Map, Compass & GPS

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

HELP - A Message in the Sand

 The following is from the UK's GUARDIAN.

A desperate message written in sand has saved the life of a British tourist who vanished in the Australian outback after he made 'the stupidest decision of his life'.

Geoff Keys, 63, was stranded for two days in the Jardine National Park in far north Queensland, when the self-described explorer got himself lost when trying to reach an isolated part of the park.

Mr. Keys was barefoot, alone, without food and fearing for his life as he tried to retrace his steps and return to safety. However, the Briton wound up more than 12 kilometers from his camp and, in a moment of madness, tried to swim to the Eliot Falls.

The desperate message left by Geoff Keys, the British tourist who survived two days lost in the Australian outback
In an act of desperation, the 63-year-old from Kent, scratched an SOS message into the sand - hoping someone would spot it.

The carving read 'HELP 2807' and had an arrow pointing downstream to where Mr. Keys was resting. 

'It seemed a good idea to help myself as much as possible so I got out of the water, found a stick and wrote a message in the sand, just in case the helicopter came down that way,' Mr Keys said.

'HELP. 2807. –>. Help, today’s date and my direction of travel. I thought this would be enough to get any helicopter that saw it looking in the right place.'

To read the complete post of Mr. Key's ordeal go here. 

Navigation Term of the Month - True North

True north refers to the north pole; significantly different from the magnetic pole.  True north
is our principle geographic reference.  True North is located at the top center of the earth.  Topo graphic maps are laid out with a clear reference to true north.       

To keep my navigation simple I use a compass (Silva Ranger, Suunto M3) that can be adjusted to true north  and I set up my GPS receiver to report in degrees true.

This way I match my map with my compass and GPS receiver such that I am on the "same page" with all my navigation equipment.  

The difference between true north and magnetic north is called declination; it changes over time and it varies in relation to the hiker's location

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Taking Care o f Your Feet

Diane Spicer has written a fine post at SeattleBackpackers Magazine about key things the hikers should do about foot care.  It's a quick read.

"Every mode of transportation requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Why should a hiker’s feet be any different?
Let’s take a quick peek at the moving parts inside your hiking boots.
Soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) work together with bony tissues to create a flexible mobile weight bearing structure. Add lots of wrapping and binding materials (fascia and other connective tissues), plus miles of blood vessels and nerves. Cover it with waterproof stretchy skin. Throw in a few protective toenails, and you’ve got the biological device that carries you over hill and dale.
Just for fun, take a guess: How many foot bones do you possess?
26 bones/foot = 52, or 25% of all of the bones in your body!"

Foot Care

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Death at Yellowstone

The following is a post written by Keith Crowley about the death of a worker at Yellowstone park by a Grizzly bear and the subsequent killing of that bear.

Photo by Keith R.  Crowley.

Death of a Man. . . Death of a Bear
by  Keith R. Crowley
The Yellowstone Grizzly known as “Blaze” – May, 2014
Trying to make sense of last week’s fatal Grizzly bear attack on a hiker in Yellowstone National Park and its aftermath is a fool’s errand. But this fool is going to try anyway.
This kind of story wrenches its way deep into the psyche of all who spend time in the wilds. And it certainly wrenched its way deep into my soul since I spend months each year in Yellowstone and the surrounding Grizzly Country.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Navigation Term of the Month - Contour lines

Contour lines refer to the thin brown contour lines printed on a topographic map.


The thicker brown lines with numbers are index contour lines and identify the elevation above sea level anywhere along that line.  For example, the index contour labeled 550 is 550 feet above sea level  anywhere along that specific line.  The thinner lines are intermediate contour lines and very by the contour interval published in the map index on the map.  Contour lines close together (bottom right) are steep changes in elevation while lines spaced far apart (top left) represent fairly flat areas.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Orienting A Topographic Map

Orienting a map is a starting point to identify where I am, where I want to go and where I have been.

 I orient my topographic map (topo) before I leave the trail head and at regular intervals during a hike.

It is a process where I involve both map and compass.  Of course, orienting a map can be done without a compass and done visually.  I find using a compass takes just a tad more time and the more hands on time with the compass the better. 

Correctly orienting my map allows me to get “dialed in” to my surroundings.  It is a process where I align the map, compass and GPS to the terrain before me.

This orientation procedure is a great opportunity to involve young people in backcountry navigation.  Give them a quick review of topo basics and your plan before starting out.

A topo is your key to the backcountry.  It unlocks the critical information regarding sources of water, woodlands, trails, roads, grid information and elevation.  I use a US Geologic Survey (USGS) map at the scale of the map should be 1:24,000.  (National Geographic has superb topos of the National Parks and you may find quality maps of this scale of the area you will travel in.)  Quality outdoor, printing and mapping stores will have such a map available.  While you get comfortable with a hard copy paper map, experiment with map software ( or internet sites that offer free maps (  Aerial imagery such as Google Earth ( compliments the topo.

A great reference for navigating a topo is the book “Staying Found” by June Fleming.   It’s available at many bookstores and is likely at the local library.

Moving on to the compass, I recommend backcountry travelers use a declination adjustable compass such as the Brunton 8010G, Silva Ranger or a Suunto M2. Declination is the angular difference between true north and magnetic north.    A declination adjustable compass keeps things simple.  For example, a compass adjusted to degrees true will match the same orientation as the map; all in degrees true.







 Declination data can be found in the diagram at the bottom of the USGS topo, (on some commercially produced maps you really have to look for this information.)  I recommend that map declination information be verified at   This is essential in the Pacific Northwest where maps are notoriously out of date in terms of road, city and some trail data.


Using the manufacturer’s instructions, I adjust the compass for declination.  If your declination is east, observe the orienting arrow (on a Brunton 8010G) rotate in a clockwise direction (see picture below.)  If declination is westerly adjust counter clockwise.










To correctly orient my topo, I lay the baseplate (edge of the compass) on the border of the topo; below.  Use the map’s eastern or western border.  I then turn my body (while holding the map and compass) until the map points to true north; the red magnetic needle will be on top of the orienting arrow.  (Remember, maps are laid out in degrees true.) Now both the topo and compass will be oriented to true north.



















At this point, I evaluate the topographic features of the map and compare it to the terrain in front of me.  Identification of features such as buttes, mountains, waterways and the relationship between feature and map are very important.  I make a point to visually reconcile what I see with the map.

I do it two ways.

First, correlate from topo map to the terrain.  Using the Cascade Mountain range as an example, from the trail head I should see the South Sister summit to the northwest.  Second, correlate from terrain to the map.  An example would be to observe Broken Top to the north east and then determine if that observation matches the map.

If this relationship cannot be made then I delay forward movement.  I want to be as dialed in as the compass.  This can be difficult in bad weather with limited visibility.  In such a situation I’ll check my GPS, verify and plot my position on the map.  I may resort to dead reckoning as I proceed.  To be certain, I plot my position more frequently.  Further, I’ll identify large terrain features that will become my “backcountry handrails.”  (Handrails can include roads, railroad beds, ridgelines, power transmission lines and streams.)   If possible, I’ll talk to others on the trail to learn of their observations and recent experience.

I always try to preload map software loaded into my GPS receiver. I can compare this information with that of my map.  First, I’ll set-up my receiver to report compass information in degrees true; matching my topo and compass.  Now I compare my GPS to my map and terrain.

Now that you have oriented your map, compass and GPS you have completed an important first step in land navigation and are ready to head out.