Six Steps to Becoming a Better Navigator

By Mark Sembrat

Step 1 – Pay more attention to everyday navigation tasks.

  • What’s the feel of the route?
  • How long until your next action point?
  • What do you look for to know you’re en route?
  • What do you look for that alerts you to an upcoming action point?
  • Pay extra attention when going someplace new or when you make a navigation error.

Step 2 – Learn to read maps

  • Visualize topography using various types of maps.
  • Locate action points.
  • Get the “feel” of the route from the information on the map.
  • Use a map as you navigate.
  • Ask where am I, and what happens next?

Step 3 – Learn to make a navigation story

  • Combine a starting point, route feel, action-point predictors, and action points into the “story” you plan to follow.
  • When you are first learning this skill, it may be useful to write or sketch your story.

Step 4 – Learn to use your navigation story

  • Learn to follow your story as you travel along your route. (You may want to pull out your map and notes to refresh your memory of the story as you go along.)
  • Learn to recognize when your story goes bad …

Step 5 – Build a toolkit of navigation skills and techniques

Learn to …

  • Recognize terrain features on a topographic map
  • Orient your map using the terrain and your compass
  • Use your GPS and plot the resulting coordinates
  • Use your altimeter to determine your location
  • Use your compass to determine your location
  • Work with speed, distance, and time

Step 6 – Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Take both real and virtual hikes to improve your map skills.
  • Go to lots of new places, by road, by trail, and by cross country.
  • Return to Step 1, keep paying attention, keep learning.

April Full Team Training: Type 2 Hike

Team members came together today for a beautiful and fun hike planned around the circumference of Mt. Diablo’s peak. This full-team training offered a one-time qualifying Type 2 fitness hike, while also giving team members the opportunity to socialize and enjoy Mt. Diablo’s splendid scenery. 

Some team members used this to meet their Type 2 hike qualification for the year; some proctored; and others were just along for the experience. Some enjoyed the hike, whether qualifying or not, and others found it tested their mettle.

Those who were using the hike as a qualifier had their packs officially weighed (minimum 20 lbs.) and needed to finish approximately six miles in the 3.5-hour time limit. 

Sweeps ensured everyone got safely off the trail at the end. The reward at the finish line was a lunch of chicken and veggie burgers served up with some hearty socialization in the Laurel Nook picnic area.

A description of the hike is as follows …

From the picnic area, the path ascends northeast over brushy slopes. After crossing paved Summit Road, the path climbs some more up to the lower summit parking lot. Plan to spend some time on the summit enjoying the view. A couple handy locator maps help identify cities and natural features near and far. 

After you’ve enjoyed the view, join the trail heading east from the south side of the parking lot. The path parallels the road for a short distance, then reaches a junction. Summit Trail heads southwest down the mountain, but you join the eastward-trending trail to North Peak. 

Enjoy the awesome view of the Central Valley as you march over a rocky, juniper-dotted slope. The red-brown rock formation above looks more than a little diabolical; the most prominent rock formation is known as Devil’s Pulpit. A half mile from the above-mentioned intersection, the trail, sometimes called Devil’s Elbow Trail, sometimes called North Peak Trail, angles north and descends to a distinct saddle, Prospectors Gap. At the gap is a junction with the rugged 0.75 mile long dirt road leading to North Peak. 

Our path contours along the bald north slope of Diablo, passing junctions with Meridian Ridge Fire Road and Eagle Peak Trail, and arriving at Deer Flat, a pleasant rest stop shaded by blue oak. 

Intersecting Deer Flat Trail, you’ll switchback up to Juniper Campground, then continue a short distance farther to Laurel Nook Picnic Area, where you began your hike.

Team Commendations, March 2013

Command Staff is pleased to recognize five SAR Team members for exemplary service for the month of March.

