TOPO training

8:50 a.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Is there a good website that can teach you how to read and use a topo map correctly?

9:39 a.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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9:47 a.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I should add that the link above explains the symbols and features you'll find on a USGS topo map. Learning how to use a map is more primarily a function of learning to use a compass. There's a somewhat crude but enlightening tutorial on the basics of compass usage here:

http://www.learn-orienteering.org/old/lesson1.html

After getting a handle on the basics, get out and practice. Get the USGS quad for your area and start using it in familiar places. Plot routes over familiar terrain near your home in good weather to familiarize yourself with what compass navigation feels like. Gradually move out to less familiar terrain farther from home and drill yourself constantly by testing your knowledge of where you are, where you've been, and where you're going.

Here's the one rule you must live by. Do not wait until you're lost to find yourself on a map. Check your map constantly to orient yourself, comparing what you see around you with what's on the paper in your hand.

11:26 a.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I would highly recommend going out hiking and backpacking with someone who is knowledgeable and experienced with navigation (map reading, compass reading and use) and in an area that they know the terrain well.

The best thing would be to take a good course in orienteering, but I know that may not be an option for different reasons. But in lieu of that, being able to draw on the knowledge and experience of someone who knows the craft is invaluable.

Being able to understand what the map is telling you cognitively, and understanding it three dimensionally are two different things: really being able to picture the landscape and have a physical grasp of the terrain will only come from experience and knowledgeable guidance.

12:37 p.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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There are a number of good courses around the country in the basics of land navigation, all of which start with maps, and add compass and in some cases include electronic widgets like GPSRs. These are offered by outdoor organizations (Seattle Mountaineers, Mazamas, Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, Iowa Mountaineers, etc etc) and university outing clubs. Some universities, colleges, and community colleges also offer courses. If you are willing to volunteer as an adult leader for youth groups, such as Boy Scouts, courses are offered for adult leaders of such organizations.

As mentioned, orienteering is a good way to learn map and compass. Look on the website of the US Orienteering Federation for an orienteering club near you (http://www.us.orienteering.org/).

I teach a land navigation course for the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge each year, usually in June. CTL is located at Donner Pass in the Sierra, so the course includes actually getting out in the mountains, very much hands-on and feet on the ground. I will post a note on Trailspace when next year's course is scheduled.

As the others have posted, there is no substitute for getting out into the woods and hills to learn to use a map. The map is the most fundamental tool for finding your way (after learning to use your eyes and ears in conjunction with your brain). Compass is secondary to proper use of the map (I must disagree with yock on this). The web is a very poor way to learn use of a map (or a compass). You have to actually get out and connect with the terrain physically. The rest of the navigation tools are good aids, but only in conjunction with the map - batteries in electronic widgets can and do die.

1:55 p.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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By public request, our nature center will be hosting a map and compass beginner course some time this Fall or early Winter. It will be taught by the chief and staff of our local SAR team. So far, interest looks good. The class is 1/2 desk-top and 1/2 hands on, following bearings, back bearings, and a short orienteering practice loop.

2:43 p.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Compass is secondary to proper use of the map...

I don't have the extensive experience that Bill does, but I agree with this statement. I would add the caveat that one must be able to determine direction and correct orientation of the map to location without a compass. That can usually be acheived in a number of ways, including observation of the land forms at hand.

For most terrain I only need to employ my compass infrequently, and then usually just to get really specific. It is not hard, once learned, to maintain a constant awareness of direction (N-S-E-W), adjacent landformations and their relation to each other, and your location in concert with with all.

4:09 p.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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where is this course held at?

4:09 p.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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By public request, our nature center will be hosting a map and compass beginner course some time this Fall or early Winter. It will be taught by the chief and staff of our local SAR team. So far, interest looks good. The class is 1/2 desk-top and 1/2 hands on, following bearings, back bearings, and a short orienteering practice loop

Where is this course to be held at FKlock?

8:15 p.m. on October 5, 2010 (EDT)
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I found this web site helpful for understanding TOPO and compasses.

http://www.compassdude.com/


Also check out the dude links, there is good information here.

10:18 a.m. on October 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Where is this course to be held at f_klock?

