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!
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:
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 🙂
Instead I dial in the correct bearing and take a wide detour around Chat Tor just out of visual range to save my embarrassment!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
It is very easy to get things wrong at a complex junction, especially where the trail isn’t always well defined.
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!
5. Junction Assumptions!
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!
6. Parallel Paths!
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 🙂
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.
7. Fatigue – featuring map mis-location!
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.
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….
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 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…
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…
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 saw 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!