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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 East Side Hiker » Tue Mar 15, 2011 4:35 pm

It may seem simplistic, but it just takes time - thats all. Just keep looking at the landscape, and the map, and keep doing it, and it'll make sense eventually. I've gotten to the point where I can "see" the 3-d on the map. There's a way to slightly cross your eyes, and the 3-d will "pop" out.

But, the weird thing is that sometimes the lines on the map will be very close, and appear to make the landscape seem very steep; and other times the lines are not close, and give the appearance that its"flat," when its not. It can be decieving. So you just have to keep doing it, keep looking at the map, keep trying to form relationships between drainages and ridges and directions, and what you're actually seeing.

X country travel is by far the most exciting experience. But nothing beats going back tot he same places and learning the landscape.



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

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Mar 17, 2011 8:13 am

As far back as I can remember (4 years old or so), I was obsessed with maps. My favorite book was The Answer Book of Geography, which had a whole section explaining the different types of maps and how they attempt to depict the reality on the ground. I memorized all the map symbols and drew my own maps. When I went off to preschool the first time, I wasn't upset about leaving my mom...but I was upset about leaving my maps.

So by the time I started backpacking, reading topo maps was pretty much second nature for me. Along the way I learned through trial and error about just how much topography fits into the space between contours (amazing how much that can be), and all the other painful reminders that the map (as Korzybski says) is not the territory...but all those years of obsession with maps prepared me pretty well for the challenge.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby sparky » Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:37 am

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.


I get the feeling there is a good story there, possibly involving mind bending shaman brews :wink:
There is a million ways to be human, all are worthwhile.

True happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.
-Chuang Tzu.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby Timberline » Thu Mar 17, 2011 3:50 pm

Hey, sparky!
Well maybe not quite what you had in mind, but it was a memorable trek and a little spooky, too. The brews came at the end (like all good hikes, eh?) with a night of Carnaval in the Caribbean port city of Limon. PM me if you want to read the whole story. :D
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby maverick » Thu Mar 17, 2011 3:58 pm

Timberline wrote "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", "PM me if you want to read the whole story"
how about a TR, with pic's, in the "Beyond the Sierra Nevada" section.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby Timberline » Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:10 pm

I wish I could comply mav, but a) it was ages ago; b) I didn't carry a camera 'cause others in our party did, but they were the Olympus half-frame type, (and my companions promised, but never delivered copies of some of the photos they took #-o ). All I can offer is the narrative, and leave the rest to your imagination. . . . Anybody out there got a slide scanner that will convert half-frames to digital?
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby East Side Hiker » Fri Mar 18, 2011 4:37 pm

If you read Roper's book, its very interesting. Whether or not you know maps, you can get into trouble. In the old days, they didn't have maps, so every adventure was uncertain in respect to hopeful outcomes. Many trips failed in their objective. But you take time to attempt the goal. Back and forth, back and forth; over there, over the other way. Keep trying. Make sure you have enough food; or have any food at all.

Go north or south of a lake, east or west of a topographical feature... One can get into trouble or slide across an easy access. But one tries, and tries, and it may take a day to figure out how to get where one wants to go.

Thats why I advocate planning to add a few days onto a trip that is long term if you're going off trail or adventuring. Have fun. Wander. Check it all out. What more can you gain but to explore and look around. You might see a marmot; maybe an alpine columbinel; a sky pilot; some cool buckwheat. Be careful and safe. Rocks moving, go back. Meadow looming, go forth.

Going off trail (x-country) is the only way to travel in the Sierra. There's so much country. And thats why Muir called the Sierra the "gentil wilderness." Think about all the people who travelled the Sierra without maps for a 100 years before us without maps, trying to figure it out; and eventually mapping it out. They didn't concern them selves with maps. They were making the maps (well some of them - the sheepherders weren't).

Just do it and be safe. Read Roper. Think about rocks, ice fields, etc. Go slow and make time and try to achieve your goal safely.

I want to thank WD for the Roper advice. I never needed it in the past, but since she made me aware of it, its made my Sierra life much easier - cuz we get old... We get forgetfull.
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Re: How did you learn navigation/topo reading skills?

Postby SSSdave » Fri Mar 18, 2011 9:58 pm

An older thread here that explains some of what I do:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3090&p=32148&hilit=hoffman#p32148

To follow the route noted requires considerable topo skills. giantbrookie did a good job using it sometime later though I doubt many others could. My own topo map skills had a lot to do with a crosscountry habit I have of often continually viewing a map while leading routes. That is a certain way to improve ones map interpretation. I've noticed many carry maps and use them from time to time but for the most part leave them in their gear while hiking. Way way better to be using a topo while hiking. There are many experienced Sierra crosscountry hikers that can often efficiently roam across terrain without using a map. However in places, especially in glaciated areas, there are sometimes unpleasantly steep surprises beyond where one can see. Also evaluating the gradient of steep chutes visually from a distance is sometimes difficult. Many have foolishly blindly descended steeps only to find unseen higher gradient sections below they are not going to want to climb back out from. Novice Sierra peakbaggers are quick to learn that fault so as a group tend to pay attention to maps when they are tackling unknown routes. A topo can with more certainty show how steep something is.
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