Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Weird Welsh contours

Finding weird-looking contour lines on your map and navigating over to investigate them is a great way to practice for your Mountain Leader summer award.

This weekend I went to find some on the oddly curving hillside near Drum in Northern Snowdonia.

After a quick 100m pace check I started walking on bearings through often impenetrable heather and spiky gorse with a relatively easy prominent spur edged with crags, got lost on an obvious-looking re-entrant and ended with a bowl-shaped feature.

I learned several really useful things:
  • Allow plenty of time - I picked 5 or so features and was out for 3 hours!
  • Aspect of slope is a useful tool for confirming which part of the slope you are on
  • Practice your 100m pace-count on different uphill gradients
  • A knitting counter is useful for remembering how many 100ms you have walked
  • Does anyone know a good place to put your compass if you need to use that hand and don't have a pocket? I slide mine under a backpack strap but it sometimes moves the bezel
  • Know your scale - how big is a 25m feature in real life? Will features even make it on to a 1:25,000 map with 10m contour intervals?
  • Having an ML buddy to confirm you have actually navigated to the right feature is a bonus. My friend couldn't make it in the end and it would definitely have been better with a pal
  • Don't take your non-ML friends unless they really really like you. I don't think any of mine would have followed me through all those gorse bushes!
Two of the above really stand out and I'll go through that in more detail in my next two posts.

Looking at the landscape at this level of detail was really eye-opening. I now use contours to navigate much more of the time, and practice makes you quicker at working out how long it should take you to your next destination, what you should see on the way and what you should arrive at. It needs a lot more practice, but I'm getting there.


  1. "Does anyone know a good place to put your compass if you need to use that hand and don't have a pocket?"

    If your compass has a suitable hole, you could get a lanyard and hang it round your neck. Most Suunto compasses come with a lanyard already fitted.

  2. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for the advice, my compass does have a lanyard but if I hang it round my neck it still bangs around and spins until it strangles me! When I have a jacket on it's fine as I can loop the lanyard through the pocket zip and put it in there when I'm scrambling around. The problem occurs when I have no pockets...

  3. Some lanyards have a bead that can be slid up to prevent strangulation. Banging is still a problem. If you have a zipped top on, you could zip the compass up inside. If you don't have pockets or a zipped top, there is only one solution: you must hold the compass between your teeth - as a pirate holds his cutlass.

  4. I like it! In the teeth it is. I will have to count my paces silently. Thanks Paul!