Map, Compass & GPS

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Climber Lost on Oregon's Middle Sister

In November I wrote a short post about the loss of Ben Newkirk after a fall from the Middle Sister mountain.

The Bend Bulletin wrote a lengthy article Sunday about the incident.

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

"Before his fatal fall near the summit of Middle Sister, a Bend man told his climbing partner he was “bonking” — dizzy and running out of energy.
Atop the 10,047-foot mountain in the dark close to 9:45 p.m. on Nov. 12, Benjamin “Ben” Newkirk, 39, and Ryan Burton, 25, — a pair of climbing buddies who took to the high country together almost every weekend — took a break so Newkirk could regain his bearings."
Visit the Bulletin's web site to read the complete article.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

GPS Waypoints

Managing your waypoints isn't hard to do. But a few simple step gets you on your way!

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I really like to keep my navigation simple.

Simplicity now makes life a lot easier when a potentially bad situation occurs or when someone in your party is injured.

Before leaving home I "dump the junk, " I get rid of those old, meaningless waypoints; like the ones saved two years agao.     At the trail head I'll reset the "trip computer" and clear/delte the track log (the bread crumb trail.)

On the trail I always verify that a waypoint has been saved. Verification is a simple step that has saved my bacon more than once.
Waypoint List. Outdoor Quest Image

When it's time to return to camp , there is nothing more unnerving to find that the waypoint you need isn't on your waypoint list. In the illustration to the right, the waypoint to "home" isn't there.

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It is easy to make this mistake. Perhaps after executing the waypoint function you hit the OK button or you selected another option without saving "home" to file/memory.

My recommendation is to verify by selecting/depressing the "find" button (Garmin) and then selecting "waypoints" to view the waypoint list (figure above.) If home appears you are ready to go.

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Another quick way to verify is to go to the "map page." First zoom in to about 800 feet or to a zoom setting where you can see waypoint names on the screen.

Verifying a waypoint will save you a lot of angst and worry later.

I recommend not using your GPS receiver as an electronic filing cabinet storing hundred of waypoints.  Keeping a handful is fine but save all the rest on your PC using free software.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Safety Selfie to Help In a Search

Alaska troopers are encouraging safety selfies for backcountry travelers.  Now this is a novel idea and good head work.

The idea is that safety selfies can be an important part of your trip planning.

Just in case you are not familiar with the term, a Selfie is defined by Wikipedia as:

“A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as FacebookInstagram, or Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm's length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self timer.”

I recommend coupling a selfie with a “Trip Plan” before heading into the backcountry.  A well written trip plan provides search teams the important details necessary to coordinate a search.

The hiker can make their own plan or use the one found on my web site:

Then at the trail head, a parked car, or next to a sign take a selfie that would help to further identify the start of a trip into the back country.  Email or text the image to family, friends or that person responsible for calling 911 should the hiker be late returning.

The following is a fine article by Alaska Despatch News writer Megan Edge.

"Alaska State Troopers are looking for your selfies -- those ubiquitous self-portraits, usually snapped with smart phone cameras, that make up countless Facebook profile pictures and online avatars.
But they don't want selfies snapped in bedrooms or bathrooms, in the privacy of your own home. They're suggesting Alaskans take a selfie right before heading out into the backcountry, as a way to account for their whereabouts."
Consider using pictures that leave now doubt about where you started such as the wilderness boundary sign shown at left.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


This is a great time to tune-up and practice with a GPS receiver.  There are several things the hiker can do before leaving home.   Here are a few recommendations to consider.


  • Dump those old AA batteries, put in new ones.  If you leave your GPS on all day in the
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    field expect to change the batteries nightly.  Consider using lithium AA’s, they last longer and work better in cold temperatures. 

  • “Match the map” with the receiver’s navigation selection options. Specifically, match the coordinate system (e.g., UTM or Latitude/Longitude) and map datum that are found on the map.  Consider shifting the receiver’s compass to degrees true.  Further, let’s have everyone in a hiking or hunting group use the same settings too; let’s all be on the same page.

  •  Keep you navigation simple.  It’s easier to work with a handful of waypoints rather than list of 300.  Dump the Junk - Delete the old waypoints, the ones you will never use again.  Log important waypoints (e.g., that lake side camp site) on your PC or in a notebook.  Visit or for a place to store waypoints.

  • Install maps on your GPS receiver.  Maps on the receiver are a natural complement to your paper field map.   Quality maps are available from and (free).

  • Adjust your map pages’ zoom setting to see what works best.  For general trail hiking I keep my zoom setting at 800 feet.  This setting allows me to view trails, water sources, roads and elevation contours.

  • Visit the manufacture’s web site to see if there are any firmware updates.  I do this every couple of months.

  • When batteries are replaced calibrate the electronic compass.


  • Verify that you are receiving enough satellite signals.  Check this on the satellite status screen.  Four satellites are the minimum.  Give older receivers the time to collect satellite data; don’t rush the navigation process.
  • Give key waypoints names.  When marking a waypoint enter names like “camp” and “truck.”  It’s easier and more meaningful to find “truck” in the list of waypoints than is waypoint 542; or was it 245.  

·        After marking a waypoint, verify that it has been saved to the receiver's memory by checking either the map page or in the waypoint file (select “where to” or “find.”)  If the waypoint is on the map or in the list of waypoints, the hiker is ready to go.  If the waypoint is not found, start over.

