Archive for land navigation

Dense Brush Test

Posted in life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2011 by demigorge

For some reason I have decided that this is the first test I need to be nervous about

though I’m not certain why. It’s really the same test as all the others with thicker bushes in the way. Only this time, we are in the Land with No Magnetic North. I’m not terribly worried because I typically only rely on compasses when I’m forced. I learned long ago how to orient myself against the sun, and failing that I’m pretty handy reading a map. So when we show up, we have our game faces on and we are ready to rock and roll.

I’m working on getting the briefing time down so I can spend more time in the field working with the dog. We fire through the briefing and we’re going to work the sector directly off the road behind the parking lot. This means all we have to do is get over to the other side of the road and lock the bearing line of my lensatic compass over the north arrow and that will determine how I work my grid lines. As soon as we march over to the start point we can dive right in.

Radio check, Starting task and We’re Off!

The first line isn’t bad, it’s my undefined where I’m marking my sector against the arbitrary line drawn on my map. It’s pretty wide and open here so I can shoot long bearings and manage a pretty straight line. I’m telling my evaluator/shadowman where I’m hanging imaginary flags and what kind of flag I’m hanging to mark different portions of my undefined. I begin to wonder what all the fuss is about as the going isn’t so tough. When we get to the stream bed I take my turn and follow it down away from my boundary. As I put the bearing line on the south needle of my compass I check the sun to see where it is in relation to the bill of my hat. That’s when I notice that a thunder storm has started to roll in and the sun is moving in and out from behind the clouds.

It’s not a make or break thing and I have a decent idea of where the sun is supposed to be, even if I can’t always see it I got at least one good look at it. My first bearing is long and we start marching, making sure little Grom is excited to be here. Not surprisingly, he’s ramped up and running like he would rather be here than anywhere else. Half way through the sector I look down to check my bearing and see my compass pointing due north, which is roughly 90 degrees from where it should be pointing. I check the sun and it’s where it’s supposed to be and I say to myself, “No, not only no. But hell no.

It can’t be THIS bad…..”

dense search

I march through the rest of my grid, I notice the compass never really gives a consistent bearing, right or wrong. The sun is where it’s supposed to be when it’s anywhere at all, but the needle doesn’t do anything even remotely predictable.  When I pop out on the road I’m relieved to see that I’m about the right distance down the road if not just a tad further than I’d hoped. I see a large branch that’s fallen out of the canopy and broken into three pieces in the middle of the road and make a mental note of it as a decent land mark.  Again we turn away from my undefined and march down the road so we can turn back into the brush.

Grom is happiest in the brush, he knows his reward is in there.

On the road he’s just killing time smelling things and occasionally stopping to leave a message for any one else that happens to come by. So by the time I have my next grid lined up he’s more than happy to dive in after us and we make our way through to the middle of the sector. Something that’s becoming harder to do because the sun is no longer playing peekaboo. I’m becoming less amused with it and my evaluator is developing a permanent smirk. The kind you get when you know the punch line to the joke someone else is telling– and you still think it’s funny.

dense brush

Half way through this grid line the dog goes into three point mode with his tail high and his ear listening for something only he can hear. I watch him carefully as we cross a fairly open area and he dives into a bush south of us, in the area we haven’t gotten to yet. He’s in full uniform, so I can hear the bear bells jingling away as he crashes through things Briar Rabbit would think twice about. After a few seconds they start to come back and I watch his behavior looking to see if he’s wearing his “GOT IT” face or if he’s got the “I thought I had it…..” expression. By the time he reaches us he’s got the canine equivilent of a head scratch going on and I take another look toward where the sun is supposed to be and march back into the bush, making a note to pay special attention to this area on the next pass.

Unfortunately the bush I’ve marched into is thick scrub oak, but it’s just tall enough I think I see a clearing not 15 meters away. The clearing never comes but after 15 meters I think I see another. The going is getting thicker as we get closer to the water and I start to say things out loud like

“stupid Handler, marching us into a never ending thicket…..”

To his credit, my evaluator never makes a peep about it and just follows in the path I’ve bulled my way through. By the time I’ve started to reconsider my decision it’s as far back as it was in, so I push to the water.

Guilt feels like wet socks….

