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Navigation and Wilderness Travel

Like many people our age, my wife and I have started to go through file cabinets and boxes of “stuff” stored on shelves in the basement. As I was going through some of the “stuff,” I came across a small notebook, and when I opened it and started to read, I quickly realized it was the diary that I kept when I went on an elk hunt in Montana in 1982; I’d forgotten that it even existed.

My first notes from Oct. 22, 1982. “Arrived at base camp around noon. Steve and I left base camp at 3:30 with 50-pound packs and rifles and climbed to the 7,500-foot level, and made camp. Snow on the ground and temps to drop below freezing tonight.” My diary went on to say how we broke camp the next morning and continued our climb to the 9,500-foot level where we planned to camp at the edge of the heavy timber and a large open meadow; we were just north of Yellowstone National Park. We planned to hunt alone each day and then meet back at camp each evening. As I read my notes I had to chuckle a bit since the site where we camped had actually been picked and marked on a topographical map many weeks before.

So how did we find that little spot for a camp in a vast wilderness high in the Montana mountains in a place we had never been before? Simple; I studied a topographical map carefully, noting elevations and other geographical and botanical information, and marked the spot on the map. Next, I plotted our course of travel up the mountain coordinating our movements carefully with the aid of a compass. Now a lot of people reading this know exactly what I’m talking about since that’s likely how you also found your way around unknown territories. For many of us, that was a perfectly normal way of travel in strange territory, but when I thought about it, I wondered, would young folks these days know how to use a compass, and do they even know what a topographical map looks like?

In the big woods these days, I would probably still use a compass and a topo map, but I’ll admit that when driving somewhere now, I’ll pick up my “device” (I don’t know what else to call it) and say “hey Google show me how to get to such and such a place,” and a map and continuous instructions come up. I guess that device is the new topo map and compass. Not only does that device provide maps and other services it is also available for emergency situations. Back in 1982, we had no such equipment even in an emergency; I guess you fired three quick shots in the air and hoped somebody would find you.

As I read through my little diary, it reminded me of how I hunted alone all week and trekked all over those snow-covered mountains and managed to kill a 6×6 bull elk and, later that week, a 200-pound bear but without meeting up personally with Steve or my other hunting companions staying down at the base camp, we had no way of communicating simple information about what was happening each day.

Oh yeah, I did have a camera with me. Of course, back then, we took photos that had to be developed. I took all “slides”; I’m sure that’s another term that many of today’s young folks don’t comprehend. Also, you didn’t know what you were going to end up with until the slides were picked up after a couple of weeks of being developed. “Developed,” you know, made into pictures!