Creating Recreational Maps With Modern Tools

I finally finished the curriculum for a 4 hour course designed to teach outdoor enthusiasts and professionals how to create, print, and use custom maps that are better than any map currently available from an outdoor retailer or publisher. Monday night I held the first course in partnership with the Kennett High School’s Adult Education Program. In attendance were some members of Granite Backcountry Alliance and the Conway Police Department.

map example
This map show some of the features available when making maps on CalTopo like DEM Shading (red is possible wind slab issues based off avalanche bulletin data), range rings (no camping .25 miles from AMC hut, creating routes, decision points, and run lists, in addition to using polygons to mark “open” and “closed” terrain based on snow-pack conditions. This is purely a fictional example meant to illustrate what is possible with the tool.

Feedback from participants was quite positive and I’m ready to offer this course to the general public. Unlike my 8-hour Wilderness Navigation Course this course is 100% indoors. Participants need a laptop, IOS or Android smartphone, and the Avenza and GuidePace apps to take full advantage of the content.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target half a mile through dense forest

Yesterday I offered an abbreviated version of this course in conjunction with some of my Wilderness Navigation content for a couple members of the Durham and North Conway, NH Fire Departments. With some adaptation this content is quite suitable for professionals who participate in search & rescue efforts.

After positive feedback from today’s participants I will be reaching out to Fire Departments around the state to see if they would be interested in this training. If you belong to an outdoor group or organization that might like to include this in your training regime please reach out to me for more details at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

My Compass

Every course has participants asking me what compass they should get. I’ve been a fan of the Suunto MC-2 for almost two decades! I wrote a long review on this compass here!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

Wilderness Navigation

This past weekend I took three students on a field trip to practice skills we had learned in evening classroom sessions the week prior as part of the MWV Career & Technical Center Adult Education Program.

Wilderness Navigation
Participants learn how to use Terrain Association to located their position then confirm their beliefs with solid Resection and Triangulation compass skills

This comprehensive 8 hour course goes far beyond a basic map & compass skills clinic. Classroom sessions cover such topics as “Survival/Improvised Navigation”, reading topographic maps, understanding the many uses of a compass, triangulation, magnetic declination, with emphasis on practical real life use!

Our field session includes a short easy/moderate hike to practice skills learned in the classroom; bushwhacking, single point resection, using hand-rails, creating a white-out navigation plan, all with plenty of 1 on 1 coaching and modeling.

Wilderness Navigation
My favorite compass, the Sunnto MC-2 <- Full review of this compass here
Wilderness Navigation
Plotting a bearing on a map can help you “stay found”
Wilderness Navigation
With a solid foundation of map and compass skills is paramount I also share available modern tech like this app “PeakFinder AR”
Wilderness Navigation
PeakFinder AR

This course is available year-round rain or shine! You can book directly here.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Two giveaways still have some time left to enter! Learn about upping your bug defense kit here and enter to win some sweet bug dope and compare some of the best climbing cams on the market and enter to win one here!

Wilderness Navigation

Today I finished a Wilderness Navigation Course I ran for the MWV Career and Technical Center adult education series. This was the first time I’ve run this 8 hour course as a multi-day course by having two 2 hour evening classroom sessions followed by a 4 hour field session. Despite a slight scheduling conflict within the marketing material the curriculum split up well in this format and we had a great course. I look forward to continuing to offer this course through this venue each season!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Using Terrain Association to identify distant peaks and verifying results by taking and plotting bearings with a compass
Wilderness Navigation Course
Cool “ice needles” on some of the trails
Wilderness Navigation Course
Determining our location via Triangulation
Wilderness Navigation Course
I love my Suunto Compass! My detailed review of this model here.
Wilderness Navigation Course
Our trip including some bushwhacking off-trail travel!

