You may recall that I was headed up to Denali for a bit of mountain
climbing. As it turns out, I left the mountain earlier than planned, due to
weather and shortage of time. No, not storms, but rather since the winter
was a low snow year, the snow hadn't consolidated enough and the sunny
weather was deteriorating the glacier landing strip much faster than usual.
Anyway, there were 2 GPSs in our group at 63 deg N latitude, a Garmin
and a Magellan ColorTrak. I note that the "will it work above 60 deg" debate
is still going on. Borrowing Joe and Sam's "experiment is worth a thousand
speculations," by observation, yup, sure does work. Ok, ok, so it wasn't any
surprise to me. But, not only that, both seemed to acquire much faster,
usually, and I emphasize usually, seeing 9 or more satellites, even down in
the Kahiltna Glacier valley, with 15 to 20 thousand foot peaks all around.
The batteries in use were lithium, so cold was no problem, and the units
were carried inside parkas. As you guys know, at least a few of the visible
satellites are to the north, being seen "over the pole", as it were. The
altitude/pressure sensor on the ColorTrak gave consistently better altitude
readings than the G12XL, so Magellan has certainly done something right with
that. Positions on the map were, as expected, just where we could see we
were. We didn't have any serious whiteouts where our lives depended on
accurate positions, so I have no epic tales of being saved by the little
You are aware that in the summer at that latitude and farther north
very light 24 hours a day. But I hadn't expected the orientation problem.
Like all long-time climbers/backpackers/outdoorspeople, I am used to
subconsciously using the Sun's position to keep myself oriented - comes up
in the east more or less, high point to the south, set in the west. But the
Alaskan summer sun never gets very high in the sky at noon (40 or 50 deg),
and rises and sets in the _north_!!! part of the sky (and north of the
Arctic Circle, just doesn't set!). The couple hours of twilight has this
bright area on the horizon in the totally wrong and disorienting direction
(the boreal rather than oriental direction). I never did get used to that,
nor to feeling tired, noting the sun was still well above the horizon and
taking forever to set, then looking at my watch and seeing it was 10 or 11
at night. Even in Australia, where the sun at noon is to the north of the
zenith, wasn't disorienting like this was. Oh, yes, the little sun indicator
on the CT's compass display did help a little with the disorientation
problem, but it was very strange seeing that indicator right there next to
the "N". A mag compass is 20 deg E in that area.
And, yes, all sorts of people were falling off the mountain. But, as
the media exagerated more than a little. Serious problems, yes, but not as
terrible as they were reporting.