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When it’s time to return to a destination chose “Where To” or “Find” on your keypad or menu.  Select the waypoint from the list provided.  Press the “Page” button and rotate through the many displays to the “Compass” page.  A large red arrow should appear on the face of the compass pointing to the selected waypoint.  When on course to the destination the arrow points to the top center of the receiver.  Practice this specific process at home before heading to the field.

  • Navigation is a perishable skill.  I recommend that two weeks before an outing take the GPS receiver everywhere.  Add waypoints, delete waypoints and find a saved waypoint.  This process develops familiarization with the unit and allows the user to develop confidence with the receiver and personal ability.

  • Compliment GPS skills with a good review of map and compass fundamentals. Learn to back up electronic position fixing with bearing triangulation.   Worst case, a broken GPS becomes a paperweight for your map while afield.  For more information visit (click on “Post on Land Navigation.”)

·         When on the trail compare GPS position data with a map.  Compare what is presented electronically with what is on the map.

I suggest checking out Lawrence Letham’s book GPS Made Easy from the library.  This book compliments the owner’s manual.  An excellent reference for map and compass use is June Fleming’s Staying Found.

Taking a class can further enhance you GPS knowledge.  Classes are frequently offered through the local community college’s continuing education program or at local retailers such as  REI.

A map and compass always goes with me into the field.  I carry a Silva Ranger compass and get my maps from  (their maps are free.)

Have fun while building on your fundamental navigation skill sets.  Consider setting up a treasure hunt or a geocach for a family get together.  Make it fun, make it simple and explain that these skills could one day make a huge difference if the ever got lost in the woods. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Winter Fire Making Skills - Why Don't We Use Them.

Philip Werner at Section Hiker has a superb post about winter fire making skills.  His post focuses on why don't backcountry travelers make use of those skills.  Hmmmmm

"The latest issue of the Appalachia Journal arrived last night and I immediately turned to the Accidents Section to read the analysis of this autumn’s accident reports. Established in 1876, Appalachian is America’s longest running journal of mountaineering and conservation. Published quarterly, it’s known for its well written stories and essays, and its famous accident report section. Incidentally, I met the current editor, Christine Woodside, when we both volunteered as Samaritan care givers for a rescue on Mt Washington, a few years ago."

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Social Media Used to Find Injured Climber

Great story about a 911 dispatcher thinking outside the box.

CBS Sacramento Story.

Dispatcher Finds Injured Hiker On Facebook After 911 Call Cuts Out

LAKE BERRYESSA (CBS13) — A hiker critically injured in a 150-foot fall was found after a 911 call was disconnected thanks to Facebook.
The father and son were hiking on a remote trail when they had to call for help.
The California Highway Patrol in Sacramento got the 911 call from the 11-year-old saying he was rappelling with his father, and father had fallen and hit his head.
The call from young Jake cut out before he could tell them where his father fell. Firefighters had no idea where to go.

Compass Tips

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I recently read a post on another blog where the writer discussed always keeping a compass attached to the hiker’s body with a cord.

Not a bad idea.

My recommendation is to use a cord or even better a lanyard with a breakaway connector.  The last thing I’d want would be to have a length of para cord go tight if I stumbled or fell.

I don’t like gear swinging freely so if I didn’t have a shirt pocket the compass would go in a pant pocket.

I always carry a compass.  Regardless if I am/am not carrying a GPS receiver the compass goes with me; it’s a part of my “ten essential systems.”  For serious trips (e.g., off trail, overnight) I will carry a small back up compass.  Everyone in a group should carry a compass too.

Keep your compass away from metal objects.

Occasionally a bubble will become present in the compass dial assembly.  Small bubbles generally develop into bigger bubbles.  Contact the manufacturer to see what help the can be.  Worst case, get rid of it.

If the compass dial assembly develops a leak replace the unit.
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A map always accompanies a compass.  Check out free maps at

For more information on choosing a backup compass read my post on the topic.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What Is An Azimuth

An azimuth is the angular direction to an object.  Azimuths are described commonly in degree increments from either true, magnetic or grid north.

In the world of recreational navigation, GPS receiver operations and orienteering the use of the term “bearing” has become synonymous with azimuth.

Azimuth direction is measured from north clockwise in 360° increments. The point from which the azimuth originates is from the center of an imaginary circle.  This imaginary point is the operator.

Azimuth can be measured with a magnetic compass, a map and by rough estimation using the sun and North Star.

Azimuths can be expressed in degrees true and degrees magnetic.  Degrees true uses the north pole as the principle reference while degrees magnetic refers to reference from the magnetic pole.

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For more information on bearings and azimuth read Making Sense of The Declination Diagram.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Portland Oregonian newspaper's Jeff Baker puts the spotlight on Pacific Crest Trail. 

"The popularity of Cheryl Strayed's memoir"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" has led to increased awareness and use of the trail that runs from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon and California. There are more thru-hikers -- people who, like Strayed, attempt to hike the entire trail -- and more day and overnight users of this incredible national resource."

Wild is entertaining and it's a good movie.

Jeff Baker provides a nice over view.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Winter Hiking

Philip Werner at has a great post on backcountry hiking safety during the winter.

This is a great post to review before heading out.