Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

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rlown
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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by rlown » Sun Apr 30, 2017 8:01 pm

one word: Fog.

Had it on Eagle lake once, Had LORAN at the time. worked flawlessly. GPS is more than "nice to have" on any boat. I've been stuck in the fog on San Pablo bay and the Montezuma slough. Have radar as well, but overkill for a kayak.








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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by SSSdave » Sun Apr 30, 2017 8:55 pm

December of 2015 loaded the Trimble Navigator GPS app onto my moto g cell phone with a $100 SDcard map set for the whole state of California including satellite views and land owenership. For the most part since the GPS app has just been a novelty I didn't really need to use. I have not brought it backpacking because the cell phone battery would only last a couple days at most and for timberline Sierra areas I backpack into it isn't necessary... during the day. However it is useful on day hikes. I always have a paper map and compass. Typically off trails, I am continually holding and looking at a paper topo after progressing short distances evaluating how what I see relates to the map, very focused. Over decades that has developed a much higher skill than for anyone that just checks a map occasionally while on routes. But as a photographer that ventures into a wide range of terrains, there are times when that is not enough.

For instance in dense redwood forests thick with understory shrubs on very common overcast days. Hard to tell compass directions and in the past would use a topo plus compass though a GPS tracking tool is superior. Cross country at dense mid forest elevations in some places of the Sierra can also be difficult. A good example is the route across the northern forest of Hoffman Mountain I made and then Giantbrookie repeated. Also I night hike a lot and in moonless conditions one may not even be able to see where a mountain slope starts 100 yards away as it may be just black in any direction. Even with a powerful 200 lumen flashlight, objects beyond a couple hundred feet become too dark. That is where my green 5mw laser used to be extremely useful. On trails at night one can tell where one is by how a trail turns and crosses identifiable features. However cross country at night or say early dawn to reach a sunrise tripod spot, much more difficult. And GPS solves all that. GPS was most valuable on a day hike I did during the Death Valley Superbloom in 2016 on a hike I did into Black Mountains badlands. Eroded badlands geologies may have some strange canyon formations with bizarrely narrow twisting ravines with splits that down inside one can see little. Read this adventure I had that I rate as the most difficult route I've ever done to a place no one goes to.

http://www.davidsenesac.com/2016_Trip_C ... -3x1v-text
Black Mountains badlands adventure

The most significant comment I have about GPS is for those with considerable off trail map skills if relying on GPS too often, one ought to expect one's skill at being able to understand where one is and the intense focus required just using a topographic map will diminish.

David
http://www.davidsenesac.com/2017_Trip_C ... les-0.html

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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by sambieni » Sun Apr 30, 2017 9:13 pm

I just returned today from taking REI Outdoors class on intro to backcountry navigation. I wanted to refresh my skills on compass navigation. Yes, the class accomplished that. But it was very, very basic and not tons of dialogue. What was shocking - I asked the guide a number of questions about navigating in fogged /cloud cover conditions in Sierras and the guide's answer to this and many other questions led to "check your coordinates" against the GPS. I had just finished telling him story how last summer, my GPS was my Iphone and I lost it. Earlier in the morning I mentioned how technology can fail, which was impetus for this class for me. He nodded, but didn't really push this line of thinking much at all. It was completely counter to what I expected from the training. Way too much highlighting of technology as a security blanket to assist w/ the map/compass guiding.

Definitely updated my compass skills, but really was surprised by the REI trainer .

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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by AlmostThere » Sun Apr 30, 2017 9:37 pm

No one in search and rescue will ever advocate relying exclusively on electronic devices for anything.
Endstop.

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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by sambieni » Mon May 01, 2017 9:00 am

Agreed. This was why I was shocked by the course trainer. He just kept falling back on GPS as a check even though the class was specifically for backcountry compass/map navigation. It was a real disappointment as was lack of survey by the school post-class to learn more about our experience and course correct/improve.