Diane Blue and Anita Thede are recognized for their overall work with team fundraising and, in particular, the recent St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser. Diane and Anita not only participated in the event, but also planned and coordinated the SAR effort. Their work has helped bring much-needed funds to the SAR Team so we may continue our work!

For their “above and beyond” work in proctoring our current EMR class, Command Staff is pleased to recognize Catrina Christian, Laura Hubbard and Mike McMillan. Not only have they provided excellent proctor help during class hours, each has spent additional time at OES helping students with extra study sessions during non-class days/hours. The EMR students and instructors really appreciate this and the team as a whole benefits, as well.


My Perspective: The DEH, ctd.

Purple sage

“I forgot how hard the DEH is! The hike up is so hard on my heels that all I want to do is go downhill. Then going down the summit I realize that my heels don't hurt as much, but my knees want to give up. It is a great test for me, to see how much my body can take."
Lauren Thomas

The DEH is an effective measure of fitness for Type 1 participation. It represents the minimum level of fitness required for responding to Type 1 callouts. As challenging as it may be, it's a beautiful hike filled with expansive views, springtime wild flowers, and local wildlife.”
Mark Wilfer

“The DEH tests both mind and body. Physically, it gets easier the more I do it, but it’s still a mental challenge every time. Because of the mountain's natural beauty and weather conditions, it's a different hike on any given day. But what consistently makes it special for me is the encouragement and camaraderie of fellow team members. No matter what my conditioning level is, there are some who are faster and some who are slower, and it’s always gratifying to know that we look out for and support each other on the trail.”
Natalie Zensius

I think the hardest part of the DEH is understanding that it was necessary to make a "no running" rule.
Pierce Plam

“While the DEH is an opportunity for some people to show their amazing physical fitness levels, some use it to demonstrate their true team spirit. The latter was best exemplified for me when, in a SAR role reversal, my “coachee” Natalie Zensius took me under her wing and made sure I finished the hike, not only in time, but well under what is allotted. As she has far more hiking/backpacking savvy than I, she took the lead, encouraging me all the way with “You’re doing great!” This meant she had to hold back her drive to best her own time, but in the end, she still came in at her fastest pace while ensuring I succeeded, too. What a win-win!”
Wilma Murray

“This was one of my most memorable DEH hikes due to the weather, flowers and the fact I cut 25 minutes off my time! The cool cloudy weather really made the normally sun-drenched hike much easier and also perked up the flowers. I probably could have cut another five or 10 minutes off my time had I not had to stop for all the flower photos (this is only a third of the pics!). This hike saw one of the largest turnouts we've had and it's because we have a great team of dedicated people who like to see just how tough they can be!”
Todd Rogers

“The DEH is a challenging accomplishment and one that says "I'm there!" until the next challenge comes along because it’s only a milestone benchmark. Don't assume you can make up significant time going down after going up; going down has its moments – they’re just different. Overall, this hike opens up a whole new world, confidence, opportunity and a beginning.”
Larry Fong

“Avoid the doughnuts! Carrying an extra 20lbs for 11 miles and 3,000’+ altitude gain lets you know why you don't want to gain that extra weight! Is it tougher going up or coming down? Up is tough on the cardio system, down is hard on legs, feet, joints (plus, you have fatigue setting in). Survey says: coming down. As always, our proctors are awesome! Giving up a Sunday to shepherd the flock up and down the mountain truly reflects the SAR spirit.”
Pat Dodson

The DEH is a challenging but beautiful hike so I was anticipating it with both excitement and dread. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike. That and a new personal best time made it much more rewarding than dreadful.
Joe Keyser

On the day 14 team members and myself took on the DEH, it was at the beginning of a heat wave for the Bay Area. Even with an early start the heat filled the area as the Sun rose. My pride was garnered not by the successful completion of the event by 12 members but rather by the assistance each member rendered to or were ready to render to others:

  • Two explorers gave up their Sunday to help shepherd a fellow Team member up and back.
  • Two members aided a SAR hiker down the trail when she had far too many blisters for comfort, but still she made the time with their help.
  • Hikers that had completed early stayed in place ready to render aid, until all were accounted for and code 4.
  • A SAR Proctor stayed without hesitation with a fellow hiker that found this day hot and far too long (7+ hours).
  • And for one person that did not meet the time, she showed nothing but enthusiasm asking when would there be a next opportunity.

