How competent are your hill navigational skills?


The one and only photo because of the mist

Blog post 16

Wainwright count:                 2 (meant to be 1!)

Wainwrights:                          Hart Side and Stybarrow Dodd (by accident!)

Who with:                               Susie, my Patterdale Terrier

Date:                                       14th August 2015

After a morning sat around drinking coffee waiting for the rain to clear, I decided to do a short walk from Glenridding up to Hart Side. Even though the mist was down, I was restless and the dog needed walking so I went ahead and parked in the village and began my walk up the track towards the Youth Hostel, where I picked up the path towards Nick Rake (no pun intended). By this point, Susie and I were already soaked and she looked rather sorry for herself.

We made our way up the clear path that climbs above the Youth Hostel, and on a clear day, offers fantastic views over Glenridding village and Ullswater, especially in Autumn when the colours are amazing. We crossed the footbridge, which had plenty of water flowing beneath it from the last nights and this morning’s heavy rain, which had now turned into afternoon rain too unfortunately! We followed the path heading towards Sheffield Pike, which was rather boggy to say the least. Just before you begin to climb up Sheffield Pike, you continue straight ahead, as if heading past the fell, where the path up towards Hart Side is on your left.

It is probably worth saying at this point that I consider myself to be an experienced walker in the mountains, and enjoy them all year round, and my navigation skills are not all that bad. I consider myself to be competent to say the least! Anyway before I spoil the story… so I made my way up the path, and found myself well and truly in the thick mist, which left visibility down to about 15 meters at most. The path that I was on forks slightly right towards Hart Side, but in the mist I missed this not so obvious path, and continued straight ahead towards Stybarrow Dodd.

I knew that I should have reached the summit of Hart Side by now and when I consulted my GPS altimeter, realised that I was actually higher than Hart Side’s summit, so had obviously gone wrong. I had been miles away thinking about all life’s worries whilst walking as I usually am when out in the hills, which is why I had missed the path, as I hadn’t been concentrating.

This faux pas on my part did not worry me, as I am competent with a map and compass, so I simply stopped and located where I was from the altimeter and then took a compass bearing to get me back on track, which I duly did, reaching the top of Hart Side, which didn’t look any different than Stybarrow Dodd in these conditions!

However, on my wanderings back over to Hart Side, I was just thinking how easily I had missed the path to Hart Side on a route that couldn’t be much simpler to be honest. This lack of concentration made me think that if I hadn’t had the skills of being able to use the navigational equipment at my disposal (as many who venture into the hills are not able to do, even though they carry this equipment!), what I would have done? It got me thinking how many of the Mountain Rescue teams must get called out for this kind of innocuous incident, which is entirely preventable with some competence in this area.

I attended a winter skills course in Glencoe, in February of this year, with Mountain Magic, a company run by a cracking chap called Paul Boggis. It was here that we experienced conditions similar to those experienced on the fells today visibility wise (except the lack of snow!) and although I could use a map and compass, prior to this course, the skills that I learnt have since been practiced on my various outings and have therefore improved dramatically.

As I say, I would have been able to get down safely prior to this course, but without the same level of accuracy of following an exact compass bearing. So, before I rant too much, I want to pose a question to you all? How good are your navigational skills, and could you benefit from a navigational skills course. I don’t think many would find a course of this nature a waste of time, so why not book yourself on one, as it may save a call out to the mountain rescue team at some point, saving their resources and money in the process!

So many people rely on the modern GPS system, to mask their inability to navigate, and whilst I am a stong advocate for these systems, I see them as a useful accompaniment to your map and compass and not as a replacement. (Views are my own). They are very handy to have and I use mine on every walk, but is there a chance that these useful pieces of technology are leading people to feel that they are more competent at navigating than they perhaps are? Just a thought -not a statement. J

Anyway, back to the walk, and following reaching the summit of Hart Side, I retraced my steps and headed back down towards Glenridding, on what proved to be a wet and viewless walk, but had exercised my mind and my navigational skills, so was a thoroughly enjoyable few hours.

Why not get yourselves booked on a skills course, which includes an aspect of navigation. There are lots of providers of these type of courses, but I would thoroughly recommend Paul’s company, Mountain Magic ( from my experience – I learnt valuable skills, made friends and had a good time in the process…bargain!

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