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Ascending the snowfield on Thunderbird's north ridge. So long as the snow has not frozen hard overnight, it could be done comfortably in trail runners. But the precipice below the run-out is good motivation to wear crampons.

Notes for next time: Gear, logistics, & snow travel || Glacier Divide Route

For my next trip on the Glacier Divide Route, what should I remember from this past one? Logistics The drive to Glacier National Park from Colorado is intimidating — about 15 hours, depending on the final destination. But it wasn’t terrible, and it’s eye-opening to know that I can reach Glacier in 1.5 days even if I’m […]

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An oriented map, done in a few different ways. Normally I rotate the bezel to TN/0 degrees, then line up the edge of my compass (or the meridian lines inside the bezel) with the edge of the map. As a cheat, you can use grid lines on the map, but this will be slightly less accurate.

Map & Compass: Adjust for declination & orient the map

Backcountry navigation is an art. The basics can be learned quickly, like dead reckoning, reading a map, and using an altimeter watch. But extensive practice is necessary to seamlessly and flawlessly apply these skills in the field, especially when under duress or in challenging situations, like off-trail in a heavily forested area with rolling hills. […]

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A screenshot from CalTopo, of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route displayed on the USGS 7.5-minute layer

The future of CalTopo || Interview with founder Matt Jacobs

For several years my go-to platform for topographical maps and imagery has been CalTopo. It has fully replaced — and far surpassed — National Geographic’s TOPO! desktop software, which was discontinued in 2012 and is no longer supported by NG; and, overall, its trip-planning features are unmatched by other online platforms and apps. I use CalTopo most often […]

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Alaska's Arctic Coast gave me reason to learn to use GPS. In this featureless and frigid landscape, a GPS was faster and more reliable than map-reading and dead-reckoning.

Characteristics of an expert navigator: Part II — Proficiency in the understanding and uses of tools

This post is part of a series on the characteristics of expert navigators. I’d recommend first reading the Introduction and Part I, and then returning to this latest installment. Within a few days of starting my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002, I began dead-reckoning using my watch and the Databook. With surprising accuracy, I now had […]

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A powerful combination -- detailed maps, a timepiece, an altimeter, and a magnetic compass with adjustable declination and global needle.

Characteristics of an expert navigator: Part I — Equipped with proper tools

This is Part I of a series on the characteristics of an Expert Navigator. Read the Introduction. More installments are forthcoming. Every “Ten Essentials” list I’ve seen has included a map and compass, and modern versions sometimes also include a GPS. If only the first characteristic of an expert navigator — being equipped with proper […]

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observation-peak-pass

Characteristics of an expert navigator: Introduction

Learning how to navigate was one of the most important and liberating skills that I have developed as a backpacker. On my earliest trips, when my navigation skills were at best rudimentary, I was unable to safely or confidently leave the security of obvious footpaths, foolproof blazes, and accurate signage. I also struggled to reliably […]

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