This was not a day of speed but rather heart.
John Banuelos

"My first DEH was a good test and I appreciated the support of a hiking partner, Claudia Langley, who had experience and knew the ups and downs of the route. And yes, bringing an extra pair of boots and socks (hiking and mountaineering) can come in handy for yourself or others!"
John Hubinger

The top of mountain is a long way up. But going down is harder. Slippery gravel roils with anticipation.
Don Kavanagh

SAR Word of the Day

noun /ˌsfigmōməˈnämitər/ 
sphygmomanometers, plural

An instrument for measuring blood pressure, typically consisting of an inflatable rubber cuff that is applied to the arm and connected to a column of mercury next to a graduated scale, enabling the determination of systolic and diastolic blood pressure by increasing and gradually releasing the pressure in the cuff.


My Perspective: The DEH (Diablo Endurance Hike)

photo_1By Joe Wilder

Today I awoke, excited to hike with SAR teammates. The weather was perfect and my spirits high. By 8 a.m., we had congregated and exchanged pleasantries. With packs weighed, we were off.

The crisp morning air filled my lungs with oxygen, welcoming us to the great outdoors. I began in fourth position, blissfully unaware of the slice of humble pie I was about to be served.

After 25 minutes, I felt at the top of my game; my muscles were loose, my lungs expanded, and my body was in a rhythm. A song entered my head, and my boots fell to the ground in a marching beat. 

Twenty-five minutes into the hike, I felt the beginnings of a blister forming and quickly fell back to number eight. Dropping my backpack, I removed the offending boot and abrasive socks, and searched for moleskin. Before I could locate my supply, a fellow teammate had handed me some from his personal stash (thank you!). After dressing my would-be wound and donning the detested boots, I was again continuing the ascent.

The first milestone
At the fire road crossing, I managed to regain a few positions. The wind howled from the southwest as I traversed the exposed ridge leading to the backside approach of the peak. The weather had turned from pleasant to cold and overcast and I considered stopping to dig out a jacket, but decided I had wasted enough time. My sweat-soaked shirt clung to me with freezing perspiration. I used the coldness to motivate myself to push harder and faster. Ignoring the blister pain, I climbed on, relishing the relief of flat or downward sections.

On the backside of the peak, I was grateful to be sheltered from wind, but the quiet calm quickly evaporated as I began ascending the opposing exposure. There I was met with cold wind and the occasional freezing droplets of water that might have been rainfall or moisture blown from tree limbs.

Upon reaching the summit road, my legs begged for a break, my heart thumped and my lungs protested. My mind was full of regret – not for hiking that day, but for not training.

As I made the final ascent, my thighs knotted up, first one, then the other. I rubbed and punched at them as I hiked. I willed them to stay loose despite the cold – my adversary. I continued climbing as team members zoomed by on their descent. The joy on their faces could not be contained, the toughest part of the day behind them.

I smiled, said hello, but on the inside I was mad – mad at myself for not keeping up, for not properly training, for dropping the ball, for letting my physical fitness stoop to such a level. I used this self-chastisement to propel me to the top.

At the summit
The peak was shrouded in cloud as the rain began to fall and wind picked up. Finally, I released the straps of my backpack and it fell to the cold, wet pavement. I slapped the rock building. I was thrilled to have the climbing behind me, but soon found that the downhill was even more torturous on my seizing legs. On the backside, I found a small patch of grass and fell to the ground. My legs screamed in agony and I contorted, giving rise to the saying “hurt so good.” While I stretched, I slipped into last place.

