RANDOM NAVIGATION THOUGHTS
1. How to update or supplement your mapping
As mentioned previously, USGS Topo maps represent the pinnacle of USA maps, and nearly ALL of the topography represented by these maps remains unchanged from the date of they were created. And truth be told, nearly all of the maps that are sold today rely on the work that the USGS has already done.
For those who rely on satellite imagery, I am not suggesting that they are inaccurate. What I need to highlight however is that the ongoing nature of the weather (rain, storms, snow, etc) often causes road changes or closures that are not represented by either the USGS Topo maps or satellite imagery. This is where current
map updates become so important.
So, how does one get map updates that reflect changes not shown on existing maps? And, how do you find out if this information will affect your visit? Easy!!! Check with the people who are most familiar with the land that you want to visit. All public lands in this great country are managed by some governmental agency. With this management responsibility comes the need for these agencies to have a certain familiarity with the land, and, In many cases, these "rangers" (or what ever they are called) have much more current knowledge of the area under their control than is contained in any website or literature, or map. This often includes damaged or washed out roads, road closures, dangerous conditions, or alternate recommendations.
A vital part of your trip planning is having discussions with the rangers who KNOW the land. And, sometimes, having this discussion with more than one ranger will be to your benefit. Maps take many years to complete. Natural conditions that affect the land can happen overnight, and only the people who have constant contact with the land will know what has changed. Rangers are there to help, and are anxious to assist those who want to visit the land where they work. Don't overlook this most important tool!!!
2. Trip planning. Also known as the 7 Ps.
Planning starts with identifying where you want to go and the things you want to see. Once you settle on the locations, it's time to start working on how to get there and back. Since we all have time limits that determine how long we can spend on our wilderness adventures, the next step is to figure out how much you can squeeze into your time.
With your locations identified, the next step is route selection, and this is where a good (topo) map becomes invaluable. In fact, having more than one map is usually an asset when it comes to finding your way to each different location on your list.
With the right map planning devices, you can:
- Calculate total trip miles. This is important for fuel planning purposes. Each vehicle will have slightly different miles-per-gallon numbers, and unless you plan on returning to civilization during your trip, EVERYONE, needs to carry enough fuel for the entire trip. With limited time, taking a trip to town to gas-up can waste the better part of a day. And, maybe more importantly, knowing total miles will let you know if you have enough time to do your entire trip, in the time you have available.
- Calculate destination-to-destination miles. Ideally, you want to arrive at each location in time for camp set-up, cleaning up, meal prep/clean up, relaxing, as well as some quality time at the campfire. Spending too much time on the trail sacrifices one of more of these needs. You may want to squeeze in a lot, but not at the expense of enjoying the trip.
- Provide each member of the trip with information on where you are going, where you are camping, and what days you plan on being there. This list, or better yet, this map, should be given to family members, as it can be vital in the event of an emergency.
- Provide each member of your group with your travel plans, complete with tracks and GPX files. Where possible, each member of the trip should load this information onto their computer and/or GPS, so that if one navigation system fails, others have the exact same plans.
For my money, the TOPO! program offers one of the best set of tools for trip planning. It allows for all of the above, plus the ability to hand draw travel routes, add text labels, keep a trail track of every place visited, make copies of maps, make custom maps for APRS, view elevations, view coordinates for any point on a map, and view 5 different zoom levels, all on USGS maps. There's a lot more, but that's a good start.
This is an example of a map used for trip planning that was later used for navigation. Note the blue lines - they represent our tracks. If you look closely, you will notice that there are yellow lines underneath the blue ones. The yellow lines were hand drawn trails which were created as part of our trip planning. The remaining yellow lines represent possible side trips that were not taken. Also note the detail of this USGS Topo map. In the top left hand corner and in the center, you can see notes that I placed on the map.
Webster defines “redundancy” as profusion or abundance. For those who use electronic navigation for travel into remote and primitive locations, redundancy means the ability to survive, the wisdom to realize that things break, the importance of having spares, and the foresight to plan ahead, knowing that sometimes, things will break.
Your redundancy plans should include the advice offered in this net preview and on the net. Having other members of your group similarly equipped, as you are, is just another form of redundancy.
6. Learning how to use your equipment
This one is really almost unnecessary, so I saved it for last, just as a reminder.
- Learn how to transfer map coordinates from a paper map to your GPS
- Become competent in how to use your GPS
- Become competent in reading maps
- Become competent in using a compass