The worst feeling when you're up in the mountains is the feeling of disorientation. If you're trying to find your way, you should find north to orientate your position.

A compass will save your life. A compass will indicate magenetic north, but it is off about 22 degrees east in British Columbia (if you happen to be on the coast like me).

If you do not have a compass, you can easily build one.

Another method of locating north is by finding the pole star. To find north with the pole star, face the star, and you are facing north. To find the pole star, look for the Big Dipper, the pole star is above the and of the dipper (near the cup).

You can also find north using the sun, and a watch. Position your watch so that the hour hand points directly to the sun. The bisecting angle between the hour hand at twelve o'clock points to north and south. For example, if it is 8AM, the bisecting angle would traverse 10:00 (south) to 4:00 (north).

One of the classic techniques for finding north is to look for moss on the trees, because it tends to grow on the north side of the tree.

This doesn't work.

Well, okay, it does, but you can't treat it as simply as that. What moss does, is tend to grow on the side of the tree with the least sunlight. In the northern hemisphere, the sun won't hit the north side of a tree. But it might not hit *any* of the tree if the branches are low enough, there are enough other trees, a mountain would tend to get in the way of the sun, or plenty of other reasons. If you want to have any luck with this, you need to examine several trees, and actually look at the surrounding environment, to see if there are other reasons.

If you're planning on wandering around the mountains, a map and a compass are essential. Most compasses worth using have a dial that is to be used to correct for the difference between magnetic north and true north. You simply turn the dial the appropriate amount in the appropriate direction, point the compass needle to the "north" in the dial and then the north on the body of the compass is pointing to true north. Maps intended for actual usage in finding your way around an area will tend to have the number of degrees and a little circle with two radius lines to make it really easy to get the compass set about right.

More importantly than figuring out where north is, though, is figuring out where you are. This is easiest once you've found north. If you can find north and find three landmarks on your map, you can draw a line on the map (this requires a pencil, too) at the same angle as you observe from the landmark, repeat with the other two landmarks, and you should find that they create a triangle. You're most likely someplace in that triangle. If they don't create a triangle at all,you're doing it completely wrong. (For instance, you might have been all wrong about that north thing) If it's a uselessly large triangle, then you need to try harder.

Another technique you can use is this:

  1. Place a straight stick in the (flat) ground. You can get away with a kinda crooked stick, just make sure you're using the tip for everything and that the tip is directly over the spot it's stuck into the ground
  2. Using another stick and some string, rope or even a third stick broken to appropriate length, inscribe a circle with the center where the first stick is in the ground and the outside going through the spot where the tip of the shadow is.
  3. Mark the point where the shadow's tip is touching the circle
  4. Wait until the shadow is no longer touching the circle
  5. Wait until the shadow touches the circle again
  6. mark that spot.
  7. pick the spot halfway between your two marks and mark that.
  8. Draw a line from the stick in the ground to your new middle mark.
  9. Observe that your line points north.
This works best around noon. That is, if you start 3 hours before noon, you'll have to wait until 3 hours after noon for the sun to hit the circle again.

(If you're in the southern hemisphere, do the exact same thing, except observe that your line points south.)

(If you're near the equator, use your brain and knowledge of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west to pick which way is north.)

If you find yourself lost in a housing estate 1, satellite dishes always point towards the equator, and therefore pretty near north/south. Sky digital minidishes, IIRC point SouthSouthWest, whereas analogue dishes are almost due south.

1 - It happens... Honest... All you need is a sense of exploration when it comes to bus routes, and a laissez faire approach to arriving on time...

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