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#159836 - 01/07/12 03:33 PM getting lost and unlost
Jimshaw Offline
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Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3939
Loc: Bend, Oregon
The message of this thread is "a compass even with a map, will not help you find a specific spot on that map if you are lost , unless there are easy landmarks, which means maybe you didn't need a navigation device anyway."

I do have references that will vouche for my navigational skills - I did study celestial navigation in preparation to sailing around the world (didn't happen), and I can use a sextant. Because of this I recognise some basic failures of the camping compass myth.

Properly used a good compass will point to magnetic north. If it has a 360 degree rose marked on it, its easier to use, so now you can reliably determine magnetic east, west, ssw or what ever, but you need to know the magnetic offset for the area you are in to know true cardinal directions. This is generally not a big deal to set with prior knowledge.

OK so now you are in say 100 square mile area and your truck is parked somewhere in there and you screwed up and got lost, but you have a compass and know the magnetic offset, and you have a map and you can determine true north, so you can set your compass down on the map and turn the map so its aligned with true north. Now you either have to have an unmistakealbe land mark and another piece of information [like altitude trail crossing data], or two unmistakeable landmarks to triangulate on [YOU DO KNOW HOW TO DO THAT RIGHT?], and then transfer those bearings onto the map [again - you do have a protracter right?], and then for a trail in the vicinity of the intersection and those lines and there you are. Or maybe the trail isn't on the map. Or maybe those aren't the landmarks that you thought they are. Or heck, now theres 2 trails there - seen that before.

If a GPS works, you set a waypoint at your truck before leaving it and to get back to it you walk towards it on the little screen. Spare batteries further, grasshopper.

I would much rather bet on the odds of my GPS failing vs most people failing to find the truck with their compass and map skills. A compass is one of the ten essentials and as such it creates a false reliance and sense of safety that is dangerously misplaced. I suggest people walk half a mile from home and try to find home with their compass alone. Some people couldn't find their house with a compass from their driveway - its true.

This post is just about finding your way back to your transportation. Actual figuring out where you are is very difficult and a law of compass navigation is NEVER GET LOST, if you are lost, traditional navigation theory fails hikers because you first have to figure out where you are, then how to get to where you want to go..

Jim -- and ya know I didn't write this to anger anyone, just to challenge one of those camping myths. Prove me wrong or stop telling beginners that a compass will serve them well and get them unlost.
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These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#159839 - 01/07/12 04:00 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Jimshaw]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6521
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
What most of us are saying is that a GPS or any other electronic device can fail. Batteries die, the innards get wet. That's why learning to read a map and use a compass are extremely important.

Just having the gear with you does nothing; it's the same as taking a big first aid kit when you don't have any first aid training. In both cases, it's vitally important to learn how to use it!

It's interesting that the Seattle Mountaineers, who originated the "Ten" Essentials, still include map and compass and say nothing about a GPS.

The whole idea is not how to get "unlost," it's how not to get lost in the first place!

I'm not saying that a GPS isn't useful, but it doesn't replace basic skills!


Edited by OregonMouse (01/07/12 04:02 PM)
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#159845 - 01/07/12 04:52 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Jimshaw]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
snatch the pebble from my hand....

Jim is exactly right in that GPS is as close to fool proof a tool as we currently have. You still have to know how to use it properly though. Granted, it is easier to master, and once mastered you are pretty much set (with spare batteries of course).

If you are lost. And I mean really lost! That compass is NOT going to save you; your wits are what is going to save you. But lets just look at a situation that is a little less dire.

Some young geologist is heading roughly north from an access road that trends roughly Northeast-Southwest over a relatively featureless region. He has a good starting point and is aiming for a prospect that is about 8 miles away. This idiot also forgets that the new belt that he got as a gift has an iron belt buckle. He gets out of the vehicle, stands a good distance away from the vehicle to shoot a bearing and heads out. Over the next 2 hours he rechecks the bearing usually from a spot around his belly button to stay on course. After 2.5 hours, he thinks about the belt and realizes his bearing is way off. Now the objective is to get back to the vehicle. Take the belt off and re-shoot for the road which is roughly due south at this point and start walking. 2.5 hours later he hits the road and heads to the vehicle. Next day, he finds the prospect in about 2.25 hours without the belt on.

