Category Archives: Navigation

Land Navigation classes – 11/11 & 12/2…


Not all those who wander are lost, but if you want to make it home or to another destination, it is best to spend some time honing your navigation skills.

Join BigPig Outdoors on November 11th or December 2 to learn or polish those skills.

Click here for more info: Land Navigation class

Big, Big BUSAR Update – May thru October…



The above are my two reasons why this update has been a long time coming.

Without further ado…

Training – 

  • Returned to crash site of N1839X and recovered two cellphones of victims
  • Doc Miller and Borkowski knocked out the Rescue Swimmer class
  • Doc Miller and Borkowski knocked out Swiftwater I & II
  • NPS Tech Team training – Swiftwater on Pigeon River – Benjamin and Johnston
  • NPS Tech Team training at Chimney Tops – Benjamin, Ransom, Sharbel, Herrington
  • Benjamin taught 16 hours of medical, 32 hours of swiftwater rescue, 55 of rope rescue, and 132 hours of rescue swimmer training to various agencies
  • Ritter completed his litter team training and first aid/CPR class
  • Herrington taught four survival and P-SAR (Preventative-Search & Rescue) classes at REI stores in Knoxville, Brentwood, and Asheville
  • Geist taught two Wilderness First Responder classes for SOLO-SE
  • Land navigation training and course setup – Harrell, Johnston, Miller, and Herrington
  • Borkowski taught multiple LZ classes to fire departments and rescue squads in VA
  • Borkowski developed draft of SRT2 Aviation training module
  • Harrel completed his SAR-duous duty pack test
  • Lewis  taught multiple tracking and SAR skills classes for VDEM to volunteers, first responders, and VA Department of Corrections.


Responses – 

  • Recovery at Ramsey Cascades
  • Recovery on Abrams Falls trail
  • Recovery on Alum Cave trail
  • Bohanon SAR – BUSAR logged over 630 hours during the 8 day search and had 100% response rate
  • Abrams Creek stranded hikers – Borkowski
  • Abrams Falls search – Johnston
  • Sharbel hired on as a seasonal SAR ranger out of Gatlinburg. He has more responses than I can list here, but has been averaging 3 – 4 incidents per week
  • Doc Miller responded to Hurricane Harvey and then Irma with his USAR team. what a stud!

Team Workouts – Going strong every week. Sharbs forgot his kettlebell one night, which inspired the painful,  “Follow-the-leader” interval . Yep, that is a dog at our workout too!


BUSAR is a 501(c)3 non-profit. To help us help others, go here…

Mayday, Mayday – BUSAR Training


The ‘Ole Jernigator planned our January training and lured us in with the statement that “it won’t be as physical as our usual training, so we will focus more on skills”

On Sunday night, we all knew we had been fooled and that if the Jernigator is in charge, then you better plan a rest day afterwards… or at least just do upper body exercises in our case.

Training Mission: Locate two old plane wrecks near Parson’s Bald. Work on key skills. Have fun and stay safe.

Day 1: We load up the Cobra wagon, slay the Dragon, and start dropping off 2 man teams.


Team Snipe Hunt (pink on the map), made up of Doc Inferno and B.O., get dropped off at mile marker 3 to bushwhack up Dalton Branch manway to the gap, continue up the Old AT manway to Parson’s Bald, and camp at Sheep Pen Gap (Campsite 13).


Team Goat, made up of Mr. and future Mrs. Goat, get dropped off at Twentymile to bushwack the Long Hungry Ridge manway and rendezvous at campsite 13. (Red on the map)


Team Ridgerunner, made up of Jernigator, King Ski, and myself, brave the briars of the powerline and head up the State Line from Deal’s Gap, to rendezvous with everyone at Campsite 13, after a brief interlude and lunch with the Snipe Hunters. (Gold line)

Moving at a good clip, we are at 13 in 4 hours and setting up camp. Sixty years of nature has erased most of the Old Appalachian trail, but the beautiful open ridge and weather just requires a good set of legs conditioned from countless reps on the Thighmaster..

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 Day 1 Map:

Day 1

Our training has evolved to where we are making sure to hit several key topics on each trip. A summary of the weekend follows:

Land Navigation – Rotating every hour, off trail navigation is done with a map and compass. UTM’s are done with a grid reader. Everyone got a chance to determine the bearing for the grid searches.


Survival – It dropped into the low 20’s that night, so everyone got to showcase and test out their hasty pack gear. Supplementing inadequate gear with leaf beds and quilts was demonstrated by King Ski, even though I had gifted him a 20 degree bag earlier that week.




Tracking – Doc and I set up a night time signcutting station based upon the VDEM Operational Tracker standards. It sucks during the day. It sucks more at night. Great drill from track master Spieden!

