Skills: Hand Railing and Collecting Features

In our previous article on setting the map, features were identified as falling into three categories: spot, linear and area. After you’ve set the map and worked out where you want to go, linear features can be used as a ‘hand rail’ to help keep you on track.

A fence makes a good man made handrail, but check the map is up to date!
© Dan Bailey

The aim is simple - to keep the feature in sight and use it to guide your travel. Suitable linear features include the path that you’re on, a stream or river you can see or a fence or wall nearby. In some places it may be possible to use the landform as a linear feature, such as a ridge or escarpment, but only if the visibility is good enough.

Geusachan burn from The Devil's Point  © Captain Solo
Geusachan burn from The Devil's Point
© Captain Solo, Sep 2011

Hand railing is a really useful navigation technique, except when the feature becomes indistinct or has been moved. This can be the case for man-made features which may have been repositioned since the map was created. It’s important to keep on top of this by ‘collecting’ other features along the way. These are often called tick-off features.

The process goes like this:

  • Look at the map and identify the linear feature you plan to hand rail.
  • Follow the linear feature on the map and pick out the obvious features between you and where you’re trying to get to.
  • Good tick-off features include: an obvious change in the direction of the linear feature, an obvious change in slope angle (uphill, downhill or flat ground), intersecting paths or streams and crossing walls or fences using a stile or gate.
  • Create a mental list of these features and tick them off the list as you come across them.

Follow the Fence........  © jonoh
Follow the Fence........
© jonoh, Feb 2012

It may be that you’re following the linear feature to the end, but if not, it’s good to have a catching feature that lets you know if you’ve gone too far. The catching feature you choose should be very distinct and you should come across it even if you’ve wondered a bit further away from the hand rail than you’d intended. A wall or stream which crosses your hand rail is an ideal catching feature. It’s very similar to giving someone directions; “If you get to the big roundabout for the motorway you’ve gone too far.” Will you know if you’ve gone too far?

Follow the wall up Ingleborough  © Dave Barker
Follow the wall up Ingleborough
© Dave Barker, Apr 2013

Mountain Training logo  © Mountain Training

About Mountain Training

Mountain Training produces a range of books including Hill Walking and Navigation in the Mountains which both offer further guidance on the techniques described above. Their Hill & Mountain Skills courses offer a more practical approach to becoming an independent hill walker and are run by approved providers throughout the UK. Find a course near you.

Mountain Training also administers a range of nationally-recognised mountain leadership, instruction and coaching awards, such as the Lowland Leader, Hill and Moorland Leader, Mountain Leader and Climbing Wall Award.

For more info visit their website.

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