We are located in NE PA - in the Poconos.

http://www.carboneec.org/directions.html

8:19 p.m. on November 7, 2010 (EST)
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As a former Army Ranger and present day architect. Orienteering is the basis of anything with that said. i would like to commend the members who have left you great amount of information and where to start. My opinion is like one member but as I was taught and instructed you have to aplly your craft in small amounts to see where you have your strengths and weakness's. Start small and end large as in distances so it's easier to backtrack and start over to learn from any mstakes. As for your uestion I found this site for my nephews scout troop for their orienteering presentation for their troop. I read it and went through the materiak 3 times and forwarded it to a friend at the SERE school in Washington state USAF. They and myslef found this one of the best PDF and Power point presentations we have found for the civilian's. It was well put together and it runs right next to the prentations I went through in Landnavigatiob in the military.    Here's the site.   Landnavigation.org    go to this site and it has everything on how to read a compus properly to topo. I believe this will help you. But you have to work in the field in small distances and build up ,

11:30 a.m. on November 8, 2010 (EST)
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One comment and caveat about daly's post above - the website he gives is very heavily oriented (bad pun, sorry) toward military navigation. The one and only compass (heavily promoted) is the military-style lensatic compass (specifically the Commenga). While this type of compass is certainly useful for wandering the woods and hills, it is very much a military compass, meaning heavy weight and full of features that are great if you are calling in the artillery. However, having used a wide variety of compasses (including the lensatic, as well as the pocket transit, various other sighting compasses, orienteering-specific compasses, marine compasses, aircraft compasses, including self-correcting, flux-gate, digital, etc, and on down to the zipper-pull compasses), frankly, the lensatic is way overkill for anything other than military uses. Even the mirror/sighting compasses like the Ranger 15CL are a bit of overkill. The simple baseplate compass (even the basic $10 ones from Suunto, Brunton, Silva (JWA) and Silva (Sweden) will serve 90% of the uses of any backpacker or backcountry traveller. This is not to say that lensatic compasses are not useful. The Cammenga is well made. But it is way overkill. (disclosure - I own one, among my collection of several dozen compasses).

The website has and links to some excellent information. And daly's advice of "one step at a time" in learning navigation (whether land nav, air nav, or marine nav) is right on, and is the same as has been emphasized repeatedly here on Trailspace, especially by the long-time, highly experienced members (and most especially by the Old Geezers who have been wandering the woods and hills for many decades).

I should note also that, despite the disclaimer on the first page of "no connection to Cammenga", in the downloaded files I found the following comment on page 16 of Part1:

Buy the Genuine Article
Purchasing a genuine
CAMMENGA LENSATIC
COMPASS is easy, go to (website link to the manufacturer)


Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?

3:18 p.m. on November 8, 2010 (EST)
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I love my lenstatic compass!  It is all I have ever used.  But I am in the minority; virtually everyone I know uses a base plate design compass.  I don't know if it is skill or the tool, but I have always been the most accurate among the groups I have traveled with, usually able to place our location within 15 yards of true location on a topo map.  This may seem trivial, but there are times when this precision is necessary, for instance choosing among several compact, adjacent, colliers to enter, when only the proper choice will allow safe passage, or locating where a snow covered trail enters a dense, otherwise difficult to pass through, aspen covered hillside. 

Ed

6:55 p.m. on November 8, 2010 (EST)
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Ed,

That's fantastic accuracy, considering that the standard for accuracy on USGS quads for surveyed points is 1/50 inch (the standard does not apply to locations other than the surveyed points, according to the USGS Mapping Office publications). That is 0.5 mm, the diameter of the lead most commonly used in mechanical pencils these days. On a 7.5' quad (1:24,000), that amounts to 12 meters or 40 feet (13 yards). In other words, you are saying you can equal the surveyors (who do the maps from aerial and satellite surveys these days) with your lensatic compass.

Recall that on a 1:24,000 map, 1 inch = 2000 ft. So doing the inverse conversion, your 15 yard positioning is 45/2000 = 0.0225 inches on the map - you must have a much steadier hand than this Old GreyBeard to be able to plot that accurately.

The altitude standard, for comparison, is 1/2 of the contour interval.

For some trail projects I have done where we used survey-grade GPS receivers, differential correction, and post-processing, it is fairly common to find non-surveyed points (trail junctions, stream junctions, saddles, other easy to identify non-surveyed points) off by a hundred feet or more. This can be a real pain when developing an orienteering map for competition, while using a topo as a base map. Trails frequently are off by more (especially since trails tend to get revised).

12:02 a.m. on November 9, 2010 (EST)
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Ed,

That's fantastic accuracy, considering ...

