Navigation in the 21st century

We asked adventurer Clark Carter which nav devices have helped him out of the most heart-stopping, high-altitude and hapless situations.
By Clark Carter November 7, 2013 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

We asked adventurer Clark Carter which nav devices have helped him out of the most heart-stopping, high-altitude and hapless situations.

First and foremost, is the GPS (Global Positioning System). This handy device tells me exactly where I am in the world using latitude and longitude co-ordinates. It’s about the size of a mobile phone, weighs very little, and all I have to do is turn it on and my position is found.

Some GPS devices only give you a latitude and longitude expressed in degrees and minutes, whereas some have a built-in map that shows you exactly where you are on the screen. But these should never replace a paper map.

People rely too heavily on GPS sometimes, and this can get you into trouble when the GPS fails. This happened to Chris [Bray, AG adventurer] and I during our Victoria Island crossing in 2005. Our GPS died and our compass didn’t work properly because of our proximity to the North Magnetic Pole. We couldn’t even navigate using the trusty ‘the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west!’ technique because the Sun was up 24 hours a day.

We had to use our last known position from the GPS and apply it to good old infallible paper maps and charts. We then navigated using mostly these charts, and prominent features in the landscape such as rivers and lakes.

Because most maps only tell you the basic features and gradients of the area you are traveling through, I find it useful to print out a Google Earth image of the area so that I can tell exactly what sort of terrain is coming up around the next corner. For instance, on a map, two different paths may be equally acceptable, but when looking on Google Earth, you can actually see one is covered in rocks and is difficult to navigate through, while the other path may be covered in grass.

Unfortunately, I usually find that my choices are limited to one bad bit of terrain over another bad bit…

Another high tech toy is a portable tracking device. It’s a little box attached to our carts, that automatically sends out our GPS position via satellite. It doesn’t tell us where we are, but pings our position back to an embedded Google Earth map on our website, so the rest of the world can see where we are in real time.

It not only engages people from all over the world to follow our progress, but also helps to alleviate any worries from friends and family back home. All they have to do is make sure the little dot on the screen is moving across the map, and they know we are at least alive.