My map and compass abilities are ok on a clear day, but I would not call myself an expert.
Should I do a navigation course?
I sometimes think I would like to go on a navigation course, but when I am out walking I want the freedom to gaze around and enjoy the scenery. The idea of having my eye constantly on the compass, whilst counting all my steps does not appeal.
Being accomplished enough to be able to find a tuft of grass in the middle of nowhere, would, be something to boast about. I am not sure of the benefit of finding tufts of grass! and I have not been that impressed with anybody else who has made the claim as the qualification to their navigation skill.
Sure there are times when accurate navigation might save the day, but I try not to get into those situations (call me fair weather if you wish). However in reality the British weather is very unpredictable, and there are times when we all get caught out. When in that predicament I think, “I need to go on that course”.
The Brecon Beacons trip
I had stayed the night before at YHA Brecon Beacons, Danywenallt a great little hostel tucked away in a valley by a stream. In the morning I drove to a layby near Dan-yr-Ogof Caves and parked up my car.
My plan was to do a circular walk which incorporated the Fan Hir escarpment. The first part of my walk was across the wildness of the Brecons towards the cliffs above Llyn y fan fach. When I had read up about this walk, it said that it was difficult to navigate in bad weather. So I had determined that if the weather was too bad I would turn back, I hate being lost, even in a town. So the idea of wandering around the middle of nowhere for a few hours was not something I was considering in the slightest.
Down in the valley the weather was ok, but I could see that the top of the hills were covered in cloud. I set off across a camp site full of massive rocks obviously planted to look like stone circles, but obviously not from some bygone age lost in the mists of time. I could not help but wonder as I walked past them, about the time and expense it must have taken to put them there, and wonder if it was really worth it.
The path was very clear and wound its way steeply up hill through some trees that were struggling to cling on to the side of the track. Above the tree line the path became a little confused, and so did I (much to my annoyance). I realised I had walked about 100m too far to the south. Trudging back I found the path I wanted, and set off in the right direction in the rain.
Yep it was raining, when putting on my waterproof jacket I realised I had forgotten my waterproof trousers – how can you do that? This was not a promising start, already wandered off the path and not having brought my waterproof trousers.
Visibility was poor, at times the clouds around me would break giving me a brief glimpse of my surroundings. It seemed though, that as I went further into the Beacons the less I could see. I decided to press on as long as the path was clear, and there was only one path.
The ground was soaked and so were my legs, I could not believe that I was stupid enough to leave my waterproof trousers behind, it wrangled me quite a bit and was not helping my determination to press on with the walk
.After about three miles I ascended a small hill and – yep the path disappeared. What now? I was aiming for a ford that crossed the path, from there I would have to take a compass bearing and strike out across the heathland to Llyn y Fan Fach. There was no path, no ford – decision time! Press on in the general direction I was going and hopefully find the ford, or turn around.
It was raining harder, visibility was not good, I really did not fancy spending hours wandering around trying to find my way feeling like a soggy mass (wet legs is one thing, but when the water starts running down your trousers into your boots – agh!).
So I made what seemed a wise decision at the time to turn back.
Next problem, where is the path back, I had wandered far enough over the hill to have lost sight of my original path. Getting out my compass I took a south easterly bearing and set of in hopes that it was the basic direction in which the path lay. After a few minutes I came across a fence, I remembered passing a gate in a fence near the path on the way up. So if I followed this fence hopefully it would lead to the gate and the path. Thankfully it did, and there was the path – yay.
As I started to walk back along the path I felt a bit of a wuss. I guess though those decisions on the hills are a thin line between good sense, and ringing the mountain rescue. I don’t like backing down, but I did not want to end up in a bad situation either. Besides part of the idea of the walk was to see the view from the ridge, and that was not going to happen today.
About halfway back I met a couple with their dog, they looked very wet (but they did have waterproofs). I told them of my decision, ” you have got a map” the lady said in a very local Welsh accent, implying ” what’s your problem?”
“Er yeah” I replied feeling an even bigger wuss.
“It is supposed to be getting brighter later” she said, I was not convinced.
A slight tone of compassion appeared when I mentioned my trousers.
” You don’t want to catch a chill”
“No” I mumbled.
Leaving them to paddle off into the wet mist I continued my journey back towards my car. As I descended down into the valley sure enough the weather did seem to be improving -ah well.
Back at the car
Sitting in my car I could not help but think should I have gone on? I guess nothing too drastic would have happened, and I have certainly been up mountains in worse weather, but I suppose it is a thin line between disaster and adventure. Perhaps it is better to err on the safe side, I am sure the mountain rescue would say that, and after all there is always another day. Hopefully then I will get the views.
NOTE TO SELF – spend a day practising navigation skills
Watch the video