Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Compass is Better

To say I'm not a fan of GPS units would be to speak too lightly. I find the current trend towards over-reliance on this piece of technology degrades people's existing (if they have any) map and compass skills and situational awareness in an exponential fashion. And, of course, there are all the trips I've been on that have become cluster-fucks or near cluster-fucks because people have spent inordinate amounts of time and energy with their full attention fastened on a screen the size of a matchbox. While I can readily acknowledge that there are some instances where GPS units are invaluable, I believe that the vast majority of our navigation should be done the old fashioned way, using a map, and if necessary a compass.

Recently (today in fact), I hiked to the summit of Mount Heinze from a logging road (Bear Creek FSR to Box Canyon FSR) to the east of the summit. We parked at around 900 metres due east of the mountain, so ascending the peak (all forested, no trail) was a simple matter of following a compass bearing due west. In these circumstances, I find a rough due west is good enough. Eventually, you'll hit the north-south running ridge of Heinze, and, gaining the summit, will simply mean following the ridge either north or south to the top.

I used a compass both to the summit and back to the truck, while my companion used a GPS. As usual, I found a compass perfectly adequate for the job, and, as usual, using a compass was actually faster and more efficient. While my companion would be forced to stand about waiting for a satellite fix, I could pull my compass from my pocket and confirm we were traveling in the right direction without even breaking stride. Add to that the inevitable dallying while batteries are changed and screens are flicked through and the compass wins hands down. 

 We are on the summit, but GPS users feel compelled to check the little screen

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