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Navigate: Whiteout, Darkness, and Fog

Just because you can't see in front of you doesn't mean you can't navigate.

Prep Your Map with Key Bearings
During a blizzard or high winds, taking accurate bearings from a map may be impossible. Follow the example of mountaineers on Scotland’s Ben Nevis, who annotate their maps with two crucial bearings (231 degrees and 282 degrees) and the distance of the first leg (150 meters) needed to navigate off the cliff-girded summit during whiteouts, enabling them to dial in their bearing and go.

Follow a Contour
You can navigate a fog-shrouded hillside with just a map and altimeter. First, note your elevation, and find that contour line at your approximate location on the map. Now, use the altimeter to follow that contour toward a handrail feature such as a sharp ridge, streambed, or road. When you reach the handrail, you are located precisely where the contour line intersects that feature on the map.

Cast a Line for Visibility
Fog or blowing snow may skew depth perception. To mitigate vertigo and reveal hidden obstacles, Alaskan guide Joe Stock recommends “fly casting.” Tie a 20-foot length of brightly colored rope to a ski pole or ice axe, and cast the cord onto the snow as you travel across a snowfield or glacier.

Leapfrog to Stay On Course
Holding a bearing is tough if fog hides landmarks. Send one person ahead in line with the bearing till you begin to lose sight of him. Yell “right” and “left” or use hand signals to reposition him. Regroup at the new spot; repeat.

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