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magneto
01-15-2014, 10:49
I just read another thread where someone asked if they should carry a compass when they hike. Others replied that they don't carry a compass or even maps, leaving the impression that such a thing is a smart thing to do.

So in addition to being a hiker, I am also a aircraft pilot. Travel in the backcountry can be as dangerous as flying, so how about we apply the rules of aviation to our hiking efforts?

There are two big ones pilots concern themselves with:

"14 CFR 91.13 Careless or reckless operation.


(a) Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another."

and

"14 CFR 91.103 Preflight action.


Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must includeŚ
(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;
(b) For any flight, runway lengths at airports of intended use, and the following takeoff and landing distance information:
(1) For civil aircraft for which an approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual containing takeoff and landing distance data is required, the takeoff and landing distance data contained therein; and
(2) For civil aircraft other than those specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, other reliable information appropriate to the aircraft, relating to aircraft performance under expected values of airport elevation and runway slope, aircraft gross weight, and wind and temperature."

So - common sense, right? If you head out to hike, is it too much to ask to be minimally prepared? If you don't carry a map, compass or other navigational tools, isn't that careless and reckless? What if you don't check the weather before you leave? What if you don't carry enough fuel for your body, or the proper clothing to protect yourself from the elements? Shouldn't you figure out your escape routes and alternate plans before you just heading out the door? If you hike on slopes with ice and snow without show shoes, crampons and ice axe, then what?

If you don't do these things, and then need a rescue, will there be any surprise if you are presented with a bill? What about people who look at the stories on these boards of how people got away with doing careless and reckless things, and then do them themselves, only to get hurt, maimed or killed?

What would you say about a pilot who took-off in an aircraft without doing at least what is mentioned in 91.103 above?

4eyedbuzzard
01-15-2014, 11:07
The biggest differences are that most hiking doesn't require a license, and the risk to the non-participating public is pretty much non-existent. That said, much of what you say is why several states have "irresponsible hiker" laws to recoup money for S&R, and to send the message that being unprepared puts S&R personnel at risk and costs other people money that should not have to be spent on irresponsible and/or reckless behavior.

Starchild
01-15-2014, 11:12
If you don't carry a map, compass or other navigational tools, isn't that careless and reckless?

Could it be? certainly. Is it always that? that is not so clear. Your comparison has merit but it is not linear, not a direct relationship between the two. Carrying over what you know from one and applying to the other has benefits but also has its limits.

People hike for different reasons and different conditions and with different skill sets, a map and compass in not always needed. Carrying such things is however a good guideline, but it is only a guideline, and their are even times where such equipment may be undesirable.

Odd Man Out
01-15-2014, 11:15
WRT the comparison between flying and hiking -- There are some parallels, as you observe, but there are also significant differences.

First the threat to others is quite different. If flying a plane in a reckless manner, you could collide with another plane, or someone on the ground and put your passengers at risk. Other than putting SAR personnel at risk, none of these really apply to hikers (I don't buy that being a bad influence on others is putting them at risk).

Second, flying is regulated due to these risks. You must have a license. There are agencies that dictate policies for operators and equipment. Such rules for hiking do not exist. There are certainly guidelines and best practices that should be followed, but these are neither universally agreed upon enforced by a governing body. There are those who say you should never hike alone. If this were "enforced" then there would be precious few AT thru hikers. Other would have a long list of gear that should be carried to be prepared for every possible emergency. If this were "enforced" then we would be back to carrying 80 lb packs.

I'm not disagreeing with the notion that hikers should use common sense.

magneto
01-15-2014, 12:06
I once knew another guy who took off on a flight, in visual meteorological conditions (VMC), under visual flight rules (VFR). Though he was instrument rated, he did not bring his instrument charts with him on the flight because he didn't think he would need them. So when unexpected weather was encountered, he was forced file for an instrument clearance and operate under instrument flight rules (IFR) because he could no longer see the ground. When he neared his destination airport, he asked the approach controller to "confirm" the localizer frequency (the radio navaid that provides guidance for an instrument landing system (ILS) approach). The controller figured out what was going on and then he offered to "confirm" the tower frequency and minimum descent altitudes for the approach with the pilot. The tower was informed and that controller "confirmed" the missed approach procedure with the pilot, before he had to ask. He was able to complete the approach safely thereafter.

