Any mathematician, engineer or architect will tell you that numbers are beautiful.
There’s something pure, absolute and precise about them. There’s also something staggering about the infinite way they just exist.
Numbers help us define things and in a world where things seem out of control and in chaos, numbers bring order and structure. They help us make sense of the world around us.
And so it is with the dark arts of navigation. Numbers allow us to define absolute points on the earth and then tell us where to go to get to another point.
Angelina Jolie has made some of these numbers famous by having them tattooed on her arm. Numbers that define a location that is significant to her, the birth place of her children.
As a hiker, this form of numbers, being latitude longitude, has never held any interest for me, as this isn’t the format of numbers favoured for wilderness map reading. Rather, I was taught to read maps by UTM or Universe Trans-Mercator or gridlines, which appear on topographic maps.
Let’s face it, it took me long enough to master navigation by this method and understanding those numbers, that when someone asked me for a lat/long for somewhere, I was a little lost. Oh and speaking of lost, it’s in emergency situations that lat/longs are most needed as this is what aircraft can use to find you.
Of course, so many folk these days carry a GPS or device that can pop this information up for you, but as with all technology, it’s important to know how to calculate this info manually from a paper map in the case of tech failing you.
So for years, I went blindly along, comfortable in the the knowledge of my topo maps and understanding grid references like 5543 2335 (Jenolan 1:25,000 xxxx) yet also seeing markings on these maps that seemed to indicate lat/long, but not knowing how to interpret them.
And so it was that the lat long light got switched on during a training weekend with Blue Mountains Police Rescue a couple of years ago. Thanks to Steve D for the instruction!
The key was hidden in the bordering frame of the map where it changes from black to white to black.
Check out the video for how to find latitude longitude on a topographic map.