Map & Compass Stories

Wilderness Navigation and Orienteering Stories from the Field

Is Mantracker seeing double? Identical twins Jennifer & Amiee Roberge share more than just their looks. They work and live together, finish each other’s sentences, and are always on the same wavelength. Can they use that connection to their advantage to elude Mantracker in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass? Not if Mantracker and aptly-named rancher, Joe Trotz, have anything to say about it!

Is Mantracker a Match for Newbies in Orienteering?

By Jennifer and Amiee Roberge

We want to tell you a little story about our adventure on the reality TV show called “Mantracker” – a Canadian-produced show by Bonterra Productions airing on the Outdoor Life Network.

We are identical twin sisters from Saskatoon and are big into fitness and adventure. The idea to apply as candidates for the reality show came from a friend of ours. The process is pretty simple; fill out a questionnaire, send in some pictures and a video, and cross your fingers. It took about two weeks for us to hear back from one of the producers about a possible show. We all had to make sure it would jive with our schedules. We found a date that would work and next thing you know, our adventure was all booked! In 3 weeks, we would be on a plane to our filming location.

Showing Two City Gals How to Navigate in the Bush

Now, not being avid outdoors people, we needed to acquire some skills to help us attempt to beat Mantracker. We really did not know what we were up against or getting ourselves into! But we were not about to take any chances with winging it. I (Jennifer) was out shopping for gear for the adventure when I came across a flyer at Wholesale Sports. It was for a map and compass course here in the city. I decided to email Cliff from CanoeSki to see if he was interested in showing two city gals how to navigate themselves in the bush. Amiee and I were looking to take away some valuable lessons in reading maps and using a compass. Cliff was so kind to agree to help us out.

One afternoon when we could all get together, we met at the park in the city for a compass lesson. He taught us how to read a compass, shoot a bearing and told us some things to watch for when out in the wilderness that could throw us off our intended direction. After using our compasses to locate several stakes hidden in the park, we were off to Whitecap where the terrain was a little more challenging. Cliff also had an orienteering map of the area. He explained how to read a topographical map, to understand the legend and recognize key features on the map for taking bearings. Cliff was going to make sure Amiee and I didn’t get lost out there…wherever that may have been!

Jennifer and Amiee on Location in the Alberta Wilderness

Amiee and I were told our location about two days before we left. We were Alberta bound. You’ll have to watch the show to find out the exact location. One of the challenges we came across on our chase was relating the map information to things we saw on the ground. There were points on our map where we needed to get to and we wanted to be sure we were on the right path. Things like creek crossings, forks in the roads and tree lines. Most of the time there was a visible line of sight for our direction of travel, so shooting bearings with the compass wasn’t really necessary.

Let me tell you, this chase was WILD! What a rush – when you’re on the move and a little paranoid of what’s to come. You just never know where Mantracker is, and when you do it is usually by surprise. THIS guy is GOOD! Getting chased by a couple cowboys on horses is not your typical hike in the bush, but we would do it again in a heartbeat!

There are times when you do not have time to think, just react. One thing we quickly found out and a strategy we were always aware of was ‘plan B’. Amiee and I made sure that if we were caught off guard, we always had an ‘out’, a safe spot to get away, our ‘plan B’.
It’s going to be a long-kept secret about the details and the final outcome of the show, but it will be worth it. Watch for our episode 5 in Season 6 of Mantracker airing on OLN sometime after September 2011. The chase is on and it is going to be entertaining! Amiee and I were the lucky first time “prey” from Saskatchewan and the only identical twins to appear on the show so far!

Roberge Twins & Mantracker

(L to R) Amiee & Jennifer after the chase with guide Joe & Mantracker

We want to make our home town and our friends and family proud. The bumps and bruises are gone. The scrapes and scratches all healed up, but we have the memories to last a life time and will have a DVD to play over and over again!

Thanks Cliff, for getting us prepared. You’re an upstanding gentleman who knows his stuff! Amiee and I are grateful we found you on a flyer!

Jennifer with Mantracker

Jennifer, fitness instructor turned horse whisperer!


Map & Compass Course Attracts a Grandmother-grandson Duo

canoeski map and compass courseIt’s a rare teenager interested enough in low tech devices like a map and compass to sign up for the CanoeSki navigation course. It’s even rarer that a 14-year-old boy would accompany his grandmother on that course. But that’s what Kaleb did. He and his grandmother wrote up short stories of their shared experience. Read about it here.

Map & Compass Batteries Won’t Go Dead!

By Colin Jolly, June 2010

Colin Jolly
On June 5th, I headed from La Ronge to Saskatoon for my first navigational course. After getting lost in “the big city” and trying to find the university I thought to myself, “I should have taken this course before I came down here!”

