Backpacker

NAVIGATE ANY TERRAIN

MOUNTAINS

PEAKS AND VALLEYS PROVIDE OBVIOUS LANDMARKS, BUT FAST-CHANGING WEATHER AND IMPASSABLE TERRAIN CAN MAKE ALPINE NAVIGATION SURPRISINGLY COMPLEX.

Beware Nightfall

Daylight lingers longer on the summits than in the valleys—and that can surprise descending hikers with unexpected darkness. Trails can be navigated by headlamp, but if you’re lost or bushwhacking, stay put until morning or risk getting way off course, Jennings says.

Walk this Way

When plotting an off-trail route across alpine terrain, be cautious about getting “cliffed out.” Steep slopes can conceal short but sheer cliffs that don’t appear on topo maps (if the contour interval is 40 feet, you won’t see a 20-foot cliff band). If you’re probing for a way through such terrain, never get into a situation where you can’t retreat.

Hug a Contour Line

Valley bottoms are natural terrain traps and can be littered with thick brush, boulders, and downed trees. Avoid them by keeping the stream or drainage in sight, but hiking higher on the hillside and following a contour line. This is where an altimeter proves essential, Jennings says. “We’re lazy by nature, so without an altimeter to keep us honest, we’ll

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