Week Two of Honing Skills

Finding My Way with a Map and Compass

Group outside looking at maps and using compasses.

One of the more valuable skills for hiking is the ability to read a map. Paired with a compass and the knowledge of how to use them together to find your way, you have a valuable tool that isn’t reliant on batteries, satellites or cell towers. It’s a basic skill that some understand quickly while for others like me is a bit elusive and, like anything, with practice gets stronger.

I hate to admit this, but I’ve carried both with me on almost every hiking adventure with little practical understanding of how to use them. As a Scouting leader, I’ve relied on the Scouts to handle way finding. Yes, you read that correctly, Scouts (aka youth under 18 years old). While that’s fine, I’ve also realized that I hear a lot of people who don’t have the skill talk about feeling most comfortable when they hike with an “experienced” hiker. More often lately I’m find others looking to me as that “experienced” hiker. Since I do my fair share of solo hikes, along with leading small groups, I decided that isn’t something I can rely others to do any longer. I need to up my navigational game.

My opportunity for change this situation presented itself in the chance to take a class with Paul Kautz, the Hiking Dude. Paul is great at providing both the theory and practical application of a whole host of outdoors skills so I was confident that I’d come away from the morning with hands-on learning to reinforce my minimal skills.

The class started with an introduction to the parts of our compasses. This was really helpful because each of those many lines has a distinct purpose. We also learned that there are many different types of compass. Most importantly, that a basic one is just as effective as a really expensive one. Paul then took us through a series of exercises to navigate to a field where he’d set up an orienteering game that we’d use to see if we could correctly get through finding three points in a field. It was an antique orienteering game from the Boy Scouts of America. I loved it, though my partner and I missed one of the three challenges pretty significantly. Overall we still felt pretty good about what we’d accomplished by the time we were done.

I came away with a better understanding of the importance of also knowing how many of my steps make up 100 feet (41 steps). This is important for measuring distance in cases where you know you need to travel a number of feet, yards or miles and plays into determining how far to go in a direction once you’ve used your map and compass to determine your final destination.

Group participating in an orienteering class outdoors.

As I headed out on a short hike with one of the other participants, I felt much better about my ability to use these tools. Now I just need to find more opportunities to practice the skill so I don’t forget what I learned.

Another Hike for the Books

#51hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: South River Trail, Afton State Park, MN

A little over a week ago I hiked Afton State Park in 35 degree temperatures with strong winds and the first, brief, snow of the fall. I had the park mostly to myself because of the weather. Just a few trail runners and hikers. This trip was completely to be completely different. From the parking lot jammed with cars to the busy trails and higher temperatures it was a contrast.

The day started off sunny and much warmer than I expected. Our group, which I was not responsible for leading this time around, was nearly a dozen women ranging in age from 6 months to 72 years young. With the temperature hovering near 70 degrees, it wasn’t long before we’d all shed layers to stay comfortable. With the sun bright in the sky, we headed out toward the southern end of the park. The group set a brisk pace getting us further than expected in short order. We made quick work of the portion of trail that leads downhill toward the St. Croix River. We were moving so quickly that I stopped for very few pictures.

I was reminded yet again as I hiked and chatted with the members of our group how much I value them. I love my solo hikes equally. They allow me to take the time to process all the things I’ve experienced or am dealing with emotionally. But these group hikes are different in that they have connected me to such a diverse group of women.

Each of us comes to the trail for the joy of a hike, but we also talk about our challenges and our joys. I appreciate the variety of perspectives and the opportunity to meet new people. We were even challenged by the over 70 member of our group who keeps a very brisk pace. She reminded us that age doesn’t matter on trail, that what does matter is getting out and making a point to hike in the first place. After all these hikes, long and short, sometimes I still need that reminder.

52 hike challenge on a prairie trail

The exciting part of my day was realizing that my next hike will be my 52nd hike of my 52 Hike Challenge. I’ve yet to decide where it will be and if it will be solo or with a group. I also know that I won’t stop at 52. No matter what I decide it you’ll hear about it soon.


GEAR: Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets



Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, ruthsbluemarble.com | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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