we headed to the Green Hills Preserve for a bushwhack up Hurricane Mountain and a quick out and back hike to Black Cap to re-enforce our morning session.
On Tuesday we enjoyed a 9 mile loop hike through the Sandwich Wilderness and around Square Ledge. The weather and views were stellar along with the conversation!
This past Saturday I led an 8 hour Wilderness Navigation Course for EMS Schools North Conway. A few guides from a NYC outdoor adventure company and mountain enthusiasts from around New England met at 8:30am for some classroom discussion and exercises before we traveled to a field location to practice our newly acquired skills.
This is a great area to explore off trail. It is a fairly active site for rock collectors, or “rockhounding“, and we came across a lot of fresh piles of crushed rock and sand where intrepid collectors had found veins of rock in search of semi-precious stones. There is also some type of tree research nearby as we traveled through a stand of younger trees all tagged with metal numbered tags. I’m curious to their meaning.
After plotting a course back to our starting point we embarked on the well traveled Black Cap Trail. Before reaching the ledges we found a nice specimen of the edible and easy to recognize “Chicken of the Woods“. It was clear someone had foraged a bit of this specimen but there was plenty left for those inclined to gather some to cook later.
One we reached the first view point we stopped and practiced some terrain association, peak identification, and single point resection.
After looking at some glacial striations and some classic “flagging” in the trees (both can help with finding direction) we reached the small summit and made our way down to the Black Cap Connector Trail. We then looped back towards the Cranmore Trail.
Looping back on the connector trail
With a little bit of time left we decided to squeeze in one more bushwhack so we headed a short ways down the Red Tail Trail before plotting a course off trail with the goal of hitting the Black Cap Trail right at the info kiosk about .3 miles from the parking lot.
Everyone followed their own route and hit the Black Cap trail within sight of the kiosk. We returned to the parking lot for a quick debrief.
I really enjoy teaching this course. It’s especially fun to challenge yourself by not always following the beaten path and when you go off trail you’re much more likely to have wildlife encounters. By the end of the course most everyone was sold on the model of compass I’ve been using for almost 2 decades so I will plug it here for those shopping for a great quality compass.
While I might take the time to give this compass a full review soon for now I’ll briefly state the sighting mirror and long straight edge make taking and plotting bearings fast and intuitive. The clinometer is a great feature for winter/avalanche terrain but is also useful for determining if you are actually higher than that nearby peak. Unfortunately this model isn’t currently in-stock at EMS but is available on Amazon here.
Do you have a favorite compass model? Let me know in the comments below!
This was the last Wilderness Navigation Course we had planned at EMS Schools this summer but I think there might be interest in running another one this Fall. I will update this post if we put another one on the calendar and send out a quick post if one is scheduled. As always you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
My head is still spinning from some of the info I’ve been able to pick up this past weekend. It all started Saturday morning with Marc Chauvin’s, of Chauvin Guides, informative presentation on creating geo-spatial PDF’s that can be uploaded into a smartphone GPS app to supplement your outdoor navigation capabilities. This somewhat esoteric topic is right up my alley and while the content could seem a bit heavy at times Marc’s energetic & well timed presentation made it easy to stay fully engaged from one concept to the next.
I won’t go though the step by step process here but if you are interested I’ll make some suggestions. First, get to know http://www.caltopo.com. A colleague pointed me to this website a year ago and it took me awhile to give it a solid look. This seminar gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start playing around with it and I am simply amazed at what the free version of this website offers. It is hands down the best online mapping resource for outdoor recreationalists. The potential use & application of this program is so large I can only scratch the surface here, but to wet your appetite the first thing I did was create some routes down the popular ski routes in Tuckerman Ravine using satellite imagery, which, with the click of one button, could easily be imposed over USGS Topographic info:
This a more accurate way of measuring important drainage scale info than estimating off a topographic map, and the website easily displays information about each run, for example, Hillman’s Highway is .42 miles long and drops from 5179′ to 3923′, and total vert. of 1256′. You can also get “Terrain Statistics” for each route you created, for example, Right Gully:
What really got me excited was seeing the layering potential of the website. Being able to layer crowd based info (like unofficial mountain bike trails) on top of verified info (like USGS maps) is amazing, especially when you can make these maps GPS enabled on your Smartphone! To top it all off though you can have the software shade specific slopes based on info you specify.
