Suunto Traverse Track Back Feature

Using a GPS watch for navigation in whiteout conditions during a ski tour of the Berner Oberland, Switzerland.

The Suunto Traverse with the track back feature enabled – turn around, follow line down. Simple.

One of the additional ideas with the ALPSinsight platform is to include what gear works well in the mountains. This then is the first entry with gear, and not a trip or story, as the subject.

Over the winter we received some of the new Suunto watches to use and shoot in our work as photographers. The Traverse quickly became a favorite for days that aren’t just about training, but rather days when a track is recorded and battery life important.

While recording a sport, in this case ski touring, the watch records all kinds of information, but with the newer Suunto, one of the features is a visible recorded track, and the ability to follow that track – in reverse if need be. This was a feature I never gave much thought, until we needed it.

During a ski ascent of the Finsteraarhorn this spring, we ascended about halfway in a complete white out. At that point we decided to turn back after parties met us on their way down reporting that conditions would become increasingly horrid.

The skins and crampons came off and down we went, with zero visibility. Suddenly we realized, we had lost all signs of our up track, it had blown over and there was no reference as to where to descend. We could have pulled out the GPS or the phone and Swiss Map app, but I thought to look at my watch, to give this track back feature a try. There I found our track in the form of a simple line on the watch face, and next to it, a small triangle, us. I skied in the direction that the triangle pointed, and we easily found ourselves right back on our line of ascent. Without holding any other device, we simply navigated back down keeping the triangle symbol on the line of ascent. It didn’t take long to return to the hut. Okay, sold!

The watch recently came in handy again in Tibet on a day when I never imagined we’d need it. We were at Shishapangma’s south face basecamp at 5250 meters, a basecamp that is in the mother of all moraines, massive is an understatement. And it all looks the same, barren, wide open, grey rock. We’d headed higher to advance base and were on our way back down when we became entirely engulfed in thick clouds. Soon the wind was howling, and snow was blinding us. What started off as a sunny day had turned ugly in minutes, such is the high Himalaya. Once again, I had a track from the day before’s walk up, we easily followed it down and found our basecamp. As long as you record one way, you’ll have it for future reference. Again, sold!

It’s not just us finding the feature useful, there is more info at Suunto Track Back

Climbing the Finsteraarhorn with skis in a storm, during a ski tour of the Berner Oberland, Switzerland. The skiers are stopped to put on more clothing and warm up.

Conditions on the Finsteraarhorn – white. This was the point of turn around.


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