The water is not really water though. It’s marshy muck. There is no way I’m going back through the briar and scrub I’ve fought so hard to get here, so I thank my pack check list for making me bring extra socks and sink ankle deep into the muck. As I turn around I see my evaluator has a scratch on his cheek and I feel really bad because I made the man bleed. We hop from one “dry” spot to another when he sinks his walking stick into the mire and says

“heh, it’s only 18 inches deep…”

Finally, there’s a clearing on the bank we can scramble up and fight our way through a measly 10 meters of brush and briar.  Grom is happy as can be, smelling like a swamp and happy to finally be back on running ground. I take a look at my compass and check the sun. Neither is telling me anything useful  when I catch a glimpse

of my now naked dog.

Some where in the brush, or the muck, he’s managed to strip himself of his search vest and he’s now running naked as a city dog in a park. I’m a little panic stricken. I’m wondering if the dog will search with no vest on. I’m wondering if I should go back and get it. I’m wondering if my wife will kill me for losing his vest in the woods. All good questions, but I have someone in the woods waiting for me to find them and I have to get to them before my time runs out.

I decide to chance it and we continue, letting him work au natural.

When we break back out on the road I think it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, until I see the same branch broken into three pieces laying in the middle of the road. I thank many days of my misspent youth for teaching me so many of the “important words” in other languages; there are kids in these woods.

Counting up the number of cool points I’m loosing, we turn back down the road and go to where I should have come out and then a little more to correct for the drift that came out before we march back into the forest.

Half way through the next grid line Grom takes off again. This time I can’t hear him, so I have to follow. He’s going north now, toward the area we’ve already been through and I’m thinking this is a sign. He’s shown interest here twice. Letting him work and following slowly he makes a few passes through a clearing and returns to me.

He looks unsure, frustrated, and tired. Then,  he barks.

But it’s not his normal “OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO SEE WHAT I FOUND” bark. It’s his “…. ARGH! I know it’s ….SOMEWHERE!” bark.

My evaluator says coolly, “you don’t look like you believe him….” and I reply, “that’s because I don’t. he’s venting.”

So we rest for a minute. Grom goes into a down stay and I consult my map, trying to read the terrain and do my report to base. The dog needs to cool off and get some water in him. When I restart him he gets up and wanders away from the area where he was most interested.

My broken compass not withstanding, I correct as best as I can for Grom’s little rally and we continue to grid this part of the sector.

When we get back to the same tree stump that I saw before, I let out a sigh and roll my eyes harder than I ever did as a teenager. I’m flustered, for only the second time inside the sector, I know exactly where I am. This place I have been to as well.

Turning to my evaluator, I adopt my best professional manners.

“Permission to skip this… crap….”

He says everything I’m thinking in my head, only out loud,

“…Hell Yeah.”

We turn back away from my undefined and again try to correct for my wander. When I think we’ve got it I turn to my bearing, look for the sun and check my compass. To my great surprise, it’s as bad as it was in the upper portion of my sector and there’s still no sun. So I take my best guess and we charge through what will ultimately be my last grid, but not the end of my search.

The Terrain has changed.

Where it had been slight hills and drainages to the north, this is more dramatic and I know from my map approximately where I am. I have only a slight clue about what direction I’m going but there’s some water down here and I watch the dog happily scamper through it, cooling off from what has become a truly hot and sticky morning.

We come out on to the road we’re on a section that I’m not expecting to see.

I’ve managed to skip down the road at least 300 meters past where I wanted to be. This leaves a huge gaping hole in my search pattern and it is very far from the area where Grom was telling me he was on to something. To complicate things, the terrain is very different with bigger hills and deeper valleys.  It calls for a different search pattern.

I’m a little tired, and a lot frustrated

My search strategy didn’t call for leaving vast tracts of land unsearched.  Try to grid it again will get me more of what I already have, wandering off bearing and ending up in places I’ve already been. My plans have served me well in the past; I’m reluctant to completely abandon it regardless of how badly it’s gone. I’m a little tired, very hot, taking a lot longer than I wanted, and very frustrated at all the things that have gone wrong so far– making a good decision gets harder with each of those things.

All of them together makes me start to think about how I’m going to time out and have to retest.

