Learning to travel off trail- where to start? | High Sierra Topix  

Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Backpacking and camping basics and other general trip planning discussion for the uninitiated. Use this forum to learn where to look for the information you need, and to ask questions, related to the beginner basics of backpacking and camping, including technique and best practices.

Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby Npike » Mon Oct 24, 2016 1:43 pm

I understand this is a loaded question with no “correct” answer, but I’m curious how to ease myself into off trail hiking & backpacking. I have taken quite a few trips in the last couple of summers and, like most of us here, would like to explore some places that are not accessible by a “main” trail (different basins, passes, etc.). So, how did you become comfortable or learn how to travel off trail? Any resources you used (besides HST and various maps) to get familiar with the Sierra backcountry? Do you have any suggested routes, areas or passes that a newbie like myself might be able to take on? I feel I have great understanding of trail etiquette- anything I need to know or do differently for cross country trips? BTW my desire for XC hiking and camping is completely fueled by reading TR's on here and reading about this pass, and that basin and this col...I want to go there also!!! I'm sure there's room for 1 more, right?

I realize there is a lot of questions here, and I apologize if this is too “beginner” for most folks here, I’m just trying to catch up on knowledge :) ! Getting acquainted with off country travel is overwhelming & kind of scary for someone who takes all trips solo. Any advice would be great! Cheers!



User avatar
Npike
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 26
Joined: Sat Mar 07, 2015 2:47 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Oct 24, 2016 1:49 pm

A navigation course is a better start.

Yep, plenty of people navigate with just a map, and the alpine Sierra is easy by comparison to many places. But having actual navigation skills can't be replaced. Understanding a compass and map is important. You don't just look at the map and know instinctively that the peak in front of you is the one you think it is. Knowing what it is from verifying the bearing with a compass and a map will save you a ton of time and effort, and possibly your life, by keeping you from picking the wrong "pass."
User avatar
AlmostThere
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2266
Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:38 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby limpingcrab » Mon Oct 24, 2016 2:46 pm

At the risk of people calling me out for giving wreckless advice, just go off trail.

Keep some essentials with you, be observant, look behind you and in every direction as you travel, and just do it.

Make sure the weather is clear you first time and have fun! Staying within a drainage your first time is a good idea as passes can be tricky.

The Sierra, especially the high Sierra, is a good practice ground.
User avatar
limpingcrab
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 199
Joined: Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:38 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby LAhiker » Mon Oct 24, 2016 2:50 pm

If you're willing to do some things with a group and if you're located near Los Angeles, the Wilderness Travel Course covers map and compass use and off-trail travel as part of its navigation segment, and each of its "experience trips" includes some cross-country travel:
http://www.wildernesstravelcourse.org/

The WTC is a 10-week course offered every winter in four locations around the Los Angeles area. The locations start at slightly different times in early to mid-January. The course includes weekly lectures covering a variety of topics (food, first aid, navigation, etc.) as well as four outings. Two of the outings are day hikes and two involve overnight camping. The second overnight is a snow camp. It can be a bit weird being back in school (which it sometimes feels like), but most people end up finding the course valuable and knowing a lot more than when they started.

I took the class and learned a lot. I hated the snow camp part, but many people loved it, or said they did once they got back to somewhere warm and dry. ;)
Last edited by LAhiker on Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
LAhiker
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Sep 17, 2014 4:16 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby maverick » Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:29 pm

Totally agree that getting a solid foundation in navigational skills is very important. Navigation in the Sierra is easy once you have learned the basics. Once you have gained some knowledge, places like Humphrey's Basin or Desolation Wilderness offer good areas for intro solo trips. Finding a hiking Meet-up group or someone who is experienced in crosscountry travel to show you the ropes is invaluable.
I have someone here on HST that contacted me, requested my help in introducing them to crosscountry travel, if this interest you, you also PM me. :)
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
User avatar
maverick
Forums Moderator
Forums Moderator
 
Posts: 9387
Joined: Thu Apr 06, 2006 4:54 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby SSSdave » Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:38 pm

A lot of Sierra enthusiasts go off trail both day hiking and backpacking. And many that do are rather inefficient at it, though get by reaching destinations and are apparently content as they be. The main issue with those not too skilled is they tend to make direction decisions by what they visually see in front of them while not looking at their maps much.

One can see use paths of the unskilled in many places. A couple of their favorite use path signs are getting to lakes (in order to fish no doubt) by always following stream courses. Another is descending saddles on ridges by going straight down immediately if the start looks ok from the top. In the first case if they had looked on the map they might notice the slopes are sometimes convex that at some point may become ugly steep. Or in a forest where one cannot easily visually discern what is up ahead, a stream goes through an unpleasant steep rocky band while a map shows moving in a curve well away from the channel is much more gradual. Thus a key skill to acquire is being able to read topographic maps well and look at them religiously.

Although one might take an actual navigation course class, most people could get to where they need to be by simply buying then reading a cheap used basics how to book on Amazon and then getting outside for actual practice. Just search in Books for "backcountry navigation" None of this is rocket science though some never ever urban people or those that have trouble learning from books would be wise to take an actual course.

Would suggest start while car camping, day hiking short distances to easy destinations not on any trails. Thus if one gets in trouble one can easily extract themselves. Going the wrong way while hefting a backpack miles from a trailhead and one pays a penalty in unnecessary strenuous effort to get back on route. Or one may wander around scratching their head wondering where that d!@# lake is I thought I was heading towards? A key to topo map skills is carrying a folded map right in one's hand and continually looking at it while moving across terrain while trying to understand exactly where one is. Heck to make it easier one can actually do the same thing while on a trail making a game of always knowing exactly where one is. In time one will be able to recognize how subtle changes in slope gradients correspond exactly to changes in elevation lines on the maps. One will get good at looking at distant high points and using lines through two such points to project lines on the map in one's hand. One will learn how easy or difficult travel is depending on how close together map vertical lines show. Much more of course.

