Practical Navigation: The Real World Part 1



I have posted a few articles on navigation recently and on the whole they have been more on the technical side. Without doubt, a navigator/guide should have a good technical understanding of navigation but navigating is not all about following compass bearings. The technical side comes to the fore when moving in unfavorable conditions such as extremely low visibility or featureless terrain but much of the time we use the map more than the compass. In this three part article I will try to cover just what’s required of a good navigator.

The responsibility of the navigator/guide does not end with finding the way from A to B; in fact, that’s only the start! More often than not you will be navigating for a group and it may well extend to quite a few days. If you go on a multi-day backpacking trip with a group and end up with a poor navigator/guide you are unlikely to want to repeat the experience. Let’s take a closer look at what needs to be considered by the group navigator/guide.

The Group

The size of the group will be dependent upon a number things; the weather, the terrain, the ability of the group as individuals, the ability of the group collectively, age differences, different fitness levels, the distance to be covered, the remoteness of the trip, the level of hardship, individual endurance levels, the ability of each group member to navigate, the list is almost endless.

All these things must be taken into account when planning a route for a group. Certain members may be perfectly at home exposed on rocky outcrops while other members may be very apprehensive. The group’s navigator/guide has a myriad of things to contend with, not making the necessary allowances will not only make the trip a nightmare for some but could end with an unnecessary medical emergency.

The size of the group is generally dictated by the severity of the task, a well planned day trip into the mountains with reasonable weather conditions and the correct equipment would suggest a group size of around ten (nine plus the navigator/guide). Whereas a two-day trip into the mountains in the depth of winter with extreme weather predicted, low visibility, difficult navigation, an overnight bivy at -15c and a good deal of ice axe and crampon work would suggest a group size of four (3 plus the guide).

This is not quite as straight forward as it sounds, the group of ten may be more at risk than the group of four due to nothing more than experience, ability and fitness. There have been many articles written that say you should abandon your trip if the weather is going to turn and don’t be afraid to turn back if the weather is unfavorable on the way to the summit. I think we need to clarify what may seem quite sensible statements. It’s all to do with confidence,equipment,  fitness and ability levels, what may be a nightmare for one may be a very enjoyable ‘walk in the park’ for another. We all know when we are pushing the limits a bit and this should always be your wake-up call to reassess the situation.

A good guide will always be looking for any members of the group that may be feeling a little apprehensive and offer assurance; an explanation of the situation may be all that is required, as a lack of information can play on an individual’s imagination. After saying that, a good guide will always push each individual beyond their ‘comfort zone’ to further their feeling of achievement and to improve their personal technical skills.

I have given the impression that the navigator is always the group guide; this is not always the case but is most likely as without the navigator it would be unwise to leave the base as the technical skills of each individual within the group would have to be nothing short of exceptional to get them out of all the dangers they are likely to encounter due to poor navigation. On extreme ventures it is common for all group members to be good at all required skills but to be exceptional at one or more; in this case the exceptional skills of the group leader would be of leadership and organisation, calling on each specialist to take the control when required.

Food & Water

Many will say, ‘What on earth has food & water got to do with navigation’?  Well, the good navigator needs to plan for many things, getting from A to B is really the easy bit.

Our bodies run on fuel, this fuel is a combination of food & water; if we are to be efficient on our trip and work within the allowed times for the distances covered our bodies need to be working at their best. The food is the easier of the two, this can be calculated and carried in our packs; water, however, may be a different thing altogether as the quantities required may be too heavy to carry, remember   1 liter  of water weighs 1 kg. Let’s look a little deeper.

A 70 kg male should drink 30 mls. of water per kg of body weight per day to stay healthy, this being 2.1 liters per day relating to 2.1 kg of pack weight. No problem with that!

Let’s look deeper still. Below are the generally accepted water consumption figures. They allow for temperature but only for average humidity.

TEMPERATURE                             LITERS OF WATER REQUIRED

15 C                                                     REST IN SHADE 2 L. LIGHT WORK 3 liters. HARD WORK 4 L.

25 C                                                     REST IN SHADE 4 L. LIGHT WORK 5 L. HARD WORK 6 L.

35 C                                                     REST IN SHADE 8 L. LIGHT WORK 10 L. HARD WORK 12 L.

45C                                                      REST IN SHADE 12 L. LIGHT WORK 16 L. HARD WORK 20 L.

50 C                                                     REST IN SHADE 15 L. LIGHT WORK 20 L. HARD WORK 25 L.

Things look a little differently now! As an example let’s take a look at say 30 C hard work (25 kg pack, steep mountain terrain), we can estimate at around 10 liters. This works out at 10kg of water + containers; if your food is dried you may wish to add an additional liter making this 11 kg + containers. If this is a two day trip, that would be 22 kg +  containers! So you arealready up to say 23 kg of water and containers, not to mention the room that this will take up. You still need food along with all your normal and additional equipment.

2 x 1 L containers are a lot more sensible and refill en-route courtesy of good navigational techniques.

In part two we can take a look at Contouring along with Time & Distance.

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