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The Bushwalker's Guide to the Galaxy Home Page
An Introduction to the Bushwalker's Guide to the Galaxy
Improvised Angle Measuring Techniques
Finding Reference Directions from your Surroundings
by Alan Sheehan B.E.
Improvised Navigation methods are just another set of navigation tools. They are based on observation and awareness of our surroundings - our world. When Improvised Navigation methods are learned, reliance on compasses and GPS's is reduced. Of course it is still wise to use them, but when they fail, someone who can navigate without them is less likely to feel stranded or "lost".
Improvised navigation techniques can and are used to check modern navigation methods, for example, to check a compass bearing for the affects of a magnetic anomaly. A good navigator always checks - preferably using another method!
Some years ago, a mate and I climbed Yerranderie Peak in the Blue Mountains National Park. While admiring the view we wondered if we could see Mt Armour and Mt Milo from the peak. Normally we both navigated and our bearings would differ by little more than 2 degrees, but we’d ceremoniously average the two and off we’d go. This time, on the peak, our bearings differed significantly on the same landmarks! Not only that they differed from the grid bearing we got when we checked it on the map, and we found they weren’t repeatable! We found the peak had a strong magnetic anomaly – strong enough to spin a compass needle around 3 times when moved about a metre close to the ground! Once we knew about the anomaly the solution was simple. We had a definite reference direction to Mt Colong, all we needed to do was work out the angle between the bearing to Mt Colong and each of Mt Armour and Mt Milo, and using the handspan technique (described later) we could identify the Mounts amongst the rolling ridges. We could also have improvised with our Silva compasses to simply use them as protractors.
Learning Improvised Navigation Techniques puts one more in touch with their environment, and far more capable and less likely to become a search subject. Of course, for this to be the case, I advocate using all the navigation techniques you have available - don't toss the compass and GPS!
Improvised navigation techniques are good pose value around the campfire too!
Improvised Navigation is all about awareness - of our surroundings: our world. We haven't lost all our "mental arithmetic" navigation skills. We are aware that the sun and moon rise (roughly) in the east and set (roughly) in the west. We develop a rough idea of where the sun should be in the sky at a particular time of the day. These signals give us our initial "sense of direction". We often almost subliminally use shadows, and we use prominent landmarks and local knowledge of our surroundings as well to maintain our "sense of direction".
Disorientation occurs when we take away the familiar landmarks and terrain, and natural direction indicators like the sun. Cavers cannot use distant landmarks, or the sun or moon. They rely heavily on learning the cave system (local knowledge) and/or mapping and compass navigation. Without a compass, the "sense of direction" can get way out of whack underground! Heavily overcast days above ground can produce similar disorientation in unfamiliar surroundings.
What people are least aware of these days, are the "long hand" navigation methods. Things like knowing what directions certain stars rise and set at (traditionally a popular method, so it seems), knowing how to find directions from various groups of stars anywhere in the sky, even just knowing how to measure angles. People also have little idea about how accurate various methods are. On that last point, there is significant misinformation both in the web and in literature.
Death before Disorientation!