The point is, with some prior knowledge and some reasoning, a compass can be very useful. And we didn't always have GPS...they had to have gotten around somehow. I think it was called reasoning.

warmest regards to everyone!

sK

ps It may be my ego, or that I am too cheep (most likely), or that I have seen too many people bungle with them, but I still don't have a GPS. I will probably get one soon though.


Edited by skcreidc (01/07/12 04:56 PM)

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#159847 - 01/07/12 05:03 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: skcreidc]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
The more strings you have for your bow, the better off you are. I went for years using only a map (and occasionally a compass). They are fundamental, and should be mastered by everyone who aspires to competence. GPS, used properly, is a great tool. I use one regularly when cycling or hiking because it gives me unparalleled accuracy and info on distance traveled, speed, average speed, etc. A nifty tool.

And yes, it is definitely the right tool when you leave your while vehicle and disappear into the fog.

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#159849 - 01/07/12 05:06 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Jimshaw]
aimless Online   content
Moderator

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2951
Loc: Portland, OR
It's true that if you are lost, staring at uncomprehendingly at a compass in your hand would be pure futility. Both maps and compasses require some sort of background knowledge to use them properly and if you are already disoriented in your "mental map" of where you are at present, then re-orienting yourself on a paper map is a skill not everyone has. It's also true that the fewer the landmarks you can see, the more skill is required.

However, a GPS is not exactly foolproof either. You have to know how to use it, just like any tool, so a novice who hasn't properly learned how to use a GPS will be just as flummoxed as a newbie who has no clue how to use a compass and map.

It all goes to show that in the quest to make foolproof tools, the fools are always going to have an unfair advantage. laugh

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#159854 - 01/07/12 05:42 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: aimless]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Good story on the belt buckle. While playing with my compass, I found my cell phone affects it about 10 degrees if it's too close.
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#159859 - 01/07/12 07:07 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Gershon]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Since we have had to rescue people with functional GPS units...

You need to know how to use your gear. If you can't navigate with map and compass, you will fail with the GPS eventually when in a situation where your inability/ignorance of how it works will lead you into Big Trouble.

LEARN BASIC NAVIGATION. It isn't hard.
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#159875 - 01/07/12 10:54 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Jimshaw]
Steadman Offline
member

Registered: 09/17/09
Posts: 511
Loc: Virginia
You're right. If I were kidnapped and delivered bound and blindfolded to a featureless wilderness with a compass, a map, and no current location and told to walk home, the goal of getting out might be extraordinarily challenging, especially if I have no navigation skills.

However, if I start at a trailhead, have the USGS 1:24K square(s) that show all the major roads and terrain features around me and a compass, then I have a fighting chance if I've lost my way (if, for instance, I have to run away from the dudes in DELIVERANCE).

Why?

Usually, there are major physical features (like highways, blue lines, ridges, and valleys) that act as barriers/boundaries - and we ought to know what side of those barriers we are on, even if we are down in the trees and can't see those features.

For example, if you are lost and don't know where you are near the AT in Virginia, you ought to walk towards where you think the Blue Ridge Parkway (Runs basically N/S, parallel to and crossing the AT) ought to be. You might be 20+ miles from your truck, but you now have access to the resources to get back to it. Embarrassing, but not lethal.

Yeah, this might not work so well if you don't have any major barriers to work with (note that I didn't say you could see the barrier; you just had to know where it was RELATIVE to the area you were hiking in, and know that you hadn't crossed it since you started). But proper maps and a compass give you an out if you don't lose your head, even if you've failed to stay found. This justifies the guidance to newbies... and the rest of us, in my opinion.

Did my argument hold up to your scrutiny, Jim?

