Get ready to boost your alpine skills with inexpensive, bite-sized classes based on specific topics. Topics will include practical self rescue, mechanical advantage hauling systems, belay/ rappel transition tricks, descending and rappelling tactics to increase efficiency, especially with larger groups, building and cleaning sport climbing anchors, map and compass navigation, smart phone GPS navigation.

Activity Notes

  • Sunday Skill Builders: Map and Compass 101 and Gaia GPS practice
  • Sunday, April 9
  • Registration opens March 9
  • Note morning class: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
  • Note different location: Mt Tabor park, meet at covered picnic area next to playground and visitor center on north end of park
  • Experience level: beginner/intermediate


New for 2023, the Sunday Skill Builders happen on the second and fourth Sunday of the month, usually from 6 to 9 PM. The second Sunday is more for beginner/intermediate topics, and the fourth Sunday is more for intermediate/advanced techniques.  Registration opens one month before the class. Topics will rotate and repeat, so if you miss one and want to take it, keep an eye out for it again.

Let’s gear up for spring-summer hiking season with an overview of basic navigation skills. Yes, those GPS navigation apps are pretty slick, but you still need to know how to read a topographic map and occasionally use a compass. We’ll practice both in a morning walkabout at Mount Tabor.

Gear needed: comfy shoes, clothing appropriate for the weather, compass, and Gaia GPS app loaded onto your phone. You can use the free trial version, you don’t need the paid subscription for this class. (If you have another GPS app already on your phone that you want to practice with that’s fine, but I won't offer any support/instruction for it.)

I used to recommend the Suunto M3 compass. However, they have dramatically increased in price, and I no longer recommend them. A less expensive, decent alternative is the Suunto A-10. 


What we’ll cover:

  • Topographic map overview: Reading contour lines to recognize terrain features like ridges and gullies, determining elevation from contour lines, understanding map scale and measuring real-world distance.
  • Compass: Understanding of declination (and why or may it may not be important) taking a bearing to an object, dialing a bearing and walking to it, measuring a bearing from a map, how to orient your map to north with a compass. 
  • Using a “GPS bearing” - getting a bearing from your location to an objective with your GPS and then using your compass to walk to it.
  • Gaia GPS: Overview of using the app, setting up your home screen with relevant stat bars, how to record tracks, drop waypoints, use the Guide Me function, and more.


Pre-class study:

  • I made a series of map and compass navigation tutorial videos on youtube. I certainly don't expect you to watch all of them, but if you want to look through the topics and click on anything that catches your interest, feel free. You can see them here.
  • I made a tutorial YouTube video on using Gaia GPS. I highly recommend you watch it before class so you have a basic understanding of how it works, and then we can focus on some of the more advanced features. See the video here.