Did he "need" his charts? In this case, I guess not. But if he had had a radio failure, he would have been screwed.

Do you "need" to carry emergency gear when you hike? I guess not, if everything goes perfectly and you don't experience more than simple problems. You can just rely on other people you hope to meet along the trail, and ask to borrow their stuff!

magneto
01-15-2014, 12:10
As far as the compass thing goes, two years ago I was sitting eating lunch just below the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine on a sunny day in October. It was a nice day, but cold, about 25 degrees. A woman came along, a bit disoriented, head up the trail toward the headwall. She said asked "how much further is it to Pinkham Notch? I've been hiking for quite a while." She was headed the wrong way, away from Pinkham Notch. She had no compass and no map. If there was no one there to ask, would she have kept going the wrong way, until dark and cold then became an issue?

Slo-go'en
01-15-2014, 13:15
As far as the compass thing goes, two years ago I was sitting eating lunch just below the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine on a sunny day in October. It was a nice day, but cold, about 25 degrees. A woman came along, a bit disoriented, head up the trail toward the headwall. She said asked "how much further is it to Pinkham Notch? I've been hiking for quite a while." She was headed the wrong way, away from Pinkham Notch. She had no compass and no map. If there was no one there to ask, would she have kept going the wrong way, until dark and cold then became an issue?

I'm not sure a compass would have helped in that situation. Map maybe. Paying attention to the signs would have been the best thing to do. If you don't have a clue where you are to begin with, map and compass do no good as you don't have a starting reference point.

But the question which started this is "do you need a compass on the AT?" and for the AT that answer is no. The AT is the super highway of trails and it's really easy to follow. And with the way the trail twists and turns, you can often be going in any direction but north (or south) at any given time. Add to that the lack of any prominate land marks to take bearings on, a compass is actually pretty useless.

OTOH, if your out west in open country like on the CDT or PCT, you best have a compass and map.

BobTheBuilder
01-15-2014, 13:29
Nope - we don't need anybody else creating any more rules for anybody. We got plenty in this world already.

Namtrag
01-15-2014, 13:36
It's just common sense to carry a compass and a map. This reminds me of the thread where the guy says the trail in VT is open in April, so don't tell him not to hike in the mud.

garlic08
01-15-2014, 13:49
Do you always operate an automobile with a map and compass? No--if you're in a familiar city, or on an interstate highway with excellent signage, you don't need either. Similarly, when I'm out hiking for a day or two in, say, a familiar regional, county or national park with many miles of intersecting, well-marked trails, I won't bring a map or compass. It may have been slightly reckless, but I hiked the AT without either. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else, but I made my own choice based on cost vs. benefit of the maps, the advice of other hikers I respect, and I took the risk.

On my CDT hike, I met an aviator at a campground, right after I'd finished a difficult off-trail section. He asked me about navigation. I showed him my map on which I had noted hourly times and positions throughout the day, along with a few compass bearings noted. He smiled, and said that's what his maps look like after a trip. It would have been nearly suicidal to hike the CDT without map and compass.

Hops53
01-15-2014, 13:56
then there are those that carry a map and compass and haven't a clue how to use them - carrying them won't help

winger
01-15-2014, 13:58
It's just common sense to carry a compass and a map. This reminds me of the thread where the guy says the trail in VT is open in April, so don't tell him not to hike in the mud.

Totally agree but common sense these days is as rare as home baked bread.

colorado_rob
01-15-2014, 14:08
Totally agree but common sense these days is as rare as home baked bread. Well, what is as common as store bought bread is self-righteousness. That's for sure.

magneto
01-15-2014, 14:44
The AT also goes over mountain peaks. Many mountains have more than one trail to the summit. Once on the summit, it is not always obvious which trail is the right one. If a summit is obscured, it might not be easy in which direction any particular trail lies. There was a famous accident on Mt. Lafayette in NH (which is on the AT) which involved a couple that took a trail in the opposite direction of that which they wanted to go. They became snowbound and one died. The rescuers found a compass at the bottom of the dead man's pack. A quick check of that compass would have told them they were going the wrong way and the death might not have occurred.

