TRAVELLING IN THE PATHLESS WOODS
TRAVELLING IN THE PATHLESS WOODS
By E. Kreps
EVERYBODY ADMIRES the man who can travel in the woods without getting lost. Such a man always commands respect among his less accomplished associates. The sportsman never ceases to wonder at the ability of his guide to find his way unfailingly through the dense bush, and the white guide also admires and wonders at the Indian's accomplishments in the same line. To the uninitiated the feats of the woodsman seem like a sixth sense—instinct, they call it. But it is not instinct, but simply an application of knowledge which comes to those who are forced by circumstances to 'be observing in such matters. The man who can take an outfit on his back and travel a month in the wilderness, living without a particle of aid from his fellow men, is a woodsman, and he possesses a knowledge of woodcraft which would make a better world if it could be imparted to all mankind.
I was born and grew to manhood in one of the wildest and roughest districts of Pennsylvania. Northeast from my home I could travel 30 miles without seeing a human habitation, and northward the wild, uninhabited mountains reached a like distance, broken at one place only by a narrow valley in which there were a few small farms. Little by little I learned to know these mountains and the narrow valleys between. There was not a stream within 10 or 15 miles where I had not fished for trout and trapped for mink and 'coons, and I had hunted every swamp and red brush flat for deer, bears and grouse. I knew every place where blueberries grew in sufficient numbers to make the gathering profitable, and often I wandered long distances merely for the pleasure of mountain travel. I soon got the reputation of being an accomplished woodsman, an honor which I did not deserve, for I knew nothing whatever about travel in real wilderness. The long mountains paralleling one another made it easy to get about without losing the sense of direction, and I kept my compass points merely by familiarity with the ground on which I traveled.
When at the age of 23 I went into the wilderness of Canada, I was up against an entirely different proposition. Before me were hundreds of miles of unbroken bush, spotted with lakes that at first looked all alike to me, and cut by small streams which flowed about from lake to lake in the most haphazard fashion imaginable. I had never traveled with the sun as a guide and knew nothing regarding the use of a compass, both of which are essential for wilderness travel.
My first move was to file on a piece of government land. The land guide helped to locate me and while we were looking about I saw him look at his compass, then he remarked that it was just noon and we would make some tea. I was surprised to see him get the time of day from a compass and asked him how he knew it was noon. "Because the sun is directly south," he answered, "and it is in that position only at noon." And then he explained to me how a compass could be used as a watch, with fair accuracy, and how a watch could be made to answer very well as a compass.
The woodsman told me that I could not travel in that country without a compass, and I soon found that such was the case. I borrowed a compass from a friend, a small, slip-cover instrument with a stop to hold the needle stationary when not in use. But I found that the slipcover was inconvenient; dust got in at the stop opening and hampered the movement of the needle; and finally the compass slipped through a hole in my pocket and was lost. By these experiences I learned that the most practical form of compass for a woodsman was an open-face, watch-shaped instrument, without a stop, and with a ring by which it could be fastened to the coat or vest like a watch. Such an instrument does not have the long life of the finer stop compass, but it costs only a dollar or thereabouts, and after a year or two of use can be thrown away and a new one purchased. Of course, if a stop compass can be found that has no outside opening to admit dust it is better still.
An Indian seldom carries a compass, but he travels mainly by the "lay of the land." He learns the country just as I learned the mountains of Pennsylvania, and as a rule he has little idea of direction. Sometimes he travels by sun, in fact the sun answers for both watch and compass. But when the sun is invisible and the ground unfamiliar he sometimes meets with trouble and "loses his wigwam." But he is much less apt to get lost than a white man, under similar conditions, for when he loses his bearings he doesn't lose his head, in fact he doesn't consider it a serious matter at all.
Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.
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