May 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm #1289430
@ryanLocale: Northern Rockies
Companion forum thread to:May 1, 2012 at 10:36 pm #1873373
@wandering_bobLocale: Oregon, USA
HE LIVES! (or someone is just using his admin log-in)
The rumors of his passing have been greatly exaggerated.
and you were worried RJ may have abandoned you/us……..May 1, 2012 at 10:52 pm #1873374
@lopezLocale: San Gabriel Valley
These are the kinds of articles that I would like to see more of on here. Good stuff.May 1, 2012 at 11:37 pm #1873386
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Here in Oz, when off-track in wild country, we are always watching for tracks made by wombats and wallabies. They have got us up or down through cliff lines on many occasions. (Translation: great was our joy to find those tracks!)
CheersMay 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm #1873387
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
What about the drop bears?
Maybe they don't leave tracks.
–B.G.–May 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm #1873390
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> What about the drop bears?
> Maybe they don't leave tracks.
Correct. They stay overhead.
CheersMay 2, 2012 at 4:58 am #1873415
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
In some cases, there is no real trail in the north east of the US. Up and down the hills can often be a matter of simply following the water to its source and finding the trail from there, often a cairn or blaze. Water couses can change, of course. Any cairns that were there were long ago washed away. Of course I *never* get lost. It's just an exploring jaunt else the wife would worry.
Good tips!May 2, 2012 at 5:23 am #1873420
Thanks Dave, good job. I agree that this is an instant classic. A ray of hope.May 2, 2012 at 10:59 am #1873564
@romandialLocale: packrafting NZ
Nice start. You have promise.
1) "Humans are predictable creatures, much more so for us their fellows than any other animal, and you, the route finder, should look for the patterns which come out of our routinized interaction with the landscape and use them to your advantage."
I actually find the opposite true. Modern "Man-trails" tend to be the least predictable and many times we have come across an ATV trail in AK and taken it, only to jump off later: our rule is when the trail's angle with your direction is > 90, jump off.
2) As for the requirement that ace map and compass geeks make good route finders — no. Navigation skills (map and compass) are not a sufficient nor necessary condition for route-finding artistry. So many Native/Aboriginal/First Nations people when shown a map have no idea of where tehy are or how to read it, but can find the best routes out there.
3) Suggestion: go mapless and learn how to really read the landscape without the crutch of other people's eyes.
4) Intuition and feel, in my experience, are more valuable than logic, when wandering wild landscapes, and when travelling in groups of "strangers" proof through travel is better than argument.
5) The best way to learn off trail travel in AK is with a bicycle. You will be severely punished for your errors and rewarded for your finds.
6) Learn to love to lead and fight for it by finding the best route and calling out "trail" when you do. You will learn more by travelling with someone of nearly your skill level, or maybe a little better, than by yourself or with people who know less than you do. Swinging leads with an equal partner is fastest and fun and best learning.
7) To learn what different animals really prefer, take time to travel parallel trails across country traveled by two or more (caribou vs sheep or bears vs moose).
8) Moving fast for some reason is more effective than puzzling slowly in brush on thin trails.
9) Learn that ridges, streams, walls, edges, have trails if animals are there.
10) Avoid west Patagonia, west NZ, and Tasmania: no animals and wicked bad brush
11) Animal trails are easy to find but the real skill comes in holding them.
12) There are really three levels: macro, meso, and micro scale rouetfinding. macro is where you're going today and a map is helpful as usually you'll be unable to see where you started at the end of the day. meso is where you're going in the next hour, maybe less, maybe more, what you can see ahead when you are looking up; micro scale is where you put your feet when your head is down. When you are fully skilled, you will find that you are always meso-scale routefinding and that looking ahead with your head up keeps you from having to look down.May 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm #1873599
@lopezLocale: San Gabriel Valley
Great info being shared here. I agree that many people rely too heavily on maps, compass and gadgets, while they neglect developing their good ol' know-how and instincts.
While were at it..
I find maps to be useful for general direction maybe, which is rarely needed where I hike. However on the micro level it's much more useful to know things like what various plants look like at a distance and which ones are more easily bushwacked, what a manageable scree slope looks like and which ones should be avoided, which granite knoll is likely to present a good view of this route before I commit to it, etc.
In my experience, asking other hikers about trail conditions or for directions is a risky business. I almost never ask folks anymore. Once in a great while you run into somebody out there that knows what they are talking about but generally they are the exception. To make matters worse, most people do not like saying "I dont know" and most people get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to help, so they feel strongly compelled to give you an answer, even when they arent quite sure.
