Who needs a compass, right? Think about it – what car, cell phone or computer does not have navigating capability? Its everywhere. The art of navigating seems to be something that is less and less practiced. According to most outdoor enthusiasts, knowing how to use a compass is on the list of top 10 things to know.
Sure, I've heard it before "argh, I don't need that thing, I have a built in GPS." Yeah, well...good luck. Have you seen the Myth-busters episode where the guys blindfold themselves and try to walk in a straight line? Its actually quiet difficult. Go try it and see how well you do. I bet its safe to say, not very well. Without proper navigation equipment, in dense areas it is very easy to get turned around or off course. Heck, we have seen folks get turned around just meters from camp after going to the bathroom.
Assuming that you already know how to use a compass and have a basic understanding of navigation, this journal entry serves only to aid in the event of getting lost and using simple navigation to get back to camp.
In navigating an open area where large objects are visible, such as a mountain top or cell tower, getting a bearing and keeping it can be quiet simple. Simply get your bearing, lock it in, put our compass away and walk on. You can walk in circles, climb trees, take a nap, walk backwards…as long as you have your object in sight, you know where you need to be going. So how does this work in jungle navigation?
Consider this scenario: You are trekking and realize that you are lost. You have a general idea of where you may be and where you need to head. With limited visibility, how can you reach you destination successfully? Suppose you have a basic map and a pretty good idea of the direction you need to head.
Okay...To make this illustration easier, lets suppose you have a definite bearing and heading on where camp is. You can dial in your compass and begin walking in that direction, right? But here is the problem, how can you effectively navigate in thick, rocky terrain?
From where you are standing, camp is approx 1.25km away at 132°. (wouldn’t it be nice if the numbers were always given to you?) If you had a topo map, obtaining this type of information could be possible. If there were some things in the distance that were visible, you could do triangulation to get your location, then you could work from there. This is why a proper map is essential.
Error – lets suppose that as you begin your walking, each time you take a bearing you are 1 degree off. Each time you take a bearing, the "red" is not quiet "in the shed." In that moment, what does it matter how exact you are? Just as long its in the general area, right? WRONG! Consider this - In a jungle environment, it is common to take 15-20 readings because of the terrain (every 10m or so). Sometimes you may need to get creative to go around obstacles, through creeks, etc. This all plays an important role in successfully getting back to camp. Bearings are always relative to a specific location. Following the same bearing from two different places will not get you to the same destination.
Over the course of 1.25km with a margin of error of 15° on both sides of your heading, that leads to roughly 700m of margin (for you math nerds, this is quiet complex math). Now, with visibility already being low, how would you find your pinpointed location in an area spread over 700m? Once again, you are lost and need to find your way back to where you came from, camp, home, something you can identify.
Some helpful tips to successfully navigating the jungle or thick terrain:
1. Double Take - Have two people taking readings. Its okay to double check. Be precise.
2. Be diligent and consistent - There are some trees in the jungle that are rather large. When you take a heading and use a large tree as your target – which side of the tree did you read? The middle? When you arrive at the tree, from which side will you take your next heading? Doing this over and over can drastically change your results.
3. Use two people & Communication – after taking a heading, make sure one person stays put and does not take his/her eye off the target. The other person will then go and put their hand on the target and wait. Clearly communicate what it is you are looking at. "No, the tree with the green leaf hanging down" is not good enough. If you are lost, tensions will be high. Clearly communicating can drastically influence the outcome. Never let the other person get out of sight...always stay together as much as possible. The last thing you want is a missing person and being lost.
4. Make a slash – While this is not a good practice for the environment, in these situations it is okay to mark your location. This is good practice in case you do get messed up and need to back-track a bit. Just make sure you come up with a method and be consistent in how you do this.
5. Time – it is important to have a rough idea of how fast you walk. For our expeditions, the average team walks 2.2km/hour. In this situation, time will be a little slower because you are taking headings and conversing. If you know that camp is roughly 1.25km away and you have been walking for 3 hours, something is way, way wrong.
6. Map – carry a map. Any kind of map. If you have access to a topo map, then get it, laminate it and put it safely away. If you just have a general map that will show you rivers, creeks, mountains, etc., this can be helpful in gauging where you may end up. You know if you head this direction, you’ll hit the creek? This way, the mountain, etc., etc.
7. Satellite Phone - while you may not need it, best to have than not need. Keep this guy handy and charged at all times. Most satellite phones or messaging devices will send GPS coordinates along with it. This info can be helpful to a search party. If you find yourself truly lost, this begins a whole new process and that situation just became critical. Next journal entry on what to do if you really are lost.