Mountain Journeys

Night Navigation Course – Grey Friar


Wrynose Bottoms and Harter Fell from Wet Side Edge just after sunset

Night Navigation Course - Grey Friar

We spend a lot of time on Scafell Pike during the hours of darkness, helping 3 peakers on their journey. But we know this route so well that on most ascents we don't need to use map and compass. So every so often it's good to get out and actually practice these essential skills for real and in locations we are less familiar with. Last night I chose the area around Grey Friar and set off from the 3 Shires Stone.

Leaving the roadside around 8.15pm there was no need for a torch for the first half hour as the sky was clear and bright. My aim for the evening was to make sure my pacing was as it should be over all types of terrain. I couldn't remember what the paths were like but had a feeling they would be indistinct, that didn't quite bear out. However, bearings were taking at all times to confirm the correct direction of travel was taken.

Following Wet Side Edge I set a course for Hell Gill Pike about 900m away from the path junction I stood at. A long way to pace, so inaccuracies would likely be obvious. With 100% concentration the leg went well and soon I located the small path junction that would set me on a course for a broad grassy area known as Fairfield. Hitting the target again I was feeling pretty happy so decided to continue on to Grey Friar. This would be easy to navigate up but potentially quite tricky to navigate down from, given the initially rocky terrain that leads on to wide open grassy plains.

Well the summit was indeed easy enough to reach and gave some splendid views over the Cumbrian coastline. It was nice to turn the torch off for a while and spend a few moments stargazing. On that note, due to the sky being clear I was able to use the stars as navigational aids. When reading a compass bearing I could match this up to a star and then just focus on the star to reach the next point.

From the summit of Grey Friar I took the decision to use a back-bearing as this should land me exactly where I had set off from on the last leg to the summit. It did. Pacing worked perfectly for getting back to Fairfield and from here I made a bee-line up to Great Carrs, taking a few minutes to check out the World War II bomber wreckage just below the summit.

Rather than take the larger path along the Great Carrs edge, I retraced steps back to a sheep trod and used this as a route back to Wet Side Edge. Once here I plugged a few distances into my head and put the map away. Pacing all the way back to the roadside. Pacing during ascent and descent is different and needs to be adjusted to compensate for the gradient, so being sure to pace in both directions is important.

After the short drive back home I suddenly felt completely exhausted. It's been a while since I've concentrated quite so much. Definitely a good feeling, more on the way.

Did I mention we run navigation courses? We do, they typically take place during the day, although we can offer night time courses too. Being able to navigate in the mountains is a very worthwhile skill, indeed it is an essential skill for anyone venturing into the mountains. The weather can change rapidly and thick cloud makes navigating much more difficult. If you would like to learn to navigate more effectively please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading



The bright lights of West Cumbria from the summit of Grey Friar



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