Contour navigating improves skills and proves map reading can be fun

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Paddy Wilmot developed his skills in contour map reading and found his enjoyment of the mountains was greatly enhanced.

“I had done a fair bit of micro navigation and general navigation whilst undertaking Mountain Leader training. This involved calculating routes from a-b using compass bearings, timings and pacings, and a storyboard based on map features like walls, boundaries, cairns or sheepfolds etc. This method of navigating has such a complex story board that it requires constant referring to the map and compass and complex pacings and timings, not conducive to a comfortable walk in the hills and an interesting conversation with your companions. I wanted to be able to navigate with my map and compass, for the most part, zipped inside my pocket.

I mentioned to Joe that I wanted to be able to stow my map a bit more. He said I needed to learn contour navigating, using the contours to ‘see’ the shape of the land and even using the fall line as a compass. We went off to a bowl, under Moel Hebog, to find a ruined cottage using only the contours to find it and then using only the contours to ‘prove’ that it was there.

I suddenly got it. From then on we navigated to find little irregularities in the contours. For each leg we analysed the shape of the land as the storyboard and put the map away before setting off, only pulling out the map again when we had decided that the destination, the small flattening say, had been reached. In due course Joe said, “put your compass away, use the contours to orient your map”.

This has revolutionised my navigating and my enjoyment of map reading a walk in the mountains. Joe is the only instructor I have come across who teaches this.”

Well done Paddy, we’re pleased you found that map reading can be fun. The team at Mountaineering Joe wish you every success with your Mountain Leader qualification.