As a recreation coordinator, canoe instructor, and soon-to-be teacher, I thought this course would be very useful; not only for my own personal skills, but for the teaching aspect as well. Each summer I set out on many canoe trips. I cannot always rely on my double A batteries to keep my handheld GPS powered. I thought it would be very beneficial to learn how to read a map and use a compass as well. This course did just that. The morning was spent on learning navigational skills in the classroom, and in the afternoon we took these skills into the field and practised what we learned in the morning. The way this course was split up gave me the exact skills I was looking for.

This course was very beneficial. I believe that anyone involved in outdoor activities should take this course. I am excited to use the knowledge that I have gained and pass it on to the students I will be guiding in the future.

A special thanks goes to Cliff Speer and his team for putting on such a great day.

Map & Compass students orienting their maps

Bob (L), Colin, Paula (hiding), Lena, Cliff, Karen, John orienting their maps at Whitecap (Photo: Henry Eng)

Scout Leaders Take Heed!

By Paula Yablonski, June 2010
Paula Yablonski
Learning to read a map and use a compass are important skills more people should have. As an involved parent with my boys, I became a registered member leader of Scouts Canada in the early 1990’s. During the years as a leader, I learned map and compass skills from my highly skilled fellow leaders and mentors before going on many camping, hiking and canoeing trips, especially those in northern Saskatchewan. Now that my children have grown up, I remain a group administrator with Scouts Canada, still wanting to be involved in the great outdoors and in giving other children the opportunity to have fun and adventure.

It has been at least five years since I have been on a camping or canoe trip and I felt I needed to refresh my skills, so when the CanoeSki map and compass course was brought to our attention at an area meeting, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get back into “the out” in scouting.

Cliff`s course is great because not only did we learn the theory in the classroom, we then took those skills and practiced them outdoors. There is no better way to learn than hands on, especially with map and compass skills.

At this time in my life, I have returned to university to become a teacher. I hope to be involved with the outdoor club in high school and I know that the skills I have acquired from scouting and from people like Cliff Speer with CanoeSki will give me the confidence to take staff and students on many adventures.

I hope that more people will get the same satisfaction as myself from the map and compass course and have fun and adventure without getting lost. So, bring on the adventure!!

Navigation Course Fills a Gap in Teacher’s Education

By Bob Anderson, June 2010
Bob Anderson
The CanoeSki Map and Compass Course allowed me to address a shortcoming that I have had for years. During my time as a teacher, counsellor and school social worker, I was involved in the outdoor education programs at a number of elementary and high schools in Saskatoon’s Public School system. Through training and teaching, I became adept in the skills of camping and canoeing, but navigation remained my weakness. Fortunately, I was always blessed with work mates who were proficient at finding their way around the remote parts of Saskatchewan with a map and compass, so we could competently trek and paddle through the Saskatchewan wilderness. This spring, I spotted an ad in the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Bulletin that offered a course to develop and practice the skill that I lacked. I enrolled in the class.

Map & Compass students working on a bearings exercise

Bob (L), Ray and instructor Bert Weichel conferring on the bearings exercise (Photo: Henry Eng)

The morning was spent in a classroom going over the principles of using a compass and a topographical map to plan a wilderness trip. We were matched with a partner, and were piloted through a number of tasks that reinforced the theory that was presented. The exercises were practical and for the most part straight forward. I was pleased to note that the class size was under 25, and that there were three other assistants who helped Cliff with the instruction. This lower student/teacher ratio was instrumental in allowing us to obtain quick answers to our questions, and get prompt guidance as we worked through the assignments.

After a lunch break, we reconvened at Chief Whitecap Park for an outdoor experience. Again, the maneuvers were intended to provide practice in the skills that were introduced in the morning session. In keeping with the group philosophy of Outdoor Education, we worked in small teams and then later with a partner as we tackled the orienteering activities. The whole process provided for practical pursuits in a supportive environment. Mastery was the keynote. My partner and I set out, along with the other pairings, on an orienteering course that took us through the bush and trails along the South Saskatchewan River.

We had a pleasurable time pacing the track, locating the orienteering markers and testing our new abilities; we were pleased with how much we learned. When there were a few tasks that seemed too difficult, a short conversation with an instructor would guide us to the right route and we quickly learned how to navigate around the trails. A key element for me during the day was to have fun, and that we did. Cliff, and the other instructors, provided us with a supportive and collegial environment; there was much laughter and many smiles as we worked through the difficulties of mastering new aptitudes.
The day ended with a quick group wrap-up in the warm afternoon sun. After exchanging good-byes and names and numbers, we were off to our vehicles and back home, navigating the tangled and torn-up streets of Saskatoon — no doubt with a more confident sense of direction!