You can book this course privately or with a group of friends! Cost is determined by group size so the more involved the lower the cost! Details can be found here. Use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout for a chance to win a free guided adventure!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

 

 

Wilderness Navigation Course

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending two days with Robert, a professor at UCONN and longtime outdoors-man. Robert came up to Northeast Mountaineering to brush up on his wilderness navigation skills. We spent Monday morning at the Bunkhouse reviewing and adding to our collective “improvised” navigation skill set before simplifying our map and compass methods (plotting whiteout navigation plans, re-section, triangulation). After an introduction to the powerful trip planning tools CalTopo and Avenza we headed to the Green Hills Preserve for a bushwhack up Hurricane Mountain and a quick out and back hike to Black Cap to re-enforce our morning session.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Robert near the summit of Black Cap with Whitehorse Ledge and The Moat mountains in the distance
Wilderness Navigation Course
Single point re-section allows one to pinpoint there location on a trail with just one known point. For my in-depth review of the above pictured compass please go here!
Wilderness Navigation Course
GPS track of our short bushwhack and hike, map created on CalTopo and used via Avenza app

On Tuesday we enjoyed a 9 mile loop hike through the Sandwich Wilderness and around Square Ledge. The weather and views were stellar along with the conversation!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Sandwich Range Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest
Wilderness Navigation Course
A nice stretch of Square Ledge cutoff trail
Wilderness Navigation Course
The “other” Square Ledge
Wilderness Navigation Course
One of many stream crossings, all of which went smoothly with the help of trekking poles
Wilderness Navigation Course
Frog eggs!
Wilderness Navigation Course
Our route

Thanks for coming up Robert and for the excellent book suggestions! I’ve got both Barbarian Days and The Wild Truth on order!

For more information on the Wilderness Navigation Course please go here!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Wilderness Navigation Course (8/20/16)

This past Saturday I led an 8 hour Wilderness Navigation Course for EMS Schools North Conway. A few guides from a NYC outdoor adventure company and mountain enthusiasts from around New England met at 8:30am for some classroom discussion and exercises before we traveled to a field location to practice our newly acquired skills.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Bushwhacking our way to Hurricane Mountain

This is a great area to explore off trail. It is a fairly active site for rock collectors, or “rockhounding“, and we came across a lot of fresh piles of crushed rock and sand where intrepid collectors had found veins of rock in search of semi-precious stones. There is also some type of tree research nearby as we traveled through a stand of younger trees all tagged with metal numbered tags. I’m curious to their meaning.

After plotting a course back to our starting point we embarked on the well traveled Black Cap Trail. Before reaching the ledges we found a nice specimen of the edible and easy to recognize “Chicken of the Woods“. It was clear someone had foraged a bit of this specimen but there was plenty left for those inclined to gather some to cook later.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Chicken of the Woods

One we reached the first view point we stopped and practiced some terrain association, peak identification, and single point resection.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Taking a bearing
Wilderness Navigation Course
Using resection to pinpoint our location
Wilderness Navigation Course
Playing with my new Olloclip lens

After looking at some glacial striations and some classic “flagging” in the trees (both can help with finding direction) we reached the small summit and made our way down to the Black Cap Connector Trail. We then looped back towards the Cranmore Trail.

Wilderness Navigation Course
I enjoy both hi-tech and low-tech navigational aids- Theodolite app on iPhone

Wilderness Navigation Course

Looping back on the connector trail

With a little bit of time left we decided to squeeze in one more bushwhack so we headed a short ways down the Red Tail Trail before plotting a course off trail with the goal of hitting the Black Cap Trail right at the info kiosk about .3 miles from the parking lot.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Getting ready to go off trail

Everyone followed their own route and hit the Black Cap trail within sight of the kiosk. We returned to the parking lot for a quick debrief.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Our GPS track, made with the Garmin Fenix 3 HR

I really enjoy teaching this course. It’s especially fun to challenge yourself by not always following the beaten path and when you go off trail you’re much more likely to have wildlife encounters. By the end of the course most everyone was sold on the model of compass I’ve been using for almost 2 decades so I will plug it here for those shopping for a great quality compass.

Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass

Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass
Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass

While I might take the time to give this compass a full review soon for now I’ll briefly state the sighting mirror and long straight edge make taking and plotting bearings fast and intuitive. The clinometer is a great feature for winter/avalanche terrain but is also useful for determining if you are actually higher than that nearby peak. Unfortunately this model isn’t currently in-stock at EMS but is available on Amazon here.

Do you have a favorite compass model? Let me know in the comments below!

This was the last Wilderness Navigation Course we had planned at EMS Schools this summer but I think there might be interest in running another one this Fall. I will update this post if we put another one on the calendar and send out a quick post if one is scheduled. As always you can follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links.

 

Geo-spatial PDF’s, CalTopo, and pre-winter training!

My head is still spinning from some of the info I’ve been able to pick up this past weekend. It all started Saturday morning with Marc Chauvin’s, of Chauvin Guides, informative presentation on creating geo-spatial PDF’s that can be uploaded into a smartphone GPS app to supplement your outdoor navigation capabilities. This somewhat esoteric topic is right up my alley and while the content could seem a bit heavy at times Marc’s energetic & well timed presentation made it easy to stay fully engaged from one concept to the next.

Marc's presentation
Marc walks us through creating Geo-spatial PDF’s and importing them into GPS enable smartphone apps

I won’t go though the step by step process here but if you are interested I’ll make some suggestions. First, get to know http://www.caltopo.com. A colleague pointed me to this website a year ago and it took me awhile to give it a solid look. This seminar gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start playing around with it and I am simply amazed at what the free version of this website offers. It is hands down the best online mapping resource for outdoor recreationalists. The potential use & application of this program is so large I can only scratch the surface here, but to wet your appetite the first thing I did was create some routes down the popular ski routes in Tuckerman Ravine using satellite imagery, which, with the click of one button, could easily be imposed over USGS Topographic info:

Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes
Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes

This a more accurate way of measuring important drainage scale info than estimating off a topographic map, and the website easily displays information about each run, for example, Hillman’s Highway is .42 miles long and drops from 5179′ to 3923′, and total vert. of 1256′. You can also get “Terrain Statistics” for each route you created, for example, Right Gully:

Screen shot 2015-12-06 at 10.52.42 PM
It felt steeper than 36 degrees! This is excellent information to have when managing avalanche terrain choices!

What really got me excited was seeing the layering potential of the website. Being able to layer crowd based info (like unofficial mountain bike trails) on top of verified info (like USGS maps) is amazing, especially when you can make these maps GPS enabled on your Smartphone! To top it all off though you can have the software shade specific slopes based on info you specify.

For example, if your local avalanche bulletin suggests to avoid slopes NE-NW aspect above 7000 feet that are steeper than 35 degrees due to a Persistent Slab problem? You can actually enter this slope criteria and these areas will be shaded! It really is impressive. A short video of the developer that references this ability right at the end:

Marc has made an excellent video highlighting this feature. Check it out here:

Once you have a decent understanding of CalTopo you can use the website to print or export custom PDF maps. The fun doesn’t stop here though! The next step is to download the Avenza PDF Maps app. This free app lets you import your newly created PDF maps and make them “geo-spatial”? What does that mean? It means you can use these maps with the GPS chip of your smart phone to show your location. Marc has been getting into the mountain bike scene lately and there are many mountain bike trails that you won’t find on regular USGS or even hiking maps. With this two-shot combo you can upload any map, “sync” it with a base map, and voila, you can navigate and see your location on the hybrid creation!

For practice in the class we imported a Green Hills Preserve map that showed some popular mountain bike trails over your standard USPS map. After “geo-marking” two reference points on the map it scaled and aligned perfectly.

Green Hills Map
Green Hills Map

If I was still at the Grand Summit Hotel when I took this screenshot my location would have been pinpointed on this map with a little blue dot.

Finally this technology is easily shareable. The CalTopo website will create unique URLs of your creations that you can easily share with climbing & hiking partners. I’m planning on having a master map for our back-country skiing trips on Washington that guides can edit as they get more accurate GPS positions on first aid caches, drop points, bailout options, etc.

