Karl Seckinger

Karl "Trout Whisperer" Seckinger is an outdoor enthusiast and resides in northeastern Minnesota.

Mapping 101

Posted by: Karl Seckinger under Equipment, Family Fun Updated: July 3, 2009 - 12:00 PM

Case in point!

When you can scan the flat page (topo map) and project yourself walking up a contoured slope of 20 percent, while maintaining you’re bearing of north- northeast for over thirteen hundred feet of horizontal distance and 80 ft vertical gain in elevation, then arrive at the fingered draw you pre-selected for a possible glassing area on an elk hunt, you have taken a one dimensional drawing, mentally converted to three-d and opened the chest.

This analogy is not unlike looking through a window pane in contrast with reaching into a stream for a dropped lure. Both views are clear at the onset, but one is distorted when you move to act within the water’s surface. That’s the conscious act of using a map instead of looking at a map.

Maps are flat for a variety of reasons. They fold. They copy well. Often, very inexpensive. Reusable with proper folding technique and waterproofing. But they are drawn to offer pieces of the puzzle if you will. You very seldom use the entire map all at once. You break it down in bits and pieces just to get to one lake, out of a page of lakes as an example.

Some basic map terms are helpful. At the top of list, with a topo map in my opinion is the word relief.

Then in my descending order:

  • Relief map - a map drawn or manufactured in such a way as to illustrate multi-dimensionally the topography or terrain of an area.
  • Topography - the nature or condition of the surface contour of land.
  • Terrain - Land or countryside: ground or a piece of land seen in terms of its (surface features) or general physical character.

    Relief, in a map, is the reading between the lines trick. Can you look a the flat page, meld the contour lines with the slope or lack thereof and envision yourself rising or falling on the landscape as you navigate about.

    Topography and terrain has a significant but subtle difference. Contour as used in topo maps usually suggests elevation change, and terrain is the surface features which could include narrow or wide line’s of contour change.

    A 20 foot contour interval over a mile of prairie grassland is a gentle rise or fall depending on your course of direction. The same 20 ft contour on trout stream with 100 ft of river travel is a completely different animal.

    Terrain could be a mountain or gully. Topography on a map can be a large swath of the color blue for water or green for vegetation. Brown is generally how lines of contour are indicated and black typically is for the roads. Exceptions occur with color from maps but the map legend usually viewed ahead of time will be a side piece to the puzzle. It will frame it the picture you’re physically moving into.

    Maps don’t speak or talk. The map legend however will tell you plenty. Map legends have a variety of definitions and this is the one I like best:
  • For a map to contain a large amount of easily read information, a system of symbols must be employed. Many commonly used symbols have become generally accepted or are readily understood. Thus cities and towns are indicated by dots or patches of shading; streams and bodies of water are often printed in blue; and political boundaries are shown by colored ribbons or dotted lines. A cartographer, (as mapmakers are called), may, however, devise a great variety of symbols to suit various needs. For example, a dot may be used to symbolize the presence of 10,000 head of cattle, or crossed pickaxes may be used to denote the location of a mine. The symbols used on a map are defined in the map's key, or legend.

    Okay, so we have a flat page that can reveal changes in elevation (contour), landscape features (terrain), and what the terrain could include or exclude with respect to vegetation. (Topography)

Some notes with respect to maps.

Topo maps without a compass are like a gun without the bullet. Topo Maps are in most cases drawn with a north seeking arrow. It helps a bunch to know where north is. When you get the north map arrow pointing as the compass needle you have the ground under your feet aligned with page. (Orientating the map)

One map legend may sketch out an inch to the mile, (map scale) or any other increment you can imagine. Read the legend.

I have only seen maps made by humans, with one exception. The physical stars never lie. Humans make mistakes.

When I went to the survey academy in the United States Army I had one of those eyes wide open experiences. My survey section had a night drop, if you will. No maps, no compass and get yourself back to assembly area. Thank God for stars.

Handheld GPS units are as good as the batteries and I own several. LEARN TO USE A COMPASS, AND YOU WILL LEARN TO TRUST A COMPASS.

Practice with a map in a familiar area in daylight and darkness. Get out on lake. The boat over water really changes your concept of distance with respect to time. Foot travel or navigating with all terrain vehicles will tune your ability to see the forest for the trees. Walking your going to see each tree if you want. By increasing the speed at which you cross terrain you learn to watch for more significant features like a stream crossing for example. Practice with someone.

I have never been lost.

I have always been somewhere on the planet earth. This is reassuring to me when everything around me is suddenly unfamiliar. I had a smart aleck deer take me on a wild goose chase that ended with me turned inside out and almost upside down. No wisdom or woods lore saved me. No saintly vision intervened. The moss was green on all sides of the trees. I walked for a long time catching the faintest growling of a distant chainsaw. That guy allowed me the privilege of loading his trailer with firewood. He then gave me a ride atop his tractor towed load and finally shuttled me via his pick-up truck back to my blazer. I was really close to three miles from my starting point. Deer adrenaline completely dosed me and I lost all track of my position. It happened slowly.

I had a great map and compass that I simply stopped paying attention to. You can’t use a map part of the time. You have to use the map and compass in harmony.

Learning to use a map is different than owning a map or looking at a map. Learning to use a map is apples. When you put the map and compass together it's apple pie.

'Til Next Time,
The Trout Whisperer

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