Tag Archives: orienteering

Accelerate your hiking this spring

We’re ready for spring, so we can get outside even more often. We bet you’re ready, too. 

What say we get together and do a little exploring? Here are some of the adventures we have planned for spring.

Winter Wild Off-Trail Adventures

This series of off-trail adventures started in winter but it’s trickling over into spring — in part, because weather caused a postponement or two. It’s also because we’ve had such a blast on these hikes — a portion of which are on official trail, most of which aren’t — that we decided to extend the program through March. Still to come: read more

Don’t get lost, GetOriented!

Last June, a Robbinsville grandmother and her 13-year-old granddaughter set out for a morning hike in the Snowbird Mountains of far western North Carolina. They got lost in the rugged terrain: their morning hike ended a day later when they were found by a Graham County search and rescue crew.

There’s was one of the happy — if scary — endings. Too often lost hiker stories wind up like the case of the 66-year-old AT hiker who wandered off the trail to take a bathroom break and was never seen alive again. As friends and family of the hiker said later, she was an avid hiker with a poor sense of direction.

Not everyone is born with a well-honed internal compass. You don’t need to be, if you follow a few simple rules.

  • Always take a map. Even the simplest handout map at the trailhead will give you a general sense of where the trail goes. (And if there isn’t a handout map, but there is map posted, take a picture with your smart phone.) Even better is a typo map, which gives you a sense of the terrain you’ll be covering. Even on a hike you’ve done a hundred times, take a map: you never know when you may need to abandon the trail — landslide, blowdown, bear with arms akimbo who refuses to move — and you need to take an alternate course.
  • Always take a compass. If you’re on an open peak in the West on a sunny day, you can likely figure out north, south, east and west. Not so much the case in the heavily forested Southeast. If you get lost, a map is key to helping you get righted.
  • Know your blazes. Likely, you’ll start out on an established trail. Familiarize yourself with the blaze for your trail and for adjoining trails. If you know you take the blue-blazed trail the whole way, and the trail is well blazed, you shouldn’t get distracted.
  • Feel the trail. You’re hiking along and suddenly realize you don’t see any blazes. One of your first clues that you’ve lost the trail should come from your feet: is the ground not as compacted as it was? Are you sinking into the leaf litter? Retrace your steps until you feel firm ground, or see leafs that appear a bit more trampled.
  • No blazes? Blaze frequency can vary from land agency to land agency. State parks, for the most part, spare no paint. National Forests, on the other hand, aren’t as generous. If you don’t see a blaze, stop and take a close look ahead. No blazes? Turn and take a careful look back at the direction you came from. If it feels like you may be off trail, retrace your steps until you spot a blaze.
  • Avoid wandering off trail. If you aren’t equipped with a map and compass and the knowledge of how to use them (more about that below), resist the urge to chase after shiny things in the woods. (Squirrel!) The AT hiker mentioned above may have gotten lost in the tangled Maine woods, but it is so easy to wander just a few yards off some trails and have no clue how to regain it. Many trails have an indistinct profile when viewed from the side, blazes aren’t always readily visible, and it’s easy to miss the two-foot-wide hardtrack of a trail while crossing it.
  • Take note of key landmarks. Take note of key landmarks as you hike: an unusual tree, a creek, a rock outcrop, whatever. This can be especially helpful if you lose the trail and are wandering around trying to find it: you may not immediately spot the trail itself, but you might a tree straight out of Halloween central casting.

Need more direction?

GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods

Three years ago, we started our GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods class. We spend about 30 minutes going over map and compass basics — nothing technical, just the essence of how a compass works, how a topographic map works, and how the two work together. Then we venture down the trail — and off trail — to put those skills to the test and learn more about reading the terrain and finding your way in the woods.

Here are our classes scheduled through May:

Charlotte read more

GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods

You step into the woods to lose yourself mentally, but nobody wants to get lost for real. Even on a marked trail, it can be easy to lose track of where you are as your mind releases its stress. But, with the right tools, you can get yourself back on the path. Our Get Oriented! program provides you with just those tools.

With a map and compass, the knowledge of how to use them, and a basic understanding of topography, you can easily find your way back. These navigating skills give you the confidence to venture off trail on purpose and discover the hidden wonders and solitude that can be hard to find on a well-trod trail.

In our three-hour GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods class, we go over basic map and compass skills, then head down the trail, and off, to show you how to read the woods and  know exactly where you are, even if there isn’t a trail in sight.

We start with a 45-minute map-and-compass introduction, then use that map and compass — and some Daniel Boone skills — to find our way in the woods. We’ll do some off-trail exploring, with the goal of purposefully venturing off the trail, then rejoining it again. Our goal is to make you a confident hiker.

For upcoming course offerings, visit your local GetHiking! Meetup site:

Leave the trail behind


You love your trails. You can’t imagine what life would be like without them.
For starters, life might be a little more adventurous.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my trails as well. The Sycamore Trail at Umstead (especially during a rain, when its namesake creek is roiling). The trail network at Horton Grove Nature Preserve, which seems perpetually bathed in ethereal light. The 14-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail north of Carvers Gap, which is one stunning 360-degree view after another.
But sometimes, the terrain beyond the confines of the well-maintained, blazed path beckons. The hollow where the distant sound of crashing water suggests a cataract. The distant rocky summit promising great views. The woods that call for no apparent reason other than you’ve never paid a visit.
The lure of the unknown.
Trails exist for good reason. To keep you from getting lost tops the list. They also help minimize our impact as visitors, keeping us from trampling sensitive ecosystems and basically letting the land, for the most part, be. Yet every once in a while … .
Yesterday, we shared a recent … wilderness wander at one of our favorite local haunts. We feel comfortable making an occasional trail departure, in large part because we follow a few simple rules that all but assure we will make our way back to civilization. The best testament to these rules: we’re here to talk about them (rather than still in the woods, wandering, looking for the way out).
Before we share those simple rules: exploring off trail is something you should ease into. It’s best to head out your first few times with someone experienced, someone such as Rod Broadbelt, who this Saturday leads his annual Ruins Hike at Umstead State Park. Nearly all of this 10-mile hike, which visits 20 historic sites in the park, is off-trail. Rod’s done this hike for more than 20 years and knows the park well; hang with him (if you can) and learn his approach to off-trail exploring.
That hike meets at 8 a.m. Saturday morning in the Umstead lot at the end Harrison Avenue in Cary, off I-40 (exit 287). Questions? Contact Rod at rbroadbelt@nc.rr.com.
Now, some tips for off-trail exploring on your own.

