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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bush whacking with a compass

Using a compass for navigation does not mean you are a dinosaur. Compasses are very dependable and GPS units do not always work in the deep woods.

Since I've begun finishing up my New Hampshire White Mountain Grid months, I've begun finding new hiking adventures. One of the lists I've started is the Trailwrights list which has 72 peaks over 4000 feet many of which do not count in the White Mountain 48 because of prominence, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topographic_prominence and several of which there are no trails to what so ever.

The way to these peaks is to select not necessarily the closest route but the one that is the least work in terms of elevation, brush and difficulty. Sometimes that is not always the same thing.

The first that my hiking partner and I picked was the NW Hancock. It is a massif in the center of the Pemigewasset Wilderness see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemigewasset_Wilderness and before the Kancamagus highway was one of the most remote points in the whites.  There are lots of sources for maps out there but I liked the New Hampshire Fish and Game maps found here http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/maps/topo.html

I printed off a map in detail and in the regular map size. The regular map size was important as it has the north pointing arrow on the bottom. Please note I also put my maps in a water resistant sleeve to keep them dry.

We hiked Hancock ie North Hancock in just a few hours. The distance across the way shown is about 1.5 miles. There is also a scale on the larger size map. The blue line  (at the bottom) that shown is the trail. I found our approximate location on the map and then oriented the compass to match up with the north pointing arrow.

One of the most important things that I took away from military map reading was that as long as you stuck with magnetic to magnetic readings you did not have to convert for the grid reading adjustment.. I then turned the directional arrow on the compass to the little circle on the far left hand corner of the map. So while walking I'm making sure that I match up the north arrow with the needle and my compass is always bearing toward where I want to go. We had also gotten readings and distances from Hiker Ed one of the most accomplished hikers in these parts which we compared to what we saw on the ground and were very helpful.

 My compass is a simple silva polaris that is one of the least expensive in the line and reads plus or minus 2 degrees https://vtarmynavy.com/silva-polaris-177

This was an easy place to try for several reasons. You'll note it shoots across a saddle of a relatively flat region and the sides fall away steeply. Secondly if you miss the peak the back side falls off just as quickly.

On the way out I stuck to compass reading and took quite a beating. The best method I realized on the way back is to keep to your heading but look for open areas to navigate into. Areas with a lot of dead falls are dangerous and not much fun. Make sure your gear is tied down it is easy to lose things along the way. There is always some evidence of previous travelers but it was sporadic and could not be counted on.

We reached our summit with the little sign and the jelly jar and signed in, the first hikers to sign in since December of 2011. Then headed back out after having a bite to eat and getting on warm layers. Success on these outings is not getting hypothermia or breaking an ankle.

I turned my compass 180 to back track out. We found our retreat was much easier than the way out and everywhere we saw signs of the trip out and Hancock to our front.

So I sure I missed some points but to recap: Orient the compass from your last know point; Trust your compass as it is much more competent than you are for directional headings and use you head when bush whacking to find easier to travel areas. Total time was 6 and 3/4 hours.

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