Looking at my map I have a clue about where I am, but I’m not positive. Finally, I make a decision. I’m going to leave my evaluator on the road and march into the woods… to take care of some personal business…… While we’re out there the dog and I have a little heart to heart and discuss our options.

By the time we come out of the woods we’ve reached consensus; Team Grom has a plan.

I see a particular bend in the road where the elevation changes more than any other place in our sector so I now know exactly where I am.  We’re going to go back toward the undefined boundary and cover the ground we’ve missed. We’re going to do it by following contour lines instead of gridding. As I communicate the New plan to my dirty, tired, and sweaty evaluator, he only nods when I mention that I wanted to do something else.

The dog insisted this was the best plan.

After about 5 minutes of rest we’re back in the woods working our way along a single elevation that goes around a couple of drainages before we’re back in the middle of the sector. Into dense scrub oak our line north has met with another hill and we turn south to follow the contour further into the sector.

The dog puts on his Super Grom Face.

I only catch glimpses of pointy ears and tail when he dives in.  I see him working back and forth, tearing through a stand of scrub oak looking for an opening.  I tell my evaluator that the dog’s definitely into something. Grom is going vaguely in the direction of my line so I adjust and follow him in when he suddenly flashes past me from right to left and disappears in to another stand of bushes and then… nothing.

I can’t hear anything from him. I quietly curse his lost vest with bear bells, now sinking further into the swamp. And then just as quickly he’s back in front of me, barking his little head off.

I haven’t seen anyone else out here. I couldn’t see him when he went in. I have no idea if he’s actually made the find or not, I do the one thing I know will make or break us– a false indication that I can’t read is a huge problem. I believe him.

I give him the command to take me where ever he wants.

Grom has a new friend.

I think I see a tarp. Then I see her dressed in camo, laying as still as can be with my dog excitedly trying to be her new best friend. “Hi,” I  say, playing the part of searcher #1

” Are you lost? I’m here to help…”

Silently, in my head, I’m thinking that I haven’t been this happy to see anyone in a very long time. Even with a naked dog, broken faith in magnetic north, and soaking socks; I am indeed, a very happy man.

light brush test

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by demigorge

After the trail test I was speaking to an operational handler  and

they told me that after the trail test, it was all about testing the handler.

That combined with our little adventure in looking for terrain features where he didn’t indicate the first time, made me sweat a little as I drove to our early morning light brush test.  I spent the whole drive thinking about the lessons I’d learned in the first couple of test. Knowing that I would make some kind of mistake, but hoping that it would at least be a new and different mistake.

First things first

Once we’d arrived at the area for the test, I stopped the car and let him get a little tree time in while I put on my gaiters and sprayed on a layer of tick armor. The blood suckers get thick early in Virginia and I’ve had one round with the lyme bacteria that I didn’t enjoy even a little bit.. After I was suited up and we both had our game faces firmly in place, we got back in the car and went to meet our evaluator. He was waiting patiently looking at his map.

Getting out of the car I took my coffee, my map tools, my note book, and a donut so we could start the briefing. It was a pretty standard brief, a little over 40  acres bounded by a road and a trail with a 200 meter undefined  boundary that would be easy to hit on either side, assuming that I could read the terrain correctly. I was getting pretty used to the standard questions: age, condition, mental state, physical characteristics, and equipment he might have on him.  I wasn’t quite ready for his name though. This was to be the search for Renaldo.

I put my search strategy together, deciding that since he was a hiker, and had gone out on an evening hike, we should start with the trail and we could cut our undefined boundary when we got to a certain land mark on the trail. That would put us in High Probability land. My evaluator carefully considered my reasons, and said that given the circumstances it was a good plan. Reading the look on his face I asked, ” you’re not going to let me do that are you?” A small smile crept across his face and he slowly shook his head, “….no.” Which puts us into Plan B .Run up the road until I get to my undefined and start my grid pattern there.

And we’re off.

Marching up the road there wasn’t any traffic on it so we walked the road a little bit, but I decided that walking just inside the boundary line would keep Grom up on his side of the road and out of any traffic the might come down. I counted off my paces and set my bearing on what would be my east-west grid lines so we could start our little trek through the brush. This pushed us through some brush and across a little ridge before we hit a stream that we would be crossing in the middle of our sector on every pass. This would be good since the dog would have a chance to get in the water and cool off at least once a pass.