The back country is an unforgiving environment where even slight error can lead to death. The Whites of NH have the same environmental conditions of the Arctic. There can be cold weather and snow at all times of the year, including high summer. In fact, one of the most famous accidents on Mt. Washington occurred when two Appalachian Mountain Club members (Alan Ormsbee and William Curtis) froze to death in an ice storm in July, 1900. Their deaths lead to the eventual establishment of Lakes of the Clouds Hut. The AT currently runs right over this section.

How many posts have you seen here where people say "Oh - I'm sending all my cold weather stuff home", and then head into the Whites in summer? Some get through, no problem, and post how easy it was. They are blissfully ignorant of Curtis and Ormsbee.

No one would get on a plane and fly to the Arctic Circle to hike unprepared, but they will jump in a car and drive to the mountains of NH (which has the same climactic profile) and hike in sneakers, blue jeans and cotton shirts, probably because it is so easy to do so.

So it seems we will forever hear about people who are injured or killed for lack of simple tools like a compass in an unforgiving environment.

Son Driven
01-15-2014, 15:07
Do you always operate an automobile with a map and compass? No--if you're in a familiar city, or on an interstate highway with excellent signage, you don't need either. Similarly, when I'm out hiking for a day or two in, say, a familiar regional, county or national park with many miles of intersecting, well-marked trails, I won't bring a map or compass. It may have been slightly reckless, but I hiked the AT without either. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else, but I made my own choice based on cost vs. benefit of the maps, the advice of other hikers I respect, and I took the risk.

On my CDT hike, I met an aviator at a campground, right after I'd finished a difficult off-trail section. He asked me about navigation. I showed him my map on which I had noted hourly times and positions throughout the day, along with a few compass bearings noted. He smiled, and said that's what his maps look like after a trip. It would have been nearly suicidal to hike the CDT without map and compass.

I agree with your logic. After not referring to my compass in over 1,000 miles of trail, I left it in a hiker box. If I was doing night hiking I probably would of kept it since I think at night one may loose the white blazes, and find themselves on a unmarked trail.

While on the AT a hiker who was using a GPS so friends and family could follow his progress. His mother checked in on him and could see that he was heading the wrong direction. She called him to let him know he was heading the wrong way. He had to explain to his mom how the AT has switch backs, and often times the compass direction one is traveling is misleading.

Alleghanian Orogeny
01-15-2014, 15:15
I'm old-school. OK, I'm a dinosaur. Trained as a field geologist during the early 1970s, when a USGS 7.5' topo and a Brunton Pocket Transit were the standard tools universally employed in the field to maintain map position and provide data plotting points for making geologic maps.

IMHO, the frequency in which people get themselves into mortal danger by blindly following a GPS suggestion is sufficient information to conclude no amount of carrying a compass and a map will help those not inclined to know how to use them. I would personally not dream of going afield without a compass and map, even on the AT. I politely disagree with those who suggest a compass is useless along the AT. When the canopy or fog blocks visibility away from the trail, taking a compass bearing on any topographic feature, be it a ravine's axis, a stream bed, the axis of the ridge line you're standing on, or several bearings on the trail itself (thereby plotting the exact twists and turns) can all allow a reasonably proficient user to locate himself on a map. Besides, sometimes folks need or want to bail out from the AT onto lesser trails or on a bushwhack. A compass and a map are much needed in such instances. Bottom line for me is "there is no complete substitute for a map, a compass, and the ability to use them".

AO

Starchild
01-15-2014, 16:11
Please remember magneto (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/member.php?35886-magneto) that your preflight rules are not 'common sense' in any sense of the definition but are actually the direct opposite of common sense. Common sense is of the individual (that which cooensides with the sense of the masses), but you don't need to have any common sense to follow the preflight rules, just the ability to follow orders. That was the point of the preflight rules, to eliminate the need for common sense (and have a accountable quantifiable standard).

Hiking and being in the back country is one of the few remaining places where the human spirit can be challenged on such a individual level - Hard and fast rules such as you must always carry a compass and map run against this basic need of humanity.