Consulting my watch, I willed my legs to continue to the single-track section where poison oak reached out with the kiss of agony. With each tug of my shirt or brush of the hat, I instinctively pivoted to determine if the offensive plant had made contact.

The temperature climbed as the sun broke through the clouds and moisture on the surrounding foliage began to evaporate. Flies and bees buzzed nearby. The sudden warm humidity was reminiscent of hiking the tropics, so I fantasized as I continued. 

Last place
The muscles in my legs quivered, threatening to give up. I forced my mind to ignore the protest. Every 30 seconds, I referenced my watch. There was plenty of time if I kept moving, but I couldn’t afford any more breaks, or allow my legs to quit.

My spirit lifted and pace quickened upon the sight of the eucalyptus trees marking the trailhead. I fired my after-burners with thoughts of an Epsom salt bath and an ice-cold beverage.

Finally, I passed through the gates, wishing there was a ribbon to break or spraying milk. My bag and boots were off before anyone had a chance to say hello. Under my socks, the blister was now a bloody mess.

Driving home, I contemplated the day’s events, not sure what hurt more, my legs or my pride. 

Forget about the DEH (Diablo Endurance Hike); we should rename this the DRC (Diablo Reality Check).

Know Your Snakes!

gopher vs rattlesnakeNow that spring and warmer weather is officially here, we’re all on the lookout for Crotalus oreganus, or as it’s more commonly known here in Contra Costa County, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake. They’re more active at this time of year, especially during mornings or evenings.

The Pituophis catenifer, or gopher snake, whose general coloration and behavior mimics a rattlesnake, is often mistaken for its poisonous relative, but it can easily be distinguished from a rattlesnake by the lack of black and white banding on its tail, and by the shape of its head, which is narrower than a rattlesnake's. It’s also typically much longer.

And thankfully, the gopher snake is harmless.

Ned MacKay, writing for Inside Bay Area, offers his annual pointers on rattlesnakes. Download more PDF Interpretation Brochures and Panels from the East Bay Parks website. 

Open Logistics Division Lieutenant Position

CoCoSAR Command Staff is soliciting a volunteer Logistics lieutenant.To be considered for this open position, send an email stating:

  1. Why you would like to have this job.
  2. What experience and/or skills you will bring to this position
  3. What would some of your new division’s goals and objectives be for the remainder of the year.

The Logistics Division insures that all team equipment and vehicles are operationally ready for deployment. This is accomplished through periodic inventory checks and scheduled rehabilitation. At searches, Logistics Division personnel help to set up the CP, issue and recover equipment from field teams and generally work to ensure that Operations has the tools necessary to accomplish the mission. This is a highly visible position that touches every resource and division on the team.

Core responsibilities

  • Supervise and manage a dedicated and talented Logistics Division staff
  • Be the subject matter expert regarding Logistics processes and policies
  • Prepare the annual Logistics budget
  • Prepare annual goals and objectives for the division
  • Track and manage the gear and equipment inventory
  • Ensure periodic maintenance and rehab work is performed on equipment
  • Ensure that SAR rolling stock is mission-ready
  • Coordinate the cross Resource and Division logistics working group
  • Supervise the Communications and IT groups
  • Supervise the SAR store (t-shirt and polo shirt sales)
  • Work collaboratively with the rest of the Command Staff to accomplish team goals and chart the direction of the team
  • Serve on the board of our nonprofit corporation
  • Act as a liaison with other agencies as necessary

We would prefer that any applicants have at least one year of service on the team and some staff experience as a sergeant, corporal or contributing member of a staff working group. Call or email Bryan Walley to discuss this opportunity. We encourage you to volunteer for this vitally important Command Staff position.

Update: Chris Retta has been appointed to the Logistics Lieutenant position on the Command Staff. He was selected as the successful candidate due to his past contributions to the Logistics Division and to the team, his plans for the future for the Logistics Division, and his skills that made him an excellent candidate for this job. Congratulations Chris!