Attached is a story that a colleague of mine shared a while ago. While compass work and land navigation may seem out dated it can make a difference. This incident may not have turned life threatening, but it could have been serious and is a wonderful illustration of putting a perishable skill to good use.
“A few years ago my brother and I were hunting Elk in Idaho. We had not been to the area that we were preparing to hunt previously, so I marked the location of our parked truck on my GPS, and we started off to find some elk. On this cold, crisp late October day we were working our way up a canyon when it started to snow. There were already three or four inches on the ground but we looked at this as a positive. It is easier to track elk in snow. We worked over the top of a ridge and into some heavy trees where we thought that we might find some elk bedded down during the storm. We worked our way around the hillside under the cover of the trees. It was snowing harder now with large quarter sized flakes. We could not see the sun or across the canyon that we had worked our way into. We hunted across the hillside through the trees hoping to come upon some animals. We thought that we had come around the hill enough to be pointed back in the direction of our parked vehicle. I pulled out my GPS so that we could double check our position before we left the relative safety of the trees. We had lost signal due to the heavy snow and thick trees. I love maps. Always have. So I almost always have a map of the area that I plan on hunting or backpacking into and I try to carry it with me. I pulled out my map and compass. We oriented it to north and found that somehow in the trees and snow we had walked into another canyon without being aware of it. We were pointed in the wrong direction and needed to go over the top of the ridge to get back into the correct canyon. We traveled back to the correct canyon and again consulted the map and compass. We felt confident that we were in the correct canyon and started down the canyon to where we hoped the truck was waiting for us. When we got about half way down the canyon we came across an area that we had come through on the way up the canyon. Our footprints were not identifiable because of the amount of snow that had fallen. As we traveled closer to the truck the snow and clouds lifted somewhat and I was again able to received a GPS signal. To our relief we were in the correct location and not too far away from our transportation. We traveled back to the truck with no incident grateful that we were prepared to prevent what could have been a cold, wet night lost in the mountains. As we were driving home we talked about what would or could have happened if we had headed down the other canyon to find our vehicle. It would have been an eight to ten mile hike on a snow covered dirt road to get back to our truck. Thank goodness for an old fashioned map and compass.
Just a few items that I have learned from personal experience; cold drains batteries at an extremely fast rate. Whether it is a cell phone or GPS that normally can go for a day or maybe even two only lasts 4-6 hours. Always carry a headlamp with extra batteries. I cannot tell you how many times I have planned on having a short easy excursion turn into I don’t get back to the truck till after dark. I do not enjoy holding a flashlight in my mouth while I am carrying something or trying to accomplish a task in the dark. I find a $15 or $20 cheap energizer headlamp an awesome accessory. I would probably like a nicer, more expensive headlamp better but have never tried one.”
Large contour maps have been used by myself many times out of the military, especially when scouting out high adventure trips for the venture scouts which I have been affiliated with. I’ll post other articles, but learn how to orient a map and shoot azimuths and back azimuths if you don’t already. If you know the basics make sure to take the time for a little personal refresher training.
If you do get absolutely lost and you do not have a map or anyone looking for you, a great rule of thumb is to always go downhill, if you find a canyon or water follow it down hill; this will typically lead you so some form of civilization.