Author Topic: Macronavigation  (Read 3314 times)

captain paranoia

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« on: March 13, 2013, 06:29:34 PM »
I seem to find that my navigational errors are usually at the macro, rather than the micro level.

For instance, I was walking in the Roybridge area last week, and we set off for Creag Pitrie.  We got to the car park, and I headed off along an obvious 'track'.  And stopped about 20m later and turned around.  Then we wandered along the road for about 200m, looking for the bridge we knew should cross the River Spean.  Then figured we were going the wrong way, starting from the wrong car park...

At this point, I decided I should probably look at the map, and figure out where I actually was, where I was actually going, and work out a plan to get there...

This is not the first such macronavigation incident; there's the infamous 'this is the wrong reservoir' (Blackwater vs Loch Eilde Mor) incident, where effects of previous night's celebrations, use of Harvey's map in urban environment, and the fact that we were all bimbling along chatting meant we didn't even look at a map until we got to the 'wrong reservoir'.  Still, it was interesting, with such high winds that waves were blowing over the top and we turned back rather than even think about walking across the dam.

Once on the mountain itself, navigation was brainless, as you follow a landrover/quad bike track all the way up to the col between Creag Pitrie and Geal Charn (my mountain-biking friends loved it).  At which point, micronavigation kicked in, combined with my usual terrain association/looking at the ground in front of me and deciding which way is the best up/down...  Despite snow cover, freezing fog/low cloud giving about 50m visibility and howling winds, we headed off from a vaguish-point on a vague-ish bearing, only to encounter an obvious path as we worked our way to the summit, leaving the path where it became icy, and re-finding it again on our way.

Then, having got to the summit cairn and decided to retreat immediately, since Liz was having to crawl on hands and knees to stop being blown over, we fought our way back over the summit ridge and back down, again, on a vague-ish bearing, following likely-looking terrain.  Only to encounter our outward footprints...

Now, if someone asked me how I'd done that, I wouldn't have a clue.  There's something going on in my brain that is able to find 'the path', despite poor visibility and foul conditions that made it impossible to look at map or GPS.  But I don't know what it is, or what terrain clues I use to do this.

So, the macronavigation lesson here is obvious; look at the map when you start, find out where you are, where you're going, and how to get there...

The micronavigation lesson?  I have no idea...


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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2013, 08:12:30 PM »
Hi CP, your story makes me think of an ex-para with whom I used to do frequent hikes in the south of France. He navigated through the wooded mountains as if we were walking in the park. On several occasions we concluded "that he must have been born with a compass built in his brains". Personally I would not mind "suffering" from that characteristic :)

Lyle Brotherton

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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2013, 08:33:13 AM »
OK, as Tarantino says, time to fess up.

5 years ago this May, Stu Johnstone gave me a call to say that he was leading several groups in the glen and would I help him out, it was a corporate client and important he got it right. I had only ever led one other group of civvies before, which had proved to be a nightmare as it was like herding cats. However, Stu is a good mate, does loads for mountain rescue and I agreed. The night before I arrived at the great Inchcree Lodge, which is surrounded by spectacular lake and mountain scenery.

Stu briefed me that my party was a group of six, all fit with good hill walking skills and my task was to get them to summit the prominent cone of Sgorr na Ciche (Pap of Glencoe, an unmistakable landmark when driving along the A82 from Ballachulish) – a walk in the park, or it should be!

Fiona Poulter, a great mountain guide and member of the Ochills MRT, had lent me her Harvey’s as she was taking another group up the Ben and I drew a proposed route on it, using my chinagraph, estimated time and told the group we would leave at 0830hrs from the Lodge.

We drove thru Glencoe village to park just outside it and walked along the quiet road, over the bridge. We needed to turn off this road after 1.6km onto a path called the hydro road.

The group were a really interesting bunch of folk who handled media relations for some really big corporations and I was enjoying their company, when one of them asked if it was road all the way to the top. At this point I realised that I had walked them well over the 1.6km and missed the turning, when I told them that we had to turn back I could see that feeling of loss of confidence building inside them. As we walked back, I thought that for such a popular Graham, the path would be obvious, it was not. Again we overshot. One of the group asked a passing set of walkers where the path started and they pointed us in the right direction!

Once on this path it soon disappears and the approach to the Pap should be obvious, but a sinking cloud base obscured it from view and I now had to navigate seriously. It is a steep path and at certain points I went ahead to then assist the group, one by one, past difficult patches of it. The clag was continuing to come in and now I was starting to think that this outing had the potential for becoming an epic. There is a false summit blow the Pap, which we could see in breaks of the cloud and a short rock scramble is required up the East face to reach the summit. At the top the cloud was now beneath us and the views over Loch Leven, Loch Linnhe and back over to Bidean and the Mamores were spectacular.

We had lost time, initially due to my lack of concentration at the beginning and then the ascent had taken longer than I had planned, as the group had never scrambled before, so instead of lunching at the summit I decided we would stop on the west path down.

