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On Equipment
by [?]

If you would travel far in the great mountains where the trails are few and bad, you will need a certain unique experience and skill. Before you dare venture forth without a guide, you must be able to do a number of things, and to do them well.

First and foremost of all, you must be possessed of that strange sixth sense best described as the sense of direction. By it you always know about where you are. It is to some degree a memory for back-tracks and landmarks, but to a greater extent an instinct for the lay of the country, for relative bearings, by which you are able to make your way across-lots back to your starting-place. It is not an uncommon faculty, yet some lack it utterly. If you are one of the latter class, do not venture, for you will get lost as sure as shooting, and being lost in the mountains is no joke.

Some men possess it; others do not. The distinction seems to be almost arbitrary. It can be largely developed, but only in those with whom original endowment of the faculty makes development possible. No matter how long a direction-blind man frequents the wilderness, he is never sure of himself. Nor is the lack any reflection on the intelligence. I once traveled in the Black Hills with a young fellow who himself frankly confessed that after much experiment he had come to the conclusion he could not “find himself.” He asked me to keep near him, and this I did as well as I could; but even then, three times during the course of ten days he lost himself completely in the tumultuous upheavals and canons of that badly mixed region. Another, an old grouse-hunter, walked twice in a circle within the confines of a thick swamp about two miles square. On the other hand, many exhibit almost marvelous skill in striking a bee-line for their objective point, and can always tell you, even after an engrossing and wandering hunt, exactly where camp lies. And I know nothing more discouraging than to look up after a long hard day to find your landmarks changed in appearance, your choice widened to at least five diverging and similar canons, your pockets empty of food, and the chill mountain twilight descending.

Analogous to this is the ability to follow a dim trail. A trail in the mountains often means merely a way through, a route picked out by some prospector, and followed since at long intervals by chance travelers.

It may, moreover, mean the only way through. Missing it will bring you to ever-narrowing ledges, until at last you end at a precipice, and there is no room to turn your horses around for the return. Some of the great box canons thousands of feet deep are practicable by but one passage,–and that steep and ingenious in its utilization of ledges, crevices, little ravines, and “hog’s-backs”; and when the only indications to follow consist of the dim vestiges left by your last predecessor, perhaps years before, the affair becomes one of considerable skill and experience. You must be able to pick out scratches made by shod hoofs on the granite, depressions almost filled in by the subsequent fall of decayed vegetation, excoriations on fallen trees. You must have the sense to know AT ONCE when you have overrun these indications, and the patience to turn back immediately to your last certainty, there to pick up the next clue, even if it should take you the rest of the day. In short, it is absolutely necessary that you be at least a persistent tracker.

Parenthetically; having found the trail, be charitable. Blaze it, if there are trees; otherwise “monument” it by piling rocks on top of one another. Thus will those who come after bless your unknown shade.