"Your papers (and compass) please"
"I was just following orders"
"HYOH"

fredmugs
01-15-2014, 16:14
Funny that you should mention pilots and navigating after this happened:

http://www.kansascity.com/2014/01/13/4749914/pilot-mistake-is-suspected.html

MDSection12
01-15-2014, 16:14
Where I hike, I know the trail and downhill will get you to a road quick. I don't bother with maps.

RCBear
01-15-2014, 16:42
I carry a compass but it's pretty tough anymore to get truly lost, certainly on the east coast.

4eyedbuzzard
01-15-2014, 17:00
I carry a compass but it's pretty tough anymore to get truly lost, certainly on the east coast.

I would disagree that you can't get lost in the east. There are certainly parts just off the AT in NH, and even more so ME, where you can get lost enough to die, especially if no one reports you missing.

Kaptain Kangaroo
01-15-2014, 17:02
A map & compass are like a first aid kit.......... you don't need them until you need them........ and then you really need them !

And also like a first aid kit, they are not very helpful if you don't know how to use them.


It always seems like people ask the wrong question. If you ask, "do you need a map & compass on the AT" the answer is No, you can navigate just fine without them. But possibly the correct question to ask is "Should I carry a map & compass ?" the answer really should be Yes...... they are a piece of safety gear that may be critical in an emergency.

Here's another way to think about it. If you asked a S&R person if they think you should carry a map & compass (and know how to use them), what would they say ?

garlic08
01-15-2014, 17:11
...If you ask, "do you need a map & compass on the AT" the answer is No, you can navigate just fine without them....

I agree with all you say. Another response to that question is, "If you have to ask, you probably need them." (But that's such a snarky reply.)

George
01-15-2014, 17:44
almost all of the spots to get confused on the AT are in congested areas: picnic grounds, parking lots, scenic viewing areas, etc

the map and compass mean squat

4shot
01-15-2014, 19:05
the map and compass mean squat
I think you can get lucky (and many do) and hike the AT without map and compass. But do you want to trust in luck? or yourself?

as an example, the day I left Palmerton it was 103*. It was a severe drought year ('10). On that ridge between Palmerton and Wind Gap the only water to be had was what was left there by trail angels. I had a map and detoured around that section, following a water source. another hiker climbed the ridge that day....and was evacuated off the trail by emergency rescue people with a case of heat stroke (which, you may or may not know, can be fatal). I just don't want to walk 20 miles in 100+ heat on a ridgeline in the hopes that someone else has left water. That's an insane gamble.Same way in the Bigelows when I went through them, water wasn't available. Springs that the locals said hadn't been dry in 30 years were. I left the trail then to find water as well. I also carried a water pump, which I typically don't do. guess what? everywhere I stopped and was getting water out of a mud puddle everyone who didn't need a pump was borrowing mine. The desire to save weight is leading to extremely bad decisions imo.

Can you hike the AT without map and compass? yes. can you drive I-75 without a seat belt? yes. should you? probably not. yes you might have gotten lucky on your hike but that doesn't mean the next hiker will.

Namtrag
01-15-2014, 19:38
You are in a flatter section of the trail in March, and you are really thirsty, so right at dusk you head east on a faint side trail another hiker told you of about a quarter mile for water, see a spring 100 feet off to the side, and head for it....before you are finished, it gets dark, unluckily it's a new moon and the canopy blocks a lot of the starlight. You wander around, but cannot find the trail, even with your headlamp. The next morning when you wake up, it is snowing its ass off, and you still can't see your hand in front of your face, and the temperature is dropping rapidly. You can't spot the little trail at all because it is covered by 6" of snow. Damn it, you were supposed to go into town this morning and resupply and you have very little to eat....You do know that if you head west, you will intersect the main trail, but you have no idea which way west is in the heavy snow, and you panic and wander around looking for it and get hopelessly lost. You think to yourself, I wish I had a compass.

I know, far fetched, but stranger things have happened.

Starchild
01-15-2014, 20:13
as an example, the day I left Palmerton it was 103*. It was a severe drought year ('10). On that ridge between Palmerton and Wind Gap the only water to be had was what was left there by trail angels.

