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Monday, November 8, 2010

Adventures With Land Navigation

In the years that I have been out exploring I've done fairly well with a compass, map, GPS, recognizing terrain and so on. For most map work I've been self taught so I have long been interested in receiving formal training to fill in my knowledge gaps. Over the last three days I attended the first shake down session of an invitational land navigation course. It is geared towards government and military folks who have a need to sharpen their skills. As one instructor pointed out, this type of navigation is a perishable skill and regular study and practice are necessary to stay sharp.

Some of the classroom and field topics included were: navigation history, maps, GPS introduction, coordinates, pace counts, declination, datums, terrain features, intersection, resection and shooting azimuths.
The classroom was well-equipped and facilities at the site included a shower for those who were camping on location.  Here is one classroom facility.

This was my camp site with fresh green grass and shady oaks that made it very attractive.

The school's field terrain varied from open grassy fields with groves of oaks to steep hills layered with intensely tangled scrub brush, yucca bushes and large boulders.

The classroom tasks included hands-on work with paper maps, GPS devices and aids for locating points on a map, estimating distance and plotting azimuths. Spending hours in the classroom is how you set up the foundation for field skills but getting out in the field is the only way to train with the new skills.

For the field skills section of the class we broke up into teams of two and were given sealed envelopes with our navigation lanes that included rough coordinates for the locations of our targets. These targets were steel stakes that had serial numbers stamped into them. From the initial start point's stake were were to plot our attack points on a map, determine azimuths and distance and then navigate to the particular terrain feature in the notes. Once we found a stake we'd radio in a tango report with the serial number of that stake. It is possible to select the wrong stake if you were not clear on the definitions of the terrain features discussed in class. In this photo one of our instructors is emphasizing terrain matching skills and plotting azimuths.
Shooting an azimuth in the easy terrain

My partner and I comparing notes

I did not bring heavy gloves and my hands paid the price. If your pack has anything that can be snagged it will get yanked upon. A pack that is high speed and low drag is the way to go. Here is my partner disappearing into the brush. Note the slim profile pack that he has.

My partner showed me how to best penetrate the interleaved branches that have defeated Spec Ops folks who were trying to quietly apporach their practice targets. In the end you'll find that the brush absorbs much of the noise and you will not be heard very far away.

In brush this dense you can lose sight of your partner when he is 10 feet away. Navigation is accomplished in short hops and you have to surface much like a submarine does to obtain a position fix. One technique is to use a known feature to act as a visual handrail that you can hold onto. Another is to leapfrog your partner and then you check your azimuths both forward and back in order to stay on course.

Another student getting whacked by the bushes in the true meaning of "bushwhacking"!
This is chain saw territory. A machete would not help much. At the end of the day my shins were really beat up. If I venture into this area again I will find some soccer shin guards and combat knee pads to bring along with leather work gloves.


  1. Nice report, thanks for sharing!

  2. This class has been a lot of fun and a great learning experience!