Traditional map and compass skills are still necessary, the MCofS said

Traditional map and compass skills are still necessary, the MCofS said

Over-reliance on electronic gadgets could put hillwalkers’ lives at risk, experts warned.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said technology is taking over people’s lives, but traditional navigation skills are still necessary.

The organisation, which represents hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers north of the border, said more than ever, people are relying on smartphones or GPS devices to do their navigating for them in the mountains.

But it said, where this may be enough in towns and cities, and on the road network, mountain safety experts are warning that traditional navigation skills are still necessary out in the wilds.

It pointed out that at least one mountain rescue team has had to deal with a callout where a couple could give an exact location thanks to their GPS, but were unable to use that information to navigate off the mountain safely.

Heather Morning, mountain safety adviser for the MCofS, said: “This couple were able to use their GPS to give the emergency services a 10-figure grid reference, which narrows a position down to one square metre – and that’s exactly where we found them.

“If only they had had the ability to relate the grid reference to the map that they had, they would have been able to get off the hill safely on their own. They just didn’t have the knowledge to properly use the equipment they had, or to navigate without it.

“They were lucky that where they got ‘lost’ they had mobile phone reception, otherwise it might have been a very different story.”

Ms Morning pointed out that over-reliance on technology could even be putting lives at risk. She said: “Aside from the limitations of battery life, reception and limits on using touch screens with gloves on, the issue lies with people, and their ability – or lack of ability – in basic navigation skills.

“As technology takes over our day-to-day lives, it seems an easy option to push a few buttons and follow an arrow. But a GPS, smartphone or navigation app is unable to read important subtleties such as a sensible route choice.

The MCofS said it offers subsidised navigation courses

The MCofS said it offers subsidised navigation courses

“Unless you have already used your navigational abilities to programme in an exact route, it won’t direct you away from cliffs or show you the best place to cross a river – or offer an alternative if a bridge is down or the river in flood.”

The MCofS said such incidents underline the importance of underpinning modern technology with a sound knowledge of traditional navigational skills with a map and compass.

As part of its role in improving safety in Scotland’s mountains, the MCofS pointed out it offers a number of heavily subsidised navigation courses, which give walkers an easy to follow practical introduction to map and compass skills which will make them safer and more confident in the mountains.

Details are on the MCofS website.