All was going well, my bearing was drifting a little but I figured I was correcting for it and the stream came up where expected. The brush was indeed light so I was calling my imaginary boundary flags a little on the long side. Imagine my surprise when I came up on the trail and found myself about 20 meters further down the trail than I thought I would be.

I gathered my wits and corrected my position, making sure my bearing was correct I saw my evaluator/escort checking his compass so I took a peek at his needle. When he moved to cover his compass I asked if North was a secret to the test and hoped that I didn’t loose too many points for being saucy.  The compasses agreed and I resolved to trust my compass so we set off on the original bearing which didn’t feel anything like what I thought it would.

We would cut another two lines through the sector with Grom running off deeper into the sector like he had something, only to come back either wondering why we were so slow or with a look on his face like “I thought I smelled something, but…um…never mind”.

At about 40 minutes I took a look at him while we stopped next to the stream. He was getting warmer and running a little slower so I let him play in the stream while I checked my map and made some notes. He actually stayed in a down for about 5 minutes and rested while I got to say my favorite phrase.

“base this is Team Grom….”

A quick check of my bearing and a restart later we were back looking for Renaldo the errant hiker.

After another trip up one side of the hill and down another, Grom gets the look and I check the wind for the hundredth time that morning. My evaluator steals a look at his GPS and looks thoughtfully at the dog who has come back to me with the, “I was sure I there was something out there….” look but he hasn’t put it all together yet.

On the next pass we enter a little flat and I see the dog run up to a stump with the most excitement I’ve seen out of him all day long. He does his best impression of a cat trying to get up to the top of the stump but then decides he’s still a dog and turns in little circles at the base. Clearly I’m needed there and I make a hasty move over to the stump and proclaim loudly, “This looks like a clue!”

Remembering our last encounter with a clue of this size, I start talking as fast as I can. “I’m going to mark this and take my dog out to run a circle around the perimeter. I can come ba…..” The dog is charging up the next hill and my word fall short when I see him dive behind a tree and come screaming back to me. Since I’m still standing next to clue, I flash back to our last training and hoping the lack of indication was the exception and not  a new problem to solve and when he gets to me my heart stops beating for a second.

Grom has stopped directly in front of me and gives me a look in the eye before glancing back at the tree…. And I wait. But before I can start thinking about how I’m going to fix his indication he starts barking like a little maniac. Two, three, four, five… GO PLAY!

By the time I have managed to get to Renaldo, Grom has been in twice and returned to bark at me again. Such a good dog. This is where a huge puppy party happens and I find out that my subject has been text messaging my wife the whole time and everyone on facebook now knows that Renaldo will be home safe soon.

Once we get back to the vehicles, and Grom takes off his uniform, I sit down with my Evaluator to go over the debriefing. My map is drawn, with the help of my colored markers, because if you have to draw a map, it might as well be pretty. I get a look at the track on the GPS, which I haven’t been allowed to use any of the tests, and I was indeed off the first pass on my undefined, but got it corrected on my second pass. I asked a couple of questions and waited for the constructive criticism that always comes at the end. My evaluator looks at his note book, folds it up and says,

“well…. that’s all I have.”

Three more to go.

Lines and Boundaries

Posted in howto, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by demigorge

More lessons for the handler than the dog.

Assuming you’re not going to dump me in the middle of the desert with nothing but dunes and mirages for as far as the eye can see, I’m pretty comfortable getting around with a topo map and a compass. Even more so if it’s a recent topo map and a compass bigger than a button.  So when someone sets up a griding  sector we’ve never been to before I think literally nothing of it. It’s just another day at training where we wander through the woods trying not to fall all over ourselves and put Grom in the best possible place to make his little discovery.

Because he and I are in the middle of our testing process we use every opportunity to practice the skills we’re going to need, not only on a test, but in a real search. So the problem was set up like a light brush test, and everything about it was a dress rehearsal for the actual test we’d be running soon. Most importantly was getting an area topo map, defining our sector, and developing our strategy.  Rarely do we get to respond to a search in an area we know well, so making sense of our surroundings quickly becomes a real asset. This is the map of the area, with the redzone being the new sector. The blue line indicating my plan, and incidentally what I thought I did at the time.

