A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

14 April 2017 — 1722 mdt

A free course in old school backcountry navigation


My Silva Ranger 35T, with the magnetic declination set for just under 14° east. NOAA’s online declination calculator puts Kalispell’s current declination at ≈ 13.4° east.

I’m an old school backcountry navigator. Yes, I’m a technophile who carries a cellphone, GPS receiver, and altimeter, but my 1971 Silva Ranger 35T compass and paper topographic maps are the most important items in my wayfinding kit.

Some 30 years ago, leading a wilderness walk along the Swan Crest for the Montana Wilderness Association, I used my Silva Ranger and USGS topographic maps to locate several small, off-trail, lakes using a technique Calvin Rutstrum described as “intentional deviation.”

MWA’s Wilderness Walks have become legendary, and now MWA is offering free instruction in map and compass skills. One course, taught by Brian Baxter, is scheduled for Earth Day, 22 April, at Snappy’s in Kalispell. Here’s his description of the curriculum:

…The idea here is to coach the folks on the old school basics of orienteering with map and compass.The scenario partially addressing lost GPS, dead GPS, no GPS satellites, ect. Even the GPS Gurus I know don’t enjoy teaching a GPS course as everyone brings a different style unit and it becomes difficult. However, I do encourage participants to know both methods. That is what we used in the remote wilderness extensive forest inventories.

Participants need to bring ruler, pencils, calculator, lunch, water, rain gear. Class is rain or shine. Adjustable declination compass if have OR Snappy’s will have four for sale Silva Ranger CL (sale price 48.00) and I have a couple of loaners. Topo quads available for 8 bucks at Snappy’s.

This is an excellent course that I recommend highly. Baxter is teaching skills that will last a lifetime. Master the map and compass, mister, and you will always know where you are, and how to get there from here. The class is small (12), and partially filled, so you need to RSVP to Baxter