Point Of No Return

Have you ever been out walking and suddenly felt unwell, or had the weather turn bad unexpectantly? Have you ever found yourself in a quandary as to whether it would be quicker to turn back or continue?

This is the sort of thing that can easily be planned for and implemented if necessary. It is something that is used extensively by aviators and mariners but is just as important to walkers. What I am referring to is the ‘Point of No Return’ (PNR).

A point at which an irreversible commitment must be made to an action, progression, etc

Collins Dictionary

So how does this apply to you when out walking?

A simple example should help

You have planned a 10-mile walk with some ascents and descents. However, some way into the walk you develop a very painful blister and have no first aid kit. Will it be quicker to turn back or continue forward? What you need to know is where on the route is the Point of No Return (PNR).

This is best planned for at home before even stepping one foot on to the trail. However, there are various factors that need to be considered, for example, in the above scenario, the turn back point or PNR will not necessarily be at the 5 miles, that would be too easy.

You must consider:

  • The amount of climb and descent in both directions
  • The terrain
  • Safety factors which may make it impossible to turn back
  • The reason for the turn back – in very poor weather it may be SAFER to continue than turn back.
  • The physical distance involved.

Taking all these scenarios into consideration it possible to come up with a position on your route where it is quicker and safer to continue than it is to turn back. This the Point of No Return. Whilst it is possible to calculate the PNR manually. The use of software-based planning tools, such as the OS Maps, makes it so much easier.

However, always remember that the hard line drawn on the map is the physical PNR based on distance, height and terrain. It has not taken into consideration safety factors such as weather. This is a decision that you must make at the time based on all the information available.

Remember, you can also plan escape routes especially if on high ground. This will not get you back to the start/finish point any quicker, but it will remove you from potential danger by heading to a safer/lower position. From here you can return to start or move forward to finish.

The Point of No Return may not be necessary on every walk that you take but always keep in mind that there may be a need to abort a walk, for whatever reason and you will need a plan. Remember, this applies to both circular and linear routes.

Enjoy your walking and always stay safe – remember the 3 P’s Plan, Plan, Plan

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