This post will dig deeper into compass use by weaving geology, physics, planetary science, and outdoor navigation all into one over the course of 3 blog entries while also sharing my experiences as a graduate student in the MOAEL program at SOU.
My arrival at Southern Oregon University in Ashland Oregon coincided with the autumnal equinox of 2018 and the impending arrival of the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon (The Full Moon closest to the first day of fall) is cool and you should check it out here! I had been trying unsuccessfully to do a full moon hike for nearly every month over the past year. Time and time again, those hikes were shrouded in cloud cover. A few evenings after arriving in Ashland, however, the Moon was out in all its glory and I took full advantage. I was joined on this moonlit hike with my colleagues in the Masters of Outdoor Adventure and Expedition Leadership (MOAEL) program. We have named our cohort K2 because we are the second cohort to ever go through the program. This was our first outdoor adventure together!
The setting of this evening stroll was Grizzly Peak, the 23 million-year-old remnant of an ancient volcano that once stood 10,000 ft tall but is currently stands at 5922 ft. The peak itself is named after an infamous grizzly bear from well over 100 years ago. Which grizzly bear, however, is up for debate. If you like local history, it is a good read. What is clear is my memory of Mt Shasta from that night. Mt Shasta is a huge, 14,000 ft volcano South of Grizzly Peak. Enough lunar light reflected off the glaciers, ice and snow of Mt Shasta that we could see its white cap 80 miles away and well after nightfall. Needless to say, the Harvest Moon provided a good show and my stay in Ashland was off to a good start. As a newcomer to SOU I was also starting to get my bearings straight on how to navigate around the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou Mountain Ranges.
Speaking of getting my bearings straight, once the semester began, I supplemented my graduate studies with a few undergraduate classes. The first was Wilderness Navigation, a course taught by Senior Instructor Adam Elson and in the first day of class I discovered the North end of town is roughly located by… Grizzly Peak!
Now, if you have ever been taught how to use a compass, you know the red end of the needle, which I will call Big Red, should always point due North. You probably also know Big Red points toward the Earth’s Magnetic North Pole, not where Santa Claus lives on the Geographic North Pole. Would you believe me if I told you the Earth’s Magnetic North Pole is not actually a magnetic north pole? If you ever took a Physics class, you probably learned that the North Pole of any magnet (your compass) is attracted to the South Pole of any another magnet (the Earth). Wouldn’t that mean that if Big Red is the north end of a magnet (which it is), it would point toward the south pole of another magnet? Indeed it does! What we call the Earth’s Magnetic North Pole is actually a magnetic south pole. The true magnetic north pole of the Earth’s magnetic field actually lies almost 1800 miles away from the Geographic South Pole, somewhere between Antarctica and Australia.
Hopefully, with or without your compass, I have not lost you yet! What may get you lost, however, is using your compass on Grizzly Peak. We took our final field test in Wilderness Navigation on Grizzly Peak, and I quickly realized Big Red was not pointing to the Earth’s Magnetic North Pole anymore. What was Grizzly Peak doing to Big Red!? I hope you navigate your way back to my blog next week for the second installment in this 3 part mini-series on outdoor navigation!