30 November 2010

Mountain Skills 1 Blog

Learning The Basics Of How Not To Get Lost
By Ailsa Berkeley

Have you ever been on top of a mountain exhausted and have no idea which route will take you safely back down to your car, ever plan a half day hike with friends and 6 hours later you are still dragging them through bogs and brambles? Ever carry maps out with you because that’s what all good outdoors people but the only use they are for you is to keep your bottom dry when you sit down?

Well I'm a demon for thinking that a pair of hiking boots and a sense of adventure is all I need to get me through a day out in the hills, but after one too many basic errors that, have nearly turned friend and family against me forever, it dawned on me that maybe a sense of direction is also a good thing to have with me on a day out. It was time to up skill, so when the opportunity arose to take part in Outdoor Ireland's Mountain Skills Course I was all over it , like mud to a hiking boot.

Located in the depth of Kerry, at the foot of the Gap of Dunloe, near Carrantuohill, Nathan’s school is ideally situated (though admittedly a little hard to find). From here he runs a great range of activity courses from kayaking to rock climbing. The one I was participating in was Mountain Skills 1 - aimed at giving the basic map reading skills to hill walkers. In November I headed down to take part in the 2 day course.

The course was dedicated to map understanding, the art of navigating the land with map reading being the focus. The group, lead by Tadhg, headed to the hills, each of us armed with a Silva compass and a typographical map. And the training began. We divided the course into sections and each one of the group had to take turns in leading the others to the detonations. In unfamiliar terrain the only thing we would rely on was our trusted '78.

The amount of information that can be pulled out of a map is unbelievable, from reading the basic symbols to recognising re-entrants. We delved into the detail of the contour lines, we were taught to recognise our exact location from just reading the pixel thin lines on the map. Timing was a whole section to itself – having the ability to estimate how long a route will take is definitely one of the most practical pieces of information we could take from the course, enabling you to determine the latest possible start time for the day and to know when to cut the planned route short if running behind schedule, preventing the situation arising where you are wondering around aimlessly in the darkness...

Tadhg told us numerous tips and tricks along the way such as how to tell if the river has been mapped or not, how to spot if you’ve missed your destination, how tick of features can be used, what the ultimate pack should contain [try vacuum packing a fleece and a Mars bar...] and why deliberately aiming off your destination an help you get to your destination quicker....

The class room sessions complemented the practical field trips (and not just in terms of the hot cuppas and chocolate biscuits) Being informed about what gear to buy from someone who experienced in the area rather than someone who is just trying to sell you a product was invaluable - I’m just dying to go on a shopping trip now to sort out my outdoors wardrobe. Other topics tackled were what route cards are and how to use them, hazards and what to watch out for, pacing, and recognising geographic features...

Once it was all explained to me I couldn’t foresee how I’d go off track again – that was until it was me turn to lead...[somehow the group ended up ankle deep in bog, heading in the wrong direction...] A lot of information was packed into the two days, practice is definitely required. But it’s great to be able to say that after a two day course as long as I have a good Silva type 4 compass and a typographical map I’m in command of myself no matter what the location in the outdoors.

The course is perfect for runners, hikers, adventure racers who want to improve their navigation sills or for someone who just wants a laugh with a good bunch people in the outdoors.

Click Here To See Upcoming Mountain Skills Courses

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