Right up there with the most important skills of a backcountry enthusiast is being able to navigate!
“I’ll be okay...I don’t need a map...I know where I’m going!” Yeah right… good luck with that one. If there is one discipline you should develop above all the rest, it is navigation.
I’ve found a lot of lost sheep wandering around in the top paddock on the main range over the years. I have encountered many disorienting experiences at times being overcome almost instantaneously by whiteout conditions.
The ongoing consequences attached to becoming lost or temporarily disoriented due to lack of navigation skills such as being benighted or hypothermic are very high up on the risk matrix scale for backcountry travellers. Whilst not as sexy as some of the other skills, learning how to navigate will serve you well as a backcountry enthusiast. It is a skill you will use more than most particularly in the featureless alpine zone of the Australian Alps.
Map only skills:
Introducing the Compass:
Some of the basic skills you should work toward:
Using your map is an important part of pre-trip planning. It is wise to develop a route plan prior to any trip, particularly in unfamiliar territory which could be familiar areas in poor visibility.
Many backcountry riders rely on local knowledge only, for route finding but when the white curtain comes down the stakes can change very quickly. Knowing how to take a grid reference & plot that on a map & navigate your way out of a whiteout situation is an essential skill you should develop.
Until you are comfortable with a map & compass, take every opportunity to practice & keep practising. After some time the contours will pop out at you & appear 3D. You should take emergency equipment with you on every outing, having a map & compass & the skills to use them will increase the chances of you leaving that gear in your pack, never leave it at home! It would be a shame to call on the services of others to assist you, potentially putting them at risk if you are found wanting of fundamental skills.
By Mont Ambassador and backcountry guide Doug Chatten of Snowy Mountains Backcountry
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