Wouldn’t it be nice to emerge from the weekend more knowledgable than when you went in? A bought or two on how to make that happen.
We start with our GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods class. Ever been hiking in the woods, drift into a little reverie, then emerge, look around and think, Where the heck am I? More often than not your still on the trail, where you need to be, just a little further along. But in those few seconds of being mentally misplaced, there’s a real panic. Will I ever see civilization again?read more
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
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.