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It is an interesting time to be talking about navigation. Recent news articles have said that the magnetic North Pole is moving. They say it is headed for Siberia. It will undoubtedly take a long time to determine that it has stopped at a fixed point. Then USGS needs to determine the impact on the declination angle (the difference between magnetic and true north). Once that is done, they must print new maps to show the corrected declination. For those of us who us GPS, it is not as important because GPS uses true north as opposed to magnetic north. If you are still using the compass…stand by…things change.

That is NOT to say that you can ignore your map and rely exclusively on a GPS. Battery operated instruments have a nasty habit of running out of power at the least opportune times. Every adventure into the wilderness (including Pikes Peak) ought to include a map of the intended area. Look closely and carefully at your intended objective before you set out. Note the route, terrain, obstacles, potential hazards. alternative trails and emergency egress routes. Determine the elevation gained and lost for your route. Estimate the distances and trail difficulty and the time you expected return to the trailhead. While on the trail, correlate your position with known points. Know where you are relative to significant points along your intended route. Look back along the trail at those significant points to have some familiarity with the return route. Leave your trail information with someone who is not going with you in case they have to call Search and Rescue.

A couple of old friends set out one day to climb Mount of the Holy Cross in Eagle County, Colorado. Underestimating the length and difficulty of the trail, they neglected the “Alpine Start”. They eventually found themselves coming down after last light and took a wrong turn that led them down the wrong valley. Perhaps some of the confusion was due to the lack of reference to the sun or the lack of relative location of nearby peaks and ridges but in any case they were “out for the night”. Fortunately it was summer time, the temperatures did not drop to freezing and they had enough of the “other essentials” to survive the night. In the morning, with references restored, they discovered their error and back-tracked up the valley to the “real” trail and made it back to the car. This episode lends credibility to the need for having the Ten Essentials and knowing how to use them. With the intention of climbing the peak all in one day, there might have been the temptation to leave Emergency Shelter home to lighten their packs. You cannot guarantee that you will not be out overnight despite your best intentions.

For those of you who use GPS exclusively, take along another set of batteries for your unit. Know the capabilities and limits of your device and, if possible, enter the intended route, including frequent “way points”, ahead of time.

Getting lost creates a great deal of anxiety both those on the trail and for those left at home. Do your homework ahead of your trip and let people know where you are going. Know what to expect.

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