Trails vs. Roughin' it

1:58 p.m. on June 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Just a quick gather of opinions- do you prefer to hike on trails or do you like to use compasses, maps, and gut instincts to guide you to your destination?

I ask because my buddies and I were doing a dayhike of greylock, and as usual our mapquest directions to the trailhead led us nowhere. We asked locals for directions to any trail that would get us to the greylock summit. while on the trail, we thought it was just going to wrap around the whole mountain, so we ditched the trail and hiked up the side of the mountain and we pass no checkpoints that the map said we would. So eventually we got to the top and we could see a much grander mountain from our current summit. Turns out we misinterpreted the local's directions and thought we were on greylock, but in reality the trail would take us to greylock. Long story short, we screwed the trail and it was much more fun, though it turned out to be a disaster.

2:46 p.m. on June 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I often hike off trail to see the wilderness just as the native american di. Often the trils go by some of the best features and you get to see just what everyone else see's. But in most national parks hiking off trail is frowned apon ven a ticketable offense like in the Grand Canyon where fragile desert plants get trampled and take ages to grow back.

I usually like to take game trails as those often get me to places no one else has been to without four legs. Tho sometime difficult because deer and rabbits often either go under or over a fallen tree instead of around which is often harder.

3:01 p.m. on June 10, 2009 (EDT)
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First) I keep and use a map & compass (non electronic)and also know my position on the map no mater if i'm on a trail or not.

Second) I like both, trails and bushwhacking. Both can be very satisfying in there own way.

A GPS is a nice item to have as well but still keep your map & compass (non electronic) the battery's never go dead in them unlike a GPS.

Also know how to use a map & compass there no good if you don't know how to use them. If you don't know how to use or would like to strengthen you skills. Check out this website it starts out basic and goes to advanced with some really nice labs and good explanations. They are in both PowerPoint presentation and PDF, most compasses will be adaptable to this lab.

7:22 p.m. on June 10, 2009 (EDT)
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For a lot of the places I go, there is no trail, or at best, a trail part way there. Plus I do a lot of winter travel, so there aren't any trails visible anyway (yeah, there are the blue diamonds up in the trees for some well-traveled winter routes, and sometimes other folks' tracks, except they are usually going somewhere else).

Kmarr, you should have studied the topo maps before you started out. Greylock is an easy hike, if you go the right way.

9:37 p.m. on June 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Hi Kmarr,

first of all, gut instincts are not for navigation, they are for something else. HaHa!

I enjoy hiking on trails, and hiking off trails. I think one of the reasons people enjoy off trail hiking is because it is more challenging. Be aware that you can get lost, and I can prove it.

I always carry map & compass, always. I also carry a small survival kit even on day hikes containing items often referred to as "The Ten Essentials". On backpacking trips this same kit goes in the lid of my backpack, The lid detaches and becomes a fanny pack, kinda like an "escape pod", if you will. There is an article here on trailspace that covers these items:

As Bill advised, you should always get a topo map and study it at home taking note of mountains, ridges, valleys, streams etc. and how your planned route weaves through that terrain. You need a "mental map" as well as the paper topo map.

Get a compass and learn to use it along with the maps in areas with clearly marked trails. The idea is to NOT wait until you are lost to use these items, you should always know where you are on the map.

With some practice and study you should soon be able to look at the terrain around you and have a general idea of where you are on the map (depending on the situation) if you have been keeping up.

Also most Trail Guide books I've bought ($10 to $20) have detailed driving directions to the trail head as well as detailed trail description. These are a valuable tool to have on hand, and can be had on type sites as well as your local outdoor outfitters. Most of them cover an entire state but may not list every single trail.

I'm glad you had a good time out there hiking, hope to see you around here on trailspace.

5:40 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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In Boy Scouts we were taught to practice orienteering all the time. Now I am glad I did. I have been lost but a few times and knowing how to use a good ole map and compass is great. I still have never used a GPS.

I like being in wilderness where I have not been and not many others have been before me. It is always nice to find that the last possible human to come this way was a redman when I find Indian artifacts still intact where the wild man/woman was before me

Oh, it must have been so good to be so wild and free in the early world. I envy the Indians and ancient humans who lived with the land and were able to hunt and forage for their livelyhoods.

1:45 a.m. on June 13, 2009 (EDT)
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I have a gps, but it really takes the fun out of it..... after a couple trips, the novelty has run a little thin.

Gary, I agree, It must have been nice, in many ways to live before modern times. I would like to experience the senses these aerlier humans had with navigation, tracking, endurance and strength. Do you think we have lost quite a bit of those abilities over time? I think so... On the other hand having a waterproof breathable set of foul weather gear is pretty cool to.

7:43 p.m. on June 16, 2009 (EDT)
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No I'm glad I live in Modern times and not a hundred years ago. One thing they never had much of: free time! It was work from dawn to dusk. My grandmother carried milk each day(in summer) from the hills where they kept the kettle. But she always also knitted socks and mittens while she carried the milk. Could not waste the time by just carrying the milk. With 14 children and a small farm to tend, no waste of time was possible. They even had to wash their laundry by the brook, no automatic machine then.

One of my uncles told me about when he was with grandfather running a big sailvessel that carried fish south and flour north. They were afraid many a time, pitch dark and the lighthouses were not always to be relayed on. The coast of Norway is not the easiest place to navigate.

Many people today have a romantic notion of the past. I do not. It was work, pain, sickness and early death for most of the people.

12:01 p.m. on June 17, 2009 (EDT)
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Some of what you mention even persisted until the generation before me, my parents' generation. People born in the US and Europe, the "civilized, industrial world" with the beginnings of modern medicine, in the 19th Century still had average lifespans in the 50 year range. When I was a kid, the March of Dimes charity was focused on polio, a very real scourge. I personally knew other kids who got polio and were put in those "iron lungs".

