No! The Other Left!!!!

This is the post where I come clean and showcase some of my biggest navigation fubars.

Below are a selection of 8 of the best.

Hopefully, my mistakes will prove to be instructive and help prevent others from making the same ones.

They are in no particular order, though I will start with the most embarrassing first…

1. Using the wrong end of the needle!

Spot the error?

Spot the error? This photo is from one of my first ever walks!

The above photo shows a very basic classic error – one that I made during one of my first walks.

Can you see what it is?

Yup – I have aligned the compass needle 180 degrees out. Red is North and the compass should be aligned so that the red part of the needle is pointed toward the N.

This was an embarrassing mistake and one that I thought only noobies made.

However, on my last walk to Dartmoor – December 2013, I did allude to a navigation cock-up that I didn’t want to talk about on Day 2….

Well, here it is:

The grey track shows my actual walk. I used Chat Tor as the intercept point to get back on plan after my detour from the earlier ford. However, on leaving the Tor, I make the classic 180 degree mistake! This can be seen by my short walk North Eastward before I realise I'm headed the wrong way by 180 degrees! It was a subsequent compass check that discovered this error.

The grey track shows my actual walk. I used Chat Tor as the intercept point to get back on plan after my detour from the earlier ford. However, on leaving the Tor, I made the classic 180 degree compass needle mistake! This can be seen by my short walk North Eastward before I realise I’m headed the wrong way by 180 degrees! It was a subsequent compass check that discovered this error.

I left Chat Tor thinking I was headed the right way.

However, in foggy conditions I carry out many compass spot checks. On my first spot check I look down at the compass in disbelief! I couldn’t believe that the needle was 180 degrees out!

To make matters worse, there was a fell runner at Chat Tor itself. There was no way I was going to turn around and bump into him again, as that would result in me having some explaining to do πŸ™‚

Instead I dial in the correct bearing and take a wide detour around Chat Tor just out of visual range to save my embarrassment!

At this point I'm headed 180 degrees in the wrong direction, thanks to lining up the wrong end of the compass needle. I also suspect that this vegetation trail might have also convinced me I was headed the right way too!

The view as I’m headed 180 degrees in the wrong direction due to lining up the wrong end of the compass needle. I also suspect that this vegetation trail might have also convinced me I was headed the right way too!

2. Disbelief!

This was one of my first walks near Bristol. Here I can't believe that the route is actually going through a cricket pitch, so head Southward instead. This is in spite of my compass telling me otherwise! Newbies are especially prone to not believing their instruments and going with their 'gut feeling'. Unfortunately, most of the time your 'gut feeling' will be wrong! :)

This was one of my first walks near Bristol. Here I can’t believe that the route is actually going through a cricket pitch, so I head Southward instead. This is in spite of what my compass is telling me! Newbies are especially prone to not believing their instruments and going with their ‘gut feeling’. Unfortunately, most of the time your ‘gut feeling’ will be wrong! πŸ™‚

When I first started walking I had numerous occasions where I looked down at my compass, but ignored it, simply because I didn’t believe it!

The Cricket ground in question. 'There is no way my walk could be taking me through there! There has to be something wrong with my compass!!!'

The Cricket ground in question. ‘There is no way my walk could be taking me through there! There has to be something wrong with my compass!!!’

In the early days it took a few mistakes caused by ‘compass disbelief’ before I started actually trusting it!

That said, one should still check their compass directions to make sure they do make sense…

3. Contour Seduction!

Here I was headed Westward to get onto and cross Amicombe hill. Visibility was very poor, as a result I was using the hill contours to determine my direction of travel. In my mind I had to keep going upwards until I reached the top and then carry on Westward. In reality, I drifted Northward as my body sub-consiously aligned itself so that it was always going up hill! It was only an additional compass check that revealed that I was in fact facing 90 degrees in the wrong direction! This surprised me a lot! :)

Here I was headed Westward to get onto and across Amicombe hill. Visibility was very poor, as a result I was using the hill contours to determine my direction of travel. In my mind I had to keep going upwards until I reached the top of Amicombe Hill’s ridge-line and then carry on Westward. In reality, I drifted Northward as my body sub-consiously aligned itself so that it was always going up hill! It was only an additional compass check that revealed that I was in fact facing 90 degrees in the wrong direction! This surprised me a lot! πŸ™‚

This one is relatively complicated to explain. When things are very foggy, one tends to solely rely on contours and the compass. As a result one has an expectation as to what one will see in terms of hill slope on the ground.

In the above example I knew I had to get onto the ridge-line of Amicombe Hill. I also knew that to get there I had to keep climbing until I reached the top.

What I didn’t know was that my body was subconsciously realigning itself in the fog, such, that I was always climbing – as in my mind I had to keep climbing until I reached the top.

On the ground I'm headed up hill, but alas I had slowly veered Northward!

On the ground I’m headed up hill, but alas I had slowly veered Northward!

It was only a subsequent compass spot check at the ‘top of the hill’ that showed me I was in fact facing the wrong way by 90 degrees. To say I was shocked by this revelation was an understatement.

A subsequent compass check soon puts me right! This highlights the importance of doing regular compass checks in fog and actually believing what one's compass is telling you!

A subsequent compass check soon puts me right! This highlights the importance of doing regular compass checks in fog and actually believing what one’s compass is telling you!

What this episode does show, is the importance of continual compass readings in poor visibility and the importance of believing ones compass!

4. Complex Junctions – featuring Peer Pressure!

Here I believe that I'm at 'A' when in fact I am at 'B'. The result is that I incorrectly take a left turn. Complex junctions should be handled with caution!

Here I believe that I’m at ‘A’ when in fact I am at ‘B’. The result is that I incorrectly take a left turn. Complex junctions should be handled with caution!

It is very easy to get things wrong at a complex junction, especially where the trail isn’t always well defined.

I should have walked where the two people in the right of the shot are. I suspect that part of the reason I got my placement incorrect at this complex junction was due to the presence of people. I don't know if it's just me, but when there are people around, I don't tend to look at my map for as long as I need to...

I should have walked where the two people in the right of the photo are. I suspect that part of the reason I got my placement incorrect at this complex junction was due to the presence of people. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when there are people around, I don’t tend to look at my map for as long as I need to…

The Peer Pressure aspect might be something that is unique to me, but I thought I’d better mention it as it has happened to me on numerous occasions.

For some reason, when there are other people around, I tend to do my map reading way too quickly. It’s almost like I’m trying to send a message that ‘I know what I’m doing and I know precisely where to go’.

However, not taking one’s time at the map can be counter-productive and can lead to poor decision making!

I'm now on the wrong path. The gorge to my left should have given the game away. But I was oblivious to my plight for quite a long time. When I did discover where I was, I realised that I was on a parallel course anyways, so just kept going.

I’m now on the wrong path. The gorge to my left should have given the game away. But I was oblivious to my plight for quite a long time. When I did discover where I was, I realised that I was on a parallel course anyways, so just kept going.

5. Junction Assumptions!

The red arrow marks the Y junction in question. Looking at it, it is easy to see why I thought the main trail carried on Westward and that the Southern turnoff was another track entirely. As it happens the main trail turns Southward and it is another smaller trail that continues Westward. The photo shows a British 5p coin (these are small) to show just how tiny these map details are!

The red arrow marks the Y junction in question. Looking at it, it is easy to see why I thought the main trail carried on Westward and that the Southern turnoff was another track entirely. As it happens the main trail turns Southward and it is another smaller trail that continues Westward. The photo shows a British 5p coin (these are small) to show just how tiny these map details are!

It can be all too easy to make assumptions about a junction drawn on a map – especially with regard to Y-Junctions.

In this example I incorrectly assume that the main trail continues Westward. However, as it turned out this was not the case!

Here, I incorrectly think that all I need to do is stay on the main trail. However, on this Y junction, the main trail does not continue Westward as I thought it did. Instead it goes to the South, something not apparent on the map. The moral of the story is don't make assumptions about Y junctions!

Here, I incorrectly think that all I need to do is stay on the ‘main’ trail shown in red. However, on this Y junction, the main trail does not continue Westward. Instead it turns to the South, something not apparent on the map. The moral of the story is don’t make assumptions about Y junctions!

This is me getting back to the Y junction. It turns out that to carry on going West (to the left of the photo) I have to actually turn off the main trail. In my mind it was the main trail that continued Westward, so I had blindly followed it, without realising that it was headed Southward!

This is me getting back to the Y junction. In reality it turns out that to carry on going West (to the left of the photo) I have to actually turn off the main trail. In my mind it was the main trail that continued Westward, so I had blindly followed it, without realising that it was headed Southward!