Steadman

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#159891 - 01/08/12 12:37 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Steadman]
BrianLe Offline
member

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Washington State, King County
I'm certainly with Steadman on the "boundaries" thing. But I'm on the whole more aligned in my thinking with Jim. Sometimes it's uncomfortable to challenge conventional wisdom, but in fact there are various pieces of gear we carry where "you're somewhat screwed if it fails". I've used my cell phone as GPS on two long trips, quite infrequently, but never had any problems, and for the AT (special case ...) the maps on my phone were the only maps I carried. 2000+ miles of hiking that way, absolutely no problem, including some decent stretches early on where snow covered the trail completely.

This year I really used a GPS a lot for the first time and it was fantastic. It always "just worked", including once in bitter freezing rain/snow, near whiteout conditions. The CDT is a somewhat special case, just the opposite of the AT in that navigation challenges abound.

Certainly I know how to use map and compass; the Army pounded this into me, and I've helped teach the navigation course for the Seattle Mountaineers a couple of times recently. They do a great job at teaching some basic skills aimed, it would seem, more at off-trail stuff. Because the specific skills they emphasize are things I virtually never use in the backcountry --- triangulation, accurately shooting and following a bearing over short distances, following a bearing via bushwhacking over somewhat longer distances, that sort of thing. In the real world there's no way I'm going to choose to use those techniques when a GPS is so very much easier, better (heck, the "follow the straight line whatever" technique is one that I won't use period, barring perhaps special cases like orienteering).

I think there's a lot of room for various opinions to all be "right" here. A fellow I saw and hiked with a lot on the CDT this year did the whole trip without a GPS. He certainly did get "misplaced" a time or two along the way, but the guy just has a better overall navigation sense than I do built into him (believe me, he wasn't doing much triangulating or the like either, or at least not that I ever saw). We hiked most of New Mexico together, it was obvious that he just had a better spacial feel for things. My wife is like that too; when in doubt we always go with her intuition. Some people just are less prone to "getting lost" in the first place, I think. Me, I use technical skills plus indeed a GPS whenever it makes sense.

So Steadman is right in that very often there is/are some sort of boundary(s) that one can rely on to eventually get located, but I think that Jim is right insofar as the GPS is a really useful tool that I think overall is talked down too much on the fear that it might fail. I don't think that it makes sense to denigrate it because some folks won't have learned how to use it. In fact, I think that would be an excellent reason for courses such as the navigation course that I've helped to teach to address it in at least some rudimentary way, rather than leave it out of the class entirely. Far better IMO to teach the skills that people are likely to use, such as basic GPS skills, just generally a better emphasis on "staying found", and in those places where you do have decent sight lines, using terrain association to orient and locate based on just a hasty "north is that way" bearing and comparing terrain features on the ground with contour lines on the map.
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#159896 - 01/08/12 01:10 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Steadman]
Slowfoot Offline
member

Registered: 04/22/05
Posts: 159
Loc: Missouri
This is why I have a compass. If I have a map of the area, then I know which direction I can go to get to a road. Roads are always within a few miles of where I have hiked in Missouri and Arkansas. And very rarely would there be any terrain I could not get through. It gives me an extra sense of security.

On the other hand, I pulled out my compass when bushwhacking along a creek a few months ago to see if I had reached the point where the creek heads south instead of southwest. It said I was going north. I had heard of compasses reversing but had never actually seen it.

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#159897 - 01/08/12 01:52 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Slowfoot]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

A GPS, with a waypoint back, funcitoning, can get you back if your a dropped into nowhere with absolutely no idea where you are.

A compass, and map or knowledge of the area and landmarks can get you back assuming you have some way of knowing "roughly" where you are. This is not as stupid as you think.. for example.. "I know the big highway, river, etc. is 50 km west of me - I can go west and when I hit that I have a known landmark I can follow to get back". A compass and map is absolutely useless if you have no idea at all where you are, or even if you are, on the map. a compass is only useful if you know that "something" is in some direction.

I've been "lost" but never "I have no idea on the planet where I am". my point is that I always know at least at a very high level where I could go to find "something". even if that's a long ways away. OTOH, I run my GPS out of juice all the time when fiddling with it.

