Friday, March 6, 2009

Tour Planning and Navigation - Part 2

Part 2: Putting it all together

(Check out Part 1: Tools for Success)

A days planned route objective near the Ruth gorge, AK

In the previous Tour Planning and Navigation blog, we outlined the gear necessary for planning and executing your outdoor adventures. Here we will talk a little bit about specifically what to put into your tour plan at home.

Step 1: Gather information - maps and info

This is the first step in planning route objectives. Weather, avalanche observations, route conditions, local beta, your maps, etc. are all important factors in your planning process for multi-day or single-day excursions. There are many resources for this step in your planning, the largest being internet resources, guidebooks, topo maps etc. Photos of the area are great too if you can find them.

When using an internet resource or book make sure that your information comes from a reliable source, as there are often many incorrect assumptions made, especially on internet forums. Whatever your resource, make sure to use a notebook (Write in the Rain type) to write down what you need or print it out as you will forget the details in the field. I will sometimes even laminate route beta in pocket size to pull out for quick reference on route.

Lastly, it can sometimes be helpful to have a small map photocopy of your planned objective, along with the large hard-copy of your map. One for quick field use, and the other large hard copy for more detailed planning along the way if needed. This insures that your maps don’t get thrashed during the day.

Step 2: Plan your route - interpret your info and pull the data off your maps

In this step you should plan the route using your maps and the other information you have collected. Divide the route up into different legs, such as from one known landmark to another. For example, one rock outcropping to another at a certain given elevation on your map. Make sure that the legs of your route do not span too much distance as this makes for a larger margin of error when navigating in limited visibility.

Mark these legs lightly on your map with a pencil and label them to make them identifiable when recorded in your notebook. If using GPS this is the time to also pull the waypoints off your map using a UTM grid tool or a computer program. This step also takes into account the given conditions for the day.

Is the route appropriate given the conditions? Identify the hazards and alternate options. There are many variables in this step of your plan and it takes time to develop the skills and know how to formulate the plan. Some great books as a resource are:

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills by the Mountaineers

Wilderness Navigation: Finding your way using map, compass, altimeter, and GPS by Bob Burns

Step 3: Record information - the tour plan itself

Now that you have gathered your information, find a systematic way to record it all in your field notebook (make it super clean and organized). There are several templates out there to help guide you through the process. This one made by is recommended and others can be found in just about any wilderness navigation instructional book. Make sure that your final plan includes these basic things:
  • Route Legs labeled with a comment on each
  • Each legs start and end elevation
  • The leg elevation gain or loss
  • Slope angle (if ski)
  • Compass bearing (field or magnetic bearing0
  • Leg distance
  • Approximate time calculations
  • GPS UTM or Lat/Long.
Example of a good Tour plan template

Its all in the plan. Setting the up track. Ski tour in the Ruth Gorge, AK

Step 4: Operational Plan - make the final plans

This piece sounds somewhat formal but can be as easy as a conversation with some note taking. The day of your departure have a chat about the planned objectives with your partner. Identify the hazards you may encounter along the way, both natural and human created. Record them in your field notebook. Is this objective still obtainable given the parties experience and the conditions?

Also, collect the weather forecast (avalanche forecast if appropriate) for the proposed time period and file it in your book. Make sure you go through some type of gear check along with this part of the plan to be prepared in case of emergency. This includes emergency phone numbers to SAR teams and for your family in the event of an injury. Establish a concrete plan for a turn around time if daylight is an issue, based on the calculations you have made in your tour plan above. Be willing and flexible to change your plans, and have other options available to you.

Making the final push to the summit. Ruth Gorge, AK

A well planned tour. Untouched skiing!

Fresh Tracks!
The rewards for a well planned ski tour!

-- Ben Traxler, AAI Guide

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