Creating Recreational Maps With Modern Tools

I finally finished the curriculum for a 4 hour course designed to teach outdoor enthusiasts and professionals how to create, print, and use custom maps that are better than any map currently available from an outdoor retailer or publisher. Monday night I held the first course in partnership with the Kennett High School’s Adult Education Program. In attendance were some members of Granite Backcountry Alliance and the Conway Police Department.

map example
This map show some of the features available when making maps on CalTopo like DEM Shading (red is possible wind slab issues based off avalanche bulletin data), range rings (no camping .25 miles from AMC hut, creating routes, decision points, and run lists, in addition to using polygons to mark “open” and “closed” terrain based on snow-pack conditions. This is purely a fictional example meant to illustrate what is possible with the tool.

Feedback from participants was quite positive and I’m ready to offer this course to the general public. Unlike my 8-hour Wilderness Navigation Course this course is 100% indoors. Participants need a laptop, IOS or Android smartphone, and the Avenza and GuidePace apps to take full advantage of the content.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target half a mile through dense forest

Yesterday I offered an abbreviated version of this course in conjunction with some of my Wilderness Navigation content for a couple members of the Durham and North Conway, NH Fire Departments. With some adaptation this content is quite suitable for professionals who participate in search & rescue efforts.

After positive feedback from today’s participants I will be reaching out to Fire Departments around the state to see if they would be interested in this training. If you belong to an outdoor group or organization that might like to include this in your training regime please reach out to me for more details at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

My Compass

Every course has participants asking me what compass they should get. I’ve been a fan of the Suunto MC-2 for almost two decades! I wrote a long review on this compass here!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

Wilderness Navigation

This past weekend I took three students on a field trip to practice skills we had learned in evening classroom sessions the week prior as part of the MWV Career & Technical Center Adult Education Program.

Wilderness Navigation
Participants learn how to use Terrain Association to located their position then confirm their beliefs with solid Resection and Triangulation compass skills

This comprehensive 8 hour course goes far beyond a basic map & compass skills clinic. Classroom sessions cover such topics as “Survival/Improvised Navigation”, reading topographic maps, understanding the many uses of a compass, triangulation, magnetic declination, with emphasis on practical real life use!

Our field session includes a short easy/moderate hike to practice skills learned in the classroom; bushwhacking, single point resection, using hand-rails, creating a white-out navigation plan, all with plenty of 1 on 1 coaching and modeling.

Wilderness Navigation
My favorite compass, the Sunnto MC-2 <- Full review of this compass here
Wilderness Navigation
Plotting a bearing on a map can help you “stay found”
Wilderness Navigation
With a solid foundation of map and compass skills is paramount I also share available modern tech like this app “PeakFinder AR”
Wilderness Navigation
PeakFinder AR

This course is available year-round rain or shine! You can book directly here.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Two giveaways still have some time left to enter! Learn about upping your bug defense kit here and enter to win some sweet bug dope and compare some of the best climbing cams on the market and enter to win one here!

Wilderness Navigation

Today I finished a Wilderness Navigation Course I ran for the MWV Career and Technical Center adult education series. This was the first time I’ve run this 8 hour course as a multi-day course by having two 2 hour evening classroom sessions followed by a 4 hour field session. Despite a slight scheduling conflict within the marketing material the curriculum split up well in this format and we had a great course. I look forward to continuing to offer this course through this venue each season!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Using Terrain Association to identify distant peaks and verifying results by taking and plotting bearings with a compass
Wilderness Navigation Course
Cool “ice needles” on some of the trails
Wilderness Navigation Course
Determining our location via Triangulation
Wilderness Navigation Course
I love my Suunto Compass! My detailed review of this model here.
Wilderness Navigation Course
Our trip including some bushwhacking off-trail travel!