So yes, a GPS is definately preferable for the "I have absolutely no idea at all where I am". A GPS is definately preferable for getting back more directly. OTOH, I would contend that "I have no idea where I am at all" - is really not very realistic. You (should) always have "some" idea.. Personally, I count on having that more than I count on my GPS having batteries working..

(having said that, all-canada ibycus Topo on my new etrex 30 is cool as heck..)

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#159898 - 01/08/12 01:56 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: phat]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Originally Posted By phat

So yes, a GPS is definately preferable for the "I have absolutely no idea at all where I am". A GPS is definately preferable for getting back more directly. OTOH, I would contend that "I have no idea where I am at all" - is really not very realistic. You (should) always have "some" idea.. Personally, I count on having that more than I count on my GPS having batteries working..


and I suppose what that really comes down to is before you leave the trailhead:

"If worse came to worse, how would you find your way to something, from anywhere you are headed, that would lead your way out again."

for me, that plan needs to never involve my GPS smile



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#159899 - 01/08/12 02:09 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: phat]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
We hike into some trails into valleys which could easily be closed by a fire. All it takes is a lightening strike. I'd challenge anyone to use a GPS and no maps to find their way out of a valley in Colorado where the peaks all around are close to 13,000 feet.

Bushwacking in a straight line simply won't work. One needs to have a sense of how to follow terrain in the long easy way instead of the short impossible way.

In this case, the best option might be to use my SPOT so signal for help.
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#159906 - 01/08/12 04:24 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: BrianLe]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
Perhaps the key is to set things up so that you are never totally dependent upon just one technique or gadget to get you back home. Somewhat analogous to the redundant fire starting items that most of us seem to carry. I believe that many of us learned decent map reading and orientation skills before GPS receivers came along, so that GPS technology is an added bonus.

I have seen GPS units fail, but they were early units, 1991 or so, and basically Stone Age relics compared to what is out there now. Finding your way through the woods is pretty fundamental to a successful trip, and probably one can never have too much expertise in this area.

One of the things to realize is that any of these tools can mislead you. Maps, even the USGS topos, can be inaccurate or out of date, compasses can be off because of local variation (ore deposits, belt buckles, or your iron-rich diet). GPS receivers can lose battery power, provide a bad fix because of poor satellite position or distortion of signals from various causes (deep canyons). Unfortunately, this means we have to think and maintain awareness...

One thing I do to deal with loss of battery power is to use common batteries in my lights and electronic gadgets. This means I might someday have to choose between knowing where i am or seeing where to go....

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#159912 - 01/08/12 04:36 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: oldranger]
balzaccom Online   content
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1776
Loc: Napa, CA
And one of my favorite lines of all time:

The easiest way to avoid getting lost is to stay found!

That means tracking where you are on a regular basis, and comparing it to what you see, to make sure that your GPS, map and compass aren't deceiving you.
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#159927 - 01/08/12 09:11 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: balzaccom]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
On SAR we do not believe the GPS - we check the map too. GPS units have famously sent people on the same team in different directions, despite good satellite connection and confirmation that everyone put in the same coordinate and calibrated it before the mission started. Mileages are off a lot - yesterday I did the same hike as someone else who has the same model GPS, and apparently he did less hiking than I did despite being on the same trail.

I use them, but it doesn't mean I trust them completely.
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#159941 - 01/09/12 06:51 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: lori]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
In my opinion, a bearing to the truck is useless except in easy terrain. It's also useless if you don't know the exact location of the truck on the map. Even a couple hundred feet difference can make you think you are on the opposite side of a nearby trail.

Look at the example below. You are lost where the red flag is. A bearing to the truck would have you crossing almost impossible terrain. If you know how to plot a bearing and distance on the map, you would find you are very close to the trail. You don't need a protractor to do this. It's very simple to just use the compass.

This discussion has been helpful. Now I know it's useful to mark a waypoint at a known location. Then I can use that point as a navigational aid to determine my location. Brainteaser to follow. smile



Edited by Gershon (01/09/12 06:52 AM)
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#159944 - 01/09/12 08:54 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Gershon]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I think, if I were involved in your example, I would head back toward the car following the path of least resistance as long as I was making headway toward the trail head. Hence I would tend to get down into the valley, a natural tendency anyway, and I would eventually blunder into the trail. Now, if I were really confused, whether I would recognize it is another matter.