A little learning challenge:


http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=37.88350,-119.38851&z=15&t=T

Tuolumne Meadows is a nice place to practice these skills. One can park a vehicle along SR120 just south of Pothole Dome. Then by sight climb up the slopes to the top at 8560+ like myriad other people do. Each map contour line is 40 feet. The map shows the base where the dome meets the meadow is 8400 feet and the top is another four 40 foot lines or 160 feet above plus an unknown amount less than 40 feet more. Follow the top northeast and then jog west towards point 8854. One will see going north to drop down off the ridge is too steep. Instead go south where the map contour lines are further apart down to the ponds that is in heavy forest where one can see little. Then rotate clockwise around point 8854 while continually looking at the compass pointer till reaching the pond just northeast. At that point one will be in dense forest so will only be able to see 8854. With your compass beside the pond aim towards the little knob just north at 8600+. Climb up there that is above the pines with an open view and look east towards other high points sticking out of the forest eastward where the Tuolumne River runs. Try to identify each of them on your map while looking at the compass.

Climb back down into the forest and using your compass and map the whole way, head east northeast towards the river. Upon reaching the river one will find some impressive whitewater cascades that is a superb location to spend on a warm summer afternoon. Follow it down to 8480 where one will enjoy a long view down where it goes across granite bedrock slabs with Lower Tuolumne Meadows way below. Then follow the river back up to the meadow's choke point at 8510 where it is difficult to stay close to the river. Notice how the choke point is two vertical lines above the darker brown 8400 contour line thus is 8400+40+40= 8480+. I estimated the choke point was about 3/4 of the way to the next lighter contour line thus wrote 8510 above. Instead head southwest a bit through level forest around that knob to an easy saddle at 8600+ one must climb up and over. On its far south side one is in dense lodgepole forest that quickly opens to Tuolumne Meadows. From there follow the forest edge southwest back to your car.
Last edited by SSSdave on Tue Oct 25, 2016 7:52 am, edited 14 times in total.
User avatar
SSSdave
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2273
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2005 10:18 pm
Location: Silicon Valley
Experience: N/A

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby Cross Country » Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:47 pm

First - take the course.
Second - if you can, go with someone with good experience cross country and do it.
Third - while traveling on trail use your map to notice peaks, ridges, arroyos on the map and in your sight and firmly in your mind.
As I've said here several times: I rarely met a trail I like nor a cross country route I didn't like hence my name "Cross Country". It is just SOOO cool to do your own exploring.
Cross Country
Topix Fanatic
 
Posts: 1257
Joined: Thu Dec 24, 2009 10:16 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby rlown » Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:52 pm

I'll second the excursion in Humphreys as off-trail practice. You have so many choices to learn there.

It took me 3 times to get it right to get to Virginia Lk in Yose. Wasn't lost, just misplaced for a bit. Very valuable experiences.. And now, no reason to return.
User avatar
rlown
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 6514
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 4:00 pm
Location: Petaluma, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby WarrenFork » Mon Oct 24, 2016 5:45 pm

limpingcrab wrote:At the risk of people calling me out for giving wreckless advice, just go off trail.

Keep some essentials with you, be observant, look behind you and in every direction as you travel, and just do it.


Worked for me.

(And everyone I've ever known who spends time in these mountains.)
User avatar
WarrenFork
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 87
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2015 12:55 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Oct 24, 2016 6:23 pm

I know this sounds pretty obvious. All the courses will not make you proficient unless you practice a lot. This means having the map IN YOUR HAND, often. I once lead a hike with a few people who wondered how one kept from getting lost, and they all were amazed that I literally had the map in my hand all the time. And looked at it all the time. Only looking at the map once you are lost does no good. Track your progress at all times on the map. I fold my maps so that the section I need is visible, then put it in a clean clear zip lock. I print out my maps from a map program and the ink is not waterproof. I have also seen people put a map in an 8x11 sheet protector and hang it from their neck.

The sport of orienteering is a fun way to become a great map reader. Many localites have orienteering clubs.

Get a sense of distance traveled in a given time. I messed up this summer and what made me realize I was off course was that it took a lot longer to get to a few lakes that should have been quicker. Guess what? I had gone to the wrong lakes.

I agree - learn some basics and then just do it. I think it is better to have someone with you at first. Maybe you have a friend who also wants to do this. As for mentors, make sure your mentor lets you do a lot of the map reading - lets you fail and figure it out. Too many mentors take over when things go bad.

Another thing with off-trail is micro-route finding. Learn how to effectively get around objects. Instead of stepping up on top of every rock, step over it. Less energy spent. On talus, the larger blocks usually come to rest higher, the smaller ones lower. I usually find that walking talus-lined lake shores that staying close to the shore is usually easier. There are a lot of game trials out there. If you learn to be a good tracker you can avoid a lot of bushwhaking. Beware that animals generally go to food or water sources, so know when to stay on the trail and when to get off it. Become a fisherman. Seriously - fishermen have a big motivation to get good at off-trail travel and do a lot of it in the normal course of a day's fishing.
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 3351
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 7:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

Next

Return to Backpacking / Camping 101



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest