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.

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

Postby Npike » Mon Oct 24, 2016 7:47 pm

Awesome advice and suggestions, I knew I came to the right place! Can't wait for summer to get here, until then I'll just keep reading and looking at maps all winter!



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

Postby jgaffney » Mon Oct 24, 2016 9:52 pm

1. Learn to use map and compass first.

2. Get a GPS and learn how to use it. Memorize the manual, unless you want to carry it with you. Get a map grid tool, like RetroRoamer so you can figure out where the hell you ended up.

3. Do your route planning in advance, with MyTopo, Acme Mapper or one of the other online topo map websites. Print maps for where you want to go at 1:24000.

4. Get the "Rite in the Rain" waterproof paper to print your custom maps on so that they don't get smeary in your sweaty hands.

5. Be prepared to get lost, get found, and generally see stuff you never would have seen if you stayed on the trails.

Have a great time!
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby mediauras » Tue Oct 25, 2016 9:13 am

With so much excellent advice, there's not much more to be added here. I will say tho, to echo @jgaffney's last point, be prepared to screw up and get a little off the track you thought you were on. Its easy to miss a lake for example because of some contour you weren't paying attention to (yes, personal experience). Its just part of the game, the trick is to be able to pause, understand what happened, where you are, and then where to go. Its all part of the fun!

And to echo another point above, Desolation is a great place to try out some x-ctry. Its a compact wilderness so you can pretty much easily walk out of anything, wide open with lots of granite, and with a few key landmarks to orient yourself (Pyramid Peak, Crystal Range). If you're in No California give it a whirl.
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby frozenintime » Tue Oct 25, 2016 11:09 am

i had the exactly same question, and my answer was (as several have suggested) humphrey's basin.

the basin in general is lovely and easy walking.
going over carol col was great and there is a lot of exacting information about it in this forum.

i wrote about it here (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=15126) if you're curious. can't wait til next year!
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby Eiprahs » Tue Oct 25, 2016 11:55 am

Some rambling thoughts.

Learn how to visualize topography from your maps. Google Earth does this and you can 'fly over' your route allowing you to practice 3D visualization and, perhaps, recognize an obstacle or easy path way from the satellite imagery that doesn't show on the topo.

Learn how to navigate by 'dead reckoning'. WD mentions this in her post--very important when your sight distance is limited by forest, fog or low clouds.

Always keep yourself located on the map. To this end divide the day's travel into smaller sub goals and take your breaks where you have a good view of your surroundings. Use your break time to nail down your landmarks--perspective changes as you move thru the land.

Establish 'limit points'--easily recognized topographic features that, if you hit them, let you know you are off course.

Sometimes the most direct route is not the best. If you are following a creek, for example, you may find travel easier at the foot of the steep canyon wall where vegetation is sparser and view of landmarks is better. Ridge tops are frequently open and much easier travel than mid slope and valley bottoms in forested areas.

Expect to be micro lost but stay macro found. A map with 50 foot contours may not show a 40 foot cliff. Micro features can obscure the view of your landmarks momentarily. If you get where you can't figure out how to proceed, back track to where you were oriented and start over after a fresh map consult and a snack.

Have an escape or back up route. Snow, heavy down trees, avalanche debris may make your planned route unworkable.

Analyze terrain for constriction points. Terrain obstacles funnel human and animal traffic. Travel is usually easier on an animal or unofficial human trail. Just be aware that 'wild' trails may not go where you want to go and you have to recognize when to jump off them.

You are never truly lost if you can retrace your route back to the car! So remember your route in.

Do key word searches for named topographic features on your off-trail route. Sometimes you can find detailed trip reports with terrain photos and gps tracks leading right to where you want to go.

Don't rely on electronic gizmos. They are fabulous but if you lose them or the battery dies, then what?

My best trips were mostly off-trail. You'll never know what you'll find, and that makes all the difference. Have a great time!!
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby markskor » Tue Oct 25, 2016 12:51 pm

Not mentioned but...
Realize that your milage times will be increased. That usual 4 mile "on-trail" time - (2 hours or so?) - could be doubled "off-trail" for the same distance.
Plan/hike accordingly.
Mountainman who swims with trout
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Oct 25, 2016 1:02 pm

One thing to keep in mind is the cardinal rule of Sierra Nevada navigation: You Will Go Where the Granite Tells You to Go. As granite cools it develops roughly rectilinear patterns of cracks, or "joints", and these patterns rule the landscape. Sometimes it works for you (ramps or fissures that you can follow all the way up to a pass), and sometimes against you (granite ribs you have to fight your way over or around to get from Point A to Point B), but it's nearly always a factor in how easy or difficult your travel will be. Knowing that, and learning how to work it to your advantage, is a fundamental part of off-trail navigation in the Sierra.
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby Npike » Tue Oct 25, 2016 2:47 pm

Wow, some great advice here. Thanks again for chiming in, cant get this winter over soon enough!

@ Frozenintime- Thanks for the TR, great write up, and this is a trip that I will proabably take a close look at when planning. Also, funny you should mention being a new dad- I have a 5 month old daughter at home and my wife also know that I need my time in the mountains or else...lol
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby RoguePhotonic » Tue Oct 25, 2016 5:20 pm

I just went and did it. I had to learn through mistakes about how much longer it takes and how much more mentally taxing it can be when you first begin but it's all worth it in the end.
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Re: Learning to travel off trail- where to start?

Postby paul » Tue Oct 25, 2016 7:20 pm

one other thing - when you go off-trail for the first time, don't do it on a dayhike. If you get lost on a dayhike it may mean a night out without proper gear. If you get lost and you are carrying camping gear, you camp. And you have time to try to figure out where you are.
The idea of staying in one drainage your first time out is a good one - knowing that you left a trail down the valley and if you go back down you will hit that trail is a nice backup. I'd also say start out somewhere that's pretty much above treeline, since it's way easier to see where you are going and where you have been.
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