Your navigation skills suck. Oh yeah, and they are getting worse. Riding your GPS and counting on gadget wizardry is one dangerous way to roll in the backcountry. It is the equivalent of rock climber using a shoestring for a rope; it’s cool until you fall.
Make no mistake, I use the GPS heavily in the backcountry when we are running our trips. It provides great information about speed and distance. It’s super cool when the trail is buried beneath three feet of snow and the screen shows that you are, in fact standing above the trail.
Where I struggle with the GPS is a) its reliance on batteries which are heavy and burn out and b) reliance on the map maker to accurately draw the pink trail lines on my screen. And good lord these things are heavy. If we are attacked by a bear, I know what I can throw to stop the charge.
You see, back in the dark days when I was first trampling the dirt paths of central Arizona, we found our way around by USGS topo maps and Silva Ranger 15Ts. We had way finding skills pounded into us as rote. And I can’t count the number of times we were hopelessly lost. Your well being relies on your ability to find your way home.
But more than that, I always dug the elegance of the topography lines depicting ridges and canyons that surrounded us. The relief in locating the map’s blue rivulet on the earth and knowing that our thirst would be quenched. The topo map is indeed soul.
And then there is the history. I totally relate to the crusty old surveyors traipsing across the the hills and valleys with that silly black and white striped stick, measuring the elevation points. They must have been true hard-men. What a cool and useful job.
In our scout troop we spend a significant amount of time teaching the guys how to use map and compass. As part of their advancement, they are required to have a basic knowledge of how they work together.
This past summer in the Flat Tops Wilderness trusting the GPS got us lost. Ultimately the map and compass got us unlost. We were heading cross country looking to pick up the trail that would take us to a back country lake. When we found the trail, it did not show up on our GPS. So we used our gut instinct and headed right, down the trail looking for the lake’s turn off. After two miles, realizing we were not in the right place, we pulled out the map and compass to find our actual location on the map. Indeed, we had missed our turn off by about 100 feet. Had we used the map and compass to verify our location much earlier, we would have no doubt made it to our lake.
Thirty five years of backcountry travel and the map and compass still serve to get us unlost.