So we set out along the road on the south side of the sector, which I have determined in 200 meters to the west end where my unmarked boundary should run along a drainage. This is the boundary I have chosen to work first since it’s an easy shot almost due north to the stream, which is my north most boundary. It should be a simple task of counting 120 steps and then turning north.

Looking for a drainage

When I get to 119 steps I look around and realize I don’t see a drainage to my right. In fact what I see to my right is flat, wide, and open. But if I walk another 30 paces, there’s a nice drainage right beside it. Simply put, I think it’s a good thing my counting ability is not being tested because I would have failed that part.

But if you look at the GPS track that recorded my path, as well as the path of two other people who worked the same sector, you’ll notice we all overshot the boundary. One of those tracks was actually recorded by the person who was looking at the GPS as he was walking the line, and even he missed the boundary.

what actually happened.

It did not turn out to be a huge issue in this case. Even though we were out of our sector, and technically didn’t know where we were at the time, all the dogs were able to put their noses on the subject. So it didn’t affect the outcome of the problem, but it did point out a couple of things for me.  Not least of which is that this is how you get holes in your grid pattern.

More importantly though,  I need to put a little more trust in my pace count. Even having a GPS will not always put you exactly where you want to be.  Also, If you go looking for a terrain feature, you will find it. But it, and consequently you, may not be where you think you need to be.

Sit! Staaaaaaaaayyyy.  Wait for it.  Good Boy!

(The second half of this post will be posted later)

FTL Weekend Part Three: The Search

Posted in Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by rattlerjen

our coordinates

our coordinates - Team Golf

We practiced all day.

We gathered in groups, folded our maps, checked our boots, and tightened our packs.

We oriented our maps, set a bearing, followed it, and counted our paces.

We slipped in snow, fought with brambles, spread out to search, and doubled back.

We found our markers.

We were practicing land navigation with our map and compass as a team.

It was all just practice for what was to come.

The Mock Search

It was time for all of us to put what we learned to the test.  The students and instructors gathered together to learn what we could about the search to come at the briefing.  Three people were lost in the woods behind the community center and we had to find them.  There was already snow on the ground and the temperature was to drop into the teens at night.  None of them were prepared to be out in the weather.

ftl mock search weather

During the briefing several people asked some very good questions.  It was very important to find out everything we could about the people missing, the situation, and the search area.

After briefing everyone went to gather their equipment and sign in.  I on the other hand really had to use the ladies room.  Cold weather and drinking water all day, you do the math.

As I was making my way back to the classroom, several people in the hallway told me my name was being called.  I was wanted in the last room, the incident command center.  A team had already been picked for me and I was needed to begin briefing for my task.

Turns out I was placed with a signcutter team, cool!  The only thing I really knew is that they would be very detail oriented.  These guys see things the rest of us walk right by.  I imagined them crawling along the ground inspecting leaves with magnifying glasses, sniffing pine needles, and tasting rocks.  This was going to much different than keeping up with a search dog.

Our task was to walk to the stream and cut for sign along it.  Two other signcutter teams had been sent out to look for other clues.  The rest of the teams were ground searchers, scouring the woods for the lost ones with flashlights.  My job was to lead the team of signcutters, which really meant, follow behind and let them do their job.  That left me with the radio, navigation, notes, keeping track of everyone, and searching for more obvious clues with my flashlight.  I was excited.

We did not even get to the start of our task area before the trackers found several sets of prints.  Popsicle sticks, tape measurers, and note pads emerged from pockets while I watched.  I began to realize there were a dozen questions I could have asked at the briefing that may have been of use for the sign cutters.  Several of which would have involved shoes.  We followed the tracks to the stream, I radioed base indicating we started our task.

I followed along counting my paces, inspecting the map, learning a bit about sign cutting, and trying to listen to the radio. I found it was not easy to keep track of all of the traffic coming over the radio and paying attention to my other responsibilities.  One being not falling face first into the  icy stream.  Calls coming in were constant.  Teams starting task and giving progress reports were intermixed with clues being called in and questions asked.  Was that one of the teams indicating they had found one of the missing persons?  I continued to listen and jot down information as we crawled forward.

I was learning much about how to work with a specialized team.  I was also learning that the extra layer of clothing I intended to take off once we were moving would stay put.  Following sign cutters does not involve much of a physical workout.  Just have to remember to wiggle my toes every once and a while.

We may have been going slower than many of the other teams, but these guys were hot on a trail in the snow, picking it out among a mess of other prints.  I was beginning to wonder how far I was from sniffing a few leaves myself.

This stuff is interesting.

A call came over the radio.  Misty’s, the lost woman’s, shirt was found.  Later, someone called about hearing a whistle coming from the woods.  Could it be who we were looking for?

Tune in later to find out…

Survival Weekend: After Lunch

Posted in Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by rattlerjen

The buffet, it was massive!  Really folks, you probably could have ordered a few pizzas and been done with it. There were three kinds of sandwich meats, four cheeses, deli mustard, onion rolls, creamy potato salad, bagels, donuts, gatorade, soft drinks, chips, cookies, and food galore.

On our packs went and waddle waddle waddle our feet shuffled.  To the other side of base camp our destination was.  To a graveyard in the middle of a forest, creeeeeeepy!  Down a trail and up a creek was the path to take.

I don’t think this trail is on the map.  Bullocks!

No problem, just look at the nice beetle that clicks and pops like popcorn. DISTRACTION!  How is that for self defense!  BOING!

We split off into multiple groups to try different routes.  I decided to tag along with a newer volunteer in our organization.  This was the very first time she had done orienteering.  It was a perfect opportunity for me to learn more.  Rob must have sensed trouble and decided to tag along with us.  (I could get lost in my own sock drawer.)  We let the new woman do all of the navigating.  I succeeded in clearing up a bit of navigation confusion, Yay me!  Then proceeded in confusing us both a minute later.

We stood at a joining of two drainages, which is the correct one?

Rob is the Awesome.  He taught us a few new skills so that we were able to figure it out ourselves.  All you have to do is point your compass up each drainage and determine the bearing it follows and match that to the map.  Spiffy!

I learned that most trail maps are out of date and possibly useless; topo maps are the bomb.

The cemetery turned out to be a charming little plot of a half a dozen old stone markings surrounded by a little metal fence like what you would see around a really nice garden.  The area past the graveyard opened up into a gorgeous bright green meadow.

Rob started pulling bark off of a dead cedar tree.  GOLD!  I stuffed a ziplock bag full of the magical paper thin strips.  We gathered together with the others under a tiny canopy of trees.

That is when we found out what the heck was in Chris’s bag.

Are you sure this is big enough?

She came prepared man!  The whole team could probably use that thing as a shelter.  After teasing our poor team member, we decided to have a bit of fun.    At her expense of course.

We learned three valuable ways to make a shelter:

Shelter burrito,


and Lean-to.

When constructing your shelter of choice don’t forget your pink string.

This of course matches your pink knife, pink water bottle, pink clothing, pink….

*Cough* umm yeah.  What were we talking about?

Up Next, How to Make a Fire or How not to burn yourself.

Survival weekend training fun

Posted in life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2010 by rattlerjen

Every year our team has a survival training weekend. This was my first time participating.
We had the great pleasure of Rob Spieden to teach the class for the entire day.

A flurry of emails before the weekend quickly spoiled any hope of me losing any weight during the weekend and dashed my hopes of eating beetle stew.  A great pot luck feast was brewing amongst the team.  My husband and I brought two dozen donuts.  I sat them on the classroom table near enough food to feed three times the class’s partipating number.

We had just enough time to finish our coffee and donuts before Rob decided classrooms are boring.  After a wonderful introduction to the use of maps and compass, most of us already had one or two classes under our belts on the subject, we staggered outside.  Under the weight of our packs and maps in hand, we staggered into the woods to find our first orienteering marker.learning to navigate

This marker is a four foot tall wooden post with the top painted orange and a white number carved into the side.  We had to bushwack by a route through the woods to find it.  Our small group of troublemakers walked straight down the road where it comes to a stop at another road crossing it.  We then cut into the woods and down a drainage nearly straight to the marker.  It was the easy route.

With a simple walk upstream we walked nearly right into the marker.

