View Full Version : Navigating Inside a Ping Pong Ball

10-24-2006, 04:28 PM
Another member asked the question of how you navigate above treeline in a whiteout (blowing snow & fog)?

As a disclaimer I should say that being above treeline in a whiteout is not the preferred condition for climbing. It is dangerous and generally not very fun. Although, it does happen and if you are doing a Presidential Traverse its hard to avoid.

My first piece of advice is to not lose the trail. Theoretically you can navigate from cairn to cairn in the worst summer fog, so you should be able to do it in winter. Having two people in this situation is very helpful as one person can stay at a marker while the other goes searching for the next one. Blowing snow obviously complicates the matter and rime covering the next cairn can make it even harder to spot.

Most people would say, "Use a compass, duh!" Easier said than done. Following a bearing in a whiteout with the wind pushing and no reference points is not easy. Using a compass is a viable technique, but it takes practice and you need to know where you are going. Chauvin Guides has an excellent whiteout navigation plan in their guide to doing a Presidential Traverse on their website. You could always design the same whiteout navigation plan for a climb up Lion's Head, just be sure to adjust your declination properly.

This is where GPS really comes in handy. You need to be an expert at using one, even with thick gloves on and frosted over goggles. You also have to be prepared if the GPS fails. Before you leave for your trip program the GPS with several waypoints. If you lose the trail you can then use the GPS to travel from waypoint to waypoint. You probably don't want to have the GPS on for the entire hike so once you get to a waypoint I would use a compass as the primary source for navigation, then as you get closer use the GPS to hone in on the next waypoint. Again, this is a serious reliance on a your GPS so there is risk here.

10-24-2006, 06:11 PM

Good post. And have spare batteries for the GPS inside your clothing to keep them warm.

rockin rex
10-24-2006, 06:51 PM
Great post. I don't own a G.P.S. but have a friend who does and swares by it. That may be the one way to orient above tree in a white out. I tried following cairns above lake of the clouds in a white out but because of all the trail junctions I couldn't figure out what trail I was on. I know it sounds weird but in a whiteout with the signs covered and only cairns to go by getting onto a different trail is possible. I ended up on the camel going around rather than up ( I came up the Ammo Ravine) I think I will invest in a G.P.S. for the next time I head up in winter. Any idea on the best G.P.S. out there??

10-24-2006, 07:27 PM
I'm just using the basic Garmin eTrex, which can be found for $115 or less. It's small, light, and gets the job done. I'm sure there are better models out there, but I haven't been looking recently. Extra batteries are essential of course.

11-01-2006, 08:23 AM
I currently use the Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx. It is one of the most accurrate and life saving devices i've ever encountered. What i like about the CSx is the microSD slot it has for importing data into the unit. I bought a topographic card for the eastern united states. This is extremely useful as most gps units, besides the pocket pc ones, don't have any sort of elevation lines. It is also kind of expensive. If you are looking into a gps handheld, i recommend at least getting one with a built in barometric altimeter. This is important because even in extreme whiteout conditions where your handheld may not be able to communicate with satelites, you will still know your altitude. That, combined with last known position on a map (always bring a paper topographic wrapped in clear plastic) is invaluable information.
However, when in doubt....turn around and head down hill. If you are even the least bit squeamish about using these skills, turn around and save it for another day.:cool:

11-29-2006, 06:35 AM
OK - I'm no expert either but here's my 2c worth.

First piece of advice would be to avoid getting caught in a whiteout! Check the forecasts and be alert to current conditions. However, its not always that simple. I have been above treeline on a blue sky day and experienced near whiteout conditions just from blowing snow.

Plan ahead and know your route, and alternatives. Study the map before hand. Read the description in the AMC White Mountain Guide for both your primary route and possible bail out routes.

If you do get caught in a white out then rule one, as Douglas Adams fans will know, would be "Don't Panic!" I guess rule 0.5 would be - "Be observant" It is unlikely you'll go from good to zero visibilty in an instant so as conditions deteriorate pay special attention to where you are, where you have been and where you are going. You should have a map and compass but neither is much use if you don't know where you are on that map.

Keep an eye on the cairns. If you can see a cairn you are on a trail, hopefully the right trail. A length of cord can be used by two people (one at a pinch) to locate the next cairn when it is not visible.

Person one stays at a cairn and pays out cord as person two heads out in the desired direction. Person two can sweep from side to side to locate a cairn and when found a pre-determined number of tugs can signal to person one to advance to person two.

Though not as easy, a solo person can use the same technique. The cord is anchored at cairn one strongly enough to withstand windblast but so a good hard pull will free it. The person then advances to look for the next cairn. When found the cord can be pulled free and the process repeated.

Stay safe!