How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills? | High Sierra Topix  

How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby Troutdog 59 » Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:58 am

Self trained as a teenager, but it likely didn't hurt just being around my dad in the outdoors. I don't recall reading topos with my dad, but we used county and forest service maps alot hunting and fishing and I'm sure that helped. Some of the early guidebooks I picked up had 15' topos and elevation profiles and it all just kinda of made sense. Lots of lines = steep, not so many, not so bad.

Like WD, my map reading and making increased in school as I majored in geology (appears to be a common trade on this board :) ). I hesitate to call myself a geologist here, as I have worked in groundwater for years and haven't done any hard rock work or mapping in ages. That said, I still review boring logs and cross sections. And now like GB said, I have been working the last 10 years or so on passing it down to my son (21) who seems to have picked it up well as far as visualizing what he is looking at on the map. Hes the map guy and route finder on his trips with his buds.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby oldranger » Fri Mar 11, 2011 7:03 am

self taught. Somehow I've always been able to navigate in the woods. Always getting into trouble as a kid by heading out on my own. I always knew where I was but for some reason my parents would get upset when I disappeared for 2 or 3 hours at a time. When I started backpacking as a kid the lines on the topo just came to life as real terrain. The concept of declination always made sense and never caused a problem when using a compass. Have so much experience using old 15 minute series maps that I still prefer them. I can sense just when the 80 ft. contours get too close for my comfort. I did find that they do not provide enough info for nw Yosemite as the area has a lot of rock faces that are not very high but create significant barricades to travel.

Russ, what is so hard about getting to Mattie? Did it when I was 15 with another kid. First 4 times I did it was up the canyon walls. Next 3 times was by the stock trail that cuts off the PCT about 1/2 way between Glen Aulin and Virginia Canyon.

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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby rlown » Fri Mar 11, 2011 8:39 am

there was nothing hard about getting to Mattie, and it was meant more as a game for those who haven't been there, but that ship has sailed now..
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby fishmonger » Fri Mar 11, 2011 9:18 am

self taught at a teen, updated when I was in the military where I quickly became the go-to guy for anything maps in the batallion. All that was pre-digital age.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby Cross Country » Fri Mar 11, 2011 9:51 am

The first year I backpacked the Sierra I was overwhelmed by two obvious facts. If you stick to trails you're only going to see a small fraction of the mountains. Going off trail is much much more of an exploring adventure than sticking to trails. I almost immediately started trying to make sense of topos. I also got some help from Lee Starke. The first time he let me lead the way off trail, I led the group (6) up a ridge on a 1 hour hike that took twice that long. The group was very unhappy with me. It wasn't my last serious mistake. I made at least two more because of overconfidence. It took many years, but like many here I developed an expertise.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby oldranger » Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:06 am

Learning by experience is pretty effective. I let my son choose routes quite a bit last summer. It cost me a few hundred feet of extra elevation gain but he didn't get lost and gained experience.

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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby gregw822 » Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:23 am

I found topo maps to be intuitive from the start. An altimeter, a topo map, pre-trip planning and common sense have served me well. I've never needed a compass, but I carry one (with instructions!), just in case. I have not given in to carrying a GPS.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby TahoeJeff » Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:27 am

I've been in the Land Surveying profession for 23 years, using the 7.5' quads since the beginning. We use them to locate section and quarter corners, benchmarks and property corners. If you can find a 2" iron pipe using a 7.5' map you can certainly find a lake. Those maps are still my go to.
I use LIBREMAP.ORG to download them for free as TIFF images.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby Jimr » Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:25 pm

I'm self-taught as well. Maps, from the beginning, I found intuitive and easy to read, plan and navigate. I spent many years scuba diving, so my compass skills were already fine tuned and it didn't take much to transfer those skills to map and terrain. I took a 13 year hiatus from backpacking to raise kids to a reasonable size, then took it up again a few years ago. With the internet, I quickly became amazed and consumed with the trip planning tools available at my fingertips. Once the trip comes, I find it rare to pull a map out, let alone a compass because I have the terrain and the big picture etched into permanent memory. I pulled them out twice last year between Desolation Lake and Lamarck Col. The first was to positively identify that I was on to hit Puppet Pass (Carol Col.) on a day hike into French Canyon and the second was above the highest of the Darwin Lakes to positively identify I was on to hit Lamarck Col. as I didn't want to walk from Sabrina Basin back to North Lake.

I'm obsessed with cross country above treeline, so route finding is just as important to the navigation as map reading and compass skills. I seem to have a knack for that as well.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby tomcat_rc » Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:53 pm

While some seem to be hardwired in for navigating, experience will certainly enhance your skills. Even before the days of GPS, I was able to look at a map and decide if I wanted to try a x-country route to reach my destination(or discover alternate). One thing the topo cannot tell you is what type of terrain you will encounter. Often a shorter route has ended up taking longer due to scree or boulder hopping. I still use a map to check my terrain. Rarely have I had a need for a compass although I do carry when traveling in unfamiliar territory. GPS is good for checking terrain location and "waypoints", but you need the skills of map reading to keep from getting in trouble. The internet is full of stories of techno junkies who rely solely on GPS and then find themselves waiting for help in some cliffed out area.

My girlfriend struggles with navigation, but she is getting better with experience. We still laugh about this picture:
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mountain hiking is addictive:
I can quit anytime I want - I just choose not to want
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