  • Before setting foot on the trail
    * Take a map. This is mandatory every time you strap on a pack, even if you’re hiking a trail you know well. (What if there’s a blowdown or a landslide and you need to take evasive action?) A good topo map is preferred; a park-issued map, which often lacks topo lines and isn’t to scale is better than nothing.
    * Take a compass. A map is of minimal help if you don’t know which way is up. Or north. Together, a map and compass are invaluable hiking companions.
    * Check sunset. Venturing off trail isn’t something you want to do if you’re running out of daylight. An especially important step this time of year.
  • On the trail
    * Know your blazes. Likely, you’ll start out on an established trail. Familiarize yourself with the blaze for that trail and for adjoining trails. Odds are you’ll eventually want to return to the trail you departed from.
    * Landmarks. When you reach the point where you plan to head off trail take careful note of what’s around you: an especially identifiable tree, a creek, a rock outcrop, whatever. Sighting a familiar object could be key for your return.
  • Leaving the trail
    * Take a bearing on where you’re headed. Get out your map, get out your compass. Get your orientation (where’s north?) set. Pick an object in the distance, in the direction you want to explore. Take a compass reading, follow that compass reading.
    * Confirm your bearing. Stop periodically, every 30 yards or so, to confirm your bearing. Are you still headed in the direction you set off in? If not, correct and continue.
    * Landmarks. Again, keep an eye out for familiar landmarks that can help you navigate upon your return.
  • Objective reached! Now what?

    * Reverse course. Once you reach what it was you wanted to check out, return to the point where you left the trail by simply following your compass in the opposite direction. For instance, if you reached your objective by heading due north, return by heading due south.
    * Shinny thing. Or maybe you see something else in the distance you want to investigate. Take specific note of where you are, get out your map, get your compass and set a new bearing to your new objective. Continue in the manner described above, stopping every 30 yards or so to make sure you remain on course.
    * Reverse course (again). To return after reaching your second objective, simply head in the opposite compass direction you followed to your second objective until you get back to your first objective. From there, continue in the direction opposite you used when you left the trail.

  • read more

    This weekend: Venture fourth

    This July 4, celebrate our independence in the freedom of the great outdoors.

    Note: Most coastal state parks are planning to close Thursday and Friday in anticipation of Hurricane Arthur. Their reopening is dependent upon Arthur’s wrath. Check the North Carolina State Parks website before heading to any park that may be affected by the storm.


    There is, perhaps, no more fretful feeling than not knowing exactly where you are (the more pessimistic among us refer to this condition as being “lost”). You’ve lost the trail (you don’t remember seeing a blaze for 15 minutes), nothing looks familiar, daylight is waning. You think about those cartoons where the protagonist (Spongebob, say) is thrust into darkness, surrounded only by evil eyes.

    Now imagine being able to not only figure your way out of a typical hardwood forest, but out of a dense swamp! That should be the case after attending Orienteering 101 on Sunday at Dismal Swamp State Park. The class is on the park’s new orienteering course (thanks to a local Eagle Scout) and should have you feeling better about your plight in the woods.

    Logistics: Sunday, July 5, 2 p.m., Dismal Swamp State Park, South Mills. 252.771.6593 to register.

    Saturday forecast: High of 88, sunny.


    Being outdoors is often about more than just hiking or paddling or climbing or biking. Sometimes, it’s about music, about arts & crafts, about food and, perhaps, beer.

    The two-day (Friday and Saturday) Festival For the Eno at West Point on the Eno city park in Durham is one such occasion. For two days, you can hear 65 acts on four stages, wander among various vendors, check out a beer garden and, all the while, help the sponsoring Eno River Association protect the Eno River watershed. Plus, you can do some of your favorite outdoor activities, such as hike on the park’s five miles of trail or paddle the mile-long Eno millpond. A Triangle tradition for celebrating the Fourth.

    Logistics: Friday and Saturday, July 4 & 5, West Point on the Eno City Park, Durham. $20, $30 for both days. More info here.

    Friday and Saturday forecast: Highs in the mid- to upper 80s, partly cloudy Friday, sunny Saturday.


    Fall color cascades in North Carolina from the highest, coolest elevations of the west to the warmer, lower east, the spring wildflower display does the opposite. If you haven’t caught the latter since it began in late February, time is running out. But there’s still wildflower action to be had at the state’s highest elevations, including Elk Knob State Park, where on Sunday, a park ranger will lead w wildflower hike.

    The hike isn’t long, at a little more than two miles (out and back), but it does involve a good climb. Fortunately, you’ll be stopping often to check out the blooms.

    Logistics: Sunday, July 5, 2 p.m., Elk Knob State Park, Todd. For more information, call 828.297.7261.

    Sunday forecast: High of 75, mostly sunny.

    * * *

    Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.


    Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.

    Coastal Guide
    Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.

    Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
    Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.

    NCCoast.com read more