Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Families in the Backcountry

Travel safely in the  backcountry with your family.  Start them early and start them with the right skills.

I wrote the following article a year ago for a local family news magazine in Bend, Oregon.

      My wife and I began our outdoor journeys over thirty years ago while in college.  So, it was natural that my children began their trips in the field at a very early age.  Our family continues to backpack and camp all around Oregon.  Though our children are now in college, we still find our trips memorable; it’s still “cool” to spend time together. 

      Central Oregonians are fortunate to be close to some of the finest forests and trails in the nation.  Our woodlands offer spectacular recreation opportunities and vistas, all at amazingly affordable rates.  Children find the outdoors a place to learn, explore, and let their imagination run wild.
For the complete post go here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

DeLorme inReach Update

Because of my interest with GPS training, rescue beacons and Search and Rescue I thought the August 2014 issue of GPS World had a definite connection to this blog.

Don’t know about you, but I am always a bit cautious about reading the many glowing product reviews on the web or in print.  I consider the sites such as, and as my honest brokers for related backcountry gear.

So, I thought it important to capture the essence of Tracy Cozzens' article Never Out Of Reach.

“Please call global rescue.  John broken arm, ribs, internal bleeding.  Fell 70ft crevasse.  Climbed out. Himlung Camp 2.  Please Hurry.”

This was the message sent via DeLorme’s inReach Explorer communicator sent from the Himalayas regarding the injuries received by a member of a research team.   

DeLorme’s unit allows users to send and receive 160 character text message while in the field and in this case in very remote locations.  “…the interactive SOS capability of the inReach automatically triggers remote tracking and allows users to communicate via text with responders at GEOS, Delorme’s partner for international 24/7 search-and-rescue monitoring” wrote Cozzens.

Cozzens concluded the article by stating “inReach communicates over the Iridium satellite network, providing global two-way satellite connection, high network reliability….anywhere on Earth with no gaps, fringe or weak signal areas.  inReach has the ability to maintain a satellite signal lock even in difficult GPS environments, such as in a steep canyon or under a heavy forest canopy, DeLorme said.”

In the spring of 2013 I wrote a product review for on an earlier Delorme unit; one that was paired to my smart phone.   It worked as advertised and DeLorme provided superb customer support to this technology challenged user.  You can read my evaluation at:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Plan Your Escape Route

Planning Your Escape Route
Alternative and escape routes - Once you have planned your route, plan and check out alternative routes that you may need to take in case of bad weather or if the going gets too much for some party members. In mountainous areas, it is essential to have two or three detailed escape routes should any situation or emergency arise.”

Over the last several years my Search and Rescue (SAR) team has participated in several  forest fires in Oregon.  The team has helped to coordinate the evacuation of small community neighborhoods and has worked with Forest Service staff to assist stranded hikers.  Getting these hikers out safely has been a priority.  Many hiking groups were met by local Ranger District staff well away from the fire to plan their exit.  Others self extracted.
Thankfully, there have been no personnel casualties.

As bad as this fires have been, there have been several lessons learned.  One has been to plan an escape route.  Develop the plan at home before hitting the trail.
The threat to the hiker ranges from fire, weather (snow, rain and wind) to a geologic event (earth quake).

When evaluating an escape route I recommend the hiker consider several elements. 
First, take a look at your topographic map and tail guides to determine potential escape routes.  Evaluate the terrain.  Are there barriers due to slope and vegetation?  This is especially true should the hiker need to “bush whack” cross country.  A conversation with a ranger can be invaluable.

Second, is the route achievable and realistic for you and your group?  Is your group fit, healthy and ready for such a hike?  

Third, are there sources of water along your route?  In some cases blue stream lines on a topographic map should be colored brown in the summer as stream beds dry up.

Forth, carry the right gear?  Does the day hiker have the ten essential in the pack?
Communicate your change of plans to friends and family.  Let that responsible person (designated to call 911 if you are late) know your plans too.

Don’t forget to fill out the trail permits when traveling in the backcountry.  These were invaluable to narrow down who was still in the backcountry.  In several cases, contact numbers were called to verify the safe return of a hiker.  Take this seriously.  One fellow used the Portland Airport designator (e.g., PDX) as the home address.  This was not helpful.

Friday, August 15, 2014

UTM Grid - Plotting Your Position On a Map

Recently I was skimming through an article in a respected journal about plotting a hiker's position on a map.  The article focused on using latitude and longitude to plot one's position.  Latitude and longitude has been the standard for backcountry travelers for years.

There is a simpler method that doesn't require a scaling template/tool called UTM Grid.   UTM is intuitive and straight forward.  Use it for a while and the hiker will quickly be able to "eye ball" a position on a map.  It is a natural compliment to a GPS receiver.

I like to keep my navigation simple.

It's a great coordinate system to introduce young folks to as well.

The following is a post that I wrote for Philip Werner at last spring.

Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) is a grid system that describes a person’s location in the backcountry.  It is wonderfully simple to understand and use because:

  1. It is intuitive -  it’s concepts can be understood quickly
  2. It can be easily self-taught
  3. Young hikers grasp this system easily
  4. A location on a map can be quickly determined. 
  5. It is a selection option for Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers
Because of its simplicity, UTM is quickly becoming the principal grid system for hikers, hunters and Search and Rescue (SAR) teams nationally.

To read the rest of the post go here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weather in The Backcountry

This post by follows other post found on this blog about the weather.  Philip takes a strong commonsense approach to monitoring and respecting the weather.

by Philip Werner

I saw someone write “I don’t let the weather determine when I hike” on a hiking message board recently, and it’s got to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. The weather in the White Mountains kills people all year round because people don’t take it seriously enough or understand the dangers it can pose.

The hikers at greatest risk are non-locals who don’t know how to find out the local weather or don’t understand the potential consequences of thunderstorms, getting struck by lightning above treeline, flash floods, high water crossings, wind chill, and hypothermia, and can’t grasp the difficulty of launching a rescue operation in the White Mountains if someone gets in trouble.

To read the rest of his post go here.

Wildland Fire

We simply have to be more careful.

from  Outsideonline

Hunter Charged with Starting Rim Fire

The third largest in California's history

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Garmin Updates

Update your Garmin GPS receiver.

Updates are available for Garmin receivers now for several units.  This includes the Monterra to 3.20, Montana to 6.10, Oregon to 4.10, GPSMap64 to 3.10 and eTrex to 3.90.