I'm intruiged by the experience of being lost whilst out alone on the hill.
I'm thinking particularly about those instances where you might experience an inability to think clearly and rationally, perhaps for reasons of hypothermia, lack of experience, ego, kit letting you down, etc.
How did you 'pull' yourself out of it?
and afterwards- did you learn anything from the experience?
In reply to llechwedd:
Define lost. I've never been lost when alone, but occasionally not quite in the place I should have been in white out or poor conditions. Always had a reasonable idea of where I was though and so not what I would call lost, but just a slight navigational error !
Only time I've been lost in the sense I personally did not know where I was without any informed thought of direction of travel, how far we had travelled, or rough position on the hill, was actually when in a group ironically on a winter skills course doing micro navigation in white out conditions!
Why did it happen - poor impatient instructor who did not want to teach properly, did not allow us to pace or navigate ourselves, would not allow us to challenge him on decisions, but "made" us follow him doing the navigation and he got it wrong and we ended up essentially lost - at at the top of a gully we should not be descending and no one including him knowing where we were with any real degree of certainty. That was the start of another saga, but that is not what your asking!
Did I learn - yes, never to fully trust any "strangers" to navigate even if they claim to be qualified and experienced, and always navigate myself even if part of a group.
I've never made a navigational error due to any physical reason. My biggest failing is that I switch off on easy ground, which has been embarrassing on a few occasions. like stopping for a brew in low cloud, and forgetting to check the bearing before setting back off - consequently heading 90 degrees from the direction I wanted to.....
I've probably made most navigational errors that can be made including technical errors like taking a bearing which is 180 deg out but most times I have been 'misplaced' were due to inattention when out with mates.
Out on my own or leading a party I pay more attention but even so I've been a bit lost on my own but enjoyed sorting myself out.
In reply to llechwedd:
Ben Cruachan, thick mist all day but having located the first summit and quite pleased with myself charged off in the right direction without even glancing at the compass because I was so sure of my orientation.
One unintended Corbett later I reviewed the situation and descended on the other side of the hill to my tent and hitched back round. Ho Hum.
Not worried at any stage though, just a little confused as to why there was a reservoir where there ought to have been dry land...
Thanks for the reply.
Re: 'Lost' - I suppose you could say that if you've survived the experience then you 'found' your way out and so were never lost. However I'm not after communication with the dead or rescued.
I'm thinking of my own 'lost' situation where, hypothermic, a sort of quiet despair arrived, followed by an acceptance of my impending demise. Eventually, having to accept that I could not follow a logical train of thought- the preceding words dissolving in it as I tried to form it- something happened that was chance or intuition, I don't know. It made me attend to the landscape and by guided by a feature in an unthinking way, it got me out. Very lucky.
This has haunted me for some time and I worried away at the issue over the last year. In retrospect I know that I made some foolish decisions (or rather I didn't make them).
But what finally hit me like a slap in the face was that I'd unknowingly relied on a good spatial awareness for years, come through all sorts of weather and situations unscathed. but it was a very 'necky' way of operating.
It made me realise that because I rarely needed to call on the compass in other than a cursory manner, I developed a sort of (but not quite the right word) arrogance towards people more reliant on it in conditions where I'd only had to memorise the map before setting off.
So, my New Year's resolution is relearn how to navigate.
Climbing Pieman: I'd have imagined that the least likely time to end up lost would be on a course when navigation was the raison detre for the trip.
'Security' in numbers- but sounds terrifying.
I guess there was an imposed brain 'white out' in such situations that scuppered the chance of repsonding to the internal alarm bells.
I guess this is a subject that many won't want to reply to as it requires time to reflect before posting a reply.
There's probably an understandable reluctance amongst some to reply, since an honest response to the experience of being lost may not be flattering.
You could say it's personality that dictates the way an individual operates, but I'm suddenly aware that a person with poor spatial awareness, but solid application of map and compass navigation techniques, is a safer bet than a generally competent 'intuitive' navigator.
...lack of experience, ego, kit letting you down, etc.
> How did you 'pull' yourself out of it?
> and afterwards- did you learn anything from the experience?
Not sure that kit can really let you down so far that can get you lost? You chose what take or not in first place and you should have done that with the knowledge that some of that kit might not "work" and plan accordingly or be happy to deal with the consequences.
To get lost also assumes you want to know where you are or want to go. My most recent navigation confusion came on a day when I had no map or compass with me or route preplanned. In that context being lost was more about having to run a good deal further than expected and concentrate on feature recognition quite closely when I did finally drop out of the mist.
What did I learn? Apart from carry a compass, I now carry an energy gel with me as my tank was pretty empty towards the end of a 25k run across the moor(which should have only been 15k max)!!
In reply to llechwedd:
I've been 'totally misplaced' several times. Since I walk by myself this is quite unnerving isn't it?
As yourself, I've developed a little arrogance to navigation, due to the fact that other than when in Scotland, I walk routes that I've been on several times and recognise topographical features.
In Scotland, I try to be as ' professional' as possible, using the map even when the hills are clear. Thus, when the hills are clagged on new hills, I tend to be ok. ( I don't use Gps)
I always carry a doubt that my compass is incorrect, when descending from summits. This has led to a spot of bother on some occasions, when I've followed gut instinct. When alone, this can be quite frightening. With no one to mull the decision over with, panic sets in. I tend to just sit down and have another brew, and try and orientate myself.
I can never say I've been close to hypothermia on a hill. I tend to carry ' back up' clothing , a bothy and stove. I like the security of being able to survive a night out.
I've not really followed light weight philosophy, especially in more remote areas.
The most lost I've ever got is on Kinder. I like to walk the edges, anticlockwise from Edale, then cut through Kinder Gates and across the moor to arrive at the Clough above Edale. I had this to a tee in most conditions, following the groughs. On this occasion, I thought I had arrived at the Clough and headed down . As I got below the cloud I could not see anything I recognised and not a soul either.. Out came the compass, and I had inadvertently headed down to Snake Pass!!! Two decisions. Either drop to the pass and get a taxi, or , with low confidence and energy levels recross the moor. I chose the latter, walking on short leapfrogs, up and over the groughs. Knackering is this!
I've only really got badly 'lost' once - in knoydart descended down the wrong corrie from Ladhar Bheinn due to poor map reading/lack of attention.
Have gone off route loads of times, but recognised and backtracked when features did not fit.
Certainly learned from the experience - the 20km extra walk was not so welcome! I guess I'm now very aware of the chance of error, and try to form a mental habit of thinking "I might be wrong" from time to time to try and force checking/re-appraisal of the situation.
I'm very aware of the increased risk of error when tired etc having seem it happen to colleagues at work (and felt it happen to me as well) - but usually when tired etc on the hill I've been on the way down and nav decisions have been easy....
In reply to llechwedd:
I've been fortunate as I have a strong sixth sense and good spatial awareness. I have said to friends when I lose that, that will be the day I stop going into the hills. It has kept me as safe as one can be for decades. I have taught navigation in the past and always navigate myself even when in a group and this helps to build up experience if nothing else. I am also prepared to disagree with others if I think things are not right. Not being complacent I have my own strict rules on when where etc to abandon and turn back and that I have so much still to learn. You have to remember that the hills will be there long after you and respect them when conditions are worsening/your not up to it/or whatever.
The problem with the course was it was that instructor's last day in Scotland that winter and he did not want to be there, coupled to the normal trust that most give to those in authority. There were no warning bells until we were lost as we trusted him and thought it was part of the exercise - LOL with hindsight. It was only when it became clear that he was lost also that some panic set in. I'll not go on about what then happened as I don't want to put anyone off going on winter skills courses nor trusting the instructors, except to say we all got off the hills with no serious injuries thankfully.
Learn, learn, practice and practice till you trust yourself. What I do to reinforce learning is to go into a hill or area I know well enough, but to do it deliberately in different conditions like fog/mist, snow, heavy rain, in darkness. It teaches me to slow down and check, recheck, and to continually question my own judgement, even knowing that if all goes pear shaped, if I walk far enough in certain directions I would eventually come to a road within a couple of hours.
Don't let it haunt you. Life is a journey of learning. Keep learning, keep practicing, and enjoy the experiences. Stay safe.
In 2009 I was 17, had done maybe 30/40 Munros, didn't *really* know how to navigate. I went to Fisherfield with a guy a good ten years older, we'd been on a good roll of mountains the past few days, and Fisherfield was the standard in "remote" - the place to go for difficulty-for-the-sake-of-it. I'd been flying around them on Google Earth for years and knew the terrain very well.