* as is any other year, including 2013, year of continuous wetness. My source of water way yogi'ing from day hikers to make it to wind gap.

Dogwood
01-15-2014, 20:56
If you don't carry a map, compass or other navigational tools, isn't that careless and reckless?

Maybe. No Yes or No answer right for all people in all situations.

I defer to Strarchild's and Garlic's comments.

Backpacking is not the regulated airline industry.

AngryGerman
01-15-2014, 23:06
Please remember magneto (http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/member.php?35886-magneto) that your preflight rules are not 'common sense' in any sense of the definition but are actually the direct opposite of common sense. Common sense is of the individual (that which cooensides with the sense of the masses), but you don't need to have any common sense to follow the preflight rules, just the ability to follow orders. That was the point of the preflight rules, to eliminate the need for common sense (and have a accountable quantifiable standard).

Hiking and being in the back country is one of the few remaining places where the human spirit can be challenged on such a individual level - Hard and fast rules such as you must always carry a compass and map run against this basic need of humanity.

"Your papers (and compass) please"
"I was just following orders"
"HYOH"

Well said! I'll add...

Knowledge on many aspects of life can be utilized to understand navigation on the sea, in the air and on land. We often are too quick to forget that before the compass, man used astronomy, biology, horticulture, and all the other sciences to explore the world. Sure, folks would get lost, but how many knew to use the multitude of directional knowledge available to them, as does, how many know how to actually use a map and compass today??

On another note; said hikers batteries died on the GPS and smartphone, compass broke when their pack fell from the whatever, map got all wet in that last rainstorm and decided it was best for TP now; basically all modern land nav. tools deemed useless, do they get charged for S&R because they weren't knowledgeable in the art of pre-modern navigation or even basic survival? So when is it appropriate to charge one for a S&R?

fiddlehead
01-15-2014, 23:32
Nope - we don't need anybody else creating any more rules for anybody. We got plenty in this world already.

EXACTLY my thoughts Bob !

Wise Old Owl
01-15-2014, 23:58
I'm old-school. OK, I'm a dinosaur. Trained as a field geologist during the early 1970s, when a USGS 7.5' topo and a Brunton Pocket Transit were the standard tools universally employed in the field to maintain map position and provide data plotting points for making geologic maps.

IMHO, the frequency in which people get themselves into mortal danger by blindly following a GPS suggestion is sufficient information to conclude no amount of carrying a compass and a map will help those not inclined to know how to use them. I would personally not dream of going afield without a compass and map, even on the AT. I politely disagree with those who suggest a compass is useless along the AT. When the canopy or fog blocks visibility away from the trail, taking a compass bearing on any topographic feature, be it a ravine's axis, a stream bed, the axis of the ridge line you're standing on, or several bearings on the trail itself (thereby plotting the exact twists and turns) can all allow a reasonably proficient user to locate himself on a map. Besides, sometimes folks need or want to bail out from the AT onto lesser trails or on a bushwhack. A compass and a map are much needed in such instances. Bottom line for me is "there is no complete substitute for a map, a compass, and the ability to use them".

AO YES You are a dinosaur... You are smart enough to know old school and new school... shame on you for not embracing new tech... The AT is so over blazed in many sections you do not need a compass... Lone Wolf might agree.. there are three or four places where folks get confused... a compass or GPS might remove the doubt... Your choice 10 lbs of maps or 4 oz of smart phone or 7 oz of dedicated Gps? There are many threads to search here... grasp the pebble grasshopper. Serious - no disrespect please do a little more research or feel free to pm.... I am willing to help!




Well said! I'll add...

Knowledge on many aspects of life can be utilized to understand navigation on the sea, in the air and on land. We often are too quick to forget that before the compass, man used astronomy, biology, horticulture, and all the other sciences to explore the world. Sure, folks would get lost, but how many knew to use the multitude of directional knowledge available to them, as does, how many know how to actually use a map and compass today??

On another note; said hikers batteries died on the GPS and smartphone, compass broke when their pack fell from the whatever, map got all wet in that last rainstorm and decided it was best for TP now; basically all modern land nav. tools deemed useless, do they get charged for S&R because they weren't knowledgeable in the art of pre-modern navigation or even basic survival? So when is it appropriate to charge one for a S&R?

YUP which side of the tree grows the moss? a thinking owl wants to know......

LIhikers
01-16-2014, 00:38
As both a licensed pilot and licensed aircraft mechanic I can only respond to magneto by saying that I'm glad the government doesn't regulate hiking like it does aviation. That would take the fun out of it for sure.

rocketsocks
01-16-2014, 00:48
As both a licensed pilot and licensed aircraft mechanic I can only respond to magneto by saying that I'm glad the government doesn't regulate hiking like it does aviation. That would take the fun out of it for sure.
Yeah, pack inspection every 6 months.;)

now that said, I'm a map and compass guy.

magneto
01-16-2014, 07:20
Thanks everyone for the responses.

For the record, I do not want to abolish the Federal Aviation Regulations, nor do I want to see the creation of hiking regulations.

People should remain free to enter the back country, without regulation.

Alleghanian Orogeny
01-16-2014, 07:37
YES You are a dinosaur... You are smart enough to know old school and new school... shame on you for not embracing new tech... The AT is so over blazed in many sections you do not need a compass... Lone Wolf might agree.. there are three or four places where folks get confused... a compass or GPS might remove the doubt... Your choice 10 lbs of maps or 4 oz of smart phone or 7 oz of dedicated Gps? There are many threads to search here... grasp the pebble grasshopper. Serious - no disrespect please do a little more research or feel free to pm.... I am willing to help!





YUP which side of the tree grows the moss? a thinking owl wants to know......

WOO,

Thanks for your kind offer. I have a smartphone with GPS so I have no need to grasp any pebbles. If you'll take a moment to re-read my piece, you should see I have not suggested that a map and compass should be considered mandatory equipment subject to enforcement by Big Brother or his minions. I instead said I would not personally consider venturing afield without a map and compass. My hiking maps, by the way, fold up to a size smaller than a standard envelope, and carrying 1 at a time, covering dozens of miles of AT, means but a couple of ounces. A simple compass, such as my watchband features, weighs little. Far from 10 lbs between the two, for sure. Neither map nor compass require batteries or an FM radio signal. I choose to employ these tools because I am familiar with how to use them and because they rarely fail (local magnetic anomalies is about the only compass failure possible, outside of breaking it in a fall, etc, and the Trails Illustrated maps are coated and highly water-resistant). I fully understand many or most choose not to use the same gear I do. HYOH, right? But, that blind faith in smartphones and/or GPS, combined with ignorance of the world around them other than what they can see on a small screen, unfortunately costs some of them their lives when situations go sideways. Give Rita Chretien of Penticton, BC a call and ask her how she feels about blind reliance on GPS and not having maps along with her. I don't think she's interested in grasping any pebbles, either.

AO

rickb
01-16-2014, 10:10
Thanks everyone for the responses.

For the record, I do not want to abolish the Federal Aviation Regulations, nor do I want to see the creation of hiking regulations.

People should remain free to enter the back country, without regulation.

Seems like for pilots the norm is about increasing one's options.

One option that thru hikers rarely consider is making camp out of sight of the AT. This is not legal everywhere, but it is in others. In some wilderness areas, camping must be at least 200 feet from the trail. In others there may be times when you wish to be invisible for safety or other reasons.

To my way of thinking, having a compass could well increase your comfort level such that stealth camping 200' from the AT is not so terrifying for the average thru hiker.

magneto
01-16-2014, 11:17
Seems like for pilots the norm is about increasing one's options.

One option that thru hikers rarely consider is making camp out of sight of the AT. This is not legal everywhere, but it is in others. In some wilderness areas, camping must be at least 200 feet from the trail. In others there may be times when you wish to be invisible for safety or other reasons.

To my way of thinking, having a compass could well increase your comfort level such that stealth camping 200' from the AT is not so terrifying for the average thru hiker.

Agreed. Orienteering skills were part of my training before I got into aviation. I felt a home there, as navigation is the second most important thing an aviator does -- "aviate, navigate, communicate" is the order of priorities. Once in the air, we were trained to fend for ourselves, which is why many pilots are so fiercely self-reliant in other activities. I always like to know where I am, where I am going and how long it is going to take to get there. I also always like to know what my options are, should I encounter a change in circumstances. My habit is to consult my maps, check my compass heading and have some idea of how long it will take to hit landmarks like, rivers, lakes, trail intersections, etc. I also look at the contours and try to form a mental model of the landscape, so I have some idea of what to expect.

I started this thread because backcountry travel is more than just hiking. Unlike aviation, it is something anyone can do just by walking out the door. Like aviation, it can be incredibly dangerous even as it seems so peaceful. Hopefully people coming here and reading these threads are going to learn something which prevents them from starring in a story on the evening news or earning a Darwin award, as I have.

I am grateful to everyone who has posted on White Blaze - the education I received here has been fantastic.

magic_game03
01-16-2014, 11:18
7000+ miles of AT thru-hiking never carried a map or compass. 7000+ miles of PCT & CDT and never went map-less. No matter how much I try to get lost on the AT I just keep ending up in somebody's back yard with them trying to show me where I am on the map. Inevitability this is followed by somebody else trying to review the elevation profile with me… argh!

Namtrag
01-16-2014, 11:39
I know this is mainly an AT discussion, but it is incredible to me that people backpack in other areas without maps and/or compasses, or even GPS. On several occasions in Dolly Sods, we have had people come up and ask us where they are, and are they going in the right direction to get to X....unbelievable.

The Weasel
01-16-2014, 12:26
As a pilot, sailor and hiker as well as a car driver, I think all three recognize there are situations where some instruments and charts are necessary and some where they aren't, and even some where they are a waste of time. If it's daytime, and you're flying in uncontrolled (i.e. no air traffic control tower overseeing you) airspace, you can operate under Visual Flight Rules ("VFR"). Other times, instrument rules must be followed ("IFR"), such as nights. On the water, you need a compass and charts when you're on open water, but if you're canoeing down a popular river with dozens of others, you need neither. When I drive from home to work, I don't need a road map, and a compass would be distracting as well as useless; when I drive my Jeep in the unmarked desert, both are essential.

The Appalachian Trail, especially after snow stops, is marked better than interstates. Blazing is supposed to be such that you are never out of sight of at least one blaze either ahead or behind you. There's a pathway that is worn to dirt, and intersections are well marked by the incredibly helpful trail maintainers. You can hike the AT without any navigation skills or tools whatsoever, and I'm sure many do. That's not to say that if you go off-AT onto an unblazed trail, you shouldn't have a map, compass and whistle too. But it's pretty damn hard to get lost on the AT.

TW

Namtrag
01-16-2014, 12:51
I've been on a few sections where the blazes were few and far between and were faded almost to nonexistence. Our whole group of 6 hiked about a half mile off the trail on a side trail near Grayson Highlands just north of the overnight lot before we realized we were no longer on the AT. We backtracked and it was hard to spot the blazes on the real trail, but we eventually got back on track. In other places, I've seen blazes every 15-20 feet.

winger
01-16-2014, 14:33
I've been on a few sections where the blazes were few and far between and were faded almost to nonexistence. Our whole group of 6 hiked about a half mile off the trail on a side trail near Grayson Highlands just north of the overnight lot before we realized we were no longer on the AT. We backtracked and it was hard to spot the blazes on the real trail, but we eventually got back on track. In other places, I've seen blazes every 15-20 feet.


That particular area, "intersection", is especially confusing and you wouldn't have been the first to have gone the wrong way. The signs there need to be updated. Its a difficult area to place blazes because of the rhododendron and the boulders.

jeffmeh
01-16-2014, 17:21
IMHO, situational awareness is one's most important tool for hiking and for many of life's other endeavors. There are plenty of trails where it would be very difficult to get lost, and even if one did he would get out to a major trail or road fairly quickly without having to face dangerous conditions. For those, particularly if one is familiar with the area, a map and compass may not be needed.

