Through the Angeles National Forest
you won’t be walking in many straight lines in the Angeles
National Forest. Your best bet is to study the maps, and then stay
on existing trails. The trails are usually the easiest route from
one site to another, though not necessarily the shortest route “as
the crow flies.” These “easier” routes tend to
meander around hills and through canyons, giving you the least elevation
gain from point to point.
location in the Angeles Forest. It’s not called Devil’s
Canyon for nothing!
many natural observations that we can make in the Angeles National
Forest which help us determine direction. However, one can't rely
on just one of these signs because there are always local exceptions
to the general rules.
we've all heard that moss grows on the north side of trees, right?
But is that a fact? When I was in high school, I took a few backpacking
classes conducted by Abby Keith of the Sierra Madre Search and
Rescue team. He would tell us, “Yes, moss grows on the north
sides of trees .... and the east side, and the west side, and
the south side." We'd all laugh, and he would point out that
in a dense forest, moss can grow entirely around a tree, and that
the value of moss as a direction finder is very limited. Keith
would say, however, that if you are looking at a pine tree with
moss on one side, in a clearing, in California, then the moss
is probably on the north half of the tree.
observation states that if you press the palm of your hand onto
a tree, the hot side of the tree is generally south, and the cool
side of the tree is generally north.
value of such information is somewhat limited.
we’ve often heard such pearls of wisdom as “all streams
will eventually flow to civilization.” Thus, if you get
lost, all you need to do is follow a stream. Well, that works
some of the time. The problem is that there are some treacherous
waterways in the Angeles Forest’s canyons. Some of the streams
pass over rocky falls and steep waterfalls. Some won’t lead
you back down to the city, but will simply lead you east or west
deeper into the forest.
on the trails. If you don’t go cross-country, you’ll
stay out of trouble.
a great wealth of weather lore and nature observations which give
you indications about directions. The best book I’ve seen
on this subject is Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger.
NAVIGATION BY THE SUN
a simple way to determine the approximate time by the sun. When
I was first told about this method, it was referred to as a "Navajo"
method of reckoning time. I have since heard it attributed to
at least a half-dozen other Indian tribes, probably due to the
fact that this was somewhat universally practiced by Native Americans.
this method doesn't actually tell time. Rather, it tells you how
many hours you have left until sunset.
assume that it’s late afternoon. Face the western horizon
and stretch out your hand to the sun. Keep your arm straight but
bend your hand so that your palm faces the sun and your fingers
are horizontal. Tuck in your thumb. Align the top of this hand
with the sun, and then bring each hand below the other in this
fashion until you reach the horizon. Interestingly, four fingers
equals just about the space that the sun travels in an hour. Thus,
you can ascertain how many more hours until sunset, or -- in ancient
terms -- how many “hands” until sunset.
pioneers and Indians have long resorted to driving a stake into
the ground. This would be done on flat ground on a sunny day.
They would mark the end of the stick's shadow with a pebble. After
a short while, they would place a second pebble at the tip of
the new shadow. A line drawn between these two pebbles produces
a fairly accurate east-to-west line.
NAVIGATION BY THE STARS
brings with it a whole new set of problems and challenges.
is a full moon it may be an ideal time to travel. This is a unique
opportunity to see the Forest in a wholly new light. In an emergency,
when you may need to travel at night, a full moon will be most
In the Northern
Hemisphere, the North Star is probably the single most important
star that you should learn to identify. It is not, however, the
brightest star in the sky.
Star is located by first finding the Big Dipper, a group of seven
stars formed like a bowl and handle. The bowl of the Big Dipper
has two bright stars, which are often referred to as the pointer
stars because they lie in a straight line with the North Star.
The distance to the North Star from the two pointer stars is approximately
five times the distance between the two pointer stars.
many other easily-recognized groups of stars that are worth learning
to identify. The best book on this subject that I've found is
The Stars by H.A. Rey.
Keep in mind
that if you are deep in a canyon, you probably won’t see
the North Star at all because hills to your north may obscure
it. This is why it is wise to become familiar with other constellations
WITH A MAP AND COMPASS
a topographical map and compass to find our way
won't kid you here. To truly master the use of a map and compass,
you owe it to yourself to enroll in a college course, or purchase
a good book on the subject. The best, in my opinion, is Be Expert
With Map and Compass by Bjorn Kjellstrom.
purchase a compass, you usually get a few pages of fine print
describing how to use that particular compass, and how to use
a compass in general. Read that literature until you understand
it well enough to be able to describe it to someone. This is very
an orienteering compass by Silva or Suunto, with a rectangular
clear plastic base, and a round movable housing. Usually, it comes
with a cord so you can wear it around your neck. As you become
more experienced with using a compass, you’ll find that
many of the more expensive models with their specialized features
can be quite useful. But for starters, you only need a simple
Keep in mind
that, due to the ruggedness of the Angeles National Forest, you
could do fine if you never carry a compass as long as you stay
on existing trails. A map, of course, is always a good idea. And
if you don’t intend to put in the time to learn how to use
that compass, then leave it at home! It is of extremely limited
value if you can’t use it.
If you do
get lost, some of the methods discussed here may help you re-orient
System (GPS) is a method for determining your location based on
data from satellites. You use a small device (it looks like a
small calculator), which gives you co-ordinates to your local
District Fire Management Officer with the Angeles National Forest,
highly recommends this system if you travel a lot. “This
is especially valuable when you’re in an area for the first
time and don’t know the terrain,” says Hawkins. He
explains that GPS allows you to determine your location, where
you should go, and how to find your way back, even in the fog
or dark. “You should not get lost if you have one of these
devices,” explains Hawkins. In order to use this properly,
you need to understand latitude and longitude on a world map and
you should expect to invest about three to four hours of field
practice -- which is about the same amount of time it takes to
learn to use a compass.
Compass, a good choice.
are several manufacturers of GPS devices, Magellan devices are
the most popular among Forest Service workers. A Magellan GPS
device costs about $300. Though it takes about as long to learn
to use a GPS devise as it takes to learn to use a compass, the
GPS devise is significantly more expensive and very high-tech.
They work because of information beamed to earth from satellites.
For some applications, these expensive toys might be right for
you. But with the growing concern over the Y2K problem, and the
possibility that embedded chips in satellites could be affected,
my inclination is to save my money and just get a good traditional
has been leading survival skills outings in the Angeles Forest
His books, Enter
the Forest and Guide to Wild Foods are available in the Marketplace.
Be sure to see Christopher’s site at www.self-reliance.net
THE FOREST A guidebook to the Angeles National Forest is
a new book by Christopher Nyerges published in 1998. Soft
cover, 150 pgs with index. A companion to John W. Robinson's
TRAILS OF THE ANGELES The news is always full of accounts
of people lost in the Angeles National Forest, or stranded,
or hurt when their car goes over the side of the road. Most
of these disasters could be averted by following the advice
in this newly-released book, ENTER THE FOREST, written by
a naturalist who has conducted survival skill and wild food
outings in and near the Angeles National Forest since 1974.ENTER
THE FOREST is full of photos and illustrations. The book is
divided into sections EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER, HISTORY, AND
SAFETY each of which contain important information to help
guide you through your visit to the Angeles Forest. A must
have if you travel in the Angeles Forest.
Enter The Forest and other great books are available in the