This path, as we descended became treacherous, as erosion has really been severe. In addition, we were in very thick clag and I decided to rope the group up. About 2 hours from our finish the we were again below the cloud and I brought out my magic potion, steak pies from The Howgate Bakery in Hawick, these have impressed everybody from Tom Baily to Ran Fiennes, and we sat drinking tea and taking in the view.

That evening, over several copious quantities of beer and wine and the brilliant food that sue cooks, the group told me that they had really enjoyed being pushed to their limit and what a great day they had all had – little did they know!

I have not work with Joe Public since and probably just as well

I think that it is all down to concentration CP, the mistakes that I made/make when navigating are always as a result of this.
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” - Plato


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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2013, 09:14:17 AM »
Glad it's not just me, then!  A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were walking in the Lakes, and we did a walk from Coniston up towards Lever's Water. From there were were going to head as far up the Old Man of Coniston as we could (no crampons and it was iced up the top, so we got as far as Low Water before making the sensible decision to not go further).  When we were on the early part of the walk, our route took us past the door of the Youth Hostel there (Coniston Coppermines). And the track forked - right was the correct direction and left wasn't.  My wife (who didn't have the map) said "I think it's this way", pointing left - it looked more established and slightly easier to walk. I just said "I think so" (I had the map and for some bizarre reason I didn't look to make sure - a simple check would have established it wasn't) and we went the wrong way.

As it turns out, the path we took had it's route restrictred by the water and other facilities at the side of it, so it pretty much ran parrallel with the correct one, but it could so easily have been a different story. Stupid and simple error, but it happens.
I don't know it all and when I think I do, I tend to find karma is just around the corner...

Lost Soul

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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2013, 11:21:40 AM »
I would agree with the lack of concentartion issue highlighted by Lyle.  And also add issues of over confidence.  In that you think you know the way.   Well of course I do I looked at the map before I started out and I am absolutely certain I remember the track forks left about here etc.  Done it so many times, walking and when driving - distracted by a companion or passanger.

Pete McK

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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2013, 12:36:49 PM »
I spent a long time planning a route into and over Beinn Iutheran Mhor and Carn Bhac, which involves a 5 mile walk in, before our trip up to Braemar in the Cairngorms, complete with escape routes and I had also programmed it into Emma’s Etrex, as backup. A crack of dawn start, five hours of driving and unpacking our rucksacks we both realised that the Etrexes were still on my desk at home – der  ::)

Still, map and compass worked well and kept our 'hand in' ;)

I think lack of concentration equates with putting your brain in gear first.

captain paranoia

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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2013, 01:07:53 PM »
> I think lack of concentration equates with putting your brain in gear first.

Agreed; it's been disengaging brain that has caused macronavigation issues.  Too busy chatting; following an obvious path without thinking about where it goes; thinking we're not 'on the hill' yet, so we don't need to navigate, etc.  Basically, not concentrating on the task in hand...

I'm more interested in exploring the things my brain seems to do when micronavigating; the things I don't know how it does them.  I know that I regularly stop and give a good look at the terrain, and pick what appears to be the 'right way', and that may be to look for the most solid ground, or the easiest terrain, or the most solid-looking snow, but I'm sure there are other navigation processes going on.

And no, I don't have an inbuilt compass; I'm not good at maintaining a sense of direction in woodland or towns, for instance, although I have a friend who is.  I do seem to do okay when I can see the terrain, even if only for a short distance, especially if I'm going up to some peak, or coming down from a peak.  Meandering along from random point A to random point B isn't so easy.

When I agreed to help with DoE last year, I'd just come back from a similar Scottish trip, with similar navigation experience, and the DoE supervisor commented that I'd be over-qualified.  But lowland navigation has its own set of problems that are different to open upland navigation.

Hugh Westacott

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Re: Macronavigation
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2013, 04:46:49 PM »
I wish that I had that instinctive ability to navigate. I regard myself as a reasonably competent navigator but I have to do it 'by the book' and follow the techniques that are found in navigation manuals. I have a friend who laughs good-naturedly at me when we are walking together in unfamiliar areas. He glances at the map, sets off and rarely looks at it again, whereas I examine the map carefully and frequntly refer to it during the course of the walk. But, despite our different techniques we rarely need to relocate. I envy his inbuilt sense of direction.

I was interested in CP's comment <But lowland navigation has its own set of problems that are different to open upland navigation.> How true that is! I believe that, except in conditions of bad visibility, navigation in lowland countryside is often more difficult than in upland areas although the risk element is much less because you are rarely far from a road or human habitation.

There are more than a dozen book about navigation currently in print yet none of them covers lowland navigation in any detail. The last excellent text on the subject was Navigation and Leadership; a Manual for Walkers 2nd ed., 1994 published by the Ramblers' Association. An amended version substituting 'Explorer' for 'Pathfinder' maps in manuscript is available on the Ramblers' website.