Last week I went on a navigation weekend that is part of the Cape Wrath training program I’ve built to be ready by May. The trip was planned to be 3 days, around 15-20 km a day (about 10 miles), with a clear focus on map and compass work to get some the cobwebs out of my skills.
The trip managed to be both a great success and a massive failure at the same time. But first – the details:
3 days in the Peak District, England. Fully self sustained including food and camping. The weather was a true cold British mix – from sunny winds to full snow, and the terrain is almost impossible to navigate – the best place to work on following bearings. For more information about the Peak District, check out Dean Read’s Peak Routes site.
Packing for the trip followed my regular “light and simple” approach – List attached. But by Thursday before the weekend it was clear that the weather is turning even worse than originally forecast, so I opted for “heavier” and more traditional gear, going for warmth and weather protection. A final list is attached here – Peak District – Dec 2014 – Final.
And now for the interesting part – how can a simple weekend so simple be so great and so terrible? The weather and the Peaks were amazing, and it has been a while since I went hiking solo for an overnight, so I enjoyed it greatly. There is something about enjoying the outdoors by yourself sometimes that gives an undisturbed experience, and I really recommend it. Winter walking is a unique experience, and with the right gear and the right mindset (ok, and good skills), can be very miserable or very exciting – I get the exciting. Being well protected, getting enough fuel in (hot drinks and trail mix by the handfuls) gives the opportunity to admire nature when most people are running indoors. I got to do a lot of navigation, gear testing and meditation (I relax while walking), so what made it so terrible?
Two things. First, by mid of the second day, after continuously getting lost (or navigating to the wrong place), I met another group of walkers and checked navigation points with them. To my horror, I found out that my compass was more than 45º off to the east! I don’t know when that happened, but I think that led to many frustrating navigation errors for a while now, making me really question my navigation skills and so sending myself to navigation weekends. So step one – buy a new compass!
The second thing is that my daughter got quite ill over the weekend, and I decided to cut the trip shorter and head back a day earlier to be with them. I’m happy I was with them as we ended up having very hard couple of days of some acute baby illness, but now all is well.
The combination of frustrating navigation and family stress been a flip side to my trip, but it was still great.
And now for a few tips and recommendations:
1. If you are planning a slower trip, go for waterproof boots and gaiters. It will make standing in the wind and wet more comfortable, even if you are a light footwear person.
2. Check your compass before going! Best way to do it is know of a street next to you that is a straight north to south and stand with your compass there to check it is calibrated. If it is not – get a new one.
3. Make sure you have means to have hot beverages. It is hard to remember to drink enough when it is cold and wet outside, but it is hard to resist a hot drink. No matter if it tea, coffee or hot energy drink, they all still based on water.
4. Know the area you are going to. Winter navigation is harder then in the summer, so keep it a bit safer than the usual.
5. Keep an eye on the time – days a short (here it is from 8am to 4pm in the winter – very short) and you want to be at your stopping point when there is still some light.