My results are based on triangulating known benchmarks, using distant bench marked landmarks, the further away, all the better.  BTW that is +- 15 yards. Having a steady hand helps, a good eye helps more, but taking multiple readings, eliminating the outliers, and averaging the rest is the biggest help.  One can also sight off of more than two reference points, to quadangulate, pentangulate…  Another trick is eliminating the handshakes altogether, resting the compass on a steady object.  An error I’ve seen people make is using their compass when it is not plumb, especially if an embolism has formed in the liquid at altitude.  Something people also overlook is a good reading is compromised if you attempt to chart on a map that is not laying flat.  Lastly you may have to estimate how magnetic declination affects your specific sighting, since the correction listed on the map varies from the actual value at a specific point of longitude, but this is really splitting hairs.  

It helps to have a correctly calibrated compass.  I found even good compasses are off a bit, fresh from the factory.  The current compass I use is accurate when lining up the left edge of the rear sight with just inside the left edge of the cross hair, assuming the center of the bezel tic marks as the dead-on increment point. 

You bring up an interesting point, comparing my performance against USGS product accuracy.  My results were based on experiences back in the 70s, before satellites revolutionized cartography, WHEN I still had good eyes.  (That should elicit a whole bunch of tangential comments.)  Thus your observations have me scratching my own head, making a skeptic of me too.  I would doubt my own assertions, but we diddled with this field exercise several times in different locations, all with similar results.  Perhaps my results are partly because I used technology similar to what they used back in the day, thus similar results.  One of the bench marks I triangulated was new at that time, but the rest were from the 30s and 40s.  The question beckons: Are the practices currently used to survey, benchmark, and map significantly more accurate than those practiced fifty years ago, enough so as to have context in this topic?       

Having good compass skills doesn’t preclude some silly and frustrating errors.  The fact non-surveyed map points can be in error has caused problems for us in the past.  I remember a navigation error caused by taking a bearing off the edge of an incorrectly drawn lake, resulting in us going down the wrong side of a buttress ridge, stranding us above a sheer wall, whereas the correct route choice would have delivered us to the lower valley.  We lost most of a day’s effort, being forced to re-climb most of the ridge the next day to get back on course.  Frustration due to bad weather has also caused me to learn some exotic orienting techniques, such as utilizing trig to attempt orienting off a single bearing point.  Yea, I admit it.  I have packed a slide rule and inclinometer into the Alaskan wilderness, in addition to compass and altimeter.  (And to think I thought orienting competitions were for geeks!)  Fortunately most backcountry navigation doesn't require such regimen, or even a compass for that matter.  

Ed  

5:36 p.m. on November 9, 2010 (EST)
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I had an interesting navigation challenge the other day -- I confess my GPSR solved the riddle; figuring this out w/a topo would've definitely been a challenge, but a quick study of a topo probably would've averted a lot of confusion.


tricky-navigation.jpg

The trail crosses the confluence of two creeks -- the right way is up the gorge at the left. 

 This is a hike northbound up into a gorge; generally you don't need much navigation help: as long a you're heading uphill and the creek's flowing downhill, you're going the right way.

But this one threw me a curve: I didn't notice the confluence of these two creeks. After the crossing there's a sharp left turn, then a rightward arc, and then, seemingly impossibly, the creek shows up again on the left. If I'm going the right way and I've just crossed from the right bank to the left, the creek should be on my right.

Now, the creek on my left has much less flow than the one I'd been following before. Further evidence that I've stumbled across another creek and that I'm going the wrong way.

Yet my GPSR and paper map (not a topo, just something the Park Service posts online) tell me - correctly - I'm on the right trail and heading in the right direction.

I finally retraced my steps back to the crossing, scanned the terrain and noticed the two creeks coming together, and deduced the obvious: the creek going in the proper direction would have considerably less flow above the confluence with the other creek. 

Object lesson: a good topo map would've revealed the confluence of these creeks (assuming I'd have read it). Because this is dense Southern Appalachian terrain, there really wasn't any other way to go except the trail I was on, but I still couldn't escape the sensation that I'd made a wrong turn.

 

7:25 p.m. on November 9, 2010 (EST)
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TomM -

Clearly, part of your confusion is in the definition of "Right Bank" and "Left Bank". River boatmen and river runners (and the French) term right and left banks while facing in the direction of flow. Hence, the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Le Rive Gauche is the bank opposite the Louvre, and hosts Le Tour Eiffel (another puzzle - why do the artists hang out on Rive Gauche when most of the art museums in Paris are on the opposite bank?). However, climbers (the role you were in) refer to right and left for the climber going uphill, which places flowing streams with reversed banks. Then again, in the Ruby Mountains, the Lemoille Creek Right Fork joins the main Lemoille Creek from the left when facing in the direction of flow.

