Hess and Deborah from the North.
In the late spring of 1976, I and 3 others did out first Alaska trip. Not flying into KIA but going farther north into what was then a little visited area. David Roberts, Don Jensen had come before us as had others we didn't know and hadn't read about. For us it was a good adventure
Cliff Hudson and Doug Geeting dropped us off on the Gilliam Glacier and picked us up a week late some 30 days later. For us it was the "big mountains".
We had a compass or two, topo maps and a radio telephone that worked line of site to Fairbanks. When we could get line of site to Fairbanks from the surrounding peaks or ridge lines. A few weeks later and two minor first ascents we had used the radio phone and asked for a pick up.
It was a little weird siting in the middle of a glacier, under a beautiful blue sky, watching the snow melt and crevasses open up, running out of food and wondering when the plane might arrive.
Days later it did.
But not before we thought seriously about walking out to the road. No small feat.
Fast forward through 7 more trips to the Alaska Range and walking or skiing around the Cascades, Canadian Rockies and some of the Greater Ranges for a few decades.
Never took a radio of any kind again. But topo maps and a compass have been a regular companion. And on occasion, when I could afford it, a high quality altimeter.
These days a cell phone is common but not very useful generally. A topo map is still the basis for my travel in an unknown area. Compass of course and again the altimeter (always handy) if I think it might required.
Until quite recently I really never gave wilderness navigation much though. As a kid my father sent me out on horse back to flush game for him. That might be an hours ride or a full days ride. I spent hours alone in totally unknown terrain as a grade school kid...scared shitless for the most part, trying to figure out how to get back to our hunting camp. Thank God for smart horses!
Some where in that trial by fire (or so it seemed) I learned to first, given a choice only travel in good weather. 2nd, know what direction North always was and where the hell you were headed. And, as last resort, how to get back home the way you came. It was much, much later that I decided the most fun trips were traveling from point A to point B through unknown terrain with a BIG target to hit on the other end. Big, as in say a road or river. Some sort of natural barrier that is BIG and hard to miss. Later yet the targets got smaller.
Sailing back from Hawaii on a 52' cutter rigged sail boat tested that theory to its limits. Yes the Western Hemisphere is big when you leave Hawaii. And you aren't likely to miss it sailing East!
That much I had figured out. The rest not so much. 21 days in and level with Baja instead of Seattle was a bit of a shocker!
So, I need to move on and get to the point. A couple of winters ago we were out skiing. I had wanted to do a small, but local circumnavigation. Half way in we had a discussion on "where to next?" Should we turn around or continue or do (to me) the unknown loop option? I looked at the topo map, compared the 2nd half of the loop to the terrain we had already covered and figured 4 more hrs. Plenty of time. One of my companions spent 30 minutes using a topo map, an altimeter, a pen and paper and some addition and multiplication to come up with 4.5 hrs. Imagine that?
It actually took 3hr and 45 minutes. But who is counting right? Or that an hour either way would matter much one way or another generally.
I thought all that time spent rather odd actually and wondered why it took him a topo map and 30 minutes to figure it out, when were seemed to simply be burning day light. (My companion was only "allowed" to ski during daylight hours, seriously)
I then sorta casually started keeping track and noticed a whole lot of people I met outdoors were doing similar things. Lots of fussing about. Lots of figures and calculations made on maps and paper or a smart phone and/or tablet with real time GPS. Altimeter watches, GPS, cell phones, Goggle maps, and a host of other chit that eventually told them..with some real effort and time spent mind you, that the trip they were on would be XY ro Z amount of minutes.
I wonder now how you would figure out the walk from Deborah? Back then we looked at a map..checked our meager food supply and figured 4o r 5 days of suck. May be less. Being really hungry the last two. Nice I didn't have to test that calculation. But not a big deal if we'd had to either. Not like we had to be any place special. any time soon.
This Spring I watched an experienced wilderness traveler sit for 2 hours figuring out a long days' ski. He came up with 10hrs. In no hurry, most of us did it in under 8hrs which had been the prediction from past performance and the upcoming new terrain. GPS, map, compass, Goggle maps, computer way points, a travel formula and all that field experience with modern equipment combined still came up short on reality but really long on theory.
Life is more complicated than it use to be. My Dad didn't soon forget the cost of me calling collect to say we were OK and coming out in 1976 using that radio phone.
Now my wife gets nervous if I can't check in daily on either a cell phone, Skype or email no matter where I am at in the world. Fair enough. Almost no cost to us and easy enough to do. But things have obviously changed in the last 35+ years. A map and compass still work pretty well as long as what is between your ears does as well. That's not going to placate anyone still waiting at home though.
I am still adamant about knowing where North is. I still want to look at a topo map prior to, if not during any trip. And I still want a compass to go with the map. An altimeter combined with map and compass can save a whole lot of faffing about and effort in zero visibility. But hell, if pushed, I'll still settle for just the damn map. And even better? Good weather.
And that Iridium Sat phone can get you out of most holes you might dig for yourself. No clue if it will keep the wife happy on a daily basis for you though, sorry.