On the reservation where I lived for my first 13 years (except for the 2 years in Honduras), our electricity (in one of the dozen houses that had electricity in the village) was 25 cycle power (yes, we called it "cycle" then, instead of "Hertz"). My mother had to do a lot of the washing by hand (but we did have running hot and cold water in the house). It was a great day when lines were strung to most of the houses in the village and we were converted to 60 cycle (had to change the motor in the refrigerator), plus we got a "real washing machine" with its attached clothes wringer (I once stuck my arm in the wringer and got pulled through to my shoulder). There were still a lot of people on some of the Northern Arizona reservations who did their laundry at the river, though, up into the 1950s.

You are right that many people today have a romantic notion of the past, and have no idea that even 50-60 years ago things were much harder for the majority even in the US, Canada, and Europe.

So what did we ever do without computers, the Internet, cell phones, television, jet airplanes, and iPods? I know! We got out into the woods and hills (or desert in my case), and enjoyed ourselves staring at the sky full of brilliant stars of all colors. We listened in silence to the wonderful songs of birds. And we walked a lot of places. We talked to our neighbors, and we grew our own fresh fruits and vegetables (and ate the same old repetitive diet, because a lot of today's exotic foods just didn't grow in our area because the climate wasn't suitable - but that fresh-baked bread was sure great).

Some good, some bad. It just was what it was.

Ooops, sorry, way off into the wilderness of "Off Topic".

12:40 p.m. on June 17, 2009 (EDT)
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Well said, Otto and Bill, I totally concur. I remember post-WWII British Columbia and the lack of roads, brutal winters in frame houses with no insulation and only wood/coal heaters to keep us from freezing to death. I remember the continual physical labour of cutting wood, digging the garden and walking an honest two miles to and from school in temps. below zero and 3+ feet of snow as well as delivering the daily paper in this for what few dollars I had to spend.

I backpacked using WWI and WWII rucksacks, a down quilt my grandmother made as a girl in Norway in the 1880s and a can with a candle in it. We wore whatever clothing our parents could afford, usually "hand-me-downs" that were NOT "cool" and we DID NOT DARE complain, or, we experienced a "damm good licking".....

I went to work, alone, barely 21, on a BC Forest Service fire lookout where I used a Trapper Nelson packboard to carry my food, wood, lamp gas and water up to the lookout shack and I sometimes carried a full 10 gallon steel creamcan of H20 on this up that steep hill, this would have weighed about 140-150 lbs. I LOVED this work and was damm good at it and wish I could still be doing it, under those tough but rewarding circumstances.

However, building B.C./Canada was a brutal, tough, harsh and even dangerous life, and still is in many ways, but, nothing like the old days. My old man went into the hardrock gold mines of the West Kootenays at age 16, in 1920, and he used to tell us what it was like....NOT easy! He worked as a plumber until age 70, then as an RCMP gaol guard until age 83, like most of his generation and his parents, grandparents here in "Beautiful BC", he know no other way......

Today, the young people will not stay in the bush for even a week in camp without a "sat phone" and "high speed 'net access".....bit different to the past.......

11:00 a.m. on June 18, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm an avid geocacher, so I always have a GPS with me. If I happen to have the topos loaded into it, I'll always check it first. They are quick, easy, accurate, and reliable. That said, if I'm headed somewhere I'm not familiar with, or if I get off trail, I'll always carry a compass and map. Actually, I always carry a compass, period.

Back to the question: The short answer is both. I like hiking trails, especially in the trees. Not sure if I'd want to bushwhack through a forest. Living in the desert now, I've grown accustomed to being able to see a long ways (same as when I was in Wyoming hiking/climbing above tree line). It's nice to be able to see where you are headed. But even here, I stick to established trails if possible. Footprints in the desert last for years and years.

But I will go cross country if the destination, terrain, or season calls for it.

6:18 p.m. on June 21, 2009 (EDT)
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When not on trails, I simply use my "sense of direction" coupled with memory. I hardly carry a map with me, seeing that I do "local" walk-abouts.

7:15 p.m. on June 23, 2009 (EDT)
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When I lived in south Norway I often went off trail just to be alone. Here in the north this is no problem, you meet about 3 people a day if you are lucky! Therefore I most often follow the tracks here. Not just the marked tracks by the DNT or STF, but also the tracks made by animals. (mostly sheep and reindeer) The tracks are the easiest way to cross a mountain. They avoid steep cliffs, finds the best places to ford a river, aso.

3:13 a.m. on June 24, 2009 (EDT)
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I suppose my father and grandfathers had it a little rougher than me, but I myself took to the woods to escape suburbia. I certainly have no tales to match the hardships described above. But I can't help but think of Monty Python's "Four Yorkshiremen", which ends thus:

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down t' mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep wi' his belt.

SECOND YORKSHIREMAN:Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of 'ot gravel, work twenty hour day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!

THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to 'ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o'clock at night and lick road clean wit' tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit' bread knife.

FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN:Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.

As far as the question at hand, I like a good trail when it gets me where I want to go. On a trail you are free to not pay attention: meditate on life, listen to the birds, etc. The decision about which direction to go in is already made. Nothing wrong with that. If the trail you choose is too busy for your taste, there's usually one less travelled nearby or maybe for the next time. And in areas with thick vegetation (or raging creeks) there are distinct advantages to having a path of least resistance, including maybe bridges.

But here in Norway the trails mainly go between huts, in the valleys and over passes. If you want to go up a mountain, you find your own way. Since there are no trees above, say, 1000 meters, you can usually see the way ahead and go just about anywhere, maybe just avoiding big boggy areas or cliffs. Totally different set of rules from the White and Green Mtns. where I spent my formative years.

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