But what do you do when the creek runs dry?

4:41 p.m. on November 10, 2010 (EST)
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TomM -

Clearly, part of your confusion is in the definition of "Right Bank" and "Left Bank". River boatmen and river runners (and the French) term right and left banks while facing in the direction of flow. Hence, the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Le Rive Gauche is the bank opposite the Louvre, and hosts Le Tour Eiffel (another puzzle - why do the artists hang out on Rive Gauche when most of the art museums in Paris are on the opposite bank?). However, climbers (the role you were in) refer to right and left for the climber going uphill, which places flowing streams with reversed banks. Then again, in the Ruby Mountains, the Lemoille Creek Right Fork joins the main Lemoille Creek from the left when facing in the direction of flow.

But what do you do when the creek runs dry?

Time out for a cultural diversion!

La Rive Gauche – I believe this means the left bank.  It is also one of my favorite restaurants in So Cal.  If you like California cuisine with a heavy French influence this is a must dine stop, located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Malaga Cove.

The reason the artists live on the other bank is due to the lower rents, and the critical attitude the “hip” crowd has about “slumming” with tourists.

Ed

5:07 p.m. on November 10, 2010 (EST)
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I had an interesting navigation challenge the other day... 

I feel your pain, Tom. 

Most of my trips do not have heavy forest canopy that obstructs the vista.  Many years ago, however, I found myself unable to take compass bearings in the Olympic National Forest.  It was like walking into a J.R. Tolken fantasy land, of giant trees, ferns, and moss carpeted forest floors.  Most of the time the verdant forest precluded taking bearings with a compass, unless one bush whacked up a ridge.  And that option wasn’t practical much of the time as the fauna was often impenetrable, bristling with nettles and other pokie things.  Trail junctions often lacked signage, so you have to keep close track of your whereabouts on the map.  I have no idea how one would efficiently travel cross country up a drainage system, there, without a GPS or local knowledge.

Ed

9:16 p.m. on November 10, 2010 (EST)
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La Rive Gauche – I believe this means the left bank. ...

The reason the artists live on the other bank is due to the lower rents, and the critical attitude the “hip” crowd has about “slumming” with tourists.

Ed

Yes, "gauche" means left (note that this means left-handers are automatically "gauche", plus in Latin, left is "sinistra", so lefties are also "sinister). The Universite de Paris is also on the Left Bank, and student-favored housing there is fairly cheap. Although a former colleague and professor at the Universite lives in rather posh quarters on the Left Bank.

However, I will note that the rents around the famed Moulin Rouge (Place Pigalle) are also very cheap. And that's on the Right Bank (Rive Droite).

By the way, I have been in the Olympics, and do not recall the fauna (that's the animals) being "impenetrable, bristling with nettles and other pokie things", except for some of the deer with pokie things on their heads. I do recall a lot of the flora (that's the plants) in some areas being thoroughly equipped with nettles.

2:55 a.m. on November 11, 2010 (EST)
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..By the way, I have been in the Olympics, and do not recall the fauna (that's the animals) being "impenetrable, bristling with nettles and other pokie things", except for some of the deer with pokie things on their heads. I do recall a lot of the flora (that's the plants) in some areas being thoroughly equipped with nettles.

 Flora it is! Me bad.

Ed

9:37 a.m. on November 12, 2010 (EST)
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And maps have changed a lil in the last 40 years. I like the maps from the 60s that still had the ruins and mines on them.  And other symbols that don't appear that I remember from the Boy Scouts when I learned Map and compass.

11:31 a.m. on November 14, 2010 (EST)
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i can say I have no clue about the maps from the 60's because I was just born in that era. But I can agree they have taken things out that would be more interesting to see as you have described. Bill S thanks for the heads up! I do appreciate a outside point of view exspecially from old geezers as you say. The old geezer who taught me was my father a marine dureing korea and a Green Beenie in Vietnam. So went I hit Ranger school it was a refresher from being a kid. Yes you old geezer have alot of splended advice and interesting conversations. have a goodin!

8:57 a.m. on November 15, 2010 (EST)
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Gary, I know what you mean about those old Quads, they had everything on them! When I was a kid we had a huge "book" of all the old USGS quads our region. They were held together with screw-post bindings. I will have to find out if my Dad still has them.

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