Modern Navigation: How to find your way in the Great Indian Outdoors
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
What is that one skill that is most critical to trekking in India? Is it clothing layering management? Is it nutrition management? Or is it search and rescue?
The most obvious opinion of any pro trekker would be, none of the above. There’s just one key skill that makes one depend on guides and trekking agencies to undertake any foray into the wilderness. And that is navigation.
Although guides and agencies provide an ensemble of services from portage to food, it is primarily the task of showing the way that has earned them the title of a guide. By showing the right way guides ensure that you complete the journey in an optimal time, and minimising the risks that go hand in hand with any outdoor excursion. Hence, it is the ‘knowledge of the way’ which commands the most price when billed for guiding services. Goes without saying that, any thrifty trekker or one who is aiming to accumulate pro skills must learn this one essential skill before he/she dives into the rest of the curriculum.
What is navigation for the outdoors?
Navigation essentially means the skill that gets one from point A to point B. In the outdoors navigation encompasses a slightly more complex task of navigating from point A to point B when there is an absence of a well defined trajectory. And to add to it, the path changes frequently from season to season. In such circumstances navigation isn’t only restricted to route finding, but also weighs in aspects that make the journey safest possible with the constraints present.
How was it done in the past?
For most people the word navigation evokes the images of topographical maps and compasses being used by explorer of the past, when charting out their way through rough seas, towards adventures in unknown lands. However, for the average Joe reading maps and compasses is unimaginable and daunting, and especially in this day and age when such equipments are becoming obsolete in a highly digitally mapped and navigated society.
While a modern explorer may still need to have such old school skills and knowledge to get in and out of new and unexplored areas, but the average person (which means the most of us) may find very limited practical application of such methods in this day and age.
For instance living in a highly geo-politicised region as the Indian subcontinent one may find it extremely difficult to procure topographical maps of regions that lie close to our political border. Since a major part of the Himalayan ranges is key in drawing these political boundaries, it becomes even more difficult to procure such maps for this particular region. And even if by stray luck you get to lay your hands on a physical map, in all likelihood it would be dated. Since the Himalayan topography is evolving dynamically, especially due to global warming and recession of glaciers, it has become increasingly difficult for cartographers to keep pace with the evolution of the landscape.
How is it done now?
Modern navigational techniques are far simpler compared to the ways of the old. It’s just a matter of learning to embrace and integrate easily available technology to our approach, in order to get started. Thanks to the popularisation of satellite imagery by applications as Google Maps, View Ranger and the like, outdoor adventurers can navigate their way accurately even through a blinding white out.
Trekkers and other outdoor enthusiasts can benefit from map resources that are freely available on the internet, and even GPS tracks of popular treks which are easily downloadable onto their devices and can be used even without an internet connection. All you’ll need, is a device with a GPS. Even the fabled mountaineer that Pranav Rawat is, he navigated through the 950km long Western Himalayan Traverse, unassisted. Using GPS tracks he had plotted onto a digital map, prior to starting the expedition. For Pranav and company, if nothing else at least route finding was a cakewalk on this extreme Himalayan endeavor.
Pro trekkers are now increasingly making it a practice to curate GPS tracks of their trekking adventures and sharing it with the world, to make the outdoors more accessible for everyone. For newbies this saves the trouble of plotting maps with a probable route. And one can follow the marker on a GPS device, without even looking at the terrain to navigate.
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What equipment will you need?
As fancy and high tech as these modern GPS and navigation systems seem to be, trust me they are as inexpensive, and easy to find and use.
Smart Phones – Any smartphone with a GPS onboard, is capable of running basic map applications. One can download and run pre-plotted GPS files on such apps or plot afresh if approaching an area for which GPS tracks are not available.
One can use the phone on airplane mode (to save battery) to run pre downloaded GPS files to navigate in the wilderness.
Pair your phone with a power bank or a basic solar charger to keep the phone alive on prolonged outdoor excursions. We found the Anker 21W a good pick among brands available in India.
Smart Sport Watches – GPS enabled sports watches are great for navigation. Especially due to their light weight (compared to a phone or any other handheld device). Having your hands free is another great advantage that watches have over other devices.
GPS Device – For the pro trekker, a GPS device may be the ultimate solution to navigational needs. The prime advantages of such devices stem from their tough build and extended battery life.
What else should you know?
Given how easy life and play has become due to technology, it still helps to pick some extra low tech skills. Although these aren’t a mandate, skills as weather forecasting or reading contours will help instill confidence. These will only add to making your experience safer and more enjoyable.
The great outdoors is always full of surprises! With its fair share of challenges, risks, and rewards. You never know what may come around the bend.
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Author: Sukrit Gupta
An avid climber, ultrarunner and day dreamer, Sukrit is a fan of everything that is self-managed and solo. A flag bearer for self sufficiency and pushing beyond limits, he loves to spend his time slithering over rock faces and devising cruel trail running courses in his mountainous backyard in Manali.