© Keith Nicol
Snowmobilers take a break and enjoy the spectacular view at the Lewis Hills.
You have to admire the native peoples that initially populated Canada for their ability to find their way around their hunting grounds. Knowing how to get back to an important caribou migration route or to a particular river for harvesting salmon would have meant the difference between life and death for these early inhabitants.
In Newfoundland, Mattie Mitchell was celebrated for his ability to guide people through the wilderness of western and central Newfoundland. Quite how he was able to navigate so well is not certain, but he must have had a remarkable memory for the landscape he travelled.
Fast forward to the invention of topographic maps and now the everyday person could navigate into the wild if they knew how to interpret the contours and use a compass. By paying close attention to lakes, hills and rivers that were located on the topographic map, hikers or hunters could figure out where they were in the real world. Then with the use of a compass they could follow a route to a mountain top or cabin that they wanted to go to. Topographic maps were a godsend for anyone that wanted to travel into new territory since the map would show you what obstacles might lie in your path like steep cliffs or large lakes and you could plan your route accordingly. But using topographic maps requires that you can see the landscape around you which is what makes navigating in the fog or at night so tricky.
Whole new level
Now GPS (global positioning system) technology has taken navigation to a whole new level and made it even easier to be able to locate yourself in the wilderness. Instead of trying to figure out what landmarks you can see and then use that information to locate yourself on a topo map, all you have to do now is turn on the GPS. In a few minutes it will tell you where you are located using a co-ordinate system like latitude and longitude or UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). You still need to know how to use a topo map to plan a route, but now if the fog comes in or you lose sight of your key landmarks, you can simply turn on your GPS and it will tell you where you are.
Although it is tempting to only take a GPS with you when heading into the woods, the topo map and compass are still very useful. Most GPS units go through batteries quickly if they are left on continuously and once your GPS has no power it isn’t much use. So the map and compass provide some back up. Also the topo maps provide the big picture of what the landscape looks like which you don’t really get from the small screen on a GPS unit. You can set your GPS up so that it will give you the distance and compass course to your destination which means you can navigate by compass and save the batteries in your GPS. We are getting into the season when people begin to get lost while hunting or hiking so be sure to take all three items with you. If you are interested in learning about navigating with a map, compass and GPS then contact Keith Nicol to register (email@example.com) for the next course which is planned for Sunday, Nov. 3.
Contributors Keith and Heather Nicol live in Corner Brook and are avid explorers of Newfoundland. Keith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org