For example, if your local avalanche bulletin suggests to avoid slopes NE-NW aspect above 7000 feet that are steeper than 35 degrees due to a Persistent Slab problem? You can actually enter this slope criteria and these areas will be shaded! It really is impressive. A short video of the developer that references this ability right at the end:
Marc has made an excellent video highlighting this feature. Check it out here:
Once you have a decent understanding of CalTopo you can use the website to print or export custom PDF maps. The fun doesn’t stop here though! The next step is to download the Avenza PDF Maps app. This free app lets you import your newly created PDF maps and make them “geo-spatial”? What does that mean? It means you can use these maps with the GPS chip of your smart phone to show your location. Marc has been getting into the mountain bike scene lately and there are many mountain bike trails that you won’t find on regular USGS or even hiking maps. With this two-shot combo you can upload any map, “sync” it with a base map, and voila, you can navigate and see your location on the hybrid creation!
For practice in the class we imported a Green Hills Preserve map that showed some popular mountain bike trails over your standard USPS map. After “geo-marking” two reference points on the map it scaled and aligned perfectly.
If I was still at the Grand Summit Hotel when I took this screenshot my location would have been pinpointed on this map with a little blue dot.
Finally this technology is easily shareable. The CalTopo website will create unique URLs of your creations that you can easily share with climbing & hiking partners. I’m planning on having a master map for our back-country skiing trips on Washington that guides can edit as they get more accurate GPS positions on first aid caches, drop points, bailout options, etc.
I planned to talk about our pre-winter EMS Schools training but I’ve run out of time so that will come later. Also, there’s been some healthy debate about whether one should trust their phone GPS over a dedicated unit. I’m writing a detailed post looking at some recent research and arguments for and against using your phone GPS for wilderness navigation. Please stay tuned for that!
In the spirit of Columbus Day and exploration I’d like to share with my readers some of the outdoor apps I regularly use to assist in my own mountain exploration. These apps have been on my phone for a couple of years. Check them out below and find details on how to enter to win the coolest climbing knife in the world or a bottle of the best foot powder on earth!
1) ViewRanger GPS (USA) – Topo Maps, Trail Navigation and Route Tracker for Hiking, Skiing & Cycling By Augmentra (Free)
I experimented with a couple GPS apps before settling on this app about 3 years ago. I have now logged hundreds of trips with it and barely used all of its features. The main draw to this app is its simplicity to record a track log and how quickly I can switch back and forth from Bing Aerial Imagery (Satellite) to USHS 24k Topo maps (with USA Trails overlay). Here’s a screen shot of both maps:
Track details like duration, average speed, distance, are easily captured along with GPS Altitude Graphs and Speed Graphs showing you where you were really moving and where you were really hurting.
It looks like the publisher, Augmenta, has released a large update, basically a new app, and plans to discontinue support on the original app. The new app can be found on the iTunes store here. I just downloaded it and will update this post once I’ve had a chance to form an opinion on the new version.
ProTip: The big downside of GPS apps is how demanding they are on your cell phones battery. For that I never rely on them as a sole means of navigating (still carry map & compass). I also tend to only record my track on the way back from somewhere. This works great back-country skiing as I save my battery for the descent. If I really want to get a track of a 6+ hour trip I’ll carry the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus to recharge my phone on the go. You can pre-load map data if you are heading somewhere off grid (No 3G+ service), . If that is the case I would recommend a dedicated GPS like a Garmin Etrex.
2) MyRadar – Weather Radar – Forecast, Storms, and Earthquakes By Aviation Data Systems, Inc (free)
This is the best weather radar app I have found. I have astonished countless clients by predicting when the rain will start to fall within 10 minutes of accuracy using this app. So many of our cliffs, Cathedral, Whitehorse, Cannon, all face east and this app shows me incoming thunderheads before they hit. If the National Weather Service issues any storm or flood warnings for the area I am in the app alerts me with the classic annoying sound that comes over the radios & TV when alerts are issued ($1.99 in App purchase), even if the app isn’t running.
This is kind of a “fun” app when exploring. It can help you quickly name visible peaks at your viewpoint. One especially cool feature is it can work in reverse, i.e. “I think I should be able to see peak X right now, where is it?” You can select from a list of peaks that should be visible from where you are standing and the phone’s compass and screen will guide you to look at it. Very neat!
