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Navigational Skills 6 Planning a Route

By Dave Roberts   

on September 30, 2014    5/5 (2)

Navigational Skills 6 Planning a Route

What makes a good or unwise route?

Bob wanted to plan a walk up onto Carnedd Llewelyn  and then onto Carnedd Dafydd, starting from Bethesda. He was going to be dropped off at Gerlan, and picked up on the main road, so he planned a walk up Cwm Llafar, up to Llewelyn before following the ridge around to Dafydd. He spots a cairn on the map, and decides that’s a good point to descend from, especially if it’s misty. So he heads for the spur of Braich Ty Du, and then directly to Bethesda.

Take a look at this route and try and see what’s wrong with it, as well as some positive things in the planning.


He sets off on a footpath up Cwm Llafar – GOOD!

He then follows the Gwynedd / Conwy county boundary up an exceptionally steep slope in the mistaken belief that it’s a path. BAD and BAD!


The ridge walk on to Dafydd is fine – and descending at the Cairn is very good practice, as is his line down the hillside as he follows the stream in order to find the footpath at the top of the small plantation.


However, poor old Bob decided to cross the plantation, for reasons known only to himself, and ended up bushwhacking his way downhill and into someone’s garden at Braichmelyn.

This is a rather extreme example, but not unknown. I’ve been part of a walking party where half the group decided that the quickest way from point A to B was through Beddlgelert forest. It wasn’t, and only by luck did they find us on the descent path – embarrassed more than anything.

How do you know it’s a good route?

The easiest way is to buy a decent guidebook or find a reliable website that has routes in the area you want to walk. You can adapt these to suit.

The map should also give you most of the information you need. You can identify where the ground is likley to be too steep to safely traverse by the contour lines and crag feature symbols. Valley bottoms are often wet and you will need to safely cross a river if no footbridge is noted on the map, which in itself is no guarantee there’s a bridge on the ground! If the map shows boulders, try and avoid if at all possible!

Use Geograph to scout the area. I always scout potential wild camps with this site. The link given is to Cwm Llafar on the route above that gives you clues as to how difficult the ascent on the map would have been.

You’ve considered the ability of the party, both the technicality of the route as well as their fitness. Take an unfit group on a strenuous walk and you’re asking for trouble, no matter how perfectly planned your route is!

Planning the Route

You now need to get it all on paper. Each section, or leg, of the route has it’s own details that will be useful on the hill and you can use a route card to note all this information down. If you’re taking walking groups into the hill – beware that there may well be a need to fill in a risk assessment sheet and so on so ensure you have someone who can advise on that!

Route cards

We’ve put together a Route Card in Excel that you can use to your heart’s content, and redistribute as widely as you want so long as you keep the attribution to Mud and Routes where it is! It can even calculate the time per leg from the route information given as well as the total distances by using Naismith’s Rule, or you can print off the third tab and use it on paper. There’s room to put a load of info on there – from contact information to specifics about how you know you’ve actually reached the summit. You can note sunset times, contact details and even if you suspect the weather will deteriorate and that you’ve considered a second route.

A note on units of measure. UK walking Maps are ALL in metric, and it’s good practice to use this unit of measurement as it’s much easier to transfer to the map. Not even NASA could convert from one to the other, what makes you think you can do it on a cold hill? I’m being a little glib – but it is easier to work in the same units as the tools you have, and why you’ll only ever see metric on Mud and Routes. Your mileage may vary.

Measuring distance on the map. I often measure quite roughly, and you can usually be within a km or so  by just counting each grid square as a KM or a half. You can also use a map measurer, which I’ve never got on with, or even a bit of thread, which is too fiddly.

Ascent is tougher to calculate manually. You can’t count every contour your walk crosses, but your route may have a few main climbs. In which case, take the low / high point of each and subtract the difference. You may also want to consider the descent – as this can slow a group down depending on the terrain.

All you’ve got to do is fill it in and leave it with a responsible person.

Here’s an example for our walk up Yr Eifl:


Planing an escape, alternative or emergency route?

You should be aware of poor weather options, but you can’t plan for all eventualities. With experience you’ll become aware of the alternative descent routes you can take at different parts of the walk, but it’s useful to give it some thought if you’re starting out or walking in a new area. Typical scenarios are when you know the weather is going to deteriorate and you want an alternative descent, or the route may be challenging and you want one that cuts it short. It’s usually as simple as descending down an alternative valley, but it’s good to know beforehand what the going is like as you may well be making life more difficult for yourself. It may sometimes be safer and easier to keep on going along established paths than to take a short cut into the unknown.

In an emergency you may need to be aware of the quickest route down to help, not just the quickest route down!

Digital Mapping

These days however, using digital mapping makes this process so much easier and is my tool of choice. I use Tracklogs, but Memory Map, Anquet and the like all provide similar functionality. There are also on-line planners – such as on the Ordnance Survey Getamap that allow you to do similar route planning. Here’s the version of the Yr Eifl route casrd above, from which the measurements and bearings were all taken in order to create the route above!


Digital mapping, while it can be expensive if you go for the 1:25,000 mapping, is an absolute essential for planning walks and we’d be stuck without it.

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Dave Roberts

siDave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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