Beginners' Navigation Weekend

17-18 May 2008


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2008. Not to be used for any purpose without permission.


Trip Report

TRIP: Beginners Navigation Weekend, 17-18 May 2008


Grace (Saturday only)
Greg B
Greg S
Nadine (Saturday only)


Ominous weather forecasts of high winds, cold nights and mountain snow did not deter 13 navigators from turning up at Bell on Saturday morning and the weekend started out with perfect clear blue skies for our early start out from Sydney.

Before we could set off on the walk though, everyone had to put up with me trying to be a school teacher with a whiteboard, going over the essential skills of map reading and explaining what all those wiggly lines on the map actually mean. Once this was over with we all set off, map in hand, following a track that gradually descended through the bush to a small stream. The beginners learned to correlate the landscape features around them with the representation of those landforms on the map.

Then we climbed up to an isolated sandstone pagoda that offered 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. It also happened to offer the increasing wind unimpeded reign, and we decided to take our lunch to the lee side of this sandstone outcrop rather than brave the elements by having lunch right on top.

Then I proceeded to completely confuse everyone by trying to explain how to use the compass and map to identify the landscape features around us. So we spent quite a while up here working through the concepts of setting the compass, taking bearings and so on, and pretty soon everyone was getting the hang of it. But the best way to learn navigation is to practise it and it was getting cold anyway so after lunch we continued along on the walk which lead us gently down to where the trail ended and there was nothing below us but a deep gorge. It was a steep climb down to cross a river and steep again up the other side but once we were up we climbed onto the top of sandstone pagodas for beautiful views of the weathered landscape in the soft afternoon sunlight. The sunlight didn't last and soon threatening clouds moved in from the west. It was time to get going.

Nadine and Grace who just came up for the day left us here to walk back to the cars and return to Sydney.

The group learned to set the compass on a bearing and the beginners took turns leading the way up the ridge, finding their own route through the scrub and using the compass to stay "on track". Our objective was to reach the junction of two fire trails and our navigation was spot on. An exact bullseye was achieved as we emerged from the scrub right at the junction.

It was very cold and squalls of light drizzle were coming over so with some more navigation practise we headed off the fire trail down another ridge to a huge camp cave which was completely sheltered from the wind and rain. Here we laid in a good supply of firewood and rugged up warm and settled in for the evening.

An excellent evening was had and Lois produced a superb cellar door Hunter Valley shiraz and several other bottles and casks of wine materialized from other sources and these helped warm us up from the inside while the fire did the same from the outside. The group had obviously read the email mentioning enjoying wine around the campfire and had come suitably prepared!

Next morning we got up for the obligatory cup of tea and then consulted our maps. I pointed out where we'd be going for lunch and the beginners worked out the best way to get there on the map and pencilled in the bearings that would be taken to get there. Then, after I led the way through the first bit of scrubby swap, the younguns took turns leading again and navigated accurately to our lunch spot. The wind was still cold but the air was crisp and clear. It was a great day to be out in the bush and the sun was out at our beautiful lunch spot. Here was a garden of sandstone, with delicately sculpted layers and folds in the rock and beneath these lay a unique swampy crater surrounded by ghostly white tree trunks. This was truly a special place.

After lunch we climbed down into a huge amphitheatre and then across a small creek and up onto a new ridge system. The beginners again navigated along bearings to our next river crossing but by now the vigorous wind was getting very cold.

Many were getting tired after a full weekend of carrying a pack but by now we had done our last river crossing and could climb steadily on an improving track back to Bell. We arrived back at the cars by about 3:30pm where our navigation weekend concluded.

Thanks to everyone who came for the great company. Thanks to Greg for helping with the running of the trip. Whilst I think the walk was harder than many expected it was an excellent weekend away in beautiful country and a great chance for many to learn new skills or refresh old ones.

Ashley Burke


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All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2008. Not to be used for any purpose without permission.