Trip Report: Route-Finding 201

Posted by Michael Martin on

All right, so more of an after-action report.

(1) I think that it's pretty awesome that DC UL has the collective expertise to do a GPS-based route finding course. I don't know that *any* local group (or even company like REI) has taught such a thing. I think that the skills we were teaching were entirely what one needs to do a big trip involving off trail travel. Special thanks to Karan for teaching the homework assignments in the lead up, as good GPS work really requires preparation.

(2) Location. I'm not sure that we've found the ideal location to teach this. Roaring Plains is rather far away. I'm still convinced that we need a backcountry site, and Roaring Plains does qualify there. I also chose it because it's basically flat on the plateau, but plainly bushwhacking through the growth proved very challenging, tougher than would be ideal. Maybe the Big Run basin in southern Shenandoah would work better. It would be closer. (Yeah, I know about the bear issues just now.) Dolly Sods. I know Karan has some ideas.

(3) Bushwhacking in the Mid-Atlantic is always going to be tough. I'm glad all of Team Rocket survived what turned into an exceedingly difficult few hours. Poor Ace. I am a bit irritated with myself that I let the dogs go, as plainly summer conditions and dogs don't mix. I learned that lesson a few years ago with Will's dog, and somehow needed to re-learn it. Still, I haven't killed a dog, so that's good. On the upside, I saw a lot of good use of the tools--both GPS and compasses. I know that was true of the other groups as well. We finally extricated ourselves through luck and brute force.

(4) The pit of despair is located at 38*55.1138 N, 79*24.1287 W. Go there at your own risk.

(5) A smartphone with a GPS is a totally adequate tool. Anyone who says that "you can't navigate with a phone" doesn't know what they're talking about. But having the compass and a spare battery really helps.

(6) I'm going to let anyone who has paid for one of the route-finding courses re-take them free of charge.

Other thoughts?

John Callahan posted on

(5) Agree - I think in almost every way, the phone GPS apps are superior to the dedicated GPS units although I have the Garmin 62s with the God awful menu structure. The weak spot for the phone is battery life and power management. If I was heading somewhere very challenging, I would take my phone with GPX file and Backcountry Navigator, GPS unit, and of course map/compass. You can't beat redundancy! It also helps if you take your phone with you instead of leaving it in the car.

Michael Martin posted on

Agree. In Iceland, we actually carried two GPS units (one as a backup we never powered up), as well as compasses. Once you commit to relying on a tool, a redundant one is important.

Laura M posted on

Just for fun:

The Brush and Bushwhack Rating System

BW5! Everyone agrees?

Laura M posted on

(2) Location

How about your own article here?


Karan posted on

Laura - That would be a good location, but 1) its a long drive (5.5 hours) to get there and 2) from what I hear, there are a ton of stinging nettles in the summer there.

Karan posted on

Great report, Michael.

My thoughts:

(1) I also want to call out that everyone adapted to the technology fairly fast and swiftly. Great to see the interest everyone showed. Kudos!

(2) As you know, I was thinking of the Massanuttens, but then the terrain wouldn't be as flat as it is in Roaring Plains. There will be elevation gain in Massanuttens, its just a matter of minimizing that somehow. I'll continue to look into this.

(3) I will take the blame myself too about allowing dogs on this trip. I didn't really see that coming, but looking back, it seemed fairly obvious.

(4) Maybe have a competition next time that whoever goes there and comes back fastest (or

just comes back) gets a reward? haha, kidding.

(5), (6) Yes

I would love to hear from others if they have thoughts/suggestions on our assignments (both pre-trip and on-trip) or additional elements this course can have.

I also want to commend everyone's attitude towards the tough situations faced - I like to call it the DCUL attitude!

Michael Martin posted on

Laura, Hammersley and Cranberry are possibilities, but they are very far. I think, like Roaring Plains, they'd be more fun if you went in the early spring. I know Karan and Jimmy nixed a summer trip to Hammersley after a local told them there would be tons of nettle.

Roaring Plains had no nettle and no "trail hookers." For that, we can be thankful.

Brian posted on

#2 - I don't know what you guys covered, but having something with some elevation changes would be great for learning how to navigate through the backcountry. A straight line is often not the best route, so reading contour lines and being familiar enough with what they mean to actually ascend/descent/travers them and then determining how to get around a significant off trail elevation change would be a great skill, but maybe that's 300 level.

Michael Martin posted on

Yeah ... My thought was that we would bushwhack on a fairly flat area to practice many of the skills. There were no straight lines to speak of ... Land texture has an interesting effect, of course, because in some ways it simplifies navigation (you follow land forms), but in other ways, it complicates thing.