I planned to talk about our pre-winter EMS Schools training but I’ve run out of time so that will come later. Also, there’s been some healthy debate about whether one should trust their phone GPS over a dedicated unit. I’m writing a detailed post looking at some recent research and arguments for and against using your phone GPS for wilderness navigation. Please stay tuned for that!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes
Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes

 

 

Outdoor App Reviews Part 1 (and Product Giveaway Contest!)

In the spirit of Columbus Day and exploration I’d like to share with my readers some of the outdoor apps I regularly use to assist in my own mountain exploration. These apps have been on my phone for a couple of years. Check them out below and find details on how to enter to win the coolest climbing knife in the world or a bottle of the best foot powder on earth!

1) ViewRanger GPS (USA) – Topo Maps, Trail Navigation and Route Tracker for Hiking, Skiing & Cycling By Augmentra (Free)

I experimented with a couple GPS apps before settling on this app about 3 years ago. I have now logged hundreds of trips with it and barely used all of its features. The main draw to this app is its simplicity to record a track log and how quickly I can switch back and forth from Bing Aerial Imagery (Satellite) to USHS 24k Topo maps (with USA Trails overlay). Here’s a screen shot of both maps:

Satellite or USGS 24k Topo
Satellite or USGS 24k Topo

Track details like duration, average speed, distance, are easily captured along with GPS Altitude Graphs and Speed Graphs showing you where you were really moving and where you were really hurting.

It looks like the publisher, Augmenta, has released a large update, basically a new app, and plans to discontinue support on the original app. The new app can be found on the iTunes store here. I just downloaded it and will update this post once I’ve had a chance to form an opinion on the new version.

ProTip: The big downside of GPS apps is how demanding they are on your cell phones battery. For that I never rely on them as a sole means of navigating (still carry map & compass). I also tend to only record my track on the way back from somewhere. This works great back-country skiing as I save my battery for the descent. If I really want to get a track of a 6+ hour trip I’ll carry the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus to recharge my phone on the go. You can pre-load map data if you are heading somewhere off grid (No 3G+ service), . If that is the case I would recommend a dedicated GPS like a Garmin Etrex.

2) MyRadar – Weather Radar – Forecast, Storms, and Earthquakes By Aviation Data Systems, Inc (free)

Something wicked this way comes
Something wicked this way comes

This is the best weather radar app I have found. I have astonished countless clients by predicting when the rain will start to fall within 10 minutes of accuracy using this app. So many of our cliffs, Cathedral, Whitehorse, Cannon, all face east and this app shows me incoming thunderheads before they hit. If the National Weather Service issues any storm or flood warnings for the area I am in the app alerts me with the classic annoying sound that comes over the radios & TV when alerts are issued ($1.99 in App purchase), even if the app isn’t running.

3) PeakFinder Earth ($3.99)

This is kind of a “fun” app when exploring. It can help you quickly name visible peaks at your viewpoint. One especially cool feature is it can work in reverse, i.e. “I think I should be able to see peak X right now, where is it?” You can select from a list of peaks that should be visible from where you are standing and the phone’s compass and screen will guide you to look at it. Very neat!

This is the view through my office if I had no walls and all the trees and the houses to the north were leveled.
This is the view through my office if I had no walls and all the trees and the houses to the north were leveled.

I have half a dozen more apps I plan on sharing soon, but first I want to hear from you, and give you a chance to win the coolest climbing knife in the world or a bottle of the best foot powder on earth!

Three apps reviewed so let’s do 3 ways to enter the drawing!

1) Comment on the post below (what apps do you use?)

2) Like this post through WordPress

3) Like the post and/or NEAlpineStart on Facebook here

Up to 3 entries possible per reader! Contest ends 11:59pm EST on 11/12/15. First name drawn will win the coolest climbing knife in the world and the second name drawn will win the best foot powder on earth! Winners announced 11/13/15.

UPDATE 11/16/15: Congratulations to Jay for winning the coolest climbing knife in the world and Ben for winning the best foot powder on earth as part of the first Outdoor App Review series.

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart