Friday, May 21, 2010

More on navigating

A nice man on the PCT list described how the PCT is so easy to walk that you lose your place on the map. You can walk for tens or hundreds of miles without having to ever look at a map. His term for it is you "become situationally disconnected" from your progress on the map.

That's the best description of the experience I had trying to use maps on the PCT. I started to feel like maybe I didn't have any idea how to use maps anymore. I almost never had to look at the maps. So when I did, they were nearly useless because I had no idea where to begin looking for my location. I just couldn't figure the maps out. Even in the snowy Sierras when we had been using maps I felt like a map dunce.

As we neared Sonora Pass, my friends and I had been using a really nice Green Trail Map to find our way. It was very helpful as we traveled on top of snow. Soon we descended out of the snow into more forested realms. We followed the nice wide trail for a long time and did not look at the green trail map again.

The following morning, I set off ahead of everyone. I climbed into snow again and eventually I could not find my way. There was a post with directions but it was pointing the way I had just come and calling that North. My maps were useless because I had the little guide book maps. I never could figure those out. They are all out of order in the book and too small to be of much use. The description didn't help much because it mentioned a dirt road and I could see one but no way in hell was I going to risk my life trying to hike on it when it was covered in vertical snowfields.

All I knew was where North was and that there was an east-west road coming up. So over I go cross country down a large canyon. Eventually I find a trail. Eventually a lake. Faint foot prints. Then people. I knew by the time I saw the lake that I'd gone the wrong way but I figured out what lake it was by the shape so knew where I was. I found my way to the east-west road and back to my friends.

As an aside, at one point we were unsure of the direction, we were in deep forest and off trail due to looking for safe stream crossings and at that time, it was the guide book description that saved our butts. We found a dismantled bridge mentioned in the guide book described as one we would cross and from there deduced the way to where the bridge had been prior to its dismantling and found the trail again.

I believe it's good to have a lot of tools in your box. And when you are stupid, like perhaps I am, or when they fail to help you, then a great tool to have is to just not panic and use some horse sense. You are not guaranteed to die or be rescued just because you aren't following a path.

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