Orienteering Meets Big Wildlife!

By Karen Watson, June 2010
Karen Watson
One beautiful summer Sunday I found myself sitting in a classroom taking an orienteering course because my husband was interested in taking it! He is Australian and came to Canada with a work visa which did not allow him to take any courses for personal or professional use. He was taking the requirements very seriously, so he needed me to take the course instead, which he so desperately wanted to attend. (He says that once his status in Canada changes, he will definitely take the course, but he couldn’t wait that long!)
Anyway, I found myself sacrificing a Sunday, 9am to 4pm, learning how to use a compass, how to measure metres with my own paces, and trying to find orienteering markers hidden deep within the bowels of Chief Whitecap Park. Little did I know how thrilling it would be to count my paces through the thick bush in the Park and take the most direct route to the next hidden marker, only to find that a swamp would re-route my partner and I! We became bushwhackers and ramblers for the next two hours. When my partner and I remembered how to read the compass correctly, were not obstructed by anything, and followed the distance we estimated, it was amazing just how accurate we could be. We could walk in the direction of the compass and end up with the marker right at our feet.
About two weeks later, my husband and I were camping at Waterton Lakes National Park and I was thrilled to be able to pace how far away I was from a black bear (after I regained my regular heart rate!). The bear walked right through our campsite while we were cooking breakfast! After it left, I measured how close it was, so I would be able to tell others that I had stood 6 metres away from a black bear, without feeling as though I had exaggerated it!

As for the other skills I learned with Cliff, I would like to say that I kept them as leverage over my husband, but actually, I was too excited about what I had learned to keep it to myself for long. The course was definitely worth my summer Sunday.

Map & Compass students working on a pacing exercise

Andrea leads the way on the pacing exercise at Chief Whitecap Park (Photo: Henry Eng)

Vicki is a Saskatoon firefighter who joined one of her dept. colleagues on the nav course. In her spare time, she runs her own sea kayaking company, Kingston Sea Kayak Instruction. In her story she notes the dual skills of land & sea navigation.

Navigating on Land: A New Challenge for a Kayaker

By Viki Cirkvencic, May 2008

The orienteering class conducted by Cliff Speer of CanoeSki was informative and had a great practical exercise to tie the classroom skills together. I chose to join in the fun with a friend and together we got to use our compasses on a different media than we were used too. I normally take a bearing from a deck-mounted compass while sitting in the cockpit of my kayak, then paddling the distance from point A to B. So, when I had to look at my compass from my out stretched arm and pace out the distance to point B, it was a new challenge.

From a kayak you can usually see where your next bearing is taking you. From the Saskatchewan prairie terrain at Chief Whitecap Park, you are pretty much looking at the compass pointing you straight through a thicket of low lying prickly shrubs. All I could think of was a childhood song about going on a bear hunt, “can’t go through it, can’t go over it, gotta go around it!”

This was a great learning session, which filled in some gaps I was missing when it came to navigating with a topographical map and finding my way through hard to see places. The lesson started one from the beginning; it got you familiar with your compass and what it was actually trying to tell you, then the day finished off with a well-planned orienteering exercise.

Thanks for the challenges and a good time.

Backpacker Uses Navigation Course on West Coast Trail

By John Rooney, May 2008

Professional, informative and fun is how I would describe Cliff Speer’s Map and Compass course. His years of guiding and wilderness travel experience combine to make this class interesting both from a skills perspective and from practical field application. Concepts were delivered by knowledgeable instructors in a manner appropriate for novice students to readily understand and apply.

As an avid backpacker I was looking to gain the skills and confidence to navigate in the back country with only a map and compass. I wanted to learn how to interpret and correlate “all those squiggly lines” on the topographical map with the scenery I was actually seeing. I wanted to know my direction of travel, be able to maintain that course and even glimmer how that mysterious term “declination” might affect reaching that quiet, tranquil jewel of a campsite I’d chosen! I wanted to actually know where I was – how far I’d come and how far I had to go. I wanted to be able to answer that proverbial parental question, “Are we there yet?” when my kids asked. I wanted to stay “found” and more truly enjoy our great Canadian wilderness.

I can honestly relate that all these expectations were met in this course, but like any new skill learned, must be practiced and regularly utilized to truly become second nature. Taking skills learned in the classroom outdoors and practicing them in the orienteering exercises was fantastic as well as a huge amount of fun (even if the instructors did take that last flag away too soon)! A great course and highly recommended to others who want to more fully and safely enjoy the outdoors.

