Navigation Assessment

So, the 2nd of these articles about the team’s assessments.

Navigation and communication skills. One of our seasoned campaigners has laid out a series of control points (CPs) which we have to individually navigate our way around. It’s an old school nav challenge, using map/compass and skill only, satmaps and GPS gadgets are strictly banned. Yes, we use them to make life easier on callouts, of course we do, but the old fashioned skills are still important. It’s one of the very few skills we insist on when people apply to join the team, they must demonstrate their nav to us. We teach the rest.

Needless to say, nav within a rescue team is not simply about following footpaths and tracks on the ground. We have to be able to make our way to a defined point across trackless ground, in any weather conditions, and at any time of day or night. Most of you will be familiar with Ordnance Survey grid references, using an 8 fig grid, plus map sheet code, you can pinpoint any location in the UK to a square 10metres by 10metres. I know John and his nav, he’s very skilled and is not going to make this easy.

The RV, or meeting place, is at the enigmatically named Old Snoopys, which is a layby on the Isle of Skye road.  Nope, not in Scotland.  It’s that other really well known Isle of Skye, the road across Saddleworth moor!

And Old Snoopy, as far as I have been able to work out over my 13 years in the team, was a bloke who used to run a burger van out of the layby. Who hasn’t been there for decades. Not to be confused with New Snoopys, which is where you’ll find the current burger van. Of course, the bloke that runs New Snoopys doesn’t appear to be called Snoopy at all.

Confused? So am I!!

Anyway, I’m given 5 grid refs to plot on my map, and am to make my way to all of them in turn. In total, the distance is only about 3 miles, but the challenge is going to be finding them. With an evil glint in his eye, John tells me I’m looking for an 18” stick in the ground, each of which has a word written on it. I’m to report back by radio as I find each one.

The first one is a spot height, only a short distance from the road, and reasonably easy to reference from a nearby grouse butt. The kicker is the size of the stick. It may well be 18” long, but barely 6” of it are stuck out above the ground. I’m guessing this is going to get harder.

From there, the second one is a stream junction. Not always quite as easy to find on the ground as they should be, and John’s chosen an area where 4 or 5 streams all come together close to each other. No problem though, it’s bang on where I expect it to be.

The third CP is some distance away, but has loads of reference points, there’s a bend in the steepening clough, then a line of grouse butts to follow, the CP being just before another small stream. I’m covering the ground pretty quickly for a non fell runner, and am happy so far.

CP number 4 looks like a token easy one, it’s actually on a path!! And just at the side of a little pond. And it turns out to be as easy to find as I expected.

This seems too good to be true, I’ve only been out just over an hour and I’m cruising round, I expected more of a challenge from John.

CP number 5 provides that challenge, with bells on. It’s another spot height. Don’t imagine an alpine like peak, nor even a Lake District summit. Spot heights round here are more likely to be a slightly raised lump of heather, indistinguishable from every other lump of heather for miles around. And on the map, this one looks like it’s going to be a pig to find.

From where I break off the track, I’m looking at walking several hundred metres on a compass bearing, to find a 6” twig. With no points of reference nearby to use to make life easier. We all know how many paces it takes us to cover distances, in my case, having long legs, it’s 50 double paces to 100m, which at least makes the maths part easy. But when I arrive at where I hope to find John’s stick, I’m not confident. Am I at the spot height, or is it just over there? Or maybe it’s over there?

Annoyingly, it’s not where I am. And I can’t find it.

After searching for a few minutes, I eventually return to my last point of reference and try again. And it’s still not where I am.

I radiate a search pattern outwards, taking in every likely looking lump on the ground, and eventually find the blasted stick. My good progress is shot to pieces, I must have taken 30-40 minutes to find this last CP, dammit.

Back to the RV, and as the first person to try this course I give John some feedback. It’s a good course, a real challenge and anybody who completes it definitely knows how to nav. Some of the team are going to have to do this in the dark, and I admit to myself, I’m glad I did mine in daylight.

If any of you reading this fancy yourselves as navigators and would like to have a go at testing yourselves let us know and we will arrange to set up the course again for a few days for you all to have a go at.

In all seriousness, this isn’t a challenge for you if you’re idea of nav is a walk round a local reservoir on a permitted path. If, however, you’re happy on broken ground, and are confident with your compass work, then have a go. Don’t get lost though, if we have to come and look for you, we’ll know what you’ve been up to and we will mock you, I promise!!

If you find the sticks, make a note of the word on each. Email in your answers and we’ll put the correct answers ones into a hat, and have a draw for a small prize. Nothing fancy, probably just some team supporters merchandise, maybe some ‘rescue ale’ if you’re old enough.

There is a theme to all the words, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by telling you it’s Rolls Royce. Think aeronautical though, not expensive cars.