Friday, 10 June 2016


This is one of those rare blog posting of mine which isn't about 'out there on the hill'. How ironic then that I'm going to write about navigation in this post. There has been a lot of debate recently in the media concerning traditional map and compass versus GPS. I'm neither for or against GPS as a navigational tool. I was actually given a GPS unit several years ago, it hasn't seen a single mountain or even daylight. It's been sitting in a cupboard somewhere.
Here are my thoughts on the subject. I taught myself navigation from an early age. I have always used a paper map. Even when not using it to navigate I just love sitting at home gazing across its folds and creases or in some of my well used maps, their tears and holes! When I go to some far flung country I can't wait to get my hands on the mapping for the areas I will be walking. Poring over it's contours and visualising the mountain and landscape before I even arrive at my new destination. Most navigation text books will no doubt tell you that 80% of finding your way around is map reading. I am completely absorbed in translating my two dimensional bit of paper to a three dimension view before my eyes. I am looking at my feet, sensing the type of ground I walk over, looking around in mist or cloud, maybe getting that occasional break in the clag so I can figure out the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. When the visibility is really bad and that small piece of plastic with a magnetised strip of metal comes out of my pocket I am still interpretating the landscape, the red bit on the compass needle just gives me a bit of help. When things are really, really poor visibility, like a winter white out and a Cairngorm storm then that's where my brain really has to work. Timing, pacing, mathematics. Life would be dull if I just switched on GPS and let it do all the work. Wouldn't it?
When teaching navigation or having to navigate when guiding groups, I am often asked; 'Have you ever been lost?' Lost? Well my definition of lost is not having a clue were you are, calling for mountain rescue, or ending up in some place 20 miles from where I was supposed to be. So the answer is no. Have I made navigational errors? Of course I have, loads of times! But that's when my brain goes into really active mode. I have to think, look, remember what I did wrong, double check my map, think of what I did wrong and where I went atray and endless other things to get me back on track.
Have I ever stood on a mountainside or top and been 'out of position' then thought 'I wish I had a GPS' the answer is a definite No.
So what am I trying to say?
It's just my choice.

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