Magellan: I'm not!

Alex G7KSE is on holiday in North Wales and suggested some 13cms skeds. With a nod and wink we had myself on Ballencleuch Law GM/SS-075, Jac GM4COX on GM/SS-028, Andrew G4VFL on G/LD-012, Nic G0HIK was meant to be on Black Combe G/LD-030 and Alex was on Holyhead Mountain GW/NW-069. Also Derek 2E0MIX popped out to Scilly Bank near Whitehaven. Sounds like some spanking fun to me.

What could possibly go wrong? Well the WX wasn’t brilliant but it should have been OK. In fact I thought the end of the world was coming when I finally got to the summit with howling winds, incredibly thick mist and it was cool. Typical Scottish Summer mountain weather. The easy bits, I worked 5 on 2m FM using a ribbon feeder J-pole, GM4COX/P, G4VFL/P, 2E0MIX/P and GM4CXM and ODX at 140km Rob GM3YTS/P on Meall nan Tarmachan GM/CS-015. Rob told us it was windy but glorious blue skies whilst myself and Jack were soaked from wet grass/bracked and driven mist.

I didn’t hear Nick or Alex on 2m never mind 13cms. I did hear Derek but never managed a QSO but Jack and Andrew were 59++++ on 13cms. Once more they were both stronger on 13cms than 2m which makes me smile because little else of today’s walk did.

I did Ballencleuch Law nearly 14years ago to the day. I’d done its neighbour Well Hill GM/SS-112 which is easy and I was just in the cloud then. The normal route is down the steep fence, across the track and up the brutally steep slopes of Durisdeer Hill then follow the fences (cutting some off) to Ballencleuch. But it’s a wee trek and that slope was brutal 14 years and being 14years old it would be double brutal today. From the car park to the summit that way and fence following is about 2hrs according to the computer. I wanted to be setup and ready to roll long before zero hour (1100Z) . So I thought I try it the direct route, along the path to the big sheep shed then over the water, up Gana Hill and thence Ballencleuch Law. 1hr30… it could not be simpler.

Well when I was last here I discovered that it’s a nasty bogfest… I was seriously scared I was out of my depth coming down out of the mist 14years back as I ended up in a huge area of bog which was difficult to backtrack out of and that was 600m up the hill. The ground at the bottom was even worse. But we have had a long, long dry spell so the bogs will be bogs but the boggy ground will be dry. Also Phil G4OBK reported this route was OK. I bet he could see what he was doing though :slight_smile:

So what went wrong? Well I forgot the paper map, left it in the car. I use paper maps and read the ground to guess where I am and confirm it with the GPS. I never, ever follow the GPS display to get to the target. I’ve discovered even with a GPS I’m blind. I’m just so used to see the big picture on the paper map that I really can’t cope using just the GPS.

Here’s my route with the errors numbered in red

©Crown copyright 2021 Ordnance Survey. Media 018/21

#1 I knew that I was to cross the Gana Burn and walk up Gana Hill to Ballencleuch law. Except I heard the bleep from the GPS and knew to walk down to the sheep sheds then I saw an ATV track and clipped the GPS on my belt and followed the ATV track. Why? Well it must go where I wanted? After some grunting I was in the mist climbing away till I checked the GPS.

#2. The map on the GPS didn’t make sense… my position was not on the track. Without a large scale map I reversed the image in my mind and thought “I am going the right way… the other route I can see in the GPS display is the other longer route that follows the fence. Not what I want.” So I walked on and was perturbed because I was climbing up the hill but the predicted arrival time was getting later.

#3 I turned towards the route I could see and walked for a bit to see some track appear and it didn’t fit my mental image of the hills. So I continued knowing I was going the right way, which was wrong. THIS KIND OF MISTAKE CAN BE FATAL. There are countless numbers of incidents when pilots ignored their instruments because they knew the instruments to be wrong. Shortly after this they do a CFIT (controlled flight into terrain). i.e. they crash and kill themselves.

