Okay, admit it–if you’ve spent enough time outdoors, you’ve been lost at least once.
When I was about 9 years old, we went to a family friend’s lake cabin for the weekend. I marched off cross-country on my own, got off the deer path, got lost, and missed my appointed return time. I was lost. And I mean frantic parents, mobilized neighbors, state cops in the yard kind of lost. I eventually walked myself to the cabin around dusk, but had a renewed appreciation for being “found”.
While I use and teach the use of modern maps, compasses and GPS receivers as very important navigation tools, I admit that I may sometimes leave them behind on short jaunts. But I always wear my old analog watch.
1) It measures distance. I know from experience about how quickly I travel (minutes per mile). If I expect a trail junction in about a mile, then I can check my watch to know when to begin seriously watching for the turn. If I’m doing a little side exploration off-trail, then I expect to use the same time back to my landmark as I spent outbound. It’s not perfect, but it helps a lot.
2) It can measure direction. In New Mexico, we often have bright, sunny days. Sundials were originally meant for measuring time, but with my watch I can use my own shadow to roughly tell direction. If I turn to face my shadow at noon, I am facing North. Before noon, my shadow will be swinging from West through NW to North; in the afternoon, it continues to East. The watch is essential for guesstimating how far east or west of north your shadow will lay and the old analog watch face helps with the angles.
3) It’s a focusing aid. If you think you’re lost, it’s extremely tempting to move fast and hurry “back” to where you should be. You can quickly end up more lost. By taking a little time (measured) to get settled and take stock, then you’re likely to make better choices about finding your way.
Will a watch keep you from getting lost? No, of course not. But I won’t go out in the woods without one.
Karen Denison has been getting lost and found for years. She owns Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service and will be teaching a 2-part Map&GPS workshop.
Class: October 14, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Field trip: October 16, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works
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