If you are a regular reader you will have noticed my last post indicated a speed ascent of the Northeast Ridge Pinnacle the following day, followed by two weeks of silence. The reason? My beautiful daughter decided to arrive a couple days early! Madalena Ann Lottmann was born at 7:56pm on August 28th. We are adjusting nicely to our new addition. Yesterday I returned to work with a Wilderness Navigation Course in Pinkham Notch.
I arrived a little before 8am to set up the classroom. Once I had the classroom set up I felt the pre-course excitement building up. I’m so grateful I get to share knowledge with outdoor minded students as a career and setting up this classroom has me stoked for this winter’s upcoming avalanche course season!
Once the 9 participents settled in we began our morning classroom session covering topics from Improvised “Survival” Navigation to solid map & compass work. After a very hearty lunch provided by the AMC we hiked up to Square Ledge to practice some Terrain Association and Single Point Resection/Triangulation.
We then set a bearing to bushwhack to a nearby ski trail on Wildcat Mountain.
We hit the ski trail with in a few meters of our target and set a course back to Square Ledge after gaining a small bit of altitude. We then jumped over to the cross country ski trail and followed fresh moose scat & tracks south to a point up above Lost Pond.
This bit of trail is not well marked and is probably much simpler to follow in the snowy months when it is in use (which was perfect for our purposes). After some group discussion as to where we were we plotted a descent down to Lost Pond reaching the northern end after scrambling down a moderately steep gully.
Feedback from the course was super positive and it was good fun bushwhacking in a new area. I’m watching the weather (and the day care schedule) closely to find another day to head up to Pinnacle, and planning reviews of both the Five Ten Guide Tennies and the Camp Four’s for this Fall so stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
I was fortunate to spend the July 4th holiday with yet another awesome couple. While Hardy has dragged Kat along on some long fly fishing trips this birthday present was all about Kat and reconnecting to her passion through a private rock climbing course. Given the expected crowds on a beautiful Saturday, July 4th, I decided to reverse the flow a bit and we started the day by rappelling down Barber Wall and climbing Upper Refuse first thing in the morning.
After topping out to a very crowded vista we enjoyed a bit of lunch over on Airation Buttress. For the afternoon we headed over to Whitehorse Ledge. It was the first time I’ve seen the rockfall from this past Spring near the Dike Route, quite impressive!
Kat wanted to work on some gear placement skills so we set up shop on Beezlebub Corner. We did a couple of laps on that, one where Kat did a “mock” lead”.
Kat was also looking for a burn before wrapping up the day so I dropped a top-rope on the 5.10a test piece, Seventh Seal. With a tight belay and a few rests both made it up the route, a great ending to a full day!
The connection these two share was quite apparent through-out the day. Between “atta-boy’s” and “go get it’s” they had just the right amount of loving encouragement without living inside a Hallmark card. It was a real pleasure to climb with them both and if I’m right about Hardy, and I think I am, I’ll be seeing them both this upcoming winter for a spot of ice climbing. and maybe a Mount Washington climb!
Today also concluded another Wilderness Navigation Course. Emily & Al joined me for the day while we covered the in’s & out’s of survival navigation, map skills, compasses, and bushwhacking. A bushwhack up Hurricane Mountain and some compass work out on Black Cap… It was a good day to tramp about in the woods!
When the leaves start to fall the guiding season winds down… until the snow flies! I’ve had plenty of time to hike with my son Alex, and have enjoyed sharing his adventures on my other blog, http://www.adventurewithalex.com.
Many months ago at a Flatbread Fundraiser I offered my Land Navigation Course as an auction item to support Mountain Rescue Service, of which I am a volunteer. Janis, of New London, NH placed the winning bid, and after some correspondence we choose today for the course. This morning she and 3 hiking companions joined me for some pretty heavy morning classroom, followed by a beautiful field trip in the Green Hills Preserve.
All four of these women had ample hiking experience, much in the winter, and all had entertaining stories of close calls or mini-epics when confused and turned around in the wilderness, from Vermont to Alaska!
Land Navigation continues to be an oft neglected skill that I hope those who spend time in wild places continue to seek out. It’s a thrilling experience getting “lost” in the wilderness, but even more exciting finding your way back out again with more than simple “dead reckoning”.
In these structured 8 hour courses I try to convey the essential map & compass skills in as simple and easy to remember ways as I can… and for the most part I am successful However it is always up to the student to practice their craft after leaving the structure of the course, and I was happy to see the eagerness of all 4 women to return home and hone these newly discovered (or revisited) natural skills.