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A Night and Bad Weather Navigation Course

posted 10 Jun 2019, 13:05 by Swindon Mountaineering   [ updated 10 Jun 2019, 13:12 ]

Trip report! At the end of March, 5 of us from the club went to North Wales to attend a Poor Weather/Night-Time Navigation training course. It was subsidised by the BMC and run at Plas y Brenin... on a very sunny weekend.

Myself and Ed traveled up Friday night so we could get some climbing in on Saturday morning (after a hearty fry-up of course). We climbed at Little Tryfan, a nice and popular little slab crag.

We met up with Lee, Theresa and Jane back at PyB in the afternoon for the training course. Our instructor was brilliant and very knowledgeable. He got us doing pacing exercises, where we would count how many steps it takes to walk 100m. It's a little antisocial counting steps whilst you walk, so an alternative was to time how long it takes to walk 100m.

Using these techniques help you keep track of how far you've walked. In zero visibility, you won't be able to see any reference points to help you.

We also covered compass bearings and back bearings, a part of the course where we all got to admire Theresa's state of the art compass.

Our guide also gave us some great map reading tips. A green dotted line on the map indicates a route with a public right of way.... but that doesn't necessarily mean there is a path there. A black dotted line indicates a footpath, ideally you want a black and green dotted line together. It's not uncommon to see a green dotted line on its own on the map and spend time looking for a path that doesn't exist!

Map clutter: sometimes there's too much information to display on the map, so some of it is left out. We used a river crossing which had been left off the map to make room for the name of a hostel (which they had likely paid to have on the map).

What can you trust on a map? Fences can move and can be taken down. Footpaths can become disused when shortcuts are found and become more well trodden. Be cautious when choosing features on the map to navigate with; what you see in reality might not match up. Stone walls are less likely to move, mountains... even less likely. Have features you expect to see along your chosen route which you can use to confirm you're still on track (tick features). Have an obvious feature to look out for that will indicate you've gone too far (check feature).

We found a flat forested area on the map, but when we arrived it was a hill! Sometimes discrepancies are purposely put on maps. If this "flat" region appeared on a rival map, it would show that the competitors had simply copied the map instead of surveying the area for themselves.

We finished the course by hiking up to the top of Crimpiau and back down, all in the dark. The technique here was to feel the steepness as we walked and constantly assess whether this matched with the contours on the map, using the lines as a guide.

We all really enjoyed the course, and learnt a great deal of new skills and refreshed old ones.

Sadly Theresa and Lee had to leave Sunday morning. Jane went for a walk, keen to test her navigation skills no doubt, and Ed and I went climbing again. This time we went sport climbing in the Australia quarry crag. I was blown away by the sheer scale of the quarry and thankful to survive my first time climbing on slate!

Thank you to Andy for organising the course and to those who came for making it so much fun. Hopefully we can organise something similar in the future!