On the other hand, if one is heading into the Smokies under threat of snow, and does not have a map showing other potential points of egress to get out quickly if conditions warrant, then that is pretty foolish. Same goes for parts of NH and ME any time of the year. The compass is a great tool if one knows how to use it, and it would be foolish not to have it if bushwhacking is likely to be part of the itinerary. It would also be foolish to stray too far from the trail without it, without doing something to discretely mark the route to follow it back.

So while I don't always carry a map and compass, there are situations where I would not be without them.

Theosus
01-16-2014, 17:26
Nope - we don't need anybody else creating any more rules for anybody. We got plenty in this world already.

"I'm not saying kill the stupid people. Lets remove a lot of warning labels and let evolution take over." - anonymous.

I always bring a map and compass, but thats because GPS fails and sometimes it comes in Handy. I remember hiking a trail not so long ago, coming to a funny intersection and having to get the map out. The GPS was useless, and even the directions I was given were useless (It was a hike published in a book), because trails change, signs disappear, and directions get confused.

rickb
01-16-2014, 19:49
My guess is that many of the people who say you can't get lost on the AT are the same ones who refuse to walk more than a few feet into the woods to deficate.

White blaze separation anxiety is rampant among thru hikers.

The Weasel
01-16-2014, 20:10
My guess is that many of the people who say you can't get lost on the AT are the same ones who refuse to walk more than a few feet into the woods to deficate.

White blaze separation anxiety is rampant among thru hikers.

You mean, leave the trail to "do it"? When did that start?

TW

The Weasel
01-16-2014, 20:12
Just remember: If Columbus had had a map and compass, he never would have discovered America. Getting lost is sometimes a good thing, and very underrated.

TW

cliffdiver
01-16-2014, 22:43
Doesn't everyone usually carry a smartphone these days? My phone has a compass, works like a champ. GPS- check. Have the entire AT map set and an AT guide app on there as well. Battery back-up and you're golden.

Namtrag
01-16-2014, 22:48
Oops you just dropped your phone off a cliff or into a creek.

fiddlehead
01-16-2014, 23:05
Oops you just dropped your phone off a cliff or into a creek.
My brother joined me for part of the PCT back in '96.
On our second day, he dropped his map into a huge snow gully and it blew down further.
He said; "oh well, you have another map, I'll just look at yours"
I said: "one of us is going down that gully to get that map, because it's more important than you think"
But then, the AT is well marked.

I love the ones who say the GPS is unreliable.
I wish you could've been there when we were in a whiteout, above treeline in the Pyrenees in '99 and you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you.
GPS's were fairly new and France used the Paris meridian at the time, so it took some figuring out, but we did, and luckily too as when the fog lifted, there was a cliff to our left, and the trail just below us to the right, just like the GPS figured.
Now, they have maps built in which makes it a whole lot easier.

I've also used the GPS on a cross country, no trail, above treeline in Nepal with 33,000 to 1 scale maps. (try to find THAT template)
But we were successful and summited Dhampus peak as was our goal.

Here, bushwhacking through the jungle, took me 6 years to go 80 miles (I live on an island in southern Thailand now), I can't imagine attempting what I did without a GPS. The maps here don't show more than the major roads and are 250,000/1 scale. Good luck with THAT!

Maps will be obsolete in another 20 years.

AngryGerman
01-16-2014, 23:17
YUP which side of the tree grows the moss? a thinking owl wants to know......

As the Wise Old Owl undoubtedly already knows...; nature says moss will grow on the side of the tree that sees the least amount of light and is the wettest. Here in the northern hemisphere that side would be the north side of the tree because the sun rises in the southern hemisphere. In areas that are well shaded, all sides of the tree will have moss on it and just maybe the north side will have just a bit more on it, but this would be my last sole method for directional finding because of that variable. I'd have to study the trees in the surrounding area and take an average here and still I'd not be willing to solely base my decision off of moss growth alone.

The Weasel
01-16-2014, 23:51
Oops you just dropped your phone off a cliff or into a creek.

Oops I just dropped your phone off a cliff or into a creek. (Ahhhh! Silence!!!):)

TW

WILLIAM HAYES
01-20-2014, 23:19
dont need a compass on the AT

SawnieRobertson
01-21-2014, 17:27
dont need a compass on the AT
Hey, hey! Look who just chimed in. This must be a good sign of recovery.