How to stay found in the wilderness

There is no need to get lost when exploring new terrain in winter or summer

Students from Thompson Rivers University practise their wilderness route finding skills.

Students from Thompson Rivers University practise their wilderness route finding skills.

There is no need to get lost when exploring new terrain in winter or summer. Many folks prefer to go on a trip where the leader has been before. We default to their leadership and knowledge of the place. There are a variety of tools and techniques available to us if we want to explore on our own:

Guidebooks – Give us ideas and routes that are suggested by the author. The maps provided usually lack detail. Descriptions can be easy or hard to follow.

Maps – The NTS topographic maps are easy to find. The scale of 1:50,000 works well for self propelled travelers or sledders without a long approach trip. Our Visitor Centre in Clearwater has them, as does Universal Reproductions in Kamloops. You can also order them online.

Special info – Beta (“helpful information”) from your friends can be a real help as long as their information is accurate

Navigation Tools – We are usually pretty keen to use tools and techniques in the field. Here is an overview of what is available to us:

• Maps – Following you progress closely on the map can eliminate confusion later. Marking the parking lot and progress made from there with a pencil is a good trick. Cost $20.

• Compass – Tells you which direction magnetic north is. Your map is based on a grid that in this area is about 18 degrees west of magnetic north. Compasses for advanced users can be set to the current declination so you don’t have to worry about the difference between grid and magnetic north. Cost $60.

• Altimeter – Tells you your elevation in feet or meters. This information is valuable when traveling in mountain terrain and makes map reading much easier. Cost $200.

• GPS – A fantastic and accurate navigation tool that uses satellite technology to tell you your position when outside with a clear view of the sky. If you use one a great deal you might get lost without it. Bring extra batteries and avoid dropping your GPS! Cost $200-$600.

Some of these could be on your navigator’s Christmas list.

If you have a map, compass, watch, and a known starting point, you can use an ancient navigation technique called “Dead Reckoning.” To do this, you use your watch to measure travel time, a compass to know which direction you went, and you need to know your average pace on the trail or route. You can estimate how far you went and have a pretty good idea of where you got to. Most of us travel a marked hiking trail at three to five km/hr. Most of us gain 1,000 vertical feet in one hour. Add the distance and the vertical to make your own dead reckoning estimate.

– Stephen Ludwig is a CAA Professional Member and an ACMG Certified Ski Guide. This column sponsored by Snowy Mountain Alpine Tours and Chalets. See snowymountain.ca.