Wilderness Routefinding

Routefinding is the art of working out an efficient route that is within the abilities of the climbing party. Navigation, on the other hand, is the science of using map and compass, and often an altimeter, to determine the location of the objective and to keep moving in the right direction toward it. Navigation points the way from where you are to where you want to be, but it takes skill in routefinding to surmount the hazards and hurdles between here and there. Intuition and luck play a role in routefinding, but there also are principles that can be learned. And there is no substitute for firsthand experience. Climb with experienced mountaineers, watch their techniques, and ask questions. Routefinding is one of the most satisfying of mountain crafts to master.

Each mountain range has its own peculiarities of geology and climate that affect routefinding.

Mountaineers familiar with the Canadian Rockies, accustomed to broad valleys and open forests, will need to learn new rules to contend with the heavily vegetated, narrow canyons of British Columbia's Coast Range. The Pacific Northwest mountaineer used to deep snow at 4,000 feet in June will discover drastically different June conditions in the Sierra. Prolonged mountaineering in a single range teaches the lore of routefinding in that area, but a climber entering a new range has to be ready to learn again.

Some of the most detailed advice on routes will come out of conversations with local experts. Talk to geologists, rangers, and fellow mountaineers. Ask about climbers' trails that don't show on the map and about the best place to ford a stream. Stop at the ranger station on the way to the mountains and get word on current weather and route condi tions. Spend a few minutes chatting with the other climbers who have stopped at the ranger station on the way to their own mountain adventure. Doing your homework makes for easier trips with fewer routefinding frustrations.

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