PDA

View Full Version : Bushwhacking 101



onestep
05-01-2006, 05:38 PM
While thumbing through my AMC White Mountain Guide (26th Edition), on pages 192 & 193 I came across the following that pertains to bushwhacking:

"Bartlett Haystack is a relatively easy bushwhack... available to experienced hikers who wish to begin to aquire the skills of off-trail navigation by map & compass."

"Climb roughly northwest to the crest of the peak's east ridge, then follow the ridgecrest to the summit. (Although a compass bearing is useful for confirmation of the proper direction, you should follow the ridgecrest, heading for the highest ground you can find rather than attempting to follow a precise compass bearing. This route illustrates one of the complexities of off-trail navigation in the Whites: in this case the mountain will lead you to its summit if you let it, while an attempt to folllow a precise bearing *on the ascent* can pull you off the ridgecrest and into steep, difficult terrain. The compass is essential to the off-trail navigator, but following a bearing is often more difficult than following a feature of terrain - a ridge or a brook, for example - using the compass to confirm the correct approximate direction.)"

Onestep

RoySwkr
05-01-2006, 06:03 PM
I didn't write that but I agree with it.

Hopefully the next paragraph said, "When starting down, be sure to check your compass to ensure you go down the correct side of the mountain, and check it again every time you have a route choice such as where a ridge splits."

TCD
05-01-2006, 06:25 PM
Yes that's good stuff, and I don't think it's specific to the whites.

I usually use terrain features predominantly for navigation in the adks, with the compass as a confirmatory tool.

Once you get good with the terrain, you can see the map in your mind's ye when you look at features, and you can travel a whole lot faster and more accurately.

I usually go up ridges (ascend by the steepest line) and down streams. Streams almost always converge on the way down (divergence is very very rare), and ridges almost always converge on the way up (again, divergence is very very rare).

forestgnome
05-01-2006, 09:17 PM
following a bearing is often more difficult than following a feature of terrain - a ridge or a brook, for example - using the compass to confirm the correct approximate direction

I also agree about not following a pesice bearing. My bushwacking adventures are probably different than most because a summit is never my destination. I'm usually just exploring the forest on the way down from a summit with a trail, so I weave around wherever my curiosity takes me. I just have to eventually end up at the truck. I know the general direction, and the sun is good enough for determining that.


BTW, found a moose skull on the eastern slopes of Mt Carragain. :)

Happy Trails!

thuja
05-03-2006, 12:14 PM
Yeah, it's curious that if you take an off-trail navigation "course" (such things do exist at least out here) they spend most of the time with the whole following bearings thing and no time on using terrain features and other directional cues. On all but the most featureless and gentlest terrain, following a bearing slavishly is a recipe for a stupid route.

The "how to" books have the same problem. I suspect it's because following a bearing is a nice little concrete technique which is easy to teach and explain, whereas following terrain relies much more on map reading, intuition, derived terrain sense, which is hard to impart.

DougPaul
05-03-2006, 01:01 PM
Yeah, it's curious that if you take an off-trail navigation "course" (such things do exist at least out here) they spend most of the time with the whole following bearings thing and no time on using terrain features and other directional cues. On all but the most featureless and gentlest terrain, following a bearing slavishly is a recipe for a stupid route.

The "how to" books have the same problem. I suspect it's because following a bearing is a nice little concrete technique which is easy to teach and explain, whereas following terrain relies much more on map reading, intuition, derived terrain sense, which is hard to impart.
Following a bearing is useful in featureless terrain.

It is also desireable to know how to do it for multi-modal navigation. Eg use a bearing for a short distance to pick up a feature, use bearings from features to locate oneself, use bearings to identify features, etc. I frequently use one method of navigation as my primary and simultaneously use other methods to verify that the primary has not gone astray.

Doug

bill bowden
05-04-2006, 12:26 PM
are not necessarily well-related. The introductory map and compass classes only rarely focus on climbing or descending trailless mountains and are far more closely focussed on "recovering the trail" or "finding the road" as safety/self rescue abilities for hikers.

Efficient off-trail hiking involves numerous other skills of which following a compass bearing is only one. At least one difficult bushwhack skill, finding and following a ridge while descending from a summit is made far easier by following a compass bearing and the challenging act of slabbing or crossing over a long ridge again focusses on the ability to follow a bearing.

Reading the terrain from the map and the ground around you and thus picking your route is a pretty advanced skill and I'm not sure where it is taught.

arghman
05-04-2006, 12:41 PM
I usually use terrain features predominantly for navigation in the adks, with the compass as a confirmatory tool.Interesting point. I had some semi-formal instruction on map/compass bushwhacking 2 wks ago. I found it interesting and useful, though a bit frustrating. I don't have much compass experience, but I have a lot of experience w/ map/terrain-reading & GPS use; my primary source of navigation is map/terrain-reading w/ occasional assists from GPS.

Compass seems nice/simple/reliable but seems to tend to restrict navigational ways of thinking to straight lines; I guess if you have lots of experience w/ compass, all this stuff is second nature, and a compass (and associated navigational techniques) becomes kind of another sensory organ.

One of the instructors had an altimeter, which seemed to be more useful than the compass on hilly ground (though useless in flat places).

sardog1
05-04-2006, 09:36 PM
Yeah, it's curious that if you take an off-trail navigation "course" (such things do exist at least out here) they spend most of the time with the whole following bearings thing and no time on using terrain features and other directional cues. On all but the most featureless and gentlest terrain, following a bearing slavishly is a recipe for a stupid route.

The "how to" books have the same problem. I suspect it's because following a bearing is a nice little concrete technique which is easy to teach and explain, whereas following terrain relies much more on map reading, intuition, derived terrain sense, which is hard to impart.

Um, not when I teach it. I pound on the map to my students. The compass has its place -- limited visibility, nighttime, thick flat woods, blah, blah, blah. As does an altimeter, more than many people understand. But if you don't focus close attention on the map and practice, practice, practice with it, some day you're gonna be off on that other side of the mountain. You know -- the one you didn't want to be on.

One of the great benefits of doing some orienteering courses is that it shows you immediately the unhappy consequences of not using the map information for all it's worth. It's a terrific tool for teaching navigation, and I recommend it to anybody with an itch to 'whack.

TCD
05-04-2006, 11:56 PM
And it should be pointed out that the whole map and terrain thing is a visual skill, and favors people who prefer to learn visually, as opposed to kinesthetically or auditorily.

Sardog is right on the money. The best way to get better is practice. Map and terrain always came really easily to me. My parents learned when I was 5 years old that they could silence me for hours in the car just by handing me the map! :)

But the way I got better at it was practice. You want to find a reason to practice, so it's fun. Join an orienteering club; decide you are going to look for seldom visited waterfalls; plan to visit little summits below 3000'. My avocation has been looking for new rock climbing cliffs. This passion has taken me all over the woods, to some of the nicest places (and I occasionally even find a cool new cliff!).

TCD

thuja
05-05-2006, 12:52 AM
But if you don't focus close attention on the map and practice, practice, practice with it, some day you're gonna be off on that other side of the mountain. You know -- the one you didn't want to be on.


Sheesh. You make it sound like work. Going to the gym or something. What's wrong with "practicing" by going on a bushwack? Learn by doing. It's hard to get lost, really, as opposed to "temporarily not knowing exactly where you are"

I think I agree with you about the centraility of the map as a tool, though. With a map you are god.
Not a completely omniscient god, though...