Where are we ?

“When someone’s knocked out unconscious, what’s the first thing they say when they come to ?”
“Where am I?” I answered without a second thought.
“Exactly” Tuck said. What’s more, he had the answer.
A life on the edge – Jim Whittaker

This excerpt, taken from Whittaker’s book, describes a discussion between J. Whittaker and Ed Tuck, the inventor of the first GPS device released more than 25 years ago. His device was created to answer the ultimate question anyone asks at some point: “Where am I?

Where Am I ?

Nowadays, a variety of tools and devices make the navigation easier. They provide a considerable additional layer of safety as one can use technology to find his/her given location at any time including the path back to the start/trailhead.

This is actually one of the main reason I acquired my first GPS device 3 years ago. On a winter day of December 2012, my wife and I decided to explore the rugged “Rock of Ages” hike in the Columbia River Gorge. A thin layer of snow prevented us seeing the trail (unmaintained trail) and when we found out we had only 1 hour before sunset, the only tools I could use to return to the trailhead were my memory of the way up, the 2 cliffs to avoid on each side of the ridge, the sound of the highway where the car was parked and our few snow tracks. We made it back safely but afterwards, I deeply wished I’d had a GPS device not only to be able to find our way back to the start (by using the “Trackback” function) but also to see where we wandered/got lost at the top of the ridge.


Where am I ? 

Since then, I have used my GPS device on all of my adventures and never got lost. When in doubt, I usually visualize my current location/direction in comparison to my created route which have prevented me multiple times from getting lost.

IMG_1654Using my Suunto Ambit 2 to ensure that I am on the”right track” while peakbagging in The Enchantments

While I usually carry a map and a compass on each of my runs (they are the two first recommended items in the 10 essentials), being able to navigate by just looking at my wrist is a considerable timesaver. It is especially useful during a race when every minute is counted.

What Ed Tuck didn’t realize is that not only a GPS device will tell me where I am at any given time, it will also tell my where I was and where I will be.


Where was I ?

As most modern GPS devices record one’s GPS location every given interval for several hours/days, it is possible to look at the track that is composed of all those recorded points. I find those tracks extremely useful to look at to visualize where I got off course for example or even share my course with another person.

NorthSister1Looking back at my GPS track. Using Google Earth to compare my GPS track with a correct one to study where my friend and I missed the summit of North Sister. In Blue: The track of Karl Helser who summited North Sister. In Red : our track. This is looking South East. We can see that we should have gone over the ridge towards the Bowling Alley.


Where will I be ?

The fact that I haven’t gotten lost since then doesn’t come just from having my GPS watch. It also comes from the fact that I’ve refined my trip preparation as I believe it’s important to study well a route and/or take it with you on your trip. By looking at maps, routes from previous trip reports, I typically create my prepared route and load it onto my watch. I use this route to visualize exactly where I will be going. All this time spent studying maps, looking at GPS tracks help me get familiar with the area and be at ease right from the start.

By “prepared route”, I mean that I usually prepare a GPS file of my intended trip, either by finding a file from another person that has already done the route (or part of the route) or by manually creating my own. However, I always try my best to use a track generated on the actual trail as creating a manual track can lead to navigation errors when out in the field.

Preparing my future adventure with the right tools : the 3 Sisters circumnavigation

Because I have benefited many times from other people’s tracks, I have decided it was time to share mines. My plan is to propose a set of GPS tracks that represent my main past adventures & explorations (climbs/hikes/runs/rides….etc) that I feel are worth sharing to be reused. You will find those GPS tracks on the page “MY TRACKS” for which the link is present at all time in the blog’s navigation bar located at the top of each page.

Any suggestions/critics are appreciated!

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