Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recording and Mapping Your Backcountry Adventures

The "backcountry" usually refers to those wilderness areas where we find ourselves hiking, biking, and climbing, such as the mountains, the deserts, the woods, or a combination thereof. The smartphone apps such as Endomondo's make a nice accompaniment to these journeys (along with your best friends and loved ones of course!). They will use GPS software to generate richly textured data for maps, including your own route, the topography, your mile-by-mile pace (or "splits"), and other useful stats.

Fitness For Geeks discusses the benefits of EndoMondo, Google Earth, Backpacker GPS Pro and other tools for use on your treks.

This screen grab from the Endomondo app shows yesterday's roundtrip hike on the Long Trail above the Mad River Glen ski area in Vermont, USA. If you export the file that was used to generate this pretty map (see to the right of the screen), you can then import the resultant GPS Exchange (GPX) file into Google Earth. The book has a little how-to segment on this task.

The entire hike was 6.2 miles long, gained about 1,970 feet (600 meters) in elevation, and took a bit more than four hours. Beyond eye candy, there are many practical uses for this data, such as being able to plan a much longer trek and determining how fast you chug through the miles and elevation, not to mention the motivating aspects of having a detailed record of your wilderness journeys.

You can also share the map with other people as well as hang on to it for posterity. What if it showed a really important, possibly life-saving route, such as one that led to a river for drinking water, a food source, or the return trip from a popular but remote recreational area?

You're always going to discover something interesting or counterintuitve. For example, my mile splits (42:48, 43:05, 35:21, 33:14, 41:11, 39:57), the last three of which represent the return hike, indicate that the descent was faster. So? I'm usually a faster ascender, as my knees are often complaining bitterly by the descent. Perhaps these splits tell me that I can slow down on the descent and save some gas for the following day.

Looking at the topography, I also got a great idea for a winter hike traversing the ridgeline, then skiing Mad River Glen's winding southerly trail to the bottom of the mountain slope.

In case you were wondering whether people were actually using these apps, EndoMondo recently reached 10 million downloads, about 75 percent of people outside the U.S.

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