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Backpacker Magazine – May 2010

Navigate: Forests and Mountains

Skirt forests and mountains with ease with these tips and gear.

by: Kristin Bjornsen, Dougald Macdonald, & Kristin Hostetter



clutch skill
Skirting Obstacles
Whether in the Cascades or the Everglades, you typically can’t beeline toward your bearing; at some point, a blowdown, cliff band, pond, or some other barrier will block your path. To bypass it while still staying on course, do the following:

1. Turn 90 degrees right or left from your bearing. You don’t have to calculate a new bearing—just sight along the front or back edge of your compass’s baseplate, perpendicular to the direction-of-travel arrow.

2.  Count paces until you're past the obstacle. A pace is a double-step—count every left or right footstep. (The original Roman “mile” was 1,000—or mille—double-steps.)

3. Turn and walk your original bearing until you've passed the obstacle. Now turn 90 degrees again—leftward if you turned right at the start and vice versa. Count the same number of paces; then resume your original course.

Pace counting is rarely effective beyond about 200 paces—roughly a quarter-mile. To improve accuracy, note the time you travel on the outward leg, and try to match both time and pace count on the return leg.  

Got Height?
You can easily pinpoint your position along a trail, creek, or ridgeline using just an altimeter and map. First, check the altitude on your altimeter. Then find the contour line closest to your elevation, and note where it intersects the trail, stream, or ridge. That is where you are. This technique works best during a steady ascent or descent, since undulating trails or rolling terrain may cross a contour line multiple times.


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