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Backpacker Magazine – Fall Gear Guide 2009

Winter Camping: Navigation

Learn to figure out where you are (even in a whiteout) and prevent, or stop, a snowy fall.

by: Kelly Bastone


HOW TO: Follow a Bearing in a Whiteout

Let's say your destination lies due east; your compass reads 90 degrees. You've been using a peak that also lies due east as a navigational aid by heading toward it. But what happens when a wall of gusting flakes blows in, obscuring your summit? Here's how to stick to your route in the worst weather.

1) Pick intermediate landmarks. Take a compass bearing at 90 degrees and choose a smaller feature, such as a boulder or tree, that also lies along that line. Travel to that feature by the easiest route, then shoot another bearing, pick another feature, and repeat until you reach your destination.

2) Sight on your partner. In open, featureless terrain, or if thick snow limits visibility so much that you can't see intermediate landmarks, set your compass to 90 degrees. Send your partner ahead as far as you can see, waving him left or right to keep him on course. Hike up to join him by the easiest route and repeat.

Find a snow-covered trail Look for blazes, a path-shaped depression in the snow, or an open corridor through the trees.

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