Oct 14 2008

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Land Navigation

Posted at 8:08 am under Blog Post

Every once in a while, I get this urge to wander aimlessly through the woods. Don’t get me wrong.  I like gliding along a well-worn trail as much as the next guy.  But sometimes I have to leave the trail and walk that ragged edge between knowing exactly where I am and being lost.  I find it quite instructive.

A second-class dirt road took me to a height of land where I could access the main spine of the Cold Hollow Mountains.  After parking my car in a logging yard, I followed a skidder trail halfway up the nearest mountain.  Then I followed an ATV trail to the summit.  On the south side of that summit, the ATV looped back towards the road and I had a choice to make: either follow the ATV trail where I didn’t want to go, or set forth into the trackless forest.  The next summit was about two miles south.  I checked my compass then stepped off the trail.

Hiking a trail is sweaty work; bushwhacking is harder.  I tramped through the woods, following a compass bearing due south, hoping to find a game trail along the way.  No such luck.  I followed a set of fresh moose tracks for a while but lost them in a wetland that suddenly cropped up.  It sprawled across the saddle between the summit I’d just hiked over and the one I was headed towards.  Wetlands aren’t easy to navigate, not even relatively small ones like this one.  I read the vegetation and muddled through it the best I could.  Then I started climbing the next mountain.  About ten minutes into the climb, I tagged a game trail following the remnants of a woods road that was at least half a century old.  It crept laterally up the side of the mountain, so I changed my compass bearing.  Yeah, land navigation is tricky that way.

I stopped for lunch halfway up the mountain, resting on a rocky outcropping that sported a fair view of Jay Peak and other mountains to the northeast.  My dog, Matika, helped me drink the better part of my two-liter water supply.  That and the dark clouds blowing in from the northwest forced my hand.  So after catching my breath, I headed back the way I’d come.

Every morning, the newspaper reminds me that a major financial crisis is still underway. What was a national problem is now a global one, and no one’s quite sure what to do about it.  Every pundit keeps to his or her philosophical traces, of course.  The liberals blame the current mess on evil corporations, and the conservatives blame the liberals for gumming up the free market system with their meddling.  Meanwhile, the average guy on the street wants to pin it all on a handful of greedy bastards.  Truth is, the global economy is a big, complex system and no one is really in control.  We want our fearless leaders to navigate us through this mess, but confidence sags when they slip back into the kind of partisan bickering that we’ve all heard before.  So we listen, wait rather impatiently, and hope they’ll come to their senses.

I missed a landmark on my way down the mountain and had to radically adjust my course in order to reach the saddle between the two summits.  It was a humbling experience, certainly, but at least I had sense enough to abandon the game trail I’d been following, admit my mistake, and change direction.  I was greatly relieved to tag the familiar wetland and slowly ascend the first summit.  I congratulated myself when finally I stepped onto the ATV trail.  Then I eased back to the parked car.

If my dog had used her keen sense of smell, I could have relied on her to find my way out of the woods.  But she was oblivious to her surroundings – too busy chasing chipmunks back and forth to even know how close we’d come to being lost.  It’s for the best that she remained oblivious.  I didn’t want to follow her anyway.  It’s better that I had to navigate on my own, thus keeping those skills up to snuff.  After all, you never know when you’ll suddenly find yourself off the familiar and well-worn trail.  This happens more often than any of us are willing to admit, and it’s never wise to rely too heavily on the aptitudes of others.

One response so far

One Response to “Land Navigation”

  1. Jimmy D.on 22 Oct 2008 at 12:33 am 1

    The fact is many people every year get lost in the wilderness, due to their lack of knowledge in LAND NAVIGATION skills. BUT, how does one improve on their LAND NAVIGATION skills.

    There are outdoor wilderness navigators of various skill levels out there that can use these lessons, to improve their skills and introduce others (beginners and those unfamiliar) into the world of Land Navigation.

    The lessons are FREE to download, informative, and can be used to teach yourself and others in the knowledge of “LAND NAVIGATION with MAP and LENSATIC COMPASS”. http://WWW.LANDNAVIGATION.ORG

    Very Respectfully,
    Jimmy D.