KwaZulu-Natal South Africa
Mountain of the Dragons
South Africa’s mightiest mountain range with its spear-like peaks – reminiscent of the saw-toothed spine of a gigantic dragon.
Where Adventure beckons..........
DRAKENSBERG WILDERNESS PHOTOS © WILLEM PELSER
“I LIKE THE TASTE OF FREEDOM, THE SMELL OF DANGER. SOMETIMES THE SMELL OF FEAR……….”
NAVIGATING WITH GPS
Once you’ve mastered map and compass skills, you will appreciate the nifty extra features that a GPS receiver can bring you. Note that a GPS receiver can never replace a map and compass, and you should never go hiking in the Wilderness without it as backup to your GPS.
Confirm your position
You will appreciate this feature if you have ever been on a broad pathless summit, any clues to your exact location blocked out by mist, wondering if you were about to walk down the wrong ridge into the wrong valley. Within a few seconds, you can create a way-point for your current location. This gives you a grid reference for where you are, and by checking your position against the map, you can get down safely.
Routes through featureless terrain
This is where the GPS really comes into its own. Crossing valleys on a bearing is one thing, but uneven ground and the lack of features to take a bearing can make this tricky. With GPS you can set a course for a position, and even if you have to walk around dangerous terrain, and the edges of forests, the GPS will continue to point towards your way-point.
To enter way-points – anywhere you want to go – on the GPS, you have to enter the six-figure grid reference for all the features and locations you want to tick off. It’s fiddly, but take the time to do this before you set out. Useful way-points could be path junctions, the start of a ridge or crag that leads to the summit, a summit cairn, or the start of the descent path.
You can mark your current position with the click of a button, a facility that is particularly useful if you come across a really good wild camping spot or special feature that you want to return to later.
You can call up any of your pre-planned way-points during the walk by pressing ‘Go To’, and the moving arrow will point to the way-point, and count the distance back to it.
A route is a series of way-points entered in the order you want to navigate them. Press Navigate, and the unit will guide you along the route. As you reach each way-point of the route your approach is counted down. When you arrive, the unit starts guiding you to the next one on the list. As mentioned above, the GPS can be ‘out’ by as much as 25 meters.
When you arrive, it is an easy operation to re-position the way-point to avoid any cumulative errors.
In terms of accuracy the GPS will locate your position to within 10-25 meters. The way this works on the ground is if you program in a way-marker – a path junction for example- you may reach the junction 10-25 meters before the GPS says you are due to meet it, or overshoot it by the same distance. Use the map to confirm your position.
In very tight navigation situations the consequences of even slight deviations can be serious. An example is navigating of the summit of the Escarpment in a white-out. In these conditions, it is vital to note that a GPS is an aid to navigation with a compass and map, not a replacement. In these circumstances, you should take a bearing from a known location, such as a summit cairn, with a baseplate compass.
I personally use a Garmin E-Trex 20, a brilliant and utterly reliable piece of equipment which has never failed me yet. The biggest bonus is that back at home I can download all the data from the hike onto my laptop. The unit also tracks my every move and I know exactly where I was. The battery life on this unit is exceptional – two triple A batteries will last me 4 days and that is with extensive daily use. Remember, never leave your compass, and map at home.
We as hikers, explorers and adventurers have the absolute duty to respect and protect our Wildernesses. Nobody else will do it for us. Take ownership!
References and Acknowledgements
From the book – “The Ultimate Hiking Skills – Hinkes/Bagshaw”
Photos: Willem Pelser
Compiled by Willem Pelser