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#159945 - 01/09/12 09:19 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: oldranger]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Dumb me. I said I was lost and put a flag right where I was. I should have said I was lost within a 1/4 mile of the flag. I'll remember that for the test. smile
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#159946 - 01/09/12 09:23 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Gershon]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Originally Posted By Gershon
. A bearing to the truck would have you crossing almost impossible terrain.


Not in real life, unless you're well, a bit slow.. smile even with a compass and a bearing you want to go, you make allowances to go around terrain/obstacles. you don't slavishly follow the compass over a cliff... or at least, you're not supposed to smile

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#159948 - 01/09/12 09:59 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Steadman]
ringtail Offline
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Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
@Steadman. In orienteering those are referred to as catching features.
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#159949 - 01/09/12 10:56 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: ringtail]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
I feel we are greatly underutilizing the power of the GPS in the truck problem. Using trackback is great unless you are on the last 10 miles of an 80 mile loop. Sure, you can walk a straight line to the truck. Until you run into a canyon or an arroyo you can't cross. There are all sorts of scenarios where the GPS pointing to the truck can leave you lost for a long time.

Why not use the GPS in a more powerful way? To locate where you are on the map. Since you have the truck as a waypoint, you have a distance and a bearing to the truck. An azimuth from the truck is 180 out. So if the bearing is 020 at 5 miles, you are on an azimuth of 200 at 1 miles. (You are SW of the truck)

Then it's a simple matter to orient the map. Line up the compass and draw a line that runs through your exact location. Then use the distance on the GPS and measure how far along the GPS you are.

I'm beginning to think a protractor is a part of my essential items. One printed on overhead projector plastic would be almost weightless and you can see through it which is a big advantage. Still, they need training and practice, too.




Edited by Gershon (01/09/12 10:59 AM)
Edit Reason: changed distance
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#159952 - 01/09/12 11:18 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Gershon]
BrianLe Offline
member

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Washington State, King County
Forgive me for responding to multiple posts all in one go here, but Gershon said in another post:

Quote:
"I'd challenge anyone to use a GPS and no maps to find their way out of a valley in Colorado where the peaks all around are close to 13,000 feet."

I was in that very same sort of country in September and don't recall having a problem getting a fix when I wanted one. It seems to me that terrain that's dramatic enough to prevent a person from getting a location for some period of time (while walking along) is likely to be so dramatic as to be pretty clear to figure out on the map, along the line of the "staying found" discussion. Certainly there will be exceptions, but still.

Phat talked about running low on battery power. I think this might be in part a matter of process. I personally keep the GPS turned off except for the infrequent cases when I need or at least want a fix. In some of those cases I'll keep it on for a while to increase confidence, but in general for me it's just a matter of finding (or verifying) where I am on the topo map, and then the GPS gets turned off again. So not a ton of power drain.

I'd also point out that a spare pair of AA lithium batteries is pretty darned light, and I could often buy these in trail towns along the way. In five months of using the GPS most days, I never ran out of battery power, and I used the GPS overall a whole lot more than I have on any other backpacking trips.

Carrying a protractor: in the Army they issued a little plastic sort of protractor, and this was handy in plotting coordinates with more reliable accuracy, but with a modern GPS that displays position on a topo map on screen, I wouldn't find it worth fiddling with.
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#159953 - 01/09/12 11:20 AM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: Gershon]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Here is the last situation illustrated. Notice, a straight track to the truck would take me through some difficult terrain. Instead of heading about 020, I'd go straight west and get on the trail.



Edited by Gershon (01/09/12 11:21 AM)
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#159958 - 01/09/12 01:53 PM Re: getting lost and unlost [Re: BrianLe]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
For that matter, most compasses can be used as a protractor to turn angles. No need for an extra gadget.


Edited by oldranger (01/09/12 01:53 PM)

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