How to navigate… in fog… at night

Your sense of adventure can be sharpened, in order of descending visibility, by haze, mist and — as I enjoyed on Sunday night in the Purbecks — fog.

As the waves of the English Channel hurled themselves onto the white cliffs below, clouds of water vapour condensed around the flecks of salt in the cold air.

I was navigating towards the obelisk of Ballard Down. To give you some idea of visibility, here’s what that imposing monument looked like at ten paces:

The Obelisk: a 19th century souvenir taken from a church near Bank, London

Definitely a night to practice my navigational instincts.

  • Use all your senses, starting with your common sense. Foot feel is your most reliable feedback system in fog. Sound, smell and sight are also useful and sometimes combine to make an inexplicable sixth sense: if you get a funny feeling that you might be going wrong, pay attention.
  • Fog is low-lying cloud, so if you need to use a torch (generally you don’t if your night vision is switched on), then hold it at hip height or lower, otherwise it’ll just reflect water vapour back in your face.
  • Contour lines are your best friend: you can feel them through your feet and if you’re walking up a steep hill or along a ridge you can often see a change in shadow below the line of the fog.
  • If you really can’t detect anything, not even a contour, lie down on the ground and see if the view is any better from there. If you’re worried about cliff edges, a crawl is safer than a walk.
  • Expect a discombobulating sense of vertigo if you stare into the fog for too long: keep your eyes moving and check in with solid ground every now and again.

Published by

David

David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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