I READ recently someone boasting that they had been walking up mountains in Scotland for three years but hadn’t once used a map or compass.
Those suggesting it may be a mistake to rely entirely on technology were brushed aside and, in some instances, ridiculed.
No need for a paper map, everything on a smartphone. After all, the writer said, mountain rescue teams now use up-to-date tech. That’s true, but they also believe it’s common sense that everyone who goes out on the hills should be able to use a map and compass.
I’ve often wondered that with the pace of technology if, say, 20 or so years from now, there will be anyone left doing the Munros using paper maps.
It may be the inevitable result of progress but it would be a shame. I’ve always regarded maps as things of beauty that should be treasured. I have a big collection and often spend hours poring over them, plotting routes, finding intrigue in the discovery of unusual and remote spots.
I was a cartophile from a young age. We used to sketch out a map, then soak it overnight in salt water to give it a sepia tinge. When it was dried out it looked aged, an ancient guide to pirate treasure. Sometimes we would even use a cigarette lighter to singe the edges for an extra touch of authenticity.
There’s still that childlike feeling when I look at the detail on a new map, particularly so with the bold and innovative Harvey range. They truly feel like labours of love. I have maps from all over the globe, even though I’m never likely to set foot in most of those places, some as souvenirs, some simply to fire the imagination.
But there’s more to it than nostalgia: I simply love the challenge when out on the hills. While I appreciate the extra safety and comfort that some devices can provide, there’s nothing to beat working it all out the old-fashioned way by recognising the run of the contours and the lie of the land.
I carry a GPS but although I’ve had one for more than ten years, I reckon I’ve only had to use it on one or two occasions. I’ve always regarded it as a tool for emergencies.
Maybe it was the way navigation techniques were constantly drummed into me way back at the start of my great mountain adventure, but tradition still reigns over technology for me. Granted, I usually to go astray about once a year, but I’ve always found that you learn more from mistakes than simply being right all the time.
So am I anti-tech? Not guilty, M’Luddite.
I find it interesting how some people are prepared to shrug off the past and embrace new tech wholeheartedly while others of the same generation shun it completely. Then there are those who cherry pick. For instance, I love books, but I also have a Kindle. I resisted for many years. I still prefer a book and will always buy a printed copy ahead of any electronic version.
But my semi-conversion came when a friend was in hospital and I realised how much easier it was for him to have a constant stream of reading material that didn’t involve the moving around of large suitcases. It’s handy for holidays and travelling, and sometimes to pick up books no longer in print. That’s as far as it goes. I will not surrender to a literary life in the ether.
Some friends still refuse to have them. One even said he felt it was a betrayal to authors – and then immediately switched on his ipod to listen to music without a shred of irony. At least I still have my vinyl collection.
Despite the new challengers, books and vinyl records have seen a resurgence, and it’s not just about nostalgia. They are still the best and purest mediums for their art. I suspect that at some point in the future the same will happen with maps.
The most important factor in the mountains is safety, and if you are happier using electronic mapping then fine. But please, take the belt and braces approach and make sure you know how to use a map and compass.