What is it that drives us to explore? From curiosity to navigating new routes, you will find the reward is well worth the effort. On a hike, you would only need to travel a mile off an established trail to discover that. Henceforth the world of exploring. My intent here is to talk about those experiences and what I do to prepare for such outings. To quote the late George Mallory when asked why he would want to climb Mount Everest, he simply replied, “Because it’s there.” No matter the task, great or small, all attempts are measured through preparedness as success is nothing more than a privilege. Truth be told, there’s nothing easy about anything gained in life, whether it’s spelunking down the deepest cave or climbing to the top of the world, the goal is always within reach.
In exploring, to control the direction of change in your favor is to have the confidence to know where you are going. Nothing can be further from the truth. Without common knowledge of direction, you are lost. Knowing your cardinal direction has everything to do with your success in the wilderness. So what is this cardinal direction? As the wind blows, where does it go, was the question put forth by the Greeks who developed the cardinal wind into what is known as cardinal direction. On a map, it’s the symbol known as the compass rose which denotes the orientation of north, east, south and west.
Set at a clockwise rotation from north to west, the initials N. E. S. W can be remembered as “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.” As funny as it sounds, I find that nursery rhyming and funny scenarios can help you remember the most important of information. In keeping with the clockwise rotation, another method is to stand straight up using the top of your head to symbolize north and the bottom of your feet as south. East is always the right hand from north and west is always the left hand from south. Even the position of the sun in the sky can be used for orientation if the general time of day is known. The sun will always rise from the east in the northern hemisphere as it tracks upward and will eventually set in the west. Without getting too technical, this is all you would need to know to get by. It’s all about self-reliance. When man-made things break down, God-made creation won’t. Use it to your advantage.
Considering your options…On a hike, you’re always at the right place at the right time. Whether it’s just before sunrise or navigating your way in the dark, there is always something exciting about the moment. For example, I’ve come to love exploring deer trails at midday and have come upon them on more than one occasion. These trails are nothing more then a means of travel off the main track which other animals share as well. In fact, some of the routes I’ve found were so worn that they could actually pass for hiking trails.
On one such outing high on the front range, I discovered the leg bone of a coyote with its ligaments still attached. No doubt the work of a Turkey Vulture, which by the way has made a significant comeback in recent years. It was eaten clean through to the bone. Food for thought, no pun intended, nothing is taken for granted or ever wasted in the wild. You can really learn a thing or two about yourself out here.
Now getting back on track where the canyons run deep and the forest blends perfectly in on itself. It is so easy to get turned around and I can count the times I did just that. Nothing too serious, just a lot of tacked on miles for the workout. Before exploring your options, it’s important to know a thing or two about reading a trail. The more popular and well maintained ones have their deadfall cut in two by forestry with either rocks or branches utilized to line up the path to keep you on your way. Eventually you will come across missing trail signs or come to a fork where several routes make for a real guessing game. When in doubt, go with the obvious. Get in the habit of looking down. Nothing speaks louder then a shoe print going your direction. You can also stop to take a break and before you know it someone else is bound to show up. Remember, never compromise a gut feeling. When there’s real doubt, there’s no doubt. You can simply back track, consider your options, or call it a day.
Did you ever find yourself perplexed or even amused at the sight of stacked stones? What you’re looking at are cairns. Cairns have been used as landmarks since ancient times. Nowadays you can find them on a summit piled up high as a monument to achievement or for whatever other purpose fills your void. As elaborate as they come, for me, they bring a certain kinship that binds us to the mountains and for that reason alone, that is where I want to draw the line on cairns as trailblazers. Trailblazing is the practice of placing markers or markings, known as a blaze, on trails for direction and sometimes distances. The type of blazes you might encounter are paint, carvings, affixed markers and duckies.
Duck markers to be precise. Built properly they resemble a duck. No need to chop up the forest or graffiti the granite. To make your very own ducky, you would only need to look around for three stones. Remember, two rocks don’t make a duck. You’ll need one large, one medium and one small. Using the three stones, stack them off center from each other to build a duck with its beak pointing in the desired direction of travel. Now wasn’t that easy? In this way you would know it was man-made, because as incredible as mother nature is, she cannot build a simple duck marker. Before hitting any trail, you should always consult a good reference map of the desired area. Most all established trails have them and like a good student, take notes, ask questions and set realistic goals. For example, a three mile hike on a flat should take you 45 minutes to an hour, as oppose to a three mile ascent in the mountains can take up to three hours. In hindsight, the rule is this. Have fun in all that you do. We’ve done the work so we’ve already won, as we learn from failure and not from success! If I may add creativity to the experience, sky’s the limit. In reference to trailblazing, as long as your message is understood, your creation will make my blog.