So 17 hours in, it was 11pm, on the summit plateau of A' Mhaighdean in the dark. All sleeping gear was back at Shenavall. Thoughts of Ruadh-stac Mor were being abandoned in favour of finding the stalkers track at Fuar Loch Mor to get back to Shenavall.
We somehow got off the plateau in the right direction, friend suggested we must walk off A' Mhaighdean direct to Ruadh-stac Mor on one bearing as "thats how you do it" - but there's cliffs in the way. I couldn't really use a compass, but I could use a sense of direction, and I knew he was wrong. We found a path and picked out way half way down toward the bealach. Got lost, again, and with cloud closing down to 700m, we ended up arriving out into a bowl of mountains - I felt it in that strange way you sense more than see. Friend was in complete "I'm-lost...-keep-walking...dont-care". We'd pretty much fallen out, heads were thumping with sleep (or lack of). Eventually we hit the water of Fuar Loch Mor, so I KNOW where we are. Friend ain't interested - he was using the 1:25000 and thought the lochs water flowed out to Gleann na Muice. He's got the map, ain't interested. Somehow we split up (wtf) to look for stalkers track. No joy, there. Found each other by shouting.
Creepiest bit was, we eventually slept out in the open at the loch - at 3am. There are most definitely some blanks in my memory, I haven't a clue where a couple of those hours went.
Good news is, we woke up, saw Ruadh-stac Mor, knocked it off at 5am. Went home.
I slept for nearly a week, quite literally.
Learned a million lessons there.
Nowadays I do my own navigation and find it really enjoyable!
> I always carry a doubt that my compass is incorrect, when descending from summits. This has led to a spot of bother on some occasions, when I've followed gut instinct.
Aye I think most of us have been there on a few occasions on our misty mountain journeys. Bill Murray sums it up nicely "....there arose the dangerous feeling that most of us experience sooner or later on mountains-a feeling tantamount to an absolute conviction that our compass was wrong, quite wrong, that the true course lay much more to the south. It is easy to yield, dreadfully easy to compromise, but any man who does either is set for a nasty surprise at the end of his journey,"
Still holds true today 70 years after he wrote it.
I agree the kit can fail but it making you get lost is stretching it a bit.
The other aspect to getting "lost" is how fit or otherwise you are to cope with this misplacement. I'm not saying that being fit means you dont ever get lost, but that if you are walking well within your capabilities (given the conditions) being "lost" isnt really a problem.
Think about a couple of the classic places in the lakes where people become "lost", Scafell P (heading down to Great Moss thining they are descending to Wasdale) or Brown Cove Crags Helvellyn (they take the wrong ridge and head down to Swirls instead of Glenridding). In both cases if you are walking within your fitness in normal conditions the only issue is the fact that you are going to be a lot later (and more tired) than expected at the finish!
It got very dark and very windy (90mph) at 1000m. Couldn't get down the way we wanted to and we were a little off where we thought we were when we decided to descend.
Descending Grib Goch actually became a viable option at one point, but decided to descend scree to try and find the Pyg Track. 3 hours later we found it and only then did we realise where we came down from.
Being with people that I've had a lot of experience with was invaluable. We dropped into roles and only did things we all agreed on.
However, I got lost with my wife in the lakes on our 1st wedding anniversary. It was very foggy and raining and it was getting dark after an 8 hour walk. We got to a summit, and then started to walk down what we thought was the path to the road (didnt take a bearing), unfortunately that path was actually just a mini stream that had formed (not on the map i had), and just lead to some pretty shear scree that we didnt really fancy.
We walked back up the way we came but couldnt find the path down, and after trying to take a bearing to descend a less steep way, I realised that i'd taken the wrong path aaaages ago, and the summit i thought i was on, was the wrong one... panic sets in, and i make increasingly desperate attempts to get down, without really thinking about where I am (just about where i want to be!).
We finally got down as i'd taken my garmin 800 (with OS maps on it) as a backup. I'm so glad i had it! Bit of a cop out i suppose!
It was my first experience of navigating on a long walk, and i hope i've learnt to pay a lot more attention to my compass, and to spend more time thinking a bit more logically when things start to go a bit wrong, and not to rush decisions.
> So, my New Year's resolution is relearn how to navigate.
Learning how to navigate is like being given a key to a whole new world. I really recommend it. Spatial awareness will only get you so far.
The experience you describe also perhaps calls for a revamp of your personal admin strategies- if you'd got so hypothermic that you started making duff decisions then share a bit of your personal interrogation just now on how you allowed that to happen, as well as agonising about the getting lost bit. I think we've all been a bit colder than we would like if we spend time in the hills in poor weather. After a couple of chastening experiences, if the conditions are crap these days I make a conscious effort to regularly ask myself how I'm feeling, and what I can do about it. I've warded off a few cold spirals in this way.
I think the only times I have been "misplaced" shall we say are when it has been foggy or blizzard conditions. I have always been able to navigate off relatively easily.
In this country it is hard to get very lost except in bad weather as you are never very far from civilisation
> Think about a couple of the classic places in the lakes where people become "lost"
Another such place - scene of plenty of MRT callouts - is the summit of Great How Crags in the Coniston fells. There's just enough of a dip on the north side, and a similar-angled dogleg in the ridge, to convince people it's the summit of Swirl How. I was one such person on my first visit - despite having been advised, by the Coniston MRT members with whom I was staying, that it was a notorious place for going wrong. Even knowing this, and even with occasional breaks in the cloud (it was a beautifully atmospheric day), I spent a good 45 minutes fiddling around in messy ground part of the way down the ridge, thinking it was the intended route of Prison Band. And whenever it did semi clear for a few moments, I did the classic thing of making the view fit what what I wanted the view to be rather than what it actually was.
In reply to csw: My biggest failing is that I switch off on easy ground, which has been embarrassing...
Me too, once out of the 'difficult' navigation areas I too tend to switch off, and I often to walk alone, so there is usually no one to point it out.
I have wandered down the wrong sides of gullies in perfect weather before( even though I had known where I intended to go) I get distracted taking photos, or watching wildlife, and had to climb back up over 500 m to get back on course, which is a ' lesson learnt' the hard way.
In bad weather, I tend to be more focused , I am not too proud to use all options to check where I am, ( not like some I have have across) so, visual, map , compass , GPS, / iPhone, if I have them all I will use the lot to check in tricky areas.
Interested to read the other post about not trusting others to do your navigation, I was on Skye a few years back , and a group arrived at the summit , looking a bit puzzled .
( it totally clagged in almost no visibility)
There was a guy explaining to the group where they were( which was on top of a different mountain from me) their navigator did not want to enter any conversation with me on the difference. ( As it happened I - or my GPS was correct. ) Too proud to ask - of too sure of himself - I guess !
I also remember taking a group out, and stopped to chat to a guy who I discovered was lost, ( (another misty day)
He and I consulted his map, and I was able to help.
As he walked on, one of my group caught up with me and said to me, that I should not be embarrassed to ask someone when lost!
I simply agreed with her , and carried on without further explanation (mountains are no place for egos)
Its the "scale" of those glimpses of views which can be so misleading. Having seen nothing in the mist for ages that view down to the farmhouse miles away really spookes some folk.
Like you, I have been known to play the game of making things fit....as the map is clearly slightly wrong...bl**dy OS!!. I find its best (less embarassing) played when there is noone else around to spot you are playing it!
> their navigator did not want to enter any conversation with me on the difference.
Reminds me meeting a group of Chinese/Japanese/somethingorother a couple years ago in the Lost Valley on an August evening. They pulled out a map on their iPad with a route back over SCnL, the cloud was coming down and they'd started out late. I told them it wasn't a good idea to keep going (they were really slow!) and their "leader" was totally blank staring me. The other guys seemed keen to know, but no doubt I stood on that other guys toes.
Sorry I haven't been joining the discussion. Just been up Elidir Fawr this afternoon to remind myself how crap eVent is in this nasty weather.
Glad to have been up but it's good to be back down.
On that point, and in reply to Wainers, I didn't mean that the kit could get you lost, just that it could be a factor, for example hypothermia set in because I was cold and wet because the waterproofs weren't (yep, I know there's more to it than that, personal responsibility etc).
Because I then couldn't think clearly I become lost, i.e. unable to extricate myself from my disorientation.
That's about all my brain's capable of at the moment. the warmth of the house is starting to have that lightheaded effect.