Case in point: We are hiking up a popular trail which follows a river canyon up to a bridge. My friend and I notice the trail disappears and no footprints are visible any longer, so we must have gotten off trail. She opts to ask another fellow, but I decide instead to climb a small hill for a better vantage point. When she comes back she tells he has been here before and he says to follow the streambed straight up for one more mile to the bridge. Instead, I lead her up a steep scree slope to the trail high on the canyon wall where I could see that it had been wiped out by a debris fall. About a half mile further up, we can still see that poor guy bushwacking far below in the streambed as he turns around to try and find the trail where we must have gone. I can only assume he was too embarrassed to admit that he didnt know or that he really wanted to be helpful, and I can recall this sort of thing happening several times before.May 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm #1873615
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
I do what I can Roman. ;)
I've never even sat on an ATV, but I imagine their destinations and preferences are utterly obscure to critters on foot.May 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm #1873712
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Excellent article! I just want to add a couple of points:
When following an old USFS trail (at least in the western US), watch for blazes, which look like an upside down ! (exclamation point with the dot on top). Even if the blaze has healed, there will be a scar, usually a vertical line with a short line on top. There will be a blaze on each side of the trail facing those hiking the trail. If the trail is obscure, look at the blaze on the other side of the tree to see where it is facing. I've followed a number of abandoned trails that way.
One of my favorite navigation tricks is to turn around occasionally and look behind me. I especially do this at any fork in the trail. The trail looks different when you're on your way back out! Also, trail signs may be missing or vandalized (turned around).May 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm #1873721
@daviddrakeLocale: North Idaho
Bookmarked. Thanks for another great article, Dave.May 2, 2012 at 7:37 pm #1873769
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
No matter how well "consolidated" a snowpack may appear you need some avalanche training (not just "book larnin'") to safely cross the slopes.
Avalanches can occur at any time IF the history of teh snow is right.
Always check avalanche/snow reports or call avalanche centers to see if your proposed route is safe.
Just sayin'…May 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm #1874039
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Those are some very nice pictures of Wilderness trails, thanksMay 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm #1874137
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Thanks, Dave.May 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm #1874145
@bookLocale: Northern California
Thanks for an excellent article. I've twice followed coyote tracks for long distances on snow covered trails. Of course I was looking for cut logs and other confirming points; but in each instance the darn coyote proved to be on the trail the whole way. I was put on to this coyote trail-sniffing factoid by another hiker with similar experiences. It makes sense: the coyote wants to travel on the easiest route, unless it's hunting. (And yes, I understand how that last bit about hunting makes things more difficult!)May 3, 2012 at 7:33 pm #1874167
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Excellent article. Lots of very useful info and very well written. Thanks, Dave. Again.May 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm #1874201
@scfhomeLocale: Chocorua NH, USA
The green shading below timberline on many of the older maps can be quite helpful in determining location. Last year, I copied a portion of a USGS 7.5 minute map on an ink jet printer, and didn't realize until out there that the green shading was lost on the lower half of the map. Got way off track. This year, I'll just cut out the needed portion from the original map.
Cursed be those who decided that pretty slope shading on a topo was worth more than the timberline shading.
Wondering if anyone here has lately done the route of the old discontinued Mica Basin trail from Diamond Park up and around Little Agnes in the Zirkel wilderness.May 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm #1874206
Fantastic article. The photos and text work together extremely well and provide much useful info. Each of the pictures really is worth a thousand words!May 3, 2012 at 9:53 pm #1874207
@papabeerLocale: Gunnison Valley
One of the best articles I've read on BPL in the last few years. Roman and Dave – keep bringin' the wisdom.May 5, 2012 at 7:47 am #1874627
@sharaldsLocale: Gallatin Range
Dave, a tome worthy of joining the realm of future-classics in the BPL archives. My favorite line is, "Be prepared, plan accordingly, and accrue a body of experience in a more conservative fashion." Also, thanks for dating me by reminding me those saw marks I helped cut up on Howe Ridge were nearly a decade old.May 7, 2012 at 8:39 pm #1875438
@tarasbulbaLocale: Rocky Mountains
In addition to employing the "look ahead and look behind" method of route finding, I also look up. Many snags have distinctive shapes (broken out top, double top, etc) and are invaluable in staying on track during winter travel or when going cross-country.May 8, 2012 at 2:49 am #1875490
@johndnLocale: Matanuska Valley, Alaska
When the trail is sketchy or when following animal trails I find it counterproductive to focus on staying on the trail or finding the trail. Know where you want to end up in a couple hours and calculate where that is approximately in relation to where you are now. Constant evaluation of this develops some uncanny skills in this area.
Also look a ways ahead for places where the trail probably exists. Examples: passes, cols, easy stream crossings, channels around cliffs or intense brush. Chances are someone else or an animal used this and the trail probably crosses here.
Pay attention to lineations and wavey lines in the landscape. These can reflect rock structure, strata, faults, erosional and depositional patterns, and vegetation patterns on a grand or small scale. These are often the best routes and a trail might just be there. You might even find them a better route than the sketchy trail.
Know your local vegetation. An old growth forest is much easier going than brush in in many parts of the world. Alpine tundra plants like Alpine bear berry can be traversed much easier than wet tundra plants such as grasses and sedges, etc. You can spot patterns of these plants at quite a distance when you know what to look for.
You need to use trails to advantage, not be tied to them in backcountry.May 8, 2012 at 5:31 pm #1875674
@ktennessLocale: Sierra Nevadas
Very descriptive photos!
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