Thursday, May 15, 2014

Field Activity #11: Map and Compass Navigation


Professor Hupy has really driven home the point that you can't rely on technology all of the time when you are in the field. In Field Activity #5, we were taught the basics of navigation using a compass along with a map. However, most of this training took place inside. Now we will have the chance to actually practice navigating to different points to really see how the process works.

A navigation course had been set up previously by Professor Hupy and Al Wiberg at The Priory (as seen in Figure 1). This is an off-campus building owned by the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. The grounds around the priory are filled with trees and varied terrain making it an ideal location for navigation activities.

Figure 1: The Priory main site is seen in the middle-left of this aerial image. Navigation course points were set up in the perimeter around the facility bounded mostly by roads.

Using the two maps created in Field Activity #5, the goal for each team of three was to navigate from an initial starting point to five additional points on the course as assigned by Professor Hupy. I was absent for the initial activity, so Drew Briski and I went to The Priory at a latter date to conduct the activity. The coordinates in both decimal degrees and meters were originally given  to each group. Again, because I missed the initial activity, I had to recreate this. I will outline this process in my methods section.


As mentioned in my introduction, I had to identify the course points used by my group members. After looking at their blogs, I located their starting point (the red circle) and their five destination points (the green circles) as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The red square in this figure represents the course boundary. The pink lines represent zones we were not allowed to enter during the navigation process. The red circle represents the starting point, and the green circles represent destination points for navigation. 

After printing out the two maps I produced in Field Activity #5 (as seen in Figures 3 and 4), I manually plotted the starting point and five destination points on to the map with meter grids (as seen in Figure 5). Additionally, to assist in navigation. A line was drawn between each point in the order they were to be located. This is very important when it comes to placing the compass on your map to determine the azimuth for the direction you will need to go.
Figure 3: This is the navigation map I created of The Priory Course with a metered grid
Figure 4: This is the navigation map I created of The Priory Course with a grid show in decimal degrees
Figure 5: The initial starting point and five navigation points were plotted manually onto the map. Lines were drawn between each point to assist in navigation. Additionally, the x and y coordinates specified in ArcMap were recorded in the notes section.
By placing the compass onto the map (as seen in Figure 6) the arrow at the top of the compass was aligned with the line connecting the current point with the next navigation point. Then the dial was turned to align north on the compass with north on the map. This provided us with the bearing we needed to head to arrive at our next point. Lifting the compass off of the map, the red north arrow on the compass was aligned with red north arrow on the dial. This position is referred to as "red in the shed." The direction of the travel arrow was then used to send one member of our team in the direction of our next point.
The person holding the compass remained in the initial location guiding the direction of the person who had begun to move in the direction of our next point. Right before he was out of sight, he would be told to stop and the person holding the compass would move to the runner's location. This process was repeated until the next navigation point was reached.


Because Drew Briske, my partner, had already completed this exercise, I was able to get the origin set properly in decimal degrees rather than degrees, minutes, seconds for the map using this type of grid. This was a problem several groups ran into when they completed the exercise. Still, I chose to use the metered grid map for navigation.
The largest problem I ran into was not including an aerial image on my map. Drew reminded me of this every time we ran into trouble locating our next point. In talks with Professor Hupy, he mentioned he likes a clean map and doesn't use aerial imagery very much, if at all. If I had the expertise of Professor Hupy, it would probably have been the right choice. I DO NOT have the expertise he does. If I had one thing to do over, I would include an aerial image. I just had too much trouble establishing my position when I got off track.
One of the first things I quickly realized was that in thick forest (as seen in Figure 6), your arms and legs can quickly get torn up. It was rather warm when I completed this exercise, so I was wearing short sleeves. I was still glad I wore them because I was quite warm by the time I completed the exercise, but there may be others who would prefer to preserve their skin and endure some additional heat.
Figure 6: This figure shows to dense nature of the forest we were navigating through on The Priory Course.

This was a very difficult process to carry out with only two members. Ideally we would have had a runner, a pace counter, and a bearing locator. Because we only had two members, the bearing locator also had to be the pace counter. Things would often get forgotten as we tried to remember to do the pace count and keep everything else straight as we travelled.
Our pace count needed to be adjusted continually based on terrain. We were unable to locate the first point, even though we had travelled the right direction because the pace count just didn't match up with the location of the first flag. As a result, we started over from the initial course point.
Also, it was often very difficult to locate flags (as seen in Figure 7), because as you travelled, if your initial calculation was a degree or two off, by the time you reached the general area you thought the next flag should be, you were actually not all that close. That couple of degrees differentiation extrapolated over distance meant some hunting needed to be done in order to locate flags. With only two group members, it took extra time to locate the flags in these instances. In order to maintain the position, the bearing coordinator could not participate in trying to locate the exact location of the flag.
Figure 7: This figure shows an example of the flags that marked the checkpoints we were to navigate to on the course

Some of the flags on our route were near other flags not included in our route. Initially, we thought we were at the right one, but when we looked at the number on the flag, we saw we were incorrect. At those moments, I wished I had included the other course points. It would have helped me get my bearings.
In addition, in the times our bearing got off, it would have been ideal for us to mark our last location when we moved on. We had to do far too much backtracking. Because we did not mark our previous location, this meant we had to go back to the last flag a couple of times.
Establishing pace counts over varied terrain is already a difficult process. This was made much more difficult by only having two people. It was much harder to focus only on the pace count when you had other things to consider as well. As a result, we never were able to establish a reasonable guess for an  adjusted pace count. I do believe we would have been able to do so with a third person.


This orienteering exercise turned out to be a much more arduous process than anticipated. I believe it is important for groups to really focus on figuring out an adjusted pace count during the early stages of navigation.
Also, you simply cannot be too careful when determining your azimuth. Try to be as accurate as possible, especially if there is a significant distance to cover between points. If you are off even a little bit on your azimuth, by the time you reach the area you think your next navigation point should be, you will have actually veered off quite a bit.
It is important to think about ways to retrace your steps in case of mistakes. If we had placed markers of some kind down at each point in our path to the next navigation location, we would have saved ourselves a considerable amount of backtracking.
Armed with electronic tools, you really can cover for a lot of human error. When you cannot rely on a cell phone to help you reassess your location, etc., small errors can turn into crucial issues very quickly. The utmost care must go into navigating using a map and compass. This is especially true for novices such as myself. Stop. Think. Plan. Walk through your plan. Ask questions. Communicate. Keep your head in the game. If you don't do these things, map and compass navigation can be a nightmare.

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