6. Parallel Paths!

This map is taken from the latest OS map and is not the same as the one I used in the field. The map I used had a public trail where the blue line is. In the event, there was no public trail - it had been closed off. This resulted in me taking the first trail I found headed Southward and thinking that it was the right one. This was only my second walk, so I didn't notice all the map clues like, boundary walls, and electricity pylons...

This map is taken from the latest OS map and is not the same as the one I used in the field. The map I used had a public trail where the blue line is. In the event, there was no public trail – it had been closed off. This resulted in me taking the first trail I found headed Southward and thinking that it was the right one. This was only my second walk, so I didn’t notice all the other map clues like boundary walls, and electricity pylons…

This is supposed to be a common navigation error, but I have to confess that I have only one recorded instance of falling for this one and I do have extenuating circumstances πŸ™‚

In my defence, the trail I should have taken, no longer existed. This resulted in me taking a left turn on a parallel course.

This error was from a very early walk, where I was still developing my map reading skills. As a result I didn’t notice the map detail which would have provided me with everything I needed to precisely locate myself.

The field I found myself in after the wrong turn on the parallel course. Unbeknownst to me I almost walked right into a sleeping Deer! It was only when it woke and sprung into action that I actually saw it. I couldn't believe how close it was!

The field I found myself in after the wrong turn on the parallel course. Unbeknownst to me I almost walked right into a sleeping Deer! It was only when it woke up and sprung into action that I actually saw it. I couldn’t believe how close it was. One thing for sure, I had to check my underwear!

Although there were no markings at the end that I made the wrong turning, there was this sign posted at the other end of the field warning walkers that the public trail had been diverted. If only the farmers had put one of these signs at the other end too!

Although there were no markings at the end of the trail that I made the wrong turning, there was this sign posted at the other end warning walkers that it had been diverted. If only the farmers had put one of these signs at the other end too!

7. Fatigue – featuring map mis-location!

I get to Doctor Bridge (the red arrow on the right) and ask myself if I need to cross it. I look at the map, but in my fatigued state I misread it. I even knew within minutes that I had misread kit, but decided to press on regardless! Eventually I get to a bridge marked by the left hand red arrow, but this leads to only more trouble...

I get to Doctor Bridge (the red arrow on the right) and ask myself if I need to cross it. I look at the map, but in my fatigued state I misread it. I even knew within minutes that I had misread it, but decided to press on regardless! Eventually I get to a bridge marked by the left hand red arrow, but this leads to only more trouble…

For me personally, fatigue is one of the biggest factors that contribute to navigation errors creeping in. These days I try to be more self aware of this, but fatigue still catches me out.

When fatigued, one can make some really poor decisions. What seems blatantly obvious in the cold light of day, becomes acute befuddlement when suffering from fatigue.

This mistake occurred during one of the hottest days I have ever had to walk in. I think it was this heat that contributed to my fatigue and my poor judgement.

Doctor Bridge. *Dutifully checks map* - Arrives at wrong conclusion!

Doctor Bridge. *Dutifully checks map* – Arrives at wrong conclusion!

I find myself on the wrong side of the river due to my poor decision. I now have two plans. The first is to ford across at the earliest opportunity – but this never presents itself as the other bank has a barbed wire fence. The second plan is to keep heading Westward until I find a bridge to cross the river.

I do find a bridge, however….

Neither this bridge, nor the trail on the other side are on the map. I now think I'm at another bridge that is further to the West. In the cold light of day, it is obvious this cannot be the bridge as it is not a road bridge! However, when one is fatigued, it is all to easy to make such mistakes.

Neither this bridge, nor the trail on the other side of the bridge are on the map. I now think I’m at another bridge that is further to the West. In the cold light of day, it is obvious this cannot be the bridge that I think it is as it is not a road bridge! However, when one is fatigued, it is all to easy to make such mistakes.

I spent a long time at the above bridge trying to match what I could see with the map. In some respects this error also qualifies as a parallel path error.

The right hand arrow shows the bridge I crossed - it's not very obvious on the map at all. I thought I was where the left hand red arrow was - ie the obvious bridge. This was the bridge I thought I was headed toward. If I wasn't so fatigued, I would have counted the boundary walls to my right to determine my precise position. I spent a long time at the right hand arrow trying to match what I could see with what was on the map at the left hand arrow!

The right hand arrow shows the bridge I crossed – it’s not very obvious on the map at all. I thought I was where the left hand red arrow was – ie the obvious bridge. If I wasn’t so fatigued, I would have counted the boundary walls to my right to determine my precise position. But in my fatigued state I was walking at high speed with my head down – not good for navigation. I ended up spending a long time at the right hand arrow trying to match what I could actually see with what was on the map at the left hand arrow! Which is of course impossible!

The above example presented two issues, both made worse by fatigue. The bottom line is that when fatigued, take a break. Drink and eat something until you are back on the ball again.

In this particular case I was still not taking lunches with me, which resulted in fatigue creeping in during the afternoons. These days I always stop off for lunch at midday. This helps mitigate the onset of fatigue.

8. Map Folds!

I love paper maps. I much prefer to navigate with a paper map and compass as one gets very good situational awareness.

However, paper maps have one intrinsic ‘got-you’. Some of the details that you actually need to see on the map will inevitably be over a fold.

Consider the following two examples…

The horizontal red line represents the map fold. I could only see the part of the map above the line. Given that most of this day's route was Westward, I incorrectly think West-is-Best and ford the stream in the wrong direction to the West. Had I unfolded the map I would have realised that the ford was to the South. In the event the appearance of a clapper bridge as marked on the map alerted me to my predicament. This was further confirmed by the compass indicating that I was now travelling North West rather than to the West due to the curvature of the valley I was in.

The horizontal red line represents the map fold. I could only see the part of the map above the line. Given that most of this day’s route was Westward, I incorrectly think West-is-Best and ford the stream in the wrong direction to the West. Had I unfolded the map I would have realised that the ford was to the South. In the event the appearance of a clapper bridge as marked on the map alerted me to my predicament. This was further confirmed by the compass indicating that I was now travelling North West rather than to the West due to the curvature of the valley I was in.

'West is Best' - or so I had thought. As a result I ford in the wrong direction due to the fording point being out of sight on the map over a map fold.

‘West is Best’ – or so I had thought. As a result I ford in the wrong direction due to the fording point being out of sight on the map over a map fold.

*Alarm Bells* Clapper Bridge? Here? *Checks Compass* Whoops....

*Alarm Bells* Clapper Bridge? Here? *Checks Map and Compass* Whoops….

In this first example, it was pure laziness on my part. I knew I had to unfold the map to see the ford point, but I didn’t do it and paid the price!

In example 2 it is not as clear cut…

The lower arrow was where I actually was, the upper arrow is where I thought I was! The horizontal red line represents the map fold. I could only see everything above the red line. As a result I incorrectly believe that the only body of water in the area is Llyn Cwmorthin - hence the incorrect assumption as to where I thought I was!

The lower arrow is where I actually was, the upper arrow is where I thought I was! The horizontal red line represents the map fold. I could only see everything above the red line. As a result I incorrectly believe that the only body of water in the area is Llyn Cwmorthin – hence the incorrect assumption as to where I thought I was!

In the background is the Tanygrisiau Reservoir which I thought was Llyn Cwmorthin. This was due to the map fold completely hiding the Tanygrisiau Reservoir, which lead me to incorrectly believe that the only body of water nearby was Llyn Cwmorthin. This photo was taken after I realised my mistake and is essentially looking back toward the way I came.

In the background is the Tanygrisiau Reservoir which I thought was Llyn Cwmorthin. This was due to the map fold completely hiding the Tanygrisiau Reservoir, which lead me to incorrectly believe that the only body of water nearby was Llyn Cwmorthin. This photo was taken after I realised my mistake and is essentially looking back toward the way I came.

In this example I had no idea there was another body of water to the South. I was only alerted that something was wrong when the compass bearing of the lake didn’t make any sense!

Eventually it occurred to me to unfold the map. That’s when I sawΒ the Tanygrisiau Reservoir and realised exactly where I was.

I guess the moral of this particular story is always ensure that you have enough visible map around your chosen path!

Hopefully the navigation mistakes I have presented here will prove useful to others!

Laters

RobP

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About RobP

Got into backpacking in the spring of 2012. I started as a couch potato then made my way through walker, hiker and now backpacker! As you can see from below I have far too many hobbies! :)
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