Factors involved in planning a route for a bushwalking or ski touring trip include time of year, anticipated weather, capability of the group, availability and accuracy of maps, nature of the terrain, location of water and campsites, escape routes, fire danger, flooded rivers and so on. However, the most important factor is a realistic assessment of the capabilities of the group and its weakest members.

Many leaders over-estimate their speed of travel when planning their trips, often by as much as 50%. By planning the route before the trip and applying the rules for predicting travelling times given later in this chapter, the leader will be able to accurately estimate the travelling time for the proposed trip.

Once a choice of route has been made, examine it for navigational problems in fine and bad weather. Navigation in fine weather will usually be possible by direct map reading and landmarks. In thick scrub or forest, or in bad weather, compass bearings may be needed. In these cases a route-plan card can prove valuable. This is a card on which distances and bearings, worked out in advance, have been noted, with alternatives if warranted. It is much easier to calculate accurate bearings on a table at home than in the bush in the pouring rain. To use a route-plan card successfully demands accurate compass work and careful estimation of the distance travelled.

By undertaking route planning before the trip, the likelihood of experiencing an enjoyable trip which meets the leader’s and the group’s expectations is greatly increased. Also, the probability of encountering unexpected hazards or other problems is greatly reduced, thus decreasing the workload on the leader during the trip.

Other issues which may become apparent during the planning process can be checked by the following questions:

  • Is the route likely to be affected by weather (i.e. is it exposed and treeless, are there river crossings which may be prone to flooding)?
  • Is the altitude gain and loss within the capability of the group?
  • Are there obstacles which may take time for negotiation by the group (e.g. river crossings, fence lines, cliffs)?
  • What type of terrain will be covered?
  • How dense will the vegetation be?
  • Is the area particularly sensitive to environmental impact, and hence should the group be smaller or the route be changed?
  • Is the proposed route safe (e.g. is it avalanche prone, or littered with open mine shafts)?
  • Where will water be available during the trip?
  • How much water will have to be carried and when?
  • Is the area subject to fire danger?
  • Are there campsites in appropriate locations and of suitable size?
  • Will there be sufficient snow cover for the entire route?
  • Are the campsites suitable for snow-cave digging or igloo construction?
  • Is there time to stop and look at the flowers or ‘bag’ an all important peak?
  • Will specialised equipment be necessary (e.g. rope, crampons, lilo)?