Then I walked into the fence. By now it was howling wind and really thick mist. So I selected the route to follow the fence and it told me to follow the fence and climb which was correct and I agreed with the GPS. So I laboured up the hill. The grass got very long, it was very wet from the mist… my trousers got very wet. But the wind was so strong the wetness peaked, I was soaking up water as fast as the high-wicking trousers got rid of it. Then there was a steep drop as I reach the col between Durisdeer Hill and Little Scaw’d Law. I didn’t remember this from previous and if I had the map I’d have realised that this is where you can cut off a lot of route. I probably wouldn’t have done it anyway as I couldn’t see much more than 50m and I was wary of bogs up here.

#4 I remembered the route turned and because my mind had inverted the map I turned the wrong way and followed the wall and fence. Hey I knew where I was so why look at the GPS. (Yes, I am that stupid.) But my GPS bleeps when you reach points on the route and it wasn’t bleeping yet I was gainfully walking 135deg away from the right route. When I clipped the GPS on my belt I hit a button and there was a menu on the screen… it doesn’t bleep when there is a menu. As I walked I thought if this goes to the top why is there a wall and fence… there’s only a fence at the summit.

At this point I thought… hey use OruxMaps on your phone with the bigger display. So I did and was saddened to see where I was. I swore loudly many times and turned 180 degs and walked back to the fence. Then I knew I had to go the other way following the other fence. So because I was now completely disoriented and despite having a big GPS map display and a bloody arrow on the other GPS I went back the way I came.

#5 When I saw a broken fence post spotted on the ascent I stopped and got the phone out. The touch screen didn’t want to work with damp fingers. After much wiping I got the map up and swore again, turned back to the fence junction and finally went the correct way. But in doing so I crossed the fence and so I approached the summit with the fence on my left. Last time not crossing the fence it was on my right and so I thought I was approaching the summit from the other direction despite looking at the map on the phone showing my position.

Finally I got to the top, there’s a new marker which I forgot to photograph and did the activation. 2 fleeces and after 50mins in this I was getting cold so packed up and then decided “For gawd’s sake don’t walk off the wrong side.” Now during the operation I had my compass out so I knew the bearings to the other guys. I knew I wanted to go North East and so…

#6 I promptly set off the wrong way as I hadn’t realised still I was on the wrong side of the fence. It didn’t feel right and considering how wrong my feelings had been I don’t know why I checked again. 180deg about face and I was finally off in the right way down. There’s a sudden 90deg turn just as the contours space out…I hit a significant area of bog that was at least as deep as a walking pole. I walked around the edge of it and slowly made my way back to the descent route.

The mist had dropped a lot lower during my fun and I finally popped out around 400m. When you can see where to go it’s all much easier.

Now you may think I’m a right idiot doing this and admitting it in print. I’ve been walking in the hills for 15years next month and have been in the mist so many times but have never managed to get so completely screwed up and disoriented. What scares me is how can I be so dumb to ignore what the GPS was telling me. I have no explanation for that and I know I’m not the only person who knows they are right despite what instruments are telling them. So if this makes just one person think harder next time they are in the mist then my embarrassment is their gain.

All of this made a 4.5km 380m ascent into a 6.8km 582m ascent that took 2hrs30 to get to the top instead of 1hr30.

What a plonker.


Thankfully, no harm came of it and a lesson well learned. I have had many similar experiences working in the woods for 50 years. One of my Leica GPS units had a touchy f-key that would reverse azimuth to the waypoint. I would read the azimuth from GPS then use my compass to navigate in that direction. After some time had passed, the GPS would show me I was holding the correct direction but was further away then when I started my traverse ??!!! Huh??

Knowing you are right despite what the instruments are saying, known as spatial disorientation, has killed lots of pilots in the clouds, from JFK Jr, to a loaded 747 (Air India flight 855).

Elliott, K6EL
Aviation lawyer


Same here; it was God who moved the Cairngorms not my incompetence with a GPS!
Glad you got back down safe and had the courage to publish just how gormless any of us can be

We’ve all done it! I’m more likely to go the wrong way in broad daylight on an easy hill when everything is a bit more relaxed. Yet, managed to get myself off the summit of Ben Nevis at midnight in a blizzard with just a map and compass (had a GPS, but that was back in the days of selective availability, who remembers that?).

Well done Andy, at least you didn’t have to resort to calling the Mountain Rescue with the “Where am I ?”

Whilst I was activating on top of High Stile G/LD-012 a couple and a dog appeared out of the mist and asked “Is this High Stile ?” They borrowed my map and compass to decide which way to leave the summit and disappeared into the mist. The thoughts of being in the mist with no map, compass or GPS would fill me with dread. At least the Lake District is full of paths so they would have got somewhere below the mist then been able to take it from there.

It was a good day’s activating. I was in the sweet spot so managed to work all 5 other stations on 13cm. I also reached my 100th unique on 23cm which was nice.

73 de

Andrew G4VFL


As others have stated, you’re not alone in making a navigational error.
Just last Thursday I took the wrong path coming off an evening activation of Kinder Scout.
No phone signal, and only a map of my route, which didn’t cover where I ended up at 1.00am in the morning. Not as potentially serious as yours, just a long walk back to the car.
I am sure you have added a little more to your knowledge, which will help should this situation arise again.


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Brian G4ZRP claimed his 75th unique summit chase on 23cms from you and was very pleased That’s all done with an Alinco DJ-G7 and/or an oddball Icom triple band FM mobile with indoor antennas.

I’ve read about pilots losing their spatial awareness and could not understand how it happens. Well now I know and it’s mighty weird. You’re looking at GPS telling you go 90deg away from your current track and that doesn’t fit the view of the world in your mind and so you make up reasons why the display is wrong. If I hadn’t done it myself I would not believe it.

I’ve done loads of errors when I’ve missed a path or taken the wrong one and at some point consulted the GPS to see how to correct my error but I’ve never had this inability to follow the GPS route before.

I feel naked without a map. Normally with a map and the GPS I can transfer my position to the map and see the contours etc. to pick a route etc. As I had forgotten the map yesterday I was lacking the big picture of the whole area. With the map I’d have understood the error at once and corrected my direction.

These are for John @M0WIV as even in the wind and mist they were alive with bees.

This final one shows my 1st error. You can see the ATV track behind the wall that I followed up the wrong hill. The Gana Burn runs in the dip in the centre, I should have cross that and gone up the hill on the left which leads to Ballencleuch Law which is at the back. You can also see how miserable it was and how low the mist was.


Too easily done. Interesting to read about Kinder Scout where I once described the path as being like a motorway - and you guessed it - got completely lost (pre GPS) - but thankfully just 5PM lost not 1AM lost…
Also lost a map on one occasion (before GPS) so usually have a 1:50K backup map in the rucksack, it also seems to solve the walking off the edge of the map bit!
Finally my highest profile bit of navigating was when doing a search for a missing person and being stood in the front of a Sea King directing the pilot to the location where we wanted to start the search. Thankfully didn’t get disorientated despite the hills looking a bit different from above.
What should we learn from this - if it looks wrong (either the GPS bit or some features on the ground not being in the right place) it is probably a good idea to stop and check. Everyone makes mistakes - on a mountain leaders assessment I did the fail criteria was not getting lost but failing to find yourself after they got you lost! … Paul - who still sometimes becomes temporarily misplaced…


I think my worst experience was on Beacon Batch G/SC-003, one of those simple hills that Fraser refers to. Setting off down in the dark without checking my compass led to me having to skirt around the lower part of the hill on trackless ground with hedges to get through. A rather stressed and scratched me made a late appearance on the next hill… thankfully a drive on! All this when a GPS was available for a small fortune and phones were things you just made phone calls and sent texts on. :smiley:

BTW, I seem to recall getting off Ballencleuch via the NE route was not the easiest to navigate. :neutral_face:

EDIT: extract from my report on the descent (probably not published)

After packing up and making a couple of phone calls home to advise that we were running late, we set off from the summit at 13:45z, precisely one hour later than planned. The descent to the car took us across an area of streams separated by hag backs called Hirstane Rig. Initially we made excellent progress, but a miscalculation of our position required us to correct our course in order to arrive at the bridge over the burn. lt was 15:43z when we reached the car - just when the midges arrived!

It seems this hill has a disorientating influence. :upside_down_face:

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Apart from the fences/walls (shown on the 1:25k map) there are no features really. Also the vegetation is remarkably lush at the moment. The only obvious feature is the bog and hags centred at NS931051 which was very green. A green that after lots of Scottish hill experience shouts out at the top of its voice “Beware…here be bog”. You know exactly the green I’m talking about.

When I last did this summit the area between this summit and Hirstane Rig was really scary. The kind of ground when you take a few steps and realise you are sinking so you look for somewhere better and there isn’t. Then when you do a 180 and make for the last known good ground you see the whole surface moving up and down in slow waves like the skin on a rice pudding. Then you realise there doesn’t seem to be any viable way back to solid ground and wonder how you got here without sinking already. One of the worst places I can recall being in all my SOTA outings.


@MM0FMF: While you may not be a Magellan, remember that many places and things were found by those who were lost (if they came back to tell the tale)!

My tales:

  • there is an easy way from HB/BE-106 (at the end of a gondola) to HB/BE-144 with only a few meters from the hiking trail to the summit and a chairlift nearby. Only, these “few” meters proved to be longer (and higher) than few and the chairlift doesn’t run in summer, other lifts close at 4 o’clock with Swiss Watch precision which made us walk at great pace …
  • approaching HB/BL-004 from the East / South Side looked easy enough on the map, but as HB9EAJ helpfully points out (3 weeks after my activation!), approaching from West / North is easier. I had to give up, cross the hill and try from the West.


:slight_smile: 73 de Martin / HB9GVW

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My nemesis also… after half a dozen or more visits to this tiddler for Backpacker contests compass and map wasn’t even on the agenda when I nipped up it for a quick evening activation. But come time to depart, a mist had come down and spatial disorientation kicked in and I confidently headed off in completely the wrong direction. Even though I didn’t recognise the path alarm bells didn’t ring till I realised I’d walked far enough to get back to my car but hadn’t arrived :-s Then the penny dropped, and I set about contouring round the same trackless ground that Gerald had found :crazy_face: In the last glimmer of the day’s light I was relieved eventually to arrive back at the path I recognised and a few minutes later was back at the car, a lesson well and truly learnt…


When I approach a summit cairn on a featureless plateau or ridge, the first thing I do is lay my walking poles down pointing in the direction I came from (presuming I want to go back that way).

I’ve done this since having an argument with a friend on the summit of Aonach Beag in winter many years ago, as to which way was back. When we eventually took our compasses out to check, he was found to be 180° out!


Indeed, therein lies the rub as they say. When I activated Ben Lui GM/SS-003 recently I approached from the north with my descent being down to the bealach to the south-west from where I would ascend Beinn a’ Chleibh. The motorway width track down was not immediately in the direction of the bealach, so I did take a couple of moments checking with both map and compass and GPS to assure myself that I wasn’t about to depart in the wrong direction with the potential of having to return to the summit. :hushed:

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I do this too with my wooden walking stick.

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You can dine out on that tale for years.

Just as well you are not Magellan. He died halfway along. Why he got the credit instead of his navigator is typical of how things work.

As for the Magellan satellites, well unlike activators they are supposed to go around in circles.




Yup, chance of a new DXCC entity on 13cms. Sadly wasn’t to be, I still need to work GW on 13cms. I’ve worked GM, G, GD and OZ on 13cms but another GD contact would be nice as I did GD when contesting not using my call.

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Yet still you went back! :thinking:

Are you going for the award of the most “dedicated” Association Manager?