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How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

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

Postby rlown » Fri Mar 11, 2011 9:39 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 10:18 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 10:51 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.
Last edited by Cross Country on Sun Mar 13, 2011 8:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby oldranger » Fri Mar 11, 2011 11:06 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 11:23 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 11:27 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 2:25 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 2:53 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:
Image
mountain hiking is addictive:
I can quit anytime I want - I just choose not to want
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby maverick » Fri Mar 11, 2011 2:56 pm

I too fall under the category of having a natural route finding and navigation abilities.
It is like having a sixth sense, which is even more in tune when I am in the back country.
I have a compass, because of the mirror on it, but it has never been used.
I could see using it if caught in a white out or fog, then it could come in handy.
Never used a gps even though I have one at home, but have never taken it with me in
to the back country.
I do carry a topo map, but do not use it much for navigation, but for maybe identifying
distant peaks.
We are fortunate in the Sierra that there are enough peaks, rivers, and other landmarks
that make navigation fairly easy.
Now a place like Utah, where dessert, and especially slot canyons, and lack of any
landmarks in some areas would make for a more challenging place to navigate cross
country.
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Postby oldranger » Fri Mar 11, 2011 4:43 pm

Tomcat wrote
Often a shorter route has ended up taking longer due to scree or boulder hopping. I still use a map to check my terrain.


If going into new territory above timberline I now use google earth to scout and make sure I am not planning on going over miles of talus or I just pm maverick!

maverick wrote
I do carry a topo map, but do not use it much for navigation, but for maybe identifying
distant peaks.
We are fortunate in the Sierra that there are enough peaks, rivers, and other landmarks
that make navigation fairly easy.
Now a place like Utah, where dessert, and especially slot canyons, and lack of any
landmarks in some areas would make for a more challenging place to navigate cross
country.


Yes we are spoiled in the Sierra. The terrain is so dramatic that it is pretty easy to navigate if you pay attention. Back when I lived in Maine and now in the Oregon Cascades the thick forests and complex micro topography require a lot more attention to barely discernible squiggles (technical term!) on the map that correspond to slight gullies and ridges on the ground and when the sun don't shine a lot of attention to one's compass which I have never had to do in the Sierra.

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

Postby Timberline » Sat Mar 12, 2011 2:45 pm

Maps have always drawn my curiosity. As a kid, I collected National Geographic maps for a time. Later, after picking up and reading Starr's Guide and becoming seriously interested in the Sierra, my collections included topos of the high country even before I set foot in that terrain. After junior college, I worked on a survey crew for a county road department, where translating data from map to ground and back again became a daily activity. In my last 2-1/2 years of college as a forestry major, I had lots more training and use. The best experience of all, though, was leading a CFI crew for two summers in the Sierra, where the work involved locating and sampling data plots, all of them off trail, from a pinpoint on an aerial photograph. The Sierra was/is ideal for this kind of field orientation; with a photo "pair" and a stereo opticon, you could read the terrain clearly in 3-D. 'Course, we had to haul around some bulky equipment with our regular backpacking stuff, but Imagine being able to plan your route and track your progress from a visual perspective directly above your actual position, where you can see a clear image of the very rock or tree you are standing next to! This led to building a lot of confidence in x-c travel, 'cause it was so much fun. I've never hesitated to wander and explore off-trail ever since, including a 10-day march across the trail-less jungles of Costa Rica to find a mystical shaman's hidden village.
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby neil d » Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:51 pm

I also learned to read topos as an undergrad geologist. I could read maps before that, but time in the field really solidified the knowledge. I've never used a GPS, and I used to be indifferent towards the technology, but now I think they contribute mightily to people not being aware of their surroundings.
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