Navigating using Apps and GPS

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I once did a math calculation in my head, a simple multiplication, I was faster with the answer than all the young people around me who were firing up their apps. One looked at me amazed and asked how on earth had I done that. Well, I spent my early years learning my times tables and that stuff never leaves you. Another didn’t bother doing the calculation because she didn’t have an app on her phone and anyway someone else would have the answer.

Recently on social media there has been lots of posting about using Ordnance Survey’s phone app for navigating in difficult weather conditions or when the user was not sure where they were. It’s a good app, I have OS Maps on all my devices, iphone, ipad, Macbook. I use the app on my Mac to reproduce routes to 1:50k scale for my guidebooks. The ipad is good for sitting in bed and exploring new routes without spreading out my 1:25k map, it sort of keeps Alison awake if I do that. I put the map on my phone because I could, it is rare that I use it and to be honest its just taking up space.

What has intrigued me about the different postings and threads is that they all seem to default to the use of apps when the going gets tough, bad weather appears to be the most common reason, getting lost a close second. And there is nothing wrong in that. But what would the person have done if the phone had not worked and why is the app now the default for getting out of a sticky situation?

I was taught that the easiest way to know where you are, is, to know where you are. And that means having the map to hand and following your route, ticking off features, tracking distances and timings, knowing what is ahead and around. That way I knew where I was at all times.

The use of technology is great, if it gets people out exploring then that is a good thing. What I detect now is a growing reliance on technology and a disconnection with map, compass and the landscape. The map and compass are now somewhere in the rucksack. The app has become a shortcut to navigation. The problem is that using a phone or an app or a device removes so much from the skill base to my mind. When I look at a map I look at a far wider area than my walk route. I see the little nooks and crannies that look so interesting its worth exploring them. Little bits of information on the map draw my eye and I build up a picture of the terrain, it’s an exciting thing to do. And I carry that information in my head and use it on the walk along with the map.

Using a map and compass is a hill craft that is a part of a much wider range of skills, how to move over difficult ground, what to take on a walk, how to plan a route that does not lead to exhaustion, escape routes when things don’t go to plan etc.

In truth, it’s not necessary to use a compass in good visibility, all the information is on the map. Compass comes into its own in bad visibility when used in conjunction with a map. Or, and here is a confession, checking which way to go after walking to Ben Macdui, having lunch, relaxing, moving around and then setting off back in the wrong direction. Thankfully saved by a mate who had switched his brain on. They say the hardest part of any walk is always getting out of the car park in the right direction and often it’s true.

Using technology is good, but relying on it is not so good. And that is what I am seeing more and more of. Recently on social media and in the press there have been several reports of people having to be rescued by Mountain Rescue teams because they were reliant on an app. Along with battery failure there is often an inability to cope with the terrain and to be poorly attired for a day on the hill.

What now seems to be happening is a transfer of responsibility to technology and when that fails a transfer of responsibility to other humans. Isn’t it much better to have the skills to navigate out on the hill using a map and compass? Use the app if you want, but don’t make it the default device. Don’t be reliant on technology.

My best time out on the hill navigating was doing my triennial MR navigation assessment in visibility of no more than three metres on Saddleworth Moor at night in winter. Five check points spread across 8 square kilometres each one a 25cm stick painted brown stuck into a peat grough, 2 hours to complete using only map and compass.

Brilliant.

If you want to learn navigations skills using a map and compass these two outdoor professionals will be able to teach you.

Everyday Adventures 

Everything Outdoors

 

 

Dark Peak Navigation – Peak District

Dark Peak Moorland in the Peak District
A typical Dark Peak moorland on a typical Dark Peak day

One of the joys of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park is the opportunity to really test your navigational skills. Above is the moor along Howden Edge between Middle Moss and Featherbed Moss. Crossing this type of terrain requires the use of different navigational skills, mixed together so that you end up where you are supposed to be. In good visibility it can be a challenge if a person is not used to being off path, in bad visibility or at night it can become very taxing on the wits.

In good visibility the use of the compass is not entirely necessary. The map and the land have all the information required. Telling a little story on how the journey should progress is more than sufficient to successfully navigate across such terrain.

So, is the walker supposed to be going up hill or down hill. What should they be able to see around them. Do they cross water. What is the distance between A&B and how long should that take. Does the walker know how many double paces it takes them to walk across moorland for 100m. Does the walker know how many minutes it takes to walk a kilometre across a moorland.

Orienting the map so that it reflects the land is an excellent idea, northing the map with a compass is the quickest way to do this if it is a new technique. Ticking off features as the walker travels across the land is an invaluable skill. Cross a stream, tick. Over a boundary wall, tick. Up a slope, tick. view a plantation across the valley, tick.

At night or in bad visibility it is exactly the same, but with the addition of a compass and much shorter legs and probably going a little slower if you are not used to it. Night time walking is fun so try it. Bad visibility requires excellent concentration and a positive reliance that what the map and compass are saying is fact.

Ordnance Survey maps are just the best bit of kit anyone could have on the hill. It is packed full of information and the only real device anyone needs. A compass supplements the map, the two being the perfect navigation tool.

Many people today use GPS, which is good, but if that is the only thing a walker knows how to do, follow the little blue arrow on the screen, then they have missed out on so much. And as happens when the battery dies, then its map time again, and a good, confident knowledge of how to use a map brings a walk to life.