Medical – After locating the wrecks, Doc Miller gave a great treatise on triage and dealing with multiple casualties.


Search Techniques – Doc Miller, a ground team leader and medical officer for the Civil Air Patrol, also gave a briefing on downed plane procedures. We grid searched for both planes and located both with ease.


N110WP – twin-engine Beechcraft B-18 crashed in 1964. Six fatalities.


Cessna 421 crashed in 1978. Five fatalities. Largest pieces of wreckage shown.



Day 2: After locating the planes, we split back into teams to head out. My team BUSAR boogied down the ridge,  and jumped on a spur of the Old AT to bypass Sheep Wallow Knob. We ended up in a maze of hemlock blowdowns, got trashed, and barely made it back before dark. (Gold line)

Mr. and Mrs. Goat were lured by the same siren song, but got pushed further into the drainage forcing them into a full contact fight with the Rhodo Clan. Ever victorious, they emerged with smiles and headlamps around 7 pm. (red line)

The Snipe Hunters ambled out the state line, but got ambushed by the Briar Gang after dark under the powerlines. That’s a bad neighborhood and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. They took heavy losses, but popped out at the gap around 8pm. (pink line)


If you want to read accounts of all 54 plane crashes in the Smokies, pick up a copy of Mayday, Mayday by Jeff Wadley and Dwight McCarter. Not only is this book a great read for the average person, I view it as essential for pilots that fly in this region or SAR teams that operate around here.



Jeff is a good friend, has 30 years of Civil Air Patrol experience, and knows the Smokies like the back of his hand. We will be hosting him in February for a SAR theory lecture and exercise. It is open to surrounding agencies and individuals involved in SAR. Email me for details.

Travelling off trail, in remote areas, exposes you to greater risks. Mitigate those with proper planning, the right gear, satellite messengers, realistic training, and by leaving a trip plan. This one was texted to my wife and a ranger buddy. Trip plans are downloadable here:


BoBerry BUSAR Manventure…


“What’s a BoBerry biscuit?” I naively asked Alex

“You’ve never had BoBerry biscuit!!” he replied indignantly.

It was 5 am, and I was about to learn all about the BoBerry..


Alex and I go way back. We guided and paddled together on the Ocoee together in the late 90’s, but then life took us down different paths until the love of adventure, challenge, and desire to help people brought us back together under the BUSAR banner.

For December’s BUSAR field training day, Alex, a.k.a Goat, was tasked to be the team leader. In an effort to build solid leadership skills throughout the team, each month’s training is lead by a different member, much like our weekly workouts.

The Goat’s plan was to knock out some manways that are popular places for off-trail searches. The Porter’s creek drainage is equally notorious for it’s manways among hikers, and it’s searches in the Ranger ranks. In fact the last time I was there, Chuckzilla and I  were searching for Morgan Briggs, after he missed the manway coming out of Campsite 31 and spent a couple days up on Porters Mountain. It is beautiful, steep, and challenging country.

Fast forward to this past summer, and an icon in the manway world went missing in the same area. A legend among hikers, Jenny Bennett’s body, was unfortunately found in the same drainage. Her blog, not only shows her love and passion for the Smokies, but also showed us the route for Alex’s trip.

With one teammate in Blackhawk school, one working the ER, one laid up with stress fractures, and another just returning from a canyoneering trip out west, it was left to the three best looking, bearded guys on the team.


Jenny’s blog does a great description of the route, so I won’t bore you with my version, Instead, I will just throw up a bunch of pics.




You put a waterfall in front of these guys and they will climb it, in fact when got carried away climbing a short series of cascades, we lost track of our elevation to turn up. Instead of backtracking, we shot straight up and had to do a sketchy traverse to get back to our intended route. Nolan, our most experienced climber, lead the way. Fun times.



Once on the knife ridge, the fun continued..


This arrow showed our destination for lunch, the Pyramid..


And this one shows our approximate starting point..


With this being our fourth monthly training, things are starting to roll pretty smooth from the training standpoint. Each hour, we rotate, so everyone gets a chance to navigate, while those in the rear work on their tracking skills following the leaders.


Once we topped out on the “Real Bunion”, we dropped right back down Dry sluice manway.


GPS stated it was a total of 13 miles, 7 off-trail, that took us 9 hours. All the lunges and other brutality of our weekly workouts paid off, as we all felt strong throughout the day. And while we carried along Commando ropes in hope of finding a testing ground, we didn’t really find anything that justified their use.


