This is the second of a 7-video instructional series from Sierra Designs. This one, as well as the first, are dedicated to map and compass, which is a subcategory of navigation. If you haven’t already, learn to adjust for declination and to orient a map. Got it? Good, let’s move on to a more advanced lesson.
Real world examples
Before I explain how to find and transfer bearings in the field and on a map, I’d like to share two real examples in which having this know-how would be useful.
1. You are section-hiking the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, which is largely off-trail. From Dumbbell Pass you believe that you can see Observation Peak, which is an important landmark because your next pass (Amphitheater Pass) is immediately to its east. You find the bearing to the mountain that you believe is Observation Peak — 345 degrees. You then transfer that bearing to the map and, indeed, Observation Peak is at 345 degrees from your current position at Dumbbell Pass.
2. You are climbing New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in March. Conditions are mild, but it’s a whiteout (of course) and the trail above Lake of the Clouds Hut is buried under snow. To reach the summit, you find the bearing on your map between the hut and the summit — exactly 45 degrees. You transfer that bearing to the field, and begin to hike in that direction.
Of course, my compass is not my only navigational tool, and rarely do I rely on it exclusively. For example, before hiking over to what I believe is Amphitheater Pass, I would double-check the mapped topography of Observation Peak. And while climbing to Mt. Washington’s summit, I would keep an eye on my altimeter. If there is inconsistency between my data sources (i.e. my compass, map, altimeter, clock, GPS), I stop and figure it out.
Also, these examples do not represent the extent of real world uses. Once you know these techniques, you’ll realize that there are countless situations in which you can apply them.
Actions and worlds
Two actions are possible with a compass. You can:
- Find a bearing, a.k.a. take or spot a bearing; and,
- Transfer a bearing, a.k.a. transpose or plot a bearing.
You can find and transfer bearings in two different worlds:
- The field, i.e. the mountains, lakes, and canyons around you; and,
- A topographic map, which depicts a landscape in a condensed format.
All told, then, to effectively use a compass you need to learn four techniques. How to:
- Find a bearing in the field (watch at 0:51)
- Transfer a bearing to the field (watch at 1:35)
- Find a bearing on a map (watch at 2:10)
- Transfer a bearing to a map (watch at 3:50)
But it gets slightly more complicated, because in practice you always perform two techniques together. Specifically, you:
- Find a bearing in the field (e.g. Observation Peak), and transfer it to a map (watch at 5:20); or,
- Find a bearing on a map (e.g. Mt. Washington), and transfer it to the field (watch at 6:41).
When I teach map and compass on my guided trips, I ensure that the clients can perform the four techniques above before explaining that the steps have to be combined. For example:
- To learn how to find a bearing in the field, I will have them take a bearing to a tree or a boulder.
- To learn how to transfer a bearing in the field, I will give them a random bearing, like 68 degrees.
- To learn how to find a bearing on a map, I will tell them where they are (e.g. “Iceberg Lake,” even if they are not) and where to find a bearing to (e.g. “Point 7554,” even if we’re not going there and I’ve never even seen it).
- To learn how to transfer a bearing to a map, I again give them random bearings, like 256 degrees.
Once they’ve mastered these four steps, in theory you can combine them. But for it to become second nature, practice is involved.