A last word on getting lost, missing that feature, call it what you will. It happens, don’t sweat it.

It’s called adventure.

Safety in the Dark Peak

On the subject of my Facebook Post
regarding the family I met yesterday who were wanting to go on Kinder. There have been quite a few replies to the original post all offering views, some in agreement with each other. Here is the conversation between me and the parents.
Dad.. You look like a person who knows what they are doing. Can you tell me the way to Kinder?
Me… You cannot drive on to Kinder
Dad… We wanted to walk up but cannot find the way.
Me… If you park here you are likely to get hit, the tractors are quite big and your car is sticking out a bit. You might find it safer to park in the car park 50m down the road..
Dad.. Oh Ok.
Me….Have you been up onto Kinder before
Dad… No we wanted to take the kids up
Me… OK. Do you have a map
Mum… No. But I know how to use a compass
Me… You really could do with a map, there are no signposts on Kinder and its easy to get lost . The cloud is quite low so visibility will be poor. Do you have your compass with you. You could buy a map from the visitor centre.
Mum… No I dont have my compass but my phone has googlemaps
Me… That wont be really any use Im afraid. Look to be honest, if you are asking me how to get to Kinder from here its a fair chance you might get lost and Kinder is not a place to be lost on with children. Why not go on one of the low level walks around here, there is some really nice walking, you could even get a leaflet from the visitor centre with them in.
Mum… We could buy a map for Kinder.
Me.. OK if you want to do that then the easiest way up from here is up William Clough its about 3 miles from here and the route isnt clear and it can be rough underfoot. If you do go up and the weather turns, come straight back down the way you came. Whats your name….tells me name.
Mum.. we will be alright
Me… well you have a good day, if you feel you are getting lost just stop and turn round and come back. it will be cold on top so make sure you and the children keep warm and dry. If it starts to rain or snow get down as quick as you can.
That was the conversation. I am a park ranger and that kind of conversation is not unusual and to be fair it is usually the woman who is more adamant about continuing on. I think people should be able to make their own decisions and being in the outdoors means accommodating different weather conditions, we as walkers know that. I do think I have a responsibility, children or otherwise to explain the facts to people, but I cannot stop someone from taking their own decision. I did not come across the people on Kinder nor when I returned so maybe they took my advice. One of the problems the Peak District has is that so much of it is near roads. You do not have hours of a walk in to get to the start. This gives people a false sense of security and people are just not aware of the possible dangers. Only if you have been in a tight spot, and I suspect we all have, are you aware that things can very quickly go wrong.
With regards to reporting to the police I am not sure about that. Naivety and ignorance are not really a crime. For sure the addition of children into the mix makes it a little more serious. So I did the best thing I could think of, ask their name and take note of the car reg when I walked on. If needed later on it could be useful information. As a ranger I always ask where people are coming from and going to. It may come in useful if they are reported missing and it helps me give them some interesting info about where they are going. Its what I do and its nice to have a conversation with people about the Peak District.
People should be encouraged to get out on to the moors more, but it should be tempered with education about the reality.
Thats my thoughts. You comments are welcome.

Rud Hill Moor

The other day I sought a few hours solitude out on the moors near to where I live. Within 20 minutes I was setting off on the faint track that leads up on to Rud Hill, a place few people will know of but many have walked across and passed by on their way up to Stanage Pole and the edge.

The last few weeks have seen even more rain fall on already sodden ground and this was very much in evidence on the moor. Surface water lay in great pools across the peaty landscape. Much of the moorland grass bordering the track had been worn away by countless boots in an attempt to avoid the peat bogs that had developed as a result of the moor being unable to absorb anymore rain. In places the ground was so sodden it was near impossible to avoid being sucked down in to the peat and in fact on two occasions I experienced just that. The second was more comical and a little bruising to the ego as I sank up to my thighs into the bog and could only release myself by laying myself face forward across the bog and pulling myself out. The sight of a 50 year old man floundering on the moorland surface would have been a joy to watch, fortunately there were no spectators around to appreciate the spectacle.

I wanted to find a small pool marked on the OS map, just as an exercise in navigating by contours. Unfortunately this proved a fruitless endeavour, not because the pool could not be found, that wasn’t the problem. The difficulty lay in the number of pools around the location, there were at least a dozen, all formed by recent rains and all of some depth. I eventually chose a pool that both matched the co-ordinates and had signs of being established for some considerable time, it having a depth that was deeper than others and signs of lichen and moss growing around the edges.

As I was searching for the pool the cloud came in and enveloped me without my realising it was happening and I found myself on a moor with limited visibility and a worsening aspect all round. No need for compass, navigation was simple by following the track, but it did make me realise it would not be difficult to become disoriented in such conditions even on a moor within sight of Sheffield and only a few hundred meters from a roadway. Checking my map for directions I realised the fence shown on the OS map was not the same length as the one on the ground. The real fence had been extended recently and the new shiny wire was a clear indicator of this. Another reason why navigation by contour and not just features is a good idea.

I eventually worked my way back to the car which was sat in clear skies, just a few hundred meters from the cloud covered moorland. Covered in peat I must have looked quite a spectacle to the dog walkers.