Summer is nearly upon us, so it’s time to talk about walking in the woods!
Everything will go well. Perfectly! You’ll have a great time!
Now to talk about the times when it doesn’t. We do a bit of preparation.
1. Plan your escape route. If you get lost, what will you do? An escape route is a direction that, no matter where you are on your hike, will take you to an unmissable boundary (e.g. a road, a river). If you always have an escape route planned, you can go bushwhacking.
A boundary is a long linear feature. If you aim in that general direction, even if you’re off by a point or two, you’ll still hit it, and you’ll know in general terms where you are and which way to head.
If I’m hiking around the Dixville Notch area, and I’m north of Rt 26 (east-west road, runs from Vermont to the coast of Maine), I know that if I head generally south, sooner or later I’ll hit route 26. On the other hand, if I head north, I may not find anything until I’m well into Canada. So south is my escape route.
Once you’ve decided on an escape route, how will you follow it?
A. Compass bearing. You do know how to use your compass, right?
B. Topographical feature. Is there a mountain peak you can always see?
C. Sun/moon relative to your body. Remember that the sun and the moon move.
D. Sounds (e.g. road noise)
way is the stream
2. Terrain Association. The night before your hike, while you’re looking at your topo map, visualize the terrain. Will you be going uphill? Downhill? Through a flat region? Along the side of a hill? (If so, will the slope go up to your right, or to your left?) Look for catching features (a road, a river, some other long and unmistakable feature that’s roughly perpendicular to your line of march) that will tell you if you’ve gone too far.
Know if you’ll be crossing streams. How many? Which way are they flowing? At what angle do they cross your path? Linear feature intersections are great aids to navigation. On a topo map, streams make little V-shapes where they cross the contour lines, and the V always points uphill (against the direction of flow).
3. Time. Know how long it should take you to reach significant features on your hike. If you have a good idea of how long it should take you to reach certain places (a river, a road, a saddle between two peaks), you may get an important early clue that you’re lost. (Determine your rate of hiking on flat terrain. Add 1 hour for each 600 meters of descent or 300 meters of ascent along your path.)
Before you head out, double-check your map’s scale. Is it in feet or meters? What is the contour interval?
Always take a whistle (I recommend a Fox 40) and more water than you think you need. It’s best to take a friend, too. Even if you are going with a friend, let someone (who cares) know where you’re going, when to expect you back, and what route you’re planning to take.