CanoeSki orienteering students hiking on Whitecap trails

CanoeSki nav students hiking to the orienteering trails start point at Whitecap (Photo: Henry Eng)

Cliff, on a practical note I was able to use the course information on the West Coast Trail this summer. As you may be aware, the WCT travels both inland and on occasion by beach. The trail is subject to wash outs due to the amount of rainfall (rainforest) and wave action. I was on a section of beach trail which turned inland due to impassable headlands and incoming tide; however the cliff had slumped taking the trail out. I had two choices – turn back or bushwhack. Turning back was not an option as that direction yielded the toughest part of the trail I had just completed over the last three days, so bushwhacking it was. Out came the map – found my position and located where I needed to link up with the inland trail – and started out. Uphill, almost vertical in slumping mud, trees and vines! Then into old rainforest with interlaced deadfall strewn like giant pick-up sticks and total silence – not a soul or sound to be seen or heard – real wilderness! I estimated my distance from the beach, established my line of travel and proceeded for the next half hour using the skills you had taught. I located the inland trail, more than a little sweaty and grimy, but I had stayed “found”! Thanks for a valuable course.

“Spacially Challenged” Can Learn Compass Skills

Cliff instructing the CanoeSki orienteering course

Cliff giving tips on navigating the Whitecap trails (Photo: Henry Eng)

By Katherine Lawrence May 2007

I am one of those spatially challenged people who prefers to use `right’ and `left’ or `up’ and `down’ rather than the points of a compass. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that good instruction combined with a few practical exercises had me using a compass and getting results for the first time in my life. The last exercise of the day was devoted to orienteering and while I found it to be a stretch, it gave me a chance to review what I had learned in the morning. My suggestion for improving the course would be to send us all home with a complete set of handouts for independent review. Overall, the course was useful and the instructors were knowledgeable and patient.


John Lavery first got involved with CanoeSki in a beginner cross-country ski program in the winter of 2006. That spring he signed up for a couple of paddling courses and the Map & Compass Course. He offered to write up his experiences on the navigation course. Here is his story.

Orienteering Means Freedom to Find Your Way

by John Lavery, May 2006

The CanoeSki orienteering course restored my long-lost acquaintance with compass and topographical maps. As a thirteen-year old scout, I was thrilled to match the landscape before me with the features on the map, and to guide myself with the help of my trusty Silva compass, but over time I lost these essential wilderness skills. Now many years later, Cliff’s classroom instruction and outdoor practice have revived my satisfaction in locating myself in the landscape and in setting a course that will get me to my destination. I have plans for long hikes and for four and five-day canoe trips with my moderately outdoorsy daughter.

canoeski map and compass course

Cliff (centre blue hat) explaining the rules of the orienteering game (photo: H. Eng)

The orienteering course began in the classroom with basic compass terminology and a few orienteering scenarios, though I confess I could have done with more of the latter to help make the initial map and compass procedures second nature. Being confident with the basics is what I need in order to move on to more challenging tasks. Repetition does this for me and I’m sure many people feel the same. Only once everyone has shown the ability to find and face, say, 270° with a compass, or to chart a course from A to B on a topographical map of Stanley Mission, do we all feel confident in ourselves and in each other. We won’t worry about being left behind and we won’t fake or fudge being sure that we absolutely know what we’re doing.

Charting a prospective trip on the Churchill River system was fun as a real-life task, though it takes time and occasional guidance for those still unfamiliar with the detailed symbolic “language” of maps. This is where an oral question and answer procedure would have been a good prelude to the printed task-sheet, as some of us felt a bit rushed over this exercise. Allowing more time for instructor-modelled (“This is what I do . . . “) and instructor-aided (“This is what we do, don’t you agree? Why?”) preliminaries to the you’re-more-or-less-on -your-own part would have paid off handsomely. As it was, we all tried to keep up, since finding your way is fun and the name of the game.

Whitecap Park trails along the South Saskatchewan River

South Saskatchewan riverbank trails at Whitecap Park in September colors.

At noon we left the classroom at the Saskatoon Field House and headed over to Chief White Cap Park. After lunch we measured our individual paces to get a sense of distance (How far is fifty metres? How many paces do I take to walk fifty metres?). Then came the valuable short-course Finding  your Bearings exercise that consolidated the idea that we have to rely on accurate reading of the compass rather than on any hints the eye might have (“I bet it’s that little flag over there!”) about where we should be going. Believe in careful compass readings! But it was the final afternoon orienteering exercise — remember to allow for declination! — for which we paired off at Chief White Cap that delighted me most, consolidated theory with practice, and had me eager for hikes over hills and sand dunes and for paddling the Churchill River system — without getting lost!

I learned that planning your route, taking precise readings off the compass, (keeping your map dry!), and being methodical throughout the orienteering frees you up to enjoy everything else about the day, including not getting lost when you don’t want to be. Now, whether travelling on foot or by canoe, I’ll have confidence that I know where I am and how to get to where I’m going!