SPLASHMAPS on winter test in the Cairngorms
I’ve been out in the Cairngorms this weekend running a winter skills course with a great group but in addition I’ve been putting my new Splashmap through its paces!
When I picked my Cairngorms Splashmap up at the Explore Conference this year, I was really impressed with what appeared to be the versatility of the map. It was really easy to ‘scrunch up’ and stow in a pocket and you didn’t get any of those niggly creases when folding it like you do with a paper. The real test would come on a mountain in strong winds and poor visibility (I thought to myself).
So, map in pocket, I headed out into the Coire an Sneachda on Saturday. The weather forecast couldn’t have been better; snow from 900m, low temperatures (-2C on the plateau), strong winds (40mph) and near zero visibility.
I spent the morning going through basic movement skills with Ryan and Nathan (who were out in the winter for their first time!). We finished off by ascending windy gap and heading onto the plateau. The wind had dropped a bit by then, but still gusting at over 30mph. Time to test my Splashmap. I must admit, I got a few funny looks from the lads; “are you going to use that to wipe your goggles or your nose”. However, when I explained I was using it and my compass to take us towards the March Burn, they looked surprise. “Where’s your map?” they asked. I explained that this was it and it they looked skeptical.
Taking the map out in strong winds, my first concern that it would fan out like a flag and blow away. Not a problem at all; I quickly folded it round to the part of the map I needed and ‘scrunched’ it into the ball of my hand with the bit I needed to use. The next challenge was ‘could I take a bearing with it?’ Well, actually, I could. I was concerned before I set out that, unlike a traditional map, I didn’t have a ‘firm’ surface. In reality, I did what I always do; got down on one knee, rested the map on my thigh and took the bearing. Simples.
Visibility was almost zero and we had perfect white out conditions; not everyone’s cup of tea 1100m up on the Cairngorm plateau, but perfect for what I wanted. This was where I found the map really came into its own. I simply kept it ‘scrunched’ in my palm so I could see the bit was I was using all the time. I checked it far more often than I would a traditional map because it was so easy to access, almost like orienteering.
As a result, navigation was made super easy and the map didn’t get damaged in any way. When I was done, I just balled it up and thrust it in my chest pocked; needed it again, simply pulled it out. We navigated for a few hours in zero vis without problem.
(This image shows our track using my Suunto; we were bang on where we wanted to be, even though the ground was completely covered in snow so no paths or features were visible)
Again, on the second day, the weather was the same and I used the map to navigate the top of Cairngorm. I have to say, the attitude from the group around me changed as they saw the usefulness of the map.
So, are there any downsides? Well. I don’t think everyone will rush out and get one straight away. The ‘traditionalists’ will still want to use their paper / laminated map. However, I will be migrating all my paper maps overtime to Splashmaps. I am tired of losing map quality at the creases or having to cut a map down to the section I’m using because the rest of the map is too bulky when folded.
I would prefer it if the grid lines were slightly darker as this would make reading them a bit easier, but I didn’t have any issues taking bearings. I have one for my local area and the next time I’m out training with my mountain rescue colleagues, I’ll be taking them through the usefulness of the Splashmap.