Sunday, May 11, 2014

Complex Trips, Complete Plans

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out and accept information that reinforces our existing opinions while avoiding and discounting information that would challenge our current beliefs. I have long known that, when it comes to planning trips, my past experience has appeared to support my contention that, the more complex the trip, the more complete should be the plan. The trips I have done that have been the most problematic have been those where the plans were incomplete or inadequate. Whereas, my most successful trips have been those that have been planned to the smallest detail and have included options should the primary plan not work out due to weather, partners, conditions, or time constraints. 

 Sunset at Steens Beach

Sometimes I wonder if, my working theory - the more complex the trip the more complete the plan - is actually being supported by past evidence or whether I am simply susceptible to confirmation bias. Of course, it is possible to head out with minimal to no planning and have a successful trip, especially if conditions are completely benign, your partners are uniformly strong, and your trip is simple and easy, and, perhaps most important, your definition of success is loose. A lazy day climbing at your local crag is much easier to pull together on a whim than a two week ski traverse in a remote area of the Coast Mountains during mid-winter. 

In any event, our last sea kayak trip only increased my commitment to my "complex trip/complete plan" theory. With big tides, strong currents, camps accessible only at certain tidal heights, complex geography and unpredictable nautical hazards, it took me a long time to plot out a route that got us around hazardous points and across channels at slack tide, facilitated travelling with the tidal flow rather than against it, and allowed access to and egress from our camps at appropriate tide heights. 

Despite an incredibly smooth trip, there were still new lessons to be learned and old lessons reinforced, and here they are, in no particular order:
  • If you have the luxury of delaying your trip until the weather forecast is favourable, do so.
  • Not all, or even most, nautical hazards are marked on the chart. Some of the biggest standing waves we encountered were not marked on the chart at all. Expect to find haystacks, over-falls, whirlpools in many locations such as prominent points, in narrow channels, at the north and south ends of islands, etc.
  • Use slack tide and the tidal current to your advantage.
  • Check all the charts. One of our nautical charts marks 3 to 4 knot tidal currents at the south end of South Molle Island, while a different scale nautical chart of the same area shows no especially strong currents.
  • Finally, the more complex the trip, the more complete the plan.

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