Six of us gathered by Glengoyne Distillery on Thursday 23rd of November for a Night Nav session run by Alastair Maclean in the Campsie Hills. The session was a free CPD workshop offered by the Mountain Training Association, one of two that ran in November this year in the Glasgow area.
At 6:30pm it had been dark for a while and the weather was chilly. Earlier that day it had snowed and there was a light dusting of snow high up in the Campsies. There was only a little cloud in the sky and we could see the stars and the vague outline of the hills above.
The six us had a range of experience in night navigation. Me and Paul were Winter MLs and were out get some practice, some were working towards their Mountain Leader Assessment and for others, this was their first time navigating in the dark.
Alastair gave us an overview of the plan for the next 4 hours, outlining the route we’d take: north along the pipe track practicing pacing and timing, looking for vegetation changes, bridges and bends in the track; before heading east and then south on a hill track above Killearn and finally onto the open moorland near a well known local hill called Dumgoyne.
Wrapped up warm with head torches, maps and compases we set off. From the start Alastair encouraged us to try walking with our head torch off, to build confidence and save battery. The track was broad and level and once our eyes had become accustomed to the dark its edges became easy to see, as did the woodland, fences and hills around us. To avoid loosing our night vision Alastair also demonstrated the benefits of using a red and orange filter on a torch.
As we journied north we all got an opportunity to practice our pacing and timing, measuring out short legs between targets. Just south of Killearn we headed east and walked uphill. We took turns in navigating to the different bends in the hill track. We talked about how tricky it can be to know how long you’ve walked for and the importance of using a stopwatch to keep track, particularly in the dark, when most visual clues in the landscape aren’t apparent. Instead of visual clues Alastair highlighted the importance of noticing changes in gradient and using a compass to pick up on subtle changes in our direction.
Eventually we reached the end of the hill track and Alastair set us the goal of reaching a small hill, about 400m to the south west. We couldn’t see our small hill and we had to rely on a compass bearing, contour interpretation and noticing the changing shape of the ground under our feet. A flat section, led to a prominent re-entrant which led to a break in slope and a steep grassy slope to the summit of our small hill. We all felt very satisfied in reaching the top.
In the distance the sky was lit by an orange glow from all the Glasgow streetlights. After a few photos we began our descent, past Dumgoyne, down to the Distillery and our starting point. CPD sessions like this, learning from our instructor and eachother, are so worthwhile. Hopefully sessions like these will be a regular feature of the MTA CPD calendar in the future.
If you would like to find out more about the MTA’s programme of workshops follow this link.
Aspen Outdoors Ltd also run navigations courses like the Silver National Navigation Award where we practice techniques that help you navigate in the dark.