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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue May 02, 2017 9:24 pm

If you are already lost and the fog rolls in navigation with compass and map does not exactly solve the problem. All you can do is orient your map. But, the point is to be navigating regularly enough that when the fog rolls in, you know where you are and what direction you want to go. That you can do with a compass. Even then, there are problems. Years ago I was on a ridge and needed to drop into a specific drainage that I had been in before. Thick fog rolled in. From the same point there was another closeby drainage. I took a reading but still waited about half an hour until the fog thinned enough that I got a visual verification. I had oriented correctly, but was still skeptical. Often if a thick fog rolls in, the best thing is simply to stop until it clears.

Literally blindly following a compass bearing may just get you into more trouble. Which leads to another story. Eons ago ( late 1960's) a group of us (all experienced with navigation) were skiing into the hut for a winter climb of Longs Peak. Because we planned on staying in the hut, we brought no tents. Just as we got near, a white-out suddenly raged. After orienting to our destination, visibiliy remained zero so we decided to conserve what heat we had, dig in, huddle together and wait until the storm cleared. Come morning, the storm was over, and we awoke staring at the hut within 20 feet of of our bivouac site. And we did complete the climb the next day.

Regardless of the technology used to navigate, I am a big proponent of stopping when you are confused, lost, can't see, or whatever if you feel very uncertain. This could be an hours rest to recover your confidence, several hours rest that may even involve setting up a tent, or just finding the nearest campsite and call it a day.

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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by sambieni » Tue May 02, 2017 9:46 pm

Completely agree. I learned more about navigation - other than basic compass skills - on this forum than from Sunday's class. I knew that a true fog was not going to permit me to get a bearing and true direction. But I also assumed I would get some guidance on certain scenarios, etc. He just said, go check your GPS. Not helpful. No real critical thinking and how to anticipate things, etc.

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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by Jimr » Wed May 03, 2017 9:34 am

"we awoke staring at the hut within 20 feet of of our bivouac site"
Holy Crap! I can't even imagine what that would feel like. Twilight Zone?
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Re: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by maverick » Wed May 03, 2017 12:27 pm

Most important thing when lost, is to stay put, this is the case of heavy fog like WD mentioned, staying put till it clears is the safest alternative. Using an altimeter is not the most reliable either, those 40-50 feet differences can be dangerous over difficult terrain, especially when your visibility is less than 50 feet.

In the Sierra, even in forested sections, you will find some natural features to follow until you will be able to see a landmark by which you will be able to orient yourself by. One should have the experience to tell what direction they are traveling in, that is basic orientation 101, if not, they have no business going off trail.

The most difficult terrain to orient, IMO is in the desert, more specifically slot canyon country, where finding distinguishing landmarks are very difficult to find, if at all. It is more like a maze, you need to keep track of all your turns on the map, otherwise you can get lost really quick, and where consequences are much more dire (no water).

A lot of these skills can be practiced and perfected in our local parks, and until one hasn't really grasped these basic techniques of orientation, digital navigation should not be used, and even when it is used, it should be only as a back-up and not as the primary method of navigation, IMO.
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

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: Using digital maps/navigation in backcountry?

Post by giantbrookie » Wed May 03, 2017 6:52 pm

I still use paper maps.

As a somewhat off-topic aside, I teach geologic mapping and although we now have various platforms for digital mapping, my colleagues and I think that students need to learn to read topography (from a topo map) regardless of whether they can electronically locate or not, so we teach using paper maps even in their advanced field course (which I teach). I do, however, teach them to map on a mylar overlay over their paper map, which it a totally weather-proof system from which it is also easy to digitize the data (scan overlay, do electronic drafting of geologic data, then register over a digital or scanned base map). There is no question that there are advantages to a fully digital geo-mapping system, but I think it is best for those who have been pushed to visualize using the topo first.

I realize that digital topo maps are the same as having a paper one, so if one is using those alone it is the same as using a paper map in essence, but if they are fully digital most folks are relying more on where the GPS puts them and not paying much attention to reading the topo (or learning how to read topo). According for outdoorspeople, I think those starting off map reading should learn on a paper system if for no other reason than they are isolated from the crutch of relying on GPS for their x and y and they will learn the value of being able to understand topo. Needless to say, I think this learning aspect of things is relevant to safety in the backcountry.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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