Obviously trips like this have risks, but mitigating them doesn’t take a lot of effort. All the guys on this trip have years of experience, including climbing. We were dressed for the weather, had overnight gear if we got caught out, good first aid kits, and medical training. We filled out a trip plan, leaving it with Alex’s girlfriend, texting it to my wife, and  emailing it to a ranger buddy that has the most time in that area. Downloadable here:

All that, and we had a satellite messenger, SPOT, along for the ride.


Adventures are fun. They make life enjoyable, but they also carry risk. It only takes a little training, some gear, and leaving a trip plan to stack the odds in your favor so that you can share your very first BoBerry biscuit on top of the Pyramid with old friend..


BUSAR is actively recruiting experienced, outdoor athletes to conquer the world..





BUSAR “Over the Hill.. Mountain” Manventure…


Forty years ago on this day, I was born into this world with love, pain, and blood. This weekend I figured I would celebrate with the same style for the BUSAR team’s monthly training.

What is BUSAR you ask? It’s an interagency fitness and training group for Search and Rescue professionals.

BUSAR’s rougish development arose from my belief that fitness and backcountry skills are as important as technical skills, so I target recruited outdoor athletes for the group. We PT with our SAR packs once a week and do some type of monthly outdoor training.

BUSAR has class V paddlers, an ER doc, a helicopter pilot, and adventure racers, but the most important factor is that these guys live this lifestyle and are willing to push themselves. If we weren’t headed to the woods this weekend for training, they would be there anyway, running, paddling, biking, or climbing. Fitness and experience are not something you can learn in a weekend class and these guys have decades of living that lifestyle. To those that would argue that there is not a need for that level of fitness, I would reply  “Come hither my friend, out of the truck, and behold the brutality of offtrail or a snowy rescue in thine mountains”

More info on the BUSAR project can be found here:

September took us to an orienteering race and this month fell on my shoulders, so I picked a “manway” that I had been on my radar for 15 years.

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Ekaneetlee Trace was an old trail from Tennesee to North Carolina, originating in the Cades Cove area and ending in the Eagle Creek drainage. It was the historical route to cross the west end of the Smokies back before this was even a nation. It departs Gregory Ridge trail, heads up to Ekaneetlee Gap, and drops into North Carolina following Ekaneetlee Creek.  Fontana Lake, and the neccesity of a boat pick up or drop off, make the logistics of completing this manway a pain in the ass, but I had a good plan up my sleeve.

Intel on the net is sparse, but a few quotes that were meant to deter, only pumped up the crew.

“I absolutely love off-trail hiking, but this was a piece of s**t. Nothing redeeming about it whatsoever. There is reallly no visible manway thru much of it. You may as well just blaze your own trail from point A to Point B. If you have not done any off-trails in the Smokies, do NOT do this one. Try something a little more fun.”

“My advice..unless you are experienced at route finding, map and compass reading and or GPS, are in good physical shape and are prepared to bushwack….then stay away. This was one nasty trip!”

As for the quotes, they are completely accurate. My brief description, and the pics to support it, would be as follows..

“A 9 1/2 hour fight with a wild cat, while doing yoga in a rainy jungle gym”




Out of the 9 1/2 hours, I would estimate we were on a “manway” for about 2 hours, the rest was bushwack city. The Tennessee side was better, as the trail crew used to access the AT via that route according to “Rambo” Ricky, but the NC side was long and rough. On both sides, you would get a short section of manway, only to lose it in a mass of deadfall and rhodo.


One can only take so much beating from rhodo, before the creek calls your name. We were soaked from the incessant rain anyway, so it was a welcome break from the rhodo hell.



There were a couple highlights, including big trees..


And the barrel camp where I punched a bear in the face circa 2003..


About an hour before dark, we popped out at Campite 89 and set up shop. One of the training goals was to bivouac  out of our SAR packs, which typically run about 15 pounds. We also worked on map and compass skills, UTM plotting, and firestarting in crappy weather.

“Casa del cabro”


Day 2 was a fast paced, 4 mile hike until we felt like Ranger Robin was closing in on us, so we stole a getaway car..


But had to ditch it..


So we swam the hell out of there..



So why would I choose to punish my body, not sleep in my bed, or eat a spectacular meal for my 40th birthday? Well, that is the “love” part of my first line.

I love these mountains.

I love adventure.

I love finding a camp after bushwacking through a nightmarish rhodo hell and wading a creek all day.

I love sharing those experiences with hardcore, experienced people.

I love knowing that a group I created  can handle the crappiest manway in the park and overnight out of their SAR pack with ease.

I love the feeling of gratitude that comes from adversity when you return home.

And I love looking up to see my wife and son watching us swim across a lake, not because the top of Fontana Dam is closed or it saved us money on a boat shuttle, but because it made us happy..

Future BUSAR member waits for his Dad..