You can book this course privately or with a group of friends! Cost is determined by group size so the more involved the lower the cost! Details can be found here. Use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout for a chance to win a free guided adventure!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

 

 

Wilderness Navigation Course

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Robert near the summit of Black Cap with Whitehorse Ledge and The Moat mountains in the distance
Wilderness Navigation Course
Single point re-section allows one to pinpoint there location on a trail with just one known point. For my in-depth review of the above pictured compass please go here!
Wilderness Navigation Course
GPS track of our short bushwhack and hike, map created on CalTopo and used via Avenza app

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!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Sandwich Range Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest
Wilderness Navigation Course
A nice stretch of Square Ledge cutoff trail
Wilderness Navigation Course
The “other” Square Ledge
Wilderness Navigation Course
One of many stream crossings, all of which went smoothly with the help of trekking poles
Wilderness Navigation Course
Frog eggs!
Wilderness Navigation Course
Our route

Thanks for coming up Robert and for the excellent book suggestions! I’ve got both Barbarian Days and The Wild Truth on order!

For more information on the Wilderness Navigation Course please go here!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review (and Giveaway)

After finishing another Wilderness Navigation Course today for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch I decided it was finally time I post a review on the one piece of equipment I have carried in the mountains for over two decades. My compass, the Sunnto MC-2.

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Buy on Backcountry

The compass is the 2nd piece of equipment listed in the often referred to “Ten Essentials” and is a must for anyone heading to the mountains for a bit of adventure. A great gear list for hiking & backpacking can be found here on http://www.hikesafe.com

Since this piece of equipment is so important it’s wise to put a little thought into your choice. For the money, I have not found a more fully functional compass that can do as much as the Sunnto MC-2 anywhere, which is why I have happily replaced mine three times in the last 20 years when I misplaced (or loaned) it to someone and never got it back.

Without getting into the intricacies of accurate map & compass work I want to call out exactly what sets this compass apart in the field.

Sighting Mirror

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

How important is a sighting mirror? Depending on the range to your target the sighting mirror can play a significant role in accurate bearing reading. It allows you to hold the compass at eye level and arms length and still read the information given on the dial/bezel. Two “sights” are present, a higher “gun notch” and a level gap below the mirror, so you have better accuracy based on relative elevation to your target. I find I can get a bearing 3-4 degrees more accurately with this style than a regular “base-plate” type compass. In my lectures I compare the accuracy of this style compass to a rifle aimed from the shoulder vs. a pistol fired from the hip. A sighting mirror is more accurate hands down. It also has the added benefit of being an excellent signal mirror for search and rescue aircraft and allows me to easily put my prescription contacts in on multi-day trips!

Extended Baseplate

fullsizerender-2
Suunto MC-2 Review

While technically an off-shoot of the sighting mirror the fact that a fully opened Sunnto MC-2 can cover 7 inches across a map makes it really convenient for taking bearings and plotting location with known points (re-section & triangulation). These skills, when used with smaller base-plate compasses, often involve estimation, map folding, or the use of a straight edge to get an accurate reading. With the Sunnto MC-2 plotting on a map is simple.

Large clear dial

img_1701

The orienteering lines are highly visible under the bezel/dial, making accurate measurement possible from any north-south lines on the map or along the edge of the map.

Clinometer

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

A clinometer measures slope angle. This is extremely important for those travelling in avalanche terrain as a difference of 5 degrees of slope can often mean the difference between a slope being stable  or unstable. Savvy mountain travelers in avalanche terrain are constantly checking slope angle, and to do so accurately one needs a clinometer. The Sunnto MC-2 has one built in that can function on the slope like the photo above, or in conjunction with the sighting mirror while looking up or down a slope.

The above photo of me measuring slope angle was coincidentally taken moments before a human triggered size-able avalanche caught 5 people on Mount Washington. One of the people caught is just disappearing out of the safer area we where at before the incident occurred. My write up of this incident is here.

Adjustable Declination

The Sunnto MC-2, like many top tier compasses, allows one to set the magnetic declination for the area of operation. I am not going to dive into a detailed conversation on declination in a gear review but simply put this is a solid feature for a vast majority of recreationalists and mountain professionals. There are many professionals out there that feel it is almost required. Since I teach courses to people with various pre-owned compasses my personal opinion is if one truly wants to understand solid map & compass work one needs to be able to navigate with an adjustable or non-adjustable compass. That being said, the fact it is an option on this compass is win-win, I just choose not to use it.

Magnifying glass

A small feature, but helpful none-the-less! This feature really helps when decoding small print & icons on a faded map!

1:24k and 1:62500 scales

The Sunnto MC-2  has two distance scales along the side calibrated to the two most popular USGS map scales. Combined with the included lanyard it should be quite easy to accurate estimate distances on your maps.

In case you want some manufacture specifications here they are:

  • High grade steel needle with jewel bearing
  • Balanced for northern hemisphere
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • Liquid filled capsule for stable operation
  • Mirror for sighting bearings and signaling
  • Sighting hole and notch for accurate bearings
  • Non-luminescent bezel
  • Clinometer
  • Luminescent markings for working in low light
  • Metric scales and inch ruler
  • Baseplate with magnifying lens
  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard with wristlock. Easy to detach for working with the map
  • Suunto limited lifetime warranty
  • Made in Finland
Summary:
There is little improvement to suggest on such a well crafted piece of outdoor gear. For global travel Suunto does offer a slightly more expensive global version but for anyone staying in the northern hemisphere you can pick this compass up at a great price on Backcountry right here. Using that link will help support this blog and earn you karma and increased karma means less chance of getting lost*.
I’m giving a away a mint condition Suunto MC-2 through Rafflecopter! You can get up to five entries in the contest, just click the Rafflecopter link for details!

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Update 9/30/16: CONTEST OVER! Congrats to Charles D.!

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Buy on Backcountry

isclaimer: David Lottmann has bought this compass, more than once with his own money, because he thinks it’s the best damn compass out there. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.

*not getting lost depends on trip preparation, not karma, but ordering through those links can’t hurt

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

After finishing another Wilderness Navigation Course today for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch I decided it was finally time I post a review on the one piece of equipment I have carried in the mountains for over two decades. My compass, the Sunnto MC-2.

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Buy on Backcountry   Buy from EMS   Buy on Amazon

The compass is the 2nd piece of equipment listed in the often referred to “Ten Essentials” and is a must for anyone heading to the mountains for a bit of adventure. A great gear list for hiking & backpacking can be found here on http://www.hikesafe.com

Since this piece of equipment is so important it’s wise to put a little thought into your choice. For the money, I have not found a more fully functional compass that can do as much as the Sunnto MC-2 anywhere, which is why I have happily replaced mine three times in the last 20 years when I misplaced (or loaned) it to someone and never got it back.

Without getting into the intricacies of accurate map & compass work I want to call out exactly what sets this compass apart in the field.

Sighting Mirror

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

How important is a sighting mirror? Depending on the range to your target the sighting mirror can play a significant role in accurate bearing reading. It allows you to hold the compass at eye level and arms length and still read the information given on the dial/bezel. Two “sights” are present, a higher “gun notch” and a level gap below the mirror, so you have better accuracy based on relative elevation to your target. I find I can get a bearing 3-4 degrees more accurately with this style than a regular “base-plate” type compass. In my lectures I compare the accuracy of this style compass to a rifle aimed from the shoulder vs. a pistol fired from the hip. A sighting mirror is more accurate hands down. It also has the added benefit of being an excellent signal mirror for search and rescue aircraft and allows me to easily put my prescription contacts in on multi-day trips!

Extended Baseplate

fullsizerender-2
Suunto MC-2 Review

While technically an off-shoot of the sighting mirror the fact that a fully opened Sunnto MC-2 can cover 7 inches across a map makes it really convenient for taking bearings and plotting location with known points (re-section & triangulation). These skills, when used with smaller base-plate compasses, often involve estimation, map folding, or the use of a straight edge to get an accurate reading. With the Sunnto MC-2 plotting on a map is simple.

Large clear dial

img_1701

The orienteering lines are highly visible under the bezel/dial, making accurate measurement possible from any north-south lines on the map or along the edge of the map.

Clinometer

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

A clinometer measures slope angle. This is extremely important for those travelling in avalanche terrain as a difference of 5 degrees of slope can often mean the difference between a slope being stable  or unstable. Savvy mountain travelers in avalanche terrain are constantly checking slope angle, and to do so accurately one needs a clinometer. The Sunnto MC-2 has one built in that can function on the slope like the photo above, or in conjunction with the sighting mirror while looking up or down a slope.

The above photo of me measuring slope angle was coincidentally taken moments before a human triggered size-able avalanche caught 5 people on Mount Washington. One of the people caught is just disappearing out of the safer area we where at before the incident occurred. My write up of this incident is here.

Adjustable Declination

The Sunnto MC-2, like many top tier compasses, allows one to set the magnetic declination for the area of operation. I am not going to dive into a detailed conversation on declination in a gear review but simply put this is a solid feature for a vast majority of recreationalists and mountain professionals. There are many professionals out there that feel it is almost required. Since I teach courses to people with various pre-owned compasses my personal opinion is if one truly wants to understand solid map & compass work one needs to be able to navigate with an adjustable or non-adjustable compass. That being said, the fact it is an option on this compass is win-win, I just choose not to use it.

Buy on Backcountry   Buy from EMS   Buy on Amazon

Magnifying glass

A small feature, but helpful none-the-less! This feature really helps when decoding small print & icons on a faded map!

1:24k and 1:62500 scales

The Sunnto MC-2  has two distance scales along the side calibrated to the two most popular USGS map scales. Combined with the included lanyard it should be quite easy to accurate estimate distances on your maps.

In case you want some manufacture specifications here they are:

  • High grade steel needle with jewel bearing
  • Balanced for northern hemisphere
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • Liquid filled capsule for stable operation
  • Mirror for sighting bearings and signaling
  • Sighting hole and notch for accurate bearings
  • Non-luminescent bezel
  • Clinometer
  • Luminescent markings for working in low light
  • Metric scales and inch ruler
  • Baseplate with magnifying lens
  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard with wristlock. Easy to detach for working with the map
  • Suunto limited lifetime warranty
  • Made in Finland
Summary:
There is little improvement to suggest on such a well crafted piece of outdoor gear. For global travel Suunto does offer a slightly more expensive global version but for anyone staying in the northern hemisphere you can pick this compass up at a great price here:
Using theses link will help support this blog and earn you karma and increased karma means less chance of getting lost*.

Suunto MC-2 Compass Review
Suunto MC-2 Compass Review

Interested in a comprehensive 8-hour course that covers map & compass along with survival “improvised” navigation? Go here.

Disclaimer: David Lottmann has bought this compass, more than once with his own money, because he thinks it’s the best damn compass out there. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.

*not getting lost depends on trip preparation, not karma, but ordering through those links can’t hurt!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Wilderness Navigation Course (8/20/16)

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Bushwhacking our way to Hurricane Mountain

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Chicken of the Woods

One we reached the first view point we stopped and practiced some terrain association, peak identification, and single point resection.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Taking a bearing
Wilderness Navigation Course
Using resection to pinpoint our location
Wilderness Navigation Course
Playing with my new Olloclip lens

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
I enjoy both hi-tech and low-tech navigational aids- Theodolite app on iPhone

Wilderness Navigation Course

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Getting ready to go off trail

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.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Our GPS track, made with the Garmin Fenix 3 HR

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.

Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass

Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass
Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN 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 FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links.