I'll be back later.
The only real time when I have been dangerously lost was probably the least likely situation to get lost . I decided as an invincible young teenager ( several years back now ) that I would walk the whole 10 mile Waskerly Way railway path and back , from Consett in county Durham .
I walked 2 miles from my Grandparents house to the start of the trail , and walked until the trail ended . At this point the heavens opened , but I didn't think it would last long so did not deploy my waterproofs . I was soon soaked and my map turned to mush . On the way back I decided to take a 'short cut' across marsh land into the Derwent river valley , my theory being that I would just follow the river until I reached Allensford Park where I could ring my Grandad and ask him to pick me up .
I spent the next 3 hours struggling through muddy forest , some of which was flooding before my very eyes . I eventually got out into some fields , found a road and walked back to Consett from there . I retraced my steps on map that evening and found that I had walked at least 24 miles .
I slept well that night .
In reply to llechwedd: I hope you are going to summarise all these at the end ;)
Here is a start:-
Navigate all the way, not just on difficult ground( pay attention )
Don't be 'Eddie the Ego', consult others if available.
When consulting others, it might be YOU that us right, and them that is wrong.
If the ground does not match the map, don't just make it fit and carry on.
make sure you have a latest OS ( it can be that the ground HAS changed)
Make sure you are not physically impared , not too hot/ thirsty/tired, and if so, be aware you are.
Carry back up gear/ food/ shelter /food/ compass/ map.
If in doubt, slow down, don't hurry a decision, unless forced.
Use all available navigation tools, and don't just rely on one if you have more options.
Carry more than one navigation option.
Don't be afraid to ask questions of the 'leader' If he is any good, he will be happy to double check to , hopefully, assuage your particular concerns;)
Carrying a GPS is not a 'cop out'
Keep map in waterproof case( mush is illegible)
Don't get wet unnecessarily ( you might not get a chance to dry out)
Having read your Munro blog, and think I know o the event that you describe? I don't summise that it was totally your fault at getting lost. You had a big challenge, and were probably knackered!!! Pies won't sustain you! 8 was it.
It's a frightening place to be alone, disorientated and tired. I agree that you were fortunate, but your experience showed through. The hills aren't a park walk are they?
Back to kit and being lost. I find the new jackets way to flimsy. I have an event mysel and won't buy again. I've got an old ME jacket, one of the 3 layer jobbies. I trust this. Other than in the summer, I pack a lot of spare clothes including base layers and always change once at a summit. My main fault is being too absorbed in walking, to eat and drink enough . This has led to some poor decisions. Coupled with the expanse of most Scottish challenges , I've finished a lot of walks hypoglycaemic. It takes me a while to recover.
The thing that gets me is that a lot of ' paths' from steep summits, seem to go the wrong way. Experience has now taught me to ignore the cairns/paths, and take the bearing. Eventually you will find one that roughly bears resemblance to the bearing you're on.
I do have an old 90s gps , that rarely leaves the pack unless it's an emergency, or to relieve stress. I understand gps has moved on and you can download routes, but there is the human error aspect that I do not like. I like the gps as a back up to reasonable map reading in clag on featureless terrain. Map and compass is an art that needs saving.
With any hillsport performed solo, you have fore given reliance on others. I empathise with the OP, as it's a lonely place to be, but I enjoy this part of mountain walking.
> but I'm suddenly aware that a person with poor spatial awareness, but solid application of map and compass navigation techniques, is a safer bet than a generally competent 'intuitive' navigator.
Sometimes Maybe, but a generally intuitive and experienced navigator is more likely to have a wider skill base and would be able to operate more safely and faster in a greater variety of serious terrain and conditions.
Try map reading when you are very cold and wet in difficult terrain. You also really need to keep moving because of time or weather constraints etc. Even the minds of the best skilled map readers will become dulled and more disadvantaged if they lack the other skills or fitness required. When simply getting the map out becomes hard and your fingers do not even work because they are numb or swollen, you know its just starting to get tough.
South Dartmoor in dense fog. Just gently rolling grass hills and no landmarks anywhere. It's hard enough on a clear day! Luckily there's no real danger of getting hurt out there if you have some stamina. I just took a best guess as to where I was and headed towards Redlake.
On a slight aside, sorry, I used to trust my friend ' Whisky Dave' to navigate. In my youth he brought maps with pylons marked on them, as he was an RAF air traffic controller, in Valley.
Several cold and wet experiences after late starts, poor hydration, and his inability to navigate 'when my glasses are wet', I took control!
Failure to constantly check your position is the most common cause. In bad weather this can be a real pain, particularly if you are cold, wearing gloves and being battered by wind in poor visibility, but frequent checks are vital. If you think you are lost resist the temptation to press on blindly, but retrace your steps to your last known position, and start again.
Unless you are in an area well known for inaccurate compass readings (eg Cuillins) believe your compass readings rather than your "instincts".
When with others don't just follow the leader blindly, but constantly check your own map and bearings and if you think the leader is going wrong challenge them and do a joint navigation check. If challenged yourself don't be too proud to to ignore it and do a joint check.
It's usually arrogance for me. I don't tend to look at the map if I can see my surroundings, so it's easy to walk into a mistake without even noticing. Typically I don't get the compass out early enough when the visibility goes, and can end up wandering off in the wrong direction.
I dropped off the wrong side of Oreval on Harris earlier this year. Didn't get the compass out early enough, then didn't trust it as I had a notion that there was some magnetic variation in this area. No big deal in the end - just went up some different hills instead.
My first experience of getting lost was when descending Glyder Fawr in early winter snow and clag. I was about 15 at the time and hadn't done that much walking on my own. Almost ended up heading down to Pen y Pass instead of Idwal. I took a bearing back across the top of rough ground over Esgair Felen, and slipped and broke my compass. I eventually stumbled across the line of cairns leading down to Llyn y Cwn and got down in the Devil's Kitchen in the dark. Not very sustained or complicated, but I definitely had that feeling of being alone an not entirely sure what I was doing.
> When simply getting the map out becomes hard and your fingers do not even work because they are numb or swollen, you know its just starting to get tough.
At that point, I now know know to whip out my small 2 man Bothy shelter, throw it around me/us, and take a few of mins out of the weather, grab a bite/ drink / chocolate/ hand warmer, check the map etc, and then quickly bundle it away and get moving again.
Amazing how that few mins out of the elements can help.
I was taught that lesson by a guide in Torridon , on very bad snowy and 'windy'' day.
( which we eventually abandoned, as it turned out to be impossible conditions higher up)
Kevin- you, Skol, Dr. S at work and others have described the extra work involved in rectifying the mistakes.
In some cases this extra effort is no more than what's required to get yourself out of the predicament, in others it's the ploughing on blindly. and all accord with the assertion that;
'good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions'.
Your account in particular really gives a feel of the misery that can accompany 'lost'.
The Norris said:
"..panic sets in, and i make increasingly desperate attempts to get down, without really thinking about where I am (just about where i want to be!)", whilst Dr S. at work cites tiredness. Several have mentioned trying to force a fit between features and map.
The conclusion to be drawn is that substandard or irrational thoughts are responsible for getting lost or making poor decisions.
Jim C has given a good listing of the issues to consider so that you are able to make decisions in a rational manner.
But something that Dave Hewitt, Kevin W and others have written about is the altered mindset that arrives during extended trips out on the hills.
Undoubtedly this skewed my judgements. My take on it is that doing unknown hills day after day left me open to greater risk; it wasn't just through being out for more days and thus increasing the likelihood of 'adverse incident', or because of tiredness (although undoubtedly that was a factor).
Maybe I'm kidding myself -was it just common complacency, or is a sort of complacency a neccessary attribute to accomplish a long walk without feeling overwhelmed by it?
I wonder what your take is on this Dave H? - I'm thinking about the incident you relate in 'Walking the Watershed', when you fell off Beinn Mhanach (-sorry, that's ruined your street cred!).
It's something that may be no more than just taking your eye off the ball, but I tend to think that it maybe has to do with a boldness of action to accomplish the routine of a big trip. There's a downside- foolhardy maybe?
None of us should venture on the hills unless perfectly prepared or
'Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for'?
Clearly everyone who has replied to this posting still enjoys the hills even if it does come with the risk of negative consequences.
As Climbing Pieman said
"Don't let it haunt you. Life is a journey of learning. Keep learning, keep practicing, and enjoy the experiences. Stay safe."
> Try map reading when you are very cold and wet in difficult terrain. You also really need to keep moving because of time or weather constraints etc. Even the minds of the best skilled map readers will become dulled and more disadvantaged if they lack the other skills or fitness required. When simply getting the map out becomes hard and your fingers do not even work because they are numb or swollen, you know its just starting to get tough.
Yep, that's just how it was.
Cold, soaked, no sleep the previous night, not eaten properly in over 24 hrs.. It all began to unravel long before the place where I became lost. Trying to work out where I was from first principles of navigation with the cognitive function I had at the time just didn't work. I needed those skills at a more biddable automatic level.
> I wonder what your take is on this Dave H? - I'm thinking about the incident you relate in 'Walking the Watershed', when you fell off Beinn Mhanach (-sorry, that's ruined your street cred!).
Don't think I've ever had much street cred in any walk of life...
Re the Beinn Mhanach fall (actually on Beinn a'Chuirn the subsidiary top), it's a long time ago now (27 years this spring) and I can't really remember anything more than the mushy wet piece of ground giving way and me careering off down the slope going aaaarrrgggh. But I think it was probably mostly an "eye off the ball" incident, ie carelessness, with elements of tiredness (not so much from that one day, more the cumulative effect of what by then had been a walk of around a month), combined with having a heavy sack on my back and not being very nimble at the best of times.
Oh, and again I'm not now sure, but another factor could well have been trying to stick as closely as possible to the actual watershed line, and thus crossing ground which on a normal day trip I'd have avoided by a zigzag. It was one of the least likely places to almost come a cropper, however - whenever I've been back in the area since then and looked at the slope, I've been a bit puzzled by it - especially given that the route provided other places that were far more steep, loose and fall-off-able, eg the north side of Ben Lui and the gully system off Bidein a'Choire Sheasgaich.
> .. another factor could well have been trying to stick as closely as possible to the actual watershed line.
That's an interesting point which got me thinking about longer days in the hills and my tendency at the time to cut corners by doing longer nav' legs on such days than if I'd been covering the same ground heading for one or two hills.
Coincidentally, and only seen after the event, the online MCoS navigation skills describes how to organise navigation legs, and uses a map of the Moine Mor as an example. A few hundred metres from where I came to grief by not doing what the MCos article explains!
In reply to Skol:
>My main fault is being too absorbed in walking, to eat and drink enough . This has led to some poor decisions. Coupled with the expanse of most Scottish challenges , I've finished a lot of walks hypoglycaemic. It takes me a while to recover.
I guess the harder you're pushing, the less likely you are to eat and drink. I go a bit wobbly towards the end of long days as well. I remember being quite surprised at how little IainRUK, who used to post regularly on UKC, said he took when on runs over distances that most of us would consider fairly long days out.
You can be as slick with 'pitstops' for fuel as you like, but if eating on the move doesn't agree with you then it's a difficult (not impossible) habit to change.
If you do forgo the food, then it's sailing pretty close to the wind in the sort of weather we've got at the moment as Jim C relates in his Torridon episode.
All these little decisions- stop and make the wet feel cold but get some food inside, or get off the hill fast?
Speaking of stopping, I've been so close to being too cold (especially this May when it was boll--k freezing) I haven't been able to stop at all. In those cases the front was predicted in advance, and and map, compass and food was stashed in the jacket prior to said front arriving.
Uncomfortable and simultaneously thrilling experience.
> Learning how to navigate is like being given a key to a whole new world. I really recommend it. Spatial awareness will only get you so far.
> The experience you describe also perhaps calls for a revamp of your personal admin strategies-
Couldn't agree more.
if you'd got so hypothermic that you started making duff decisions then share a bit of your personal interrogation just now on how you allowed that to happen, as well as agonising about the getting lost bit. I think we've all been a bit colder than we would like.
Re the 'agonising'- this was the focus of my post, because I couldn't think straight, even though the panic seemed to have been quelled. This was my meaning of lost, brain too slow to be of use, not for want of trying. Compunding this, I could not control the shivering if I stopped to try and reason the disorientation. It was this bit of being lost which I hoped someone else might have experienced- the feeling of not being able to marshall the powers of reasoning. Most have posted to say they've had a navigation nightmare but were able to reason their way out of it.
Kevin W. hints at it when he says he had no recollection of several hours.
Although given the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome a few years ago, it didn't stop me subsequently doing a walk of the British 3000's. The CFS label, which to me is now more a cognitive burnout thing, means that although I still possess acuity, I am slow witted at the best of times. It takes me ages to formulate a response here on UKC. Yet I put the reaction on that day down to hypothermia, not 'CFS'.
> Speaking of stopping, I've been so close to being too cold (especially this May when it was boll--k freezing) I haven't been able to stop at all. In those cases the front was predicted in advance, and and map, compass and food was stashed in the jacket prior to said front arriving.
> Uncomfortable and simultaneously thrilling experience.
Sounds similar to how it was today with the wet and wind. Keep warm, keep moving. Ok if it's only a short day.
> if you'd got so hypothermic that you started making duff decisions then share a bit of your personal interrogation just now on how you allowed that to happen
Here's the diary entry for that day:
May 29 pushed, grunted and cycled up glen feshie from braemar syha. Arrived at bothy at base of coire garbhlach. Party of 16 arrived soon after..Energy sapping journey meant plans abandoned for push on to high camp at plateau above coire for early start tomorrow. Serious consequences followed from this decision.
The next day the plan for walking the 8 munros west of the lairig ghru was abandoned en route. I reached beinn bhrotain much later than anticipated due to a combination of low energy, late start, poor vis, extended map & compass time. I abandoned the plan to cross over to devils point direct via glen geusachan as the burn was roaring away unseen below in the thick clag and the risk of a difficult river crossing and steep reascent out of the glen and navigation over that route was offputting.
Instead I began the long traverse round the coire, hitting lochan na stuirteag as planned. The length of the traverse that followed on the steep pathless terrain in thick cloud meant that I didnt get to the 'Point' until nearly 6 pm. Not equipped for a night in the hills , I had no option but to drop down to corrour bothy to await the dawn and complete the walk back to the feshie bothy.
The completion the next day took nearly 12 hrs. I set off at 4:30, in cloud and strengthening wind. Braeriach was reached, but on the descent bcame disorientated on the broken ground above lochan na cnapan near the head of glen einich. Having had little food or sleep,I was now cold and wet. Thinking clearly became a challenge and was confounded by the shivering which became difficult to control if I stopped to attempt to map and terrain matches.
Because my walk covered (i think) 26 OS 1:50000 sheets I had instead printed out the relevant sections on double sided waterproof A4 paper. Where a route spilled onto another side of A4 I ensured it was not on the reverse side so as to navigate. Unfortunately today, the problem territory lay between sheets of A4,I couldn't correct the clumsiness caused by shivering,and when I took the paper out of the waterproof map case, the wind plucked at them and the ink began to run in the rain. Things were a little desperate. As the cloud parted momentarily, tThe only burn running N provided the clue needed. Several hours later I was back on track for sgurr gaoith.
Wow... thats a brutal few days! So my first impressions from reading this are not that your navigation was particularly poor- to get around in those conditions you evidently have more skill than the average punter. I think everyone's nav, my own included needs to be honed and practiced and its a constant work in progress, but you are clearly no slouch in this area.
I don't know you, but my big questions here are about the level of preparation for this trip, what your plan B was, whether you could/should have wound your neck in a lot earlier and whether you had sufficient food/kit for the conditions/route. You are obviously an experienced and ambitious mountain walker who enjoys big days and solitude. Pushing yourself physically despite your illness is something you are comfortable with. Even the very best wilderness wanderers will bug out from time to time or radically alter the objective.
Getting lost here seems almost to be a metaphorical lost- you lost your way mentally as well as physically. I've never been geographically misplaced in the hills as a result of a physical deterioration (I've got a tad lost through chatting and not paying attention), but I've had blood sugar crashes and got very cold and wet. I'm a naturally cautious person. I'm usually the first to say, "you know what, lets go down". I carry a big synthetic duvet in winter and a bag of jelly babies. These are my shit-hits-the-fan bits of safety kit. If I'm eating the jelly babies, and wearing the duvet whilst walking, its time to escape asap. Yesterday I walked off the hill in precisely this way.
To those that talk about the paradox of stopping to eat/layer up versus keeping moving. Bag of jelly babies in the pocket and a synthetic duvet- takes 2 minutes to sort and is the difference between a downward spiral and clear thinking exit strategies.
This is an advanced discussion, but I have some telling examples.
Walked up Sgurr a Mhaim thinking it was Stob Ban (age 15 post WHW)
Walked down wrong ridge from Summit Of Liathach twice, particularly galling after noting this mistake on the summit the second time.
Running up the wrong hill at the end of the Two Breweries Race, ignoring all the fools heading the wrong way.
Tiredness, making ground fit, enjoying normally having a good sense of direction.
In navigation, as in so much in life, you need a slave whispering in your ear, remember you are mortal. Or at least I do.
> .. my big questions here are about the level of preparation for this trip, what your plan B was, whether you could/should have wound your neck in a lot earlier and whether you had sufficient food/kit for the conditions/route.
Level of prep'- about a year, with many, many hours on route planning.
Plan B? The whole trip was a game with self imposed rules. Bend before the storm (I did on four occasions, confined to tent), and take a day off if you feel like it (and if you have enough food and the right location to do so) ensured that the timetable wasn't too rigid.
Because I was on my own the choices I made were entirely selfish.
On this day, I should have 'wound my neck in', camped high and split the trip over 2 days. but I got big headed/ complacent from the way determination had carried me thus far.
It's been really good to hear the replies showing the commonality of causes in becoming mislaid. My story's no different in that respect. But hearing people reply again and again with the same experiences brings it home like no navigation manual ever does.
> Getting lost here seems almost to be a metaphorical lost- you lost your way mentally as well as physically.
Yes that was the original thrust of my posting (should have been clearer)
I'm intruiged by the 'losing your marbles' bit and what happens thereafter.
Your Monbiot link was a good example. (like your phrase 'hypothermic numpties')
For me, once lost, and aware that I could not call on rational thought, I remember thinking calmly that I would get into the summit cairn on Tom Dubh and just lie down (to die). Fortunately, it was too small, so i had to continue walking about to quieten the fear that the uncontrolled shivering was breeding. I think i was in this state for quite some time. Putting the 'red in the shed' for reasons I don't know, and pointing it at the mist, eventually the clag cleared briefly , but long enough to see a burn running North on the opposite slope. I headed west -don't know why, and within a few hundred yards, found a track, which I followed.
Gwen Moffat wrote well on the events of the Ben Alder tragedy, asking the question why some survive but not others, all else being equal:
In navigation, as in so much in life, you need a slave whispering in your ear, remember you are mortal. Or at least I do.
Not so sure about whispering, I've sometimes heard that wee voice screaming in ma lug "remember you are mortal"!!
First time I did the Dubhs Ridge on Skye a group of us camping/staying in the hut at Coruisk went up it on a dull damp day. By the time we arrived at the top of the slabs the weather had deteriorated further so a decision was made to call it a day and head back down. The recommended descent is to head right (north) into Coir a'Chaoruinn. A wee splinter group decided to ignore this advice and went charging of in the opposite direction down An Garbh Choire to the south. John Irving snr (your dad?) suggested we follow them rather than splitting up the group, which is what we did. The entertaining descent down this misty,dripping wet boiler plated slabby "Rough Coire" had a certain exploratory feel to it. Thanks to the Maverick splinter group, as well as doing the Dubhs we also managed to do the Don'ts!! ;-)
As a kid I went out mountain biking in the Pentland Hills in winter, late afternoon. I was pretty used to it getting cold and dark on me but apparently I got a bit colder than normal because I totally lost the way (had done the route plenty of times before) and ended up on top of Bells Hill.
I recognised that something wasn't right at this point and at some level I realised I needed help. Went back the way I came (the opposite side from home) till I saw a light on and knocked on the door. The soldier who answered the door at the barracks recognised something was a amiss when I started talking and made no sense at all, he took me in, put me somewhere warm and called my parents.
I guess what I learned from this is that smartest move when you are hypothermic is to head for the nearest habbitation as fast as possible :D
> In navigation, as in so much in life, you need a slave whispering in your ear, remember you are mortal. Or at least I do.
> Not so sure about whispering, I've sometimes heard that wee voice screaming in ma lug "remember you are mortal"!!
> First time I did the Dubhs Ridge on Skye a group of us camping/staying in the hut at Coruisk went up it on a dull damp day. By the time we arrived at the top of the slabs the weather had deteriorated further so a decision was made to call it a day and head back down. The recommended descent is to head right (north) into Coir a'Chaoruinn. A wee splinter group decided to ignore this advice...
I have had this dilemma many times, and the conclusion I always come to is let them go, don't follow a splinter group.
The logic , is quite clear to me.
if you follow the splinter group, you could ALL get into trouble, and there is no one to raise the alarm.
Also, presumably ,others knew of the groups original planned route, but no one knows about the splinter groups new plan.( that you have all committed to)
So, let them go, and if either group gets into trouble, on the new or old route, then the other group can raise the alarm .
If ( unusually) both groups get into trouble, on both routes, for whatever reason, the alarm will still be raised, as the group that followed the original plan will be rescued first ( as others knew where to find them) once rescued the original group would still know where the splinter group went, so both groups will be rescued, in a timely manner.
Any plan to follow a splinter is flawed( in my view)
Where is the flaw in my logic, as I presume you don't agree?
( of course, if there is a way to communicate back to 'base' that there are new plans now, then the problem disappears, as you can let them know of the new route( or that there is now two routes)
Flawed logic, splinter groups, getting into trouble, communicating back to base, alarms, rescues etc....nae wunner I do most of my walking alone, going out in a group defo sounds like a dodgy pastime to me!!haha.
In any serious mountain situation lots of factors have to be carefully considered, then acted upon, blindly following a group, whither main body or splinter group certainly isn't one of them. My previous light hearted post was a drizzly summer bimble up the Dubhs Ridge, not some near death experience battling the dark and winter storm on some featureless mountain plateau. If it had been I'm pretty confident some timely good old fashioned mountain sense would have prevailed with a satisfactory and happy ending.
In reply to llechwedd: Sounded like an epic!
It's easy for others to be judgemental, but what an effort!
Given the enormity of the challenge that you set yourself , I'm not surprised an erroneous decision was made. By the look of you in some of those pictures, you didn't have much spare on you to provide insulation and reserve. True, you perhaps should have binned it, but when you're on your own with a substantial objective, then it would be conceivable that you would want to get it over with.
I arrived in Aviemore last June, intending to backpack over Beinn Bhrotain, descend to the Lairig Ghru then proceed over Derry Cairngorm and Bynack More. I arrived fit but not hill fit on the train. The weather was mixed and the gods wouldn't give me a lift to Feshie. I had bad feelings about the trip, and fled home next day. Hard and embarrassing ! But, my Munro plan is a life one and I can make these decisions. More than not being hill fit, there were emotional issues too, as my daughter was run over two weeks before. I think mental pressures can sometimes affect good judgement, either positively or negatively .
Were you stronger for your experience , or did it affect your confidence for the rest of the trip?
> It's easy for others to be judgemental, but what an effort!
Cheers. But part of me needed the judgement of others, I wasn't expecting to be applauded for actions that could be seen objectively as foolhardy, given that I ended up in a predicament of my own making.
A year later, my eyes were opened to how much reliance I'd placed on spatial awareness at the expense of relatively poorly developed compass navigation skills. So I stuck my hand up on UKC and so have many others.
So, we've had a UKC navigation confessional which has shaken me out of my complacency and maybe some others as well.
I guess that's where I'm finding this helpful. If it was just a series of replies saying 'you should have...'I'd have found it pretty sterile, but it's obvious from the replies that we're going out and having our epics to varying degrees, and admitting openly with good grace that we're fallible.
Might even influence the way some of us 'operate' on the hills.
- although that wasn't why I made this post (being more interested in other individuals experience of going doolally/hypothermic), It's been an eye opener.
Yes, I made my choices on that trip, I was out on an adventure- and as such, like all worthwhile things in life, was approached from a position of relative ignorance.
I never thought I knew it all, but I did think I knew enough, and might get away with it.
That was what I did at the time, those were the repercussions, and I'm happy with it. Wouldn't do it like that again, of course.
> perhaps should have binned it, but when you're on your own with a substantial objective, then it would be conceivable that you would want to get it over with.
That sort of rings true- not so much 'get it over with', but if the game doesn't include a car, but has to include all items on the summit list then if resources are limited, a kind of serial summit fever superimposes itself.
This led to some necky decisions. Yes, the mountains will always be there, but if that hill had not been 'done' = game over (Unless likely to be =life over).
> I arrived in Aviemore last June.. I had bad feelings about the trip, and fled home next day. Hard and embarrassing ! But, my Munro plan is a life one and I can make these decisions. More than not being hill fit, there were emotional issues too, as my daughter was run over two weeks before. I think mental pressures can sometimes affect good judgement, either positively or negatively .
I think that's a massive part of sound judgement and something not often talked about. Difficult to monitor for, beyond as you say the sense of 'bad feelings'
> Were you stronger for your experience , or did it affect your confidence for the rest of the trip?
I was shown how fallible I am and was humbled by the indifference of the mountain to my silly game.
The trip had it's own deeper cycles of mood and weather that were the bigger influence overall
I felt extraordinarily alive for several days afterwards,especially on the Monadliath hills of all places, very lucky, and this feeling was bolstered by the changed weather and the amazing hospitality I received at my next drop into civilisation - The Newtonmore Hostel (Mrs O's , Craigellachie House).
Back to being a middle aged grump now though
The discussion has expanded from "alone on the hill" to include group type situations. My contribution doesn't involve being lost but is a case of my very poor judgement with fatigue, etc being contributary factors. I was in a party of four attempting the Aonach Eagach, two of the party were novice mountain walkers but reasonably competent rock climbers, they happened to be female which is not irrelevant in the context of my decision making.
We had completed the bulk of the ridge and late afternoon in September we had reached the col between Stob coire Leith and the ascent up to Sgor nam Fiannaidh and the recommended choice of walk offs. I was fully aware that the guide book stated "no safe descents" south into Glencoe, but as we stood on a knoll looking down to the welcome of the Clachaig, we saw footsteps descending the scree to our left. We had a conference,did not relish continuing over nam Fiannaidh and with that flawed logic that comes with fatigue and a wish to be down, we agreed to follow the footsteps. The epic that followed included a succesion of serious abseils, a wild night in a mountainside gully and an extremely touch and go descent to Achtriochtan the following morning. We later discovered that the footsteps in the scree were of a father and daughter who suffered tragedy and a fatality on the route we followed. I accept total responsibility for the poor decision making and thankfully it has caused me to generally take the safe option since then.
In coming to the conclusion that "there are footsteps down that scree therefore it is safe", I can readily identify with the herd mentality and convincing oneself that the compass is wrong ! I have to say though,that I never felt more alive than when fighting our way out of the situation.
Sometimes the compass can be wrong. A long time ago trying to reach the meadow face on Beinn Tarsuinn on Arran. We were in a white out and following the compass in the coire when we discovered new footprints in the snow. Yep they were ours and the ice axe hanging on my leash off my wrist was the culprit. Lesson learned for the future.
It's common in avalanche awareness now to talk about "heuristic traps" - Al Halewood's recent series in TGO magazine does a good job of explaining in that context (and it's available as a free download from their website). A related concept is that of cognitive bias. Basically, the human brain/mind is not particularly rational and makes decisions based on more factors than just conscious thought process. Stuart Sutherland's book "Irrationality" is good on examining the many ways in which we can be fallible. Fatigue, low blood sugar and hypothermia don't help either.
The times when I have been most seriously positionally challenged have been down to confirmation bias - making the ground fit where I thought I was on the map. I overrode what my practised skills were telling me to appease my unconscious desire to always be right, and ended up wrong.
If the compass says one thing and my instinct says another, I have learned to trust the compass more than my instinct. This is after double and triple-checking the bearing and making sure ice-axe, phone etc are out of the way of the compass! I've learned to question myself.
I find footsteps and cairns to be false reassurance. It's probably human nature to follow them, thinking that it's a safe way down. I've done this several times and ended up reascending and thinking again.
It's curious when you're a lone walker, and pretty antisocial, that sometimes the tracks of humans seem comforting. Of course bearings from a steep summit sometimes don't run true , and footsteps in mud/snow offer confidence,but I now try to stick as closely as possible to the bearing.
Llechwedd:- are ' bad feelings' the sixth sense of hill goers? I rely on mine a lot. This can be , as I posted previously, that the trip doesn't look good. Is this down to low mood at the time, or a genuine sixth sense ?
I've had several instances where if I had continued my route , that I would arrive at undescendable crags. I'm not talking pish here, but when I walk, I have ' chats/memories ' of dead relatives/ pets. Sometimes they say ' don't go that way', and I always heed this. I'm not Doris Stokes, but perhaps there's something more to it?
> I've had several instances where if I had continued my route , that I would arrive at undescendable crags. I'm not talking pish here, but when I walk, I have ' chats/memories ' of dead relatives/ pets. Sometimes they say ' don't go that way', and I always heed this. I'm not Doris Stokes, but perhaps there's something more to it?
I've a book on my bookshelf that I have yet to read that covers this subject in detail. It is The Third Man Factor by John Geiger. To quote the wee intro on the cover " The Third Man Factor tells the revealing story behind the extraordinary idea; that people at the very edge of death, often adventurers or explorers, experience a benevolent presence beside them who encourages them to make one final effort to survive.
If only a handful of people had ever experienced the Third Man, it might be dismissed as an unusual delusion shared by a few overstretched minds. But the amazing thing is this; over the years the experience has occurred again and again, to mountaineers, polar explorers.....in the words of legendary Italian climber Reinhold Messner -"leads you out of the impossible"
Also Ernest Shackleton commented "I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three,'
Thanks for that recommendation, sounds a good read.
I don't want to ruin Llechwedds thread here, and go off topic.
On several instances in the mountains, when as it turned out I was above dangerous spots, and unsure of my route, I've heard the concerned bark of an old terrier that I had, and followed its barks to safer ground. Maybe it was someone else's, but I never saw it. On a similar note , an old relative appeared in my ' imagination' looking concerned and angry, and I changed course. Maybe this is due to times of stress when alone in the hills, that your sub conscience creates these thoughts ? Dunno? I'm not a godly person, and reasonably sound of mind.
> I find footsteps and cairns to be false reassurance. It's probably human nature to follow them, thinking that it's a safe way down. I've done this several times and ended up reascending and thinking again.
> It's curious when you're a lone walker, that sometimes the tracks of humans seem comforting.
- are ' bad feelings' the sixth sense of hill goers? I rely on mine a lot.
I've been thinking about the 'sixth sense' of 'spatial awareness' and the associated 'why use a map and compass if you don't need to'.
I think if you're 'spatially aware', you're using the map to help you build your mental map, at the start of the trip and at intervals to refresh and augment the mental one of the terrain you expect along your (usually) linear route.
Here's a neuroscientist explaining some of the mechanism behind that.
(warning, it's about lab rats but still highly relevant)
(Sorry, I did have a hypertext link for this first clip but couldn't submit to UKC - address too long- so it's on same webpage as the next link, below for Neil Burgess- (talking about how your brain tells you where you are. Its best seen as first in sequence)
Now (I hope you haven't a short little span of attention), link to this (skip the first minute, also most of the relevant stuff's in the first half)
Seems to me that these are the mechanisms that help explain why so many of us begin the process of getting lost when we lose that linearity.
It's OK on the ridge, and there's the feeling of security gained by seeing a line of footprints (even amongst misanthropes). But cairngorm plateaus (x?)in the mist and all too suddenly the mental map has dissolved and we may become aware that all is not right.
Of course, in hindsight, there should have been a integrative period before this, when the mental map handed over to the overtly cognitive process of map and compass. But it's too late now- hope you haven't got hypothermia?
I think the 'bad feeling' is no more than an awareness of unspecified mental 'noise' likely to confound our intrinsic navigator - the brain.
If you enjoy this train of thought then, on the same parent webpage of those links, look for the videoclip of Daniel Wolpert's lecture on the real reason we have a brain. Although it's about 20 mins long, I think there's some really pertinent stuff in the first 6 or 7 minutes.
Especially his discussion on Bayesian inference. Could easily relate to how we read and interact with the landscape based on models of previous experience.
I can recall a couple of slight misplacements, one on the Aonach eagach in mist as party of two, we sat down for a brew & bite to eat then without discussion set off back along the ridge in the direction we had just come from! A 180deg error of navigation - there must have been some topographical peculiarity about where we sat as we both were sure we were going the right way and when, after about 5 minutes, things 'felt' wrong it took a serious cognitive effort to believe the compass and turn around.
Another time on Pen-y-Gadair Fawr in the Black Mountains - party of 5. We were in a hurry due to freezing fog and serious windchill, took a bearing and headed off but did not follow the compass. After condiderable loss of height we emerged from the cloud into a valley that should have had a lake in it but didn't. Back up to the top, retake the bearing, follow it for a bit and then stomp off confident we were going in the right direction. After another considerable loss of hight we emerged from the cloud in exactly the same place as before. The third time we followed the compass religiously!
I think some landforms are intrinsically confusing.I rely on my 'sixth sense' a lot when in the hills and when I'm alone I've never been let down by it (so far!).
Ok, here's my (rather tame but amusing) story. I was visiting some friends in Aberdeen with my wife, and we set off to climb Bennachie, a paltry 528m summit. Our friends has been up to the top quite a few times before. We set off into the mist from Bennachie Centre and hit the first top of Mither Tap, and then continued on to Oxen Crag, the high point. I should mention that it's a people-friendly hill, with huge paths and even signposts.
We reached the summit of Oxen Crag and planned to descend the south side of the hill back to our start point. On the way down some sign posts seemed to make no sense, pointing the wrong way and such. We assumed some joker had moved them round to confuse people. We descended into the forest, and the tracks and paths didn't quite make sense, but we did our best to make the local topography fit the map. We then found another Forestry Commission car park and realised we were in completely the wrong place. To add insult to injury, the FC had even put up a sign saying "are you where you meant to be, or are you at the wrong car park." Very embarrassing!
Our mistake was that we'd never reached Oxen Crag, but had mistook a subsidiary summit for the high point. We then descended the north side of the hill, rather than the south side. Silly thing was that we had a map and compass, but never bothered to check them as our friends knew the hill, and (even in mist and vile weather) it was 'friendly' terrain.
In reply to pasbury: I am with you in enjoying and learning from this topic. Many years ago as Venture Scouts our leader set us off along High Street in the Lake District. Typically as scouts of that generation we were overloaded with several kitchen sinks and burdened by gear of the time that just soaked up water. As the day drew on and the weather closed in, we must have been in the vicinity of Thornthwaite crag where two paths diverged. Although the compass suggested the right hand one, our instincts said the left hand one which we followed. As the weather deteriorated we realised the need to get down off the tops and decided to bail out to the east towards Haweswater and a road out. As we descended out of the clag, sure enough there was a lake but despite our best efforts to make it fit, it sure wasn't Haweswater. There was a small dam at its northern end but definitely no road. We eventually concluded it was Hayeswater, in some desperation we put up our tents and got warmed up with a brew. As we studied our maps, we surmised that after our initial navigational error we had used a peverse logic to try and correct it by heading north (the correct heading) along the ridge (but now the wrong ridge). We must have been in the vicinity of Gray Crag when we decided to bail to our right. After a night's sleep we were just sufficiently recovered to make the very steep climb east again to regain High Street and a miserable continuation to its end.
Listening to your experience on the Aonach Eagach reminds me of a story of a led party on a fairly complex area of ridges. It was a beautiful clear day with few navigational challenges. At a lunch stop the leader decided to introduce the group to the delights of a bothy bag and they all climbed under. Some time later they finished lunch and emerged to a white out. Cue severe embarassment for the leader as he had not bothered to accurately "clock" their lunch stop location. It sounds like the "daft" mistake that I would make ! Take Care .
I wonder about the thing we call 'sixth sense'.
Would we have that same 'visceral' guidance to help us off the unknown summit if:
(a) we had been blindfolded and dropped there by helicopter, blindfolds off, allowed to calm down and then given the map.
(b) dropped there at night ?
I think what is going on is that linear mapping thing I tried to post upthread.
The address was too long so just google ted.com/neil burgess. It's the vid about how our brains tell us where we are.
If you've the patience and interest, the link upthread(that does work)comes next and then the Wolpert one of the same site.
It's not at a volitional/cognitive level- it's the hippocampus doing what it does, integrated with our mental memory map. You can't bid it, like Ron Fawcett, 'come on hippocampus, do your stuff'.
I think it's likely that when you stop at the top, something happens to screw this intrinsic system- once your 'thoughts' change from the flow of the journey to the stop at the summit( with all its anticipations of attainment, food, rest etc) then the other brain system - the world of concrete/verbalised thoughts takes precedence and the automatic flow thing evaporates. I've found you can't reenter it. You can start another journey from the summit, initially reliant on map and compass, where the sixth sense can then be given it's head, but you often you can't start off with sixth sense, because it's gone and you try to reconjure it but it doesn't work so your 'other' brain tries to stand in for it.
Perhaps the thing to do whilst in the flow of the journey, is mentally disregard the anticpations of the approaching summit and imagine the journey route takes you to another salient bit beyond (could be the next summit, it doesn't matter as when you're approaching that one, you can do the same thing- a sort of shifting the flow).
You then arrive at the summit and sort of do an emergency stop, allowing the mindfulness of the 'sixth sense' where are we going next to freeze frame the way off, before you stop and become diverted.
> Any time I've got "temporarily misplaced" it's been due to complacency and assumption. They key is of course to start navigating before you get lost!
I agree, that's my experience as well. But I feel there's something missing by focus on this alone. That's why I think the insights given by neuroscience can help us to recognise why, how and where we go wrong.
Otherwise It's just a blame thing.. 'I was complacent' etc. But why was I complacent? That should be where the interest shifts. The techniques of map and compass are well known. We could say well, just learn the techniques and practice, practice- If you don't you're bad and you're a fool!
Somehow this approach fails to integrate the 'sixth sense'/ 'spatial awareness adequately- relegating it to the sidelines. I think also that when everything 'flows because the intuitive and technical navigation work in harmony, it's something that often makes a day on th ehills great irrespective of weather.
Taken to extremes, in a few years time, the outdoors magazine THMO (The Highly Managed Outdoors, successor to TGO) will probably have gear reviews on drones that'll allow you to see how difficult it is ahead of you and where you should place each step. The triumph of the 'technical'
> It will happen to everybody at some point. The key is to be able to recover the situation - relocation to give the skill a name.
The Key! Difficulty is that we only want to practice relocation for real when we're lost (I'm not being facetious, honest. )
> As a general observation, working with novice navigators I often see an over-reliance on the compass (as if it is a GPS-style solve-all gadget) and not enough simple map feature recognition.
I think here that there are several issues- some people have developmental spatial deficits and so are more compass reliant than others.
Also, the workings of the mind are not visible to a outside viewer, whereas the manipulation of map and compass are. So 'monkey see- monkey do' is likely when learning.
I'm not taking away from the points you make. I agree with you - just trying to put a different slant on it and see where it leads.
I agree that some landscapes appear intrinsically confusing. I spent some more time pondering this common experience of going wrong after a stop at a summit.
I've just found an interesting bit of research, part of which, although it doesn't provide the answer, does highlight fallibility for those of us who rely on our much vaunted 'spatial awareness'
Want to see this in action?
Here's what you do (no cheating/ working it out on paper first- go with your first result) and it's not a test of right or wrong:
IMAGINE you've walked forward a metre
IMAGINE you've made a turn of 90 degrees (DONT actually do it)
IMAGINE you move forward another metre
NOW ( from your original static position) MAKE the turn that a person who has physically walked that path would make in order to face the origin.
Only once you've performed as above, should you work it out on paper.
well I've not read the whole thread but I do know for sure that if any regular/experienced hillgoer were to tell me that they have really never been lost in the mountains I would make an immediate mental note that they are an unreliable and possibly mendacious source of information
some people are very very good but shit happens to everyone at some stage
Actually I totally disagree. I can't quite see how you put getting lost, and mendaciousness together.
There's lost and lost. There's temporarily misplaced, whether by 50 metres or five miles. Then there's completely lost which I'm glad to say hasn't happened in 800-odd? mountains I've done.
Ultimately, if you know every valley, every mountain face and loch in a given area (which isn't unlikely for someone who has studied/walked in that area a lot) then really you are never going to be truly lost.
I simply cannot pay as little enough attention to my navigation that I'll get completely lost (gnawing dread sets in when I don't pay attention). There's an argument to suggest that if someone has the capability of being *completely*, absolutely lost, then that suggests a big lack of knowledge of the ground, and maybe they shouldn't even be there. I'm not comfortable with the idea of learning the terrain on the hoof, in extermis.
Imo, knowledge of the ground should start way before you get to the mountain, and even in touch-and-go situations like racing darkness and bad winter conditions, if you were to end up completely disorientated, then you lost control a while ago and that should have been stopped.
Anyway rambling now. You see where I'm coming from?
> There's an argument to suggest that if someone has the capability of being *completely*, absolutely lost, then that suggests a big lack of knowledge of the ground, and maybe they shouldn't even be there. I'm not comfortable with the idea of learning the terrain on the hoof, in extermis.
Isn't that why you bring a map, so you have the info on the terrain in advance?
Or are you arguing you should never go somewhere you don't already know/have already been to?
The last time I remember getting 'lost' wasn't too bad... last year.
I was asked to relocate a number of times while on an assessment, but I was stressed as hell (one-on-one with an assessor who had a bit of a reputation as a hard-ass) and performed poorly for the whole day (I think a full 12 hour day inc night nav in Snowdonia doing legs from 5-30 mins), consistently making silly mistakes putting me around 100m from about 50% of navigation objectives.
The following day I was out with two different assessors (no stress) and did just fine, 100% accuracy.
A subsequent assessment a month or so later, with yet different assessors was also 100% fine (smugly correcting the assessor on a couple of occasions).
I would like to think the bad experience made me much better at understanding the effects of stress but I really hated the whole experience, and learned only to avoid that assessor at all costs.
Obviously got lost loads when I was a kid, before I learned how to navigate, but now I teach navigation so it's a bit easier
> I simply cannot pay as little enough attention to my navigation that I'll get completely lost (gnawing dread sets in when I don't pay attention).
On the face of that, you sound a safer bet than me for leading a group into the hills.
I think it's helpful for the solo hillgoer to consider if the 'spatial awareness- it's always worked for me' strategy is the right one when in a group.
I'm not concerned with the issues of responsibility or litigation when I make that suggestion about being on the hill in a group. The point i'm trying to make is this-
I've posted upthread, on the business of innate 'spatial awareness' (SA).
By that I don't mean that I dont use map and compass, just that the majority of that side of things is usually thought out before I set off.
Now, as an almost exclusively solo walker, i would have prided myself in being able to move effectively over the hills by SA, thinking I was genetically blessed
Yet my own recent reviews of research on the neuroscience of navigation, coupled with the replies on this post have forced me to consider the limitations of my 'it's worked for me, except once when it didn't' approach. The heuristic traps and the neuroscience are cited upthread.
The downside of going out alone is that no one telling you it's going wrong except yourself. Using the SA approach you're entirely reliant on the correct meshing of a good enough mental map, good enough memory of it, and good enough innate perceptual and directional senses.
Impair any one of those and you're likely to be seriously struggling. But the paradox is that out alone the SA system is not hindered by the competing intrusions of extraneous stimuli from the group. Alone= better flow. I'd guess that you're more likely to feel the need for more map and compass work just because of the competing stimuli of the group.
So in essence, what I'm suggesting is that the solo walker favouring an SA dominated approach to nav doesn't neccesarily have to abandon it for map and compass dominated navving ( although reviewing your skills in that area is undoubtedly wise).
Perhaps where I should focus is on the limitations of SA- The particular fallibilities of the innate directional senses, together with their tendency to become as useless as a map turned to mush if something suddenly deteriorates. The weather will usually give you warning and you can take stock of things before they happen, but if you're out alone,and haven't had much in the way of conversation for a long time, when mental capacity itself deteriorates, it may do unchecked to the point where you're too far gone to do much about it.
Is there a correlation between people who frequently snack on the move and those who frequently check/relocate, as opposed to those who stock up beforehand/ those who do long nav legs?
You know- like feeding the location beast more frequently?
maybe that's another thread?
In reply to llechwedd:
What about the scale of the local topography and spatial awareness?
I'm quite optimistic that I could ascend Tryfan north ridge , then cross the Glyders( just teasing) Glyderau , and descend to Devils kitchen in mist, without the need of map or compass. Local knowledge would play a part, but it's a smaller scale than Scottish Hills.
It never ceases to amaze me in clear weather, how far away your objective can appear, yet the distance is covered reasonably quickly. I've often had to consult the map even in clear weather to locate myself and reach the objective of my walk.
> Isn't that why you bring a map, so you have the info on the terrain in advance?
Yep - but I've also seen situations where folk went up the hill, with the map, didn't *really* understand the area topographically, got lost, and had to stand into the rain and work it all out there and then.
A pal once phoned me from the summit of Stob Ban (Grey Corries one) in winter, essentially saying "how do I get off the top? Can't work it out". That was fun.
> Or are you arguing you should never go somewhere you don't already know/have already been to?
Not at all. I'm never keen absolutist viewpoints in general (shades of grey and all that) but having the knowledge in advance is, for me, a big part in feeling comfortable in an area. When I get there it's more about slotting the practical pieces together on the ground, informing an already-constructed mental map.
Also llechwedd, I thought this of what you said was cool -
" once your 'thoughts' change from the flow of the journey to the stop at the summit( with all its anticipations of attainment, food, rest etc) then the other brain system - the world of concrete/verbalised thoughts takes precedence and the automatic flow thing evaporates. I've found you can't reenter it. You can start another journey from the summit, initially reliant on map and compass, where the sixth sense can then be given it's head, but you often you can't start off with sixth sense, because it's gone and you try to reconjure it but it doesn't work so your 'other' brain tries to stand in for it."
Interesting mainly because I can't say I've ever thought about it before. If I do go into this mode of thinking, I can go in and out of it and stopping at the summit doesn't seem to make a difference. If there's bad vis at the top then when I leave the cairn, it'll be the normal; leave at the absolute precise bearing. And then I'm back into the 3D problem solving as before. Cool thought, though.
Btw - what is your blog? (I saw someone mentioned it above??) Would be interested to read it.
> What about the scale of the local topography and spatial awareness?
> I'm quite optimistic that I could ascend Tryfan north ridge , then cross the Glyders( just teasing) Glyderau , and descend to Devils kitchen in mist, without the need of map or compass. Local knowledge would play a part, but it's a smaller scale than Scottish Hills.
There's a fair few who have difficulty over the terrain you describe and end up lost- many go without any idea how to navigate or are just starting out and beginning to enjoy the hills so make basic errors.
Maybe some people are emboldened up there because the road's never very far way. I'd imagine that, navigation apart, local knowledge or an adventurous spirit is probably the key to the N ridge of Tryfan.
Even though it's right by the A5, people still get benighted on it. If you're in a jumble of blocks and there's no horizon, it's not the easiest place to use a compass. Probably a case of can't see the wood for the trees and probably not a terrain for the spatial awareness thing to work well.
Once on the Glyderau plateau though, it's massively over supplied with route cairns so probably up there it's more the psych out factor of not having a defined ridge to follow. Where people frequently mess up is finding a way off G. Fawr back to Idwal. i think they either start from the wrong summit castle or dont take a bearing, being led by the initially more open terrain too far North since there's no obvious path among the rocks.
> It never ceases to amaze me in clear weather, how far away your objective can appear, yet the distance is covered reasonably quickly. I've often had to consult the map even in clear weather to locate myself and reach the objective of my walk.
Me too. Tend to rely on 'oh, it'll take half an hour', and am generally pretty accurate -but sometimes, relocating in snow or mist and I find the map can 'lie'. A beginner's error.
> Me too. Tend to rely on 'oh, it'll take half an hour', and am generally pretty accurate -but sometimes, relocating in snow or mist and I find the map can 'lie'. A beginner's error.
Once came out of the cloud on Carn na Criche (Braeriach) in the direction of the Moine Mhor at midnight - suddenly having open miles of black open moor, few lochans and total lack of orientation. Weird!
> Interesting mainly because I can't say I've ever thought about it before. If I do go into this mode of thinking, I can go in and out of it and stopping at the summit doesn't seem to make a difference. If there's bad vis at the top then when I leave the cairn, it'll be the normal; leave at the absolute precise bearing. And then I'm back into the 3D problem solving as before. Cool thought, though.
What do you think about the possible link between frequent stopping for hill snacks and successful navigation?
I'm much more attuned to that possibility after this discussion. Not necesarily from the ensuing blood sugar issues, but the finding an enjoyable place to stop factor. The tendency when the weather's poor to push on.
Might even try out a bothy bag- what are others thoughts on the smaller version. Heard a few good experiences upthread. Any negatives?
> Btw - what is your blog? (I saw someone mentioned it above??) Would be interested to read it.
It's not a blog, just my first ever trip report. it seems the linking address is too long for UKC to allow me to post it.
There was a link to it on Gary Hodgson's January 2014 blog on his 'Tarmachan Mountaineering' website. I just tried that - It's Jan 7.