Map and compass

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

Among the 10 Essentials the Boy Scout promote carrying while hiking is a map and compass. I totally agree – for most hikes. To be candid, they are not needed on the Half Dome hike. Heresy? In 25 times up I have NEVER seen anyone use a map or a compass. Blasphemy? They are just not needed. The trail is so well marked and there are enough people going that you will not get lost. Other trails at Yosemite I agree. You could easily get lost. But even if you have a map and compass, do you know how to use them? What good is a compass alone? OK – to find which way is north. Big deal. Give me 10 minutes and I can tell you by looking at the trees and shadows. So what good is knowing north? By itself nothing. You can still go away from your destination, albeit in a straight line. So I guess a compass is good to keep you from going in circles. But at Yosemite you could end up in Kings Canyon just by using a compass alone. The trick is 2 fold: 1) Learn how to use it, 2) Use it in conjunction with a map. Good basic maps will show you where things are located relative to each other. If  you see a waterfall  that is marked, you can take your compass and your map to find out where the rest-hut or river is located then take bearings and head that way. But did you know that you should not use a compass right out of the box? You need to adjust for the declination of the place on the earth you are at. This means that magnetic NORTH and true NORTH are not the same. Like 14 degrees difference in the bay area. Take that same compass to Boston and you could be walking a long time because you did not set the declination. These numbers are found on good maps for each area. The overall solution to the “don’t get lost” problem? Take a Map and Compass class. REIs offer them for a nominal fee. I did and it was well worth it.

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “On the expressway to your heart. The expressway is not the best way.  At five o’clock it’s much too crowded; much too crowded, so crowded.” – Soul Survivors
*Mr. Half Dome – Rick Deutsch –


2 Responses to “Map and compass”

  1. Brad W. Says:

    Or find your local orienteering club and attend one of their events. The Bay Area Orienteering Club, Los Angeles Orienteering Club, or Gold Country Orienteers (Sacramento) (the three clubs closest to Yosemite) have events throughout the year.

    (and you don’t have to worry about declination on our maps. 😉 )

  2. mrhalfdome Says:


    Thanks for the tip. Welcome to the blog. So when is your Half Dome trip?

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