On a lovely carpet of bright green moss we sat and waited for the other groups to catch up. They had taken more challenging routes and found the marker soon after we did.  On the perfect area for maximum relaxation, we learned about the Rule of Threes.  A simple list of things to remember in order for a human to survive.

Then, we whipped out the knives.  Big ones, little ones, pink ones, serrated ones, ones with scissors, ones with saws.  Some people had multiple knives. Some had enough knives to belong to the circus.  A few had knives that belonged on the set of Crocodile Dundee.  We like the knives.  A good thing too.  A decent knife is an important item on the list of 10 Essential Survival Items.

box turtleEveryone was instructed to find the next marker on the side of a steep hill.  I joined a group that decided to walk upstream counting drainages in order to find our marker.  A slow turtle and gorgeous warty little red toad later, we aimed ourselves up a steep drainage.  red toad

God, I am out of shape.orienting the map with no compass

At that marker we learned how to relate what can be seen on a topo map to true life.  Some people can do this crazy runnin around in the woods without a compass.  Now, that is quite cool!

It was then decided by unanimous vote that it was time for LUNCH!

I suck at Geocaching

Posted in life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2010 by rattlerjen

But my dogs are great at it.

As a search and rescue team member, I am going to have to be good at reading maps and using a compass. I have to be really good at it.  With only one orienteering course in the area, I needed to find another way to practice.

I have had an interest in geocaching.  What would happen if I took away the GPS?  The perfect land navigation practice around.  With over one million geocaches hidden all over the world.  I certainly had enough to choose from where ever I may be.  I could trust the location of the placed caches as they are placed at the coordinates using a GPS and are checked by dozens, even hundreds of others.

All I needed was a topo map of the area, a compass, and a grid square.  The topo maps I printed from my National Geographic Topo! software.  I was good to go.

grid squareI tried to find the first cache by shooting a bearing from the end of the cul-de-sac.  A huge jumble of rose brambles and a need to walk down the middle of a muddy stream put an end to that idea.  Instead I just looked at the map quite closely and used the grid square to determine the distance I would have to walk from the stream to the geocache location on the hill.

Right on the point of the hill I was heading for, there was a huge downed loblolly pine tree still with its green needles on.  This was a perfect target. I counted my steps and found myself right where I thought I would be.  The pine must have fallen quite recently, even pine cones were still dangling from thin branches. I was just on the Southwest edge of a hill before it dipped into a three fingered hollow further west.  The geocache should be right here!  Grom and Heidi spent a good part of the time tripping me, each other, and themselves.  Brand new downed trees were everywhere from the recent snowstorm, winds, and rain.  This was not going to be easy.

After a good thirty minutes of crawling around downed trees and splintered tangles of branches, I sat down.  Both dogs plopped happily at my side.  After only a minute, I decided to go back to the road and start over.  Maybe I should try for the other cache first.  It very well could be that this cache was washed away.  Grom zoomed around the hill with his leash dragging behind him.  After taking a gainer attempting to dodge branches and getting wrapped up I let the dog drag his leash.  I spotted a small plastic box just sitting out in the open covered in camo duct tape.  Ahhh! here we go.  This little guy obviously got washed down the hill.  Happily unsnapping the lid, I found a tiny book with a bunny farming tomatoes on the front.  Skunked!  This was not a cache, this was a letterbox!  I nestled the letterbox securely between the roots of the nearest tree and wandered back to my starting place.


they are there somewhere

This time I shot a bearing from the stream and followed waypoints marked by chosen trees along my path.  Strangely the bearing took me directly along a real path.  About 200 meters from where I started, I beared left and started looking.  Nearly every tree had a small hollow or hole perfect for a cache.  No go.  For fun I walked to the end of the path and its intersection with the road and shot a bearing from there to the cache.  Right back to the same spot. Hrmm.  Back to the road and walked due west.  There was a distinct curve in the road and I shot a bearing off that on the map from where the cache would be.  I walked away from the road until my bearing to the road matched in real life what it said on the map.  Nearly at the same place I was before.  OK it has to be around here somewhere.  I walked a bit further back in the woods and found it in a huge hole in a tree.  The darn thing was so big, both dogs went in!

Finding the cache I could not find earlier by simply shooting a bearing and walking straight along it to the cache worked like a charm.

This map stuff really works.  Cool!

%d bloggers like this: