Mountain Education Resources
Following In The Tracks of Others
There is no excuse for not knowing where you are or where you are going, especially in the snow.
You and your dog are visiting a friend in a strange town and you need to take the dog for a long walk. Will you leave the house without being certain of the route out and back, some of the dead-end streets to steer clear of, and the areas to avoid?
When you are driving to the Mall and want to anticipate all the one-way streets around it, won’t you plan your route in and out, in some form, or will you just wander around until you figure it out?
You come up to Tahoe for the Christmas Holiday and want to go snowshoeing through the woods the mile from the regional park’s parking lot to the lake. You naively plan that you can simply “follow someone else’s tracks” and don’t look over a map before heading out, especially since the regular visitors there surely must know where they are going. However, you are not alone as a new visitor and come to find that other people ahead of you assumed the same thing and are wandering through the trees trying to find the trail.
Is this the kind of security in route-finding that you are planning? Are you certain that the tracks in front of you are going where you want; would you know if they weren’t?
Just because you are on the snow-covered Pacific Crest Trail and you know others are ahead of you going the same way, that you can assume the tracks you are following are theirs and not those of another visitor going somewhere else off your path? Is there someone in your group who is certain of where they are leading you? What would happen to you if they got hurt and couldn’t continue on or they hiked faster or farther than you one day–could you continue on?
There probably are not PCT trail shields marking every trail junction and road crossing, so do you know how to and are experienced translating trail guidebook verbal descriptions onto a topo map, then looking around you to decide which way to go? What will you do if you run across a snow-covered logging road in the North Tahoe or NoCal woods that isn’t on any of your strip maps? Make sure you are prepared to deal with problems like these before you leave Mexico or Canada.
Another obvious point to mention, and to some it is the first that should have been said, is that the snow will cover much of the trail signage anyway, especially all low, post-mounted destination mile posts. So, know where you are going by anticipated sight (what landmarks to look for, which way the canyon or ridge should be twisting, which way the pass should be facing, etc.) and awareness of the topographic “lay of the land” before you get there. This trained talent will tell you what to look for, topographically, even when everything 10 feet up off the ground is buried under snow and you will not have to worry about getting lost because you’ll constantly know where you are, what you expect to be seeing around the next corner, and what you should be able to see from there–and if you don’t, you’ll be able to stop right away, reassess the maps, and get back to where you should be without much lost time and effort.
Pay attention to what is around you. Isn’t that why you are out there in the first place, to see and enjoy the wilderness? Learn how to read a topo in three dimensions. Take one of your local mountains outside and orientate it by sight based on the landmarks you can see. Figure out where you are and use a compass to get somewhere else and back. This is a skill that will build confidence, security, independence, and keep you safe. Know the woods. Become the “mountain man” who is wilderness savvy by learning how to move about in it without distress, anticipating what’s ahead, being prepared for it, and knowing how to deal with it. Then everything else is just fun!
South Lake Tahoe, Ca