Knowledge Base > Navigation Skills | Aspect of Slope
Navigation Skills | Aspect of Slope
20/05/2019 · Stephen Barker

One of the trickier elements of navigation to teach is relocation, or how to find yourself when lost. That heart-sinking realisation that you're not where you thought you were is difficult to simulate on a navigation training course.

First let's not be too hard on ourselves. 'Lost' is a strong word, we've not been driven into the wilderness in a car boot and dumped. As someone confident enough to strike out in to the hills with map and compass you know which mountain you're on and roughly which area of that mountain you're floundering in.

So something has set your alarm bells ringing. Something unexpected has emerged from the mist, or something you were expecting hasn't emerged from the mist. What now?

Stop.
A good navigator still makes mistakes, the measure of navigational skill is in how soon you realise you've made a mistake and how effectively you overcome it. Don't stride on in hope. If it's only been 5 minutes since your last confirmed location you're only 5 minutes from being back on track, don't compound the problem. Every step in the wrong direction broadens the area you're lost in.

Think.
Which direction have you been travelling in? Have you been going uphill or downhill? How long has it been since you knew where you were? It'll help if you eat something at this point, your brain requires energy.

Observe.
What can you see and hear around you?

Plan carefully before proceeding, and be prepared to adapt. Observation, and the ability to relate what you see to the map, is how you're going to get out of this. Which way is the wind blowing? Has the wind changed speed? Is there any water nearby? Which direction is it flowing?

But let's say there's nothing big and obvious in sight. The best weapon in your armoury is Aspect of Slope. Imagine you're in a Zorb Ball; if you surrendered yourself to gravity, which way would you roll off of the mountain? On the map, the most direct route downhill - the fall line - is perpendicular to the contours.

Here's an example:

Aspect of Slope

Ben More, near Crianlarich, is almost conical and the path is intermittent. The terrain is uniformly steep with crags and outcrops on all aspects. You've summited and you're on your way down, heading for the boundary wall near Cuidhe Chrom on the NW flank. Mist rolls in and you lose the path.

1. Hold your compass flat in your hand and point the Direction of Travel arrow along your fall line.
2. Next, with the Direction of Travel arrow pointing down slope, rotate the compass housing so that the Orienting Arrow is aligned with the north end of the compass needle. You've now captured the bearing of your fall line.

Aspect of Slope

3. Place the compass on the map and align the Orienting Lines in the housing with north on the map. Slide the compass around the area you're in, look for where the edge of the compass crosses the contours at right angles.

Aspect of Slope

Returning to Ben More, if your bearing is 260 degrees, you're probably somewhere on line 2. You don't have a fix yet, but you've narrowed your search area down considerably with a single compass bearing. There's a chance you could be in an area just south of line 3. You're obviously somewhere on the west flank of the mountain, and south of your intended descent route. You now need to move in order to gather more data. Walking a measured distance due north is your best move. Pace 250 metres north, stop and observe. The ground is less steep. You take another Aspect of Slope and get a bearing of 315 degrees. This now fits with where you want to be, but remain vigilant. Continue on a bearing and anticipate changes in gradient and aspect. Stop if anything unexpected looms, otherwise proceed to the pub.

The Author : Stephen Barker
An experienced mountain skills coach, road cycling guide, caver, climber and fell runner, Stephen instructs navigation and mountain skills year round and has led countless mountain challenges and expeditions throughout the UK and Europe. Always cheerful in the face of adversity, and with a taste for the epic, Stephen achieved a long-held ambition by completing the Bob Graham Round in June 2015 - loving every minute of it!
Stephen Barker