Special thanks to my mum and dad for bringing me into this world and making this adventure even possible.

And practicing what I preach. For “Survival 101” alumni, below was our trip plan. I also informed a co-worker of our plans and two rangers at the trailhead that morning. Free trip plans are downloadable at:


More to Florida than Disneyworld and Beaches…


Every year I migrate South to Florida to wear out my welcome at my in-laws for ten or so days. Without my usual distractions, I entertain myself by harassing my mother in-law about her excessive amount of cups for two retirees or the fact it is always Christmas when I come down…


On this trip, in an effort to maintain sanity on both sides, I ventured out more, to keep myself out of trouble and seeing more of Florida. I hit the gym, met up with friends, checked out the gun stores, the army surplus stores, and even rode around with a buddy to check out the stellar homes he builds.

I also managed to break away for three good side trips that are worth mentioning to any fellow travellers that need some outdoor stimulation.


Greene Deane’s Foraging Walks –

Florida is a whole different world from the mountains, and while there is a lot of crossover, there are a ton of different species, both native and exotic. The best way to learn plants is to hook up with an experienced forager, so I follow my own advice and jump on plant walks any time I can. This was my second trip with Deane and it was at Spruce Creek Park, up by Port Orange.

Deane’s walks are great, not only for his encyclopaedic knowledge of plants, but because he teaches at various locations. Spruce Creek offered several different habitats, including one that has salt tolerant species.

The winner of the taste test was the Creeping Cucumber That is a 10 y.o. girl’s hand, so it is really jelly bean size.


With Sea Purslane coming in a close second.. Maybe first if it was grilled like Deane mentioned.


As with any foraging class, you can’t just take a class and walk away owning the information. You need to do your homework and start eating it. I bought two Florida foraging books for this trip and read them while I was down here. They were both okay, but I find Deane’s website more useful.

There is also a handy list of forgaging instructors for you travels:


Permanent Orienteering Courses –

While orienteering isn’t as popular in the U.S. as other countries, there are still groups scattered all across the country. Some of these clubs have graciously taken the time toset up permanent courses in their state. For wayward travellers that may not be in town during regular race times, this is a great opportunity to see the local woods, get some exercise, and work on your land navigation skills. I slipped away to two courses that I found on

Moss Park Course – It was damn hot, so I decided not to run it, and threw on my pack for both the beginners and advanced course. I had worn long pants and boots, thinking I would be busting scrub, but the vegetation was pretty open, making me wishI had worn shorts and running shoes. Higlights were gopher tortoise and armadillo sign everywhere, and the sandhill cranes that tried to mug me in the parking lot.



Florida Agricultural Museum

We all make mistakes, but on this day, I was on a roll. I downloaded the map of the Florida Orienteeering page and took time to check the hours of the museum. Unfortunately, I must have forgotten what day it was, as I arrived to see a closed sign at the entrance.

Mistake #1… Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays

Well, like any person that just drove 2 hours would do, I continued on in hopes I could persuade them to let me hike through their woods. After striking out with the farm hand,  I got lucky when the manager heard my sob story and granted me permission.

Thankful for the opportunity, I figured it would be prudent if I only did one course and ran it to save time, so I picked the longer of the two. Having not planned for running, I didn’t have a ziploc for my map to protect it from my sweaty hands.

Mistake #2  – Running through the Florida scrub in 90 degree weather, my map was almost obliterated by point #5

And Mistake #3  was assuming the terrain would be similar to Moss Park, so I wore shorts and running shoes..

Three mistakes before I got started meant good times ahead and the chance to pick my poison..

Busting scrub..


Or slogging trails..


But fortunately, I was able forage for some of these tortuous little bastards on the fly, which I learned from Deane are edible


Not your typical day of Florida vacation, but I loved it!!

Note: The map shows the controls as numbered, but they must have changed them to letters and not updated the map yet.


Many thanks to Florida Agricultural Museum for indulging a wayward traveller that escaped the in-laws for some respite in the thorny, hot ass Florida scrub.

Looking forward to visiting with the family in the future. Word on the street is that the hours are posted on their website…



A common thread..


Being caught out, unprepared, in bad weather.

A good quote from the above article rings true. “Most trails are not marked for winter use, so navigation can be challenging“. Even if you are experienced, a blanket of snow can make staying on trail a challenge. Make sure you have a good topo of the area, a map, a GPS, and the skills to use them. The $1 trail maps you buy at a trailhead, do not count. Large scale maps do not show land features, topography, etc. and can cause you to second guess your whereabouts like the interviewee said last week.


Mytopo. Custom printed maps of your area:


Nat Geo maps: I carry one of these because I cover such a large area: