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Thread: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

  1. #1
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    Which LF photographers know how to get around in the woods w/o batteries?

    That is, locate point A and point B on a paper map & travel between them w/ a compass?

    If you hike the woods w/ your LF gear, do you think it’s an “important” skill anymore? Or is this just for “old-fashioned people” who distrust fancy electronics and like to think of themselves as true mountain men?

    (If you’re short on time, please find your way to the final dashed line below – just don’t get lost. )

    ― ― ― ― ―
    Out on the trail – or when traveling cross-country – I used to meet people all the time who used (or carried w/ them) a traditional compass and USGS quad map … or another topo map whose scale was no worse than, say, 1:64,000. Instantly, they could pinpoint their location on the map & orient it in relation to their physical surroundings; interpret elevation lines; even correct for “magnetic declination” – a significant 17 or 18 degrees (East) in my part of the world.

    Today – at least in my local woods – all this is a rare sight indeed. (And I mean both on the well-marked trail, and well off it.) Instead, it’s commonly no tool at all (and few recognizable orientation skills); or more rarely – but certainly growing more common all the time – a sophisticated piece of battery-driven gadgetry w/ an impressive (if abstract) knowledge about button pushing, satellite reception, useful applications, and available downloads.

    It’s one extreme or the other.

    My sense is that today’s most common perception is that map-and-compass orientation is unnecessarily difficult (or “primitive,” and prone to error), and that other electronic tools are unnecessarily expensive. “Besides,” these people ask, “aren’t trails supposed to keep you from getting lost?”

    Steadily overtaking this perception is the one from hikers who do carry the sophisticated-and-usually-expensive gadget, and believe it’s absolutely necessary to maximize one’s safety in the woods. “Map and compass are better than nothing,” they say, “but why cut corners w/ old tools & manual skills when your personal safety is at stake?”

    (No comment about those who believe a cell phone or iphone is all you need in a pinch to get the search-and-rescue people on the move – that’s another thread.)

    ― ― ― ― ―
    Tell us – if you’re a photographer who explores deep into the land, what’s your view about keeping track of your whereabouts & ensuring that you can find your way back? If you can afford the latest technology and know how to use it, does familiarity w/ map and compass matter anymore?
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails compass.jpg  

  2. #2

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    Re: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    Yes, traditional navigation skills are becoming a lost art.

    Last time I was in the woods I was testing some prototype GPS equipment with USMC when, all of the sudden, batteries failed. We weren't planning on being out for long so we didn't even have a map. Good woodsmanship, however, got us back to base anyway. Who needs GPS? Who needs maps??

    In a separate incident I was showing some tourists how to get for here to there and pulled out a topo map. They were having difficulties learning to read the map because "there were so many lines that make the map confusing."

  3. #3

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    Re: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    I use a map and compass whenever I head into the backcountry and I do a lot of off trail bushwacking.

    With a little practice, a map and compass is easy to use and quite accurate. Lightweight, no batteries required, no issues with satellite reception. What more could you ask for?
    Never is always wrong; always is never right.

    www.LostManPhoto.com
    www.MarkStahlkePhotography.com

  4. #4
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: LF hikers ? is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    I might have said this before, but each year a young ranger friend of mine and I have a contest. We each bushwhack off trail in the high country, me using my instinct and experience of the lay of the land, and him using the GPS. The first two years I won easily, and actually had to prevent him from crossing over a cliff. Last
    year it was a tie, after about 8mi each of us coming within fifty yards of my parked
    truck. Another instance I was a couple thousand feet above a pass, slight above timberline, but could actually see the road several miles down. My 8x10 was set up
    aimed at a small lake. Some German tourist arrives, literally stumbling over rocks
    while he stares at his GPS. He sees me, "Where isssh the lake". "It's right in front
    of you, if you just look", I replied. It was. Then he snaps back, "How can yooo desecrate natttuuure like das, wis that biggg thinnng?", referring to my Ries tripod.
    So I replied, "Nice GPS, is that the model John Muir used?"

  5. #5
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    Re: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    I read about a couple of yuppies who called a ranger station and said that they were lost. They had a GPS, but didn't bring a map. After directions and repeated calls, the rangers finally told them to stay where they were, someone would come out for them shortly.

    I was in central Oregon with a friend of mine who is an amateur geologist, and is the author of three Gem Trails books. He wanted to see an old lake bed with fossils, near Christmas Valley. Well, off we go, with him following the maps in the back of a book. Finally after some back-and-forth over the same road, I decided to stop at a farmer's house and ask directions. Yes, my friend protested mightily, conjuring images of Deliverance. The first house we stopped at had an outdoor museum of pristine vintage farm tractors. Nobody was home. The next house we stopped at, the old farmer's first response was, "You have an old map!" He proceded to set us straight, and off we went. Of course we missed the fossils, but we did go through the Lost Forest, and then through Stauffer.

    Now, the interesting thing is, when I hauled out a GPS and got coordinates, my friend said, "That thing isn't right. It says we're here, but I know we're over here." (pointing at the map) (Later on I bought a GPS for him, put a lanyard on it, and named it "Albatross")

    When I go out, I have GPS, maps, compass, and those little plastic grid overlays. Yes, I think that it's important, just as important as carrying at least a gallon of drinking water. It can be easy to get lost if you aren't paying attention, but it's also easy to get yourself found, too.

  6. #6

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    Re: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    Love it when hikers batteries die in the GPS and cell phone.

    Remember trees always grow on the south side of moss. HA!
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

  7. #7
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: LF hikers ? is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    They carry a GPS but forget a sweater and raincoat. At least they'll know where they
    are when they go hypothermic. One of my most memorable trips is when I wandered off into the Wind Rivers for a week and never looked at my map once. I
    got deliberately lost. When it was time to turn around, I pulled the topos out of the
    bottom of the pack and headed back. Of course, with a geology background from
    back in the day, you were expected to know how to make a topo map, not just read
    one.

  8. #8
    Scott Walker's Avatar
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    Re: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    I use back country and topo maps with a compass but carry GPS as well and have to admit that I will even use goggle maps when available (within a serviced area) on my iphone, but, if all the above failed or were lost I would still have an excellent chance of finding my way back to where I started or where I was headed without much difficulty. Before I start out I already know my route and have considered all escape plans incase of an emergency. There is nothing wrong with using technology but if you have no idea what to do when the technology fails you are screwed. And it will fail, although I have never had my Garmin GPS fail while out in the bush, I have had the chart plotter on my boat fail twice. Like in the back country I have redundancy on the water as well, my iphone lives in a watertight bag and has Navionics charting software and charts as a backup and I have and know how to use paper charts. I have taken marine navigation courses as well as back country survival courses (although the survival courses were a while ago, pre GPS) and both were based on paper map and compass navigation and what to do if these failed. In the marine courses we were not taught to navigate with paper charts in case the chart plotter failed it was for when it failed.

    So to answer your question.....yes familiarity with a map and compass still matter very much

  9. #9
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: LF hikers ― is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    I hike off trail and climb alpine rock and snow routes. I bring a topo map if I'm unfamiliar with the terrain, but have never once needed a compas. Stopped bringing one years ago. I can see how they'd be useful if you were in an area prone to full whitout conditions, and if you were prepared not only by lots of practice but by having taken lots of accurate bearings on the way up. Maybe if I ever climb somewhere where these conditions are likely ...

    A gps would be a great timesaver in some situations. I'd hate to become completely dependent on it (or anything else that needs batteries or can be broken or lost). if i could afford one that weighed next to nothing I'd consider it.

    edited to add:
    if you go out in featureless terrain, or unbroken dense woods, I suppose you might be well served by a compas. In the mountains, though, there are visual landmarks that let you orient the map.

  10. #10
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: LF hikers ? is “Map & Compass” a dying art?

    One more story. My nephew was chosen for an expedition to an unexplored area of
    the Karakorum on the Chinese side of K2. Because the trip was funded by a GPS
    company as a publicity stunt, they were required by contract to use this for navigation, as well as satellite-transmitted digital camera images. Everything failed,
    and if they hadn't have resorted to old-fashioned skills, several of the sherpas would
    have become lost and died. They did manage to get some first ascents of peaks
    around 23,000 ft or so (without the electronics) and all did return alive. One member smuggled along a 35mm film camera as a backup and got sued. Sad,
    because the area was incredible, never seen before in history, and the only images
    which have survived are wretched printouts from satellite receptions transferred
    here (not exactly NASA technology).

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