Using maps instead of reality

3:14 p.m. on September 19, 2012 (EDT)
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On our last trip, we had some fun comparing data with reality.  Let's start with the signs marking the various trails we hiked.  At Twin Lakes, we started up towards Silliman Pass at a sign that indicated it was 1.3 miles away.  Off we went.

When we got down to the other side of the pass, we found another sign.  This one told us that Silliman Pass was 2.0 miles back up the trail...and that Twin Lakes was 3.0 miles away. 

So at least in this case, 1.3 + 2.0 = 3.0.   And we found other cases that were similar.  It's almost as if the people making and placing the signs really never looked at what they were doing. 

Too bad we can't use that kind of math to resolve the federal deficit.  (By the way, our map had completely different mileages for each of these legs, so the real distance really is still anyone's guess.)

When you combine that with a beautifully maintained trail we took that wasn't on the map, and another trail we took that was on the map but was only a rough route that petered out completely on the ground; it all just serves to warn you that the difference between what you see on the maps and signs may not accurately reflect reality on the ground.

That's not to say you shouldn't take a map!  We never travel with maps, and often with various scales and verions.  On this trip we ended up using ours extensively to figure out how to get out of the deadfall mess that the missing trail had led us into. 

And it worked. 

And if it hadn't we could have still use the map to start a fire and keep warm. 

Maps are good.  You just can't always trust them.

11:03 p.m. on September 19, 2012 (EDT)
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I was hiking up at Grande Cache, and the original trails there were laid out by a guy named Terry Deamer as horse trails for his outfitting business. That area has only recently been settled so his maps are still absolutely accurate.

The trail guide offered at the Visitor Centre includes his maps transferred to government topo maps to show elevation. Terry has passed the business to his son, who now makes a point of maintaining the ones on his dad's list.

On the other hand the Atlas of Canada maps, posted online, are pretty much worthless when it comes to showing trails or other useful information, except for geographic features. Parks Canada leaves trails off its maps that it can no longer afford to maintain, so you'll only see popular tourist routes there.

In the National Parks in BC and Alberta, the best maps are in the 'Trail Guide to the Canadian Rockies' by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson. Now in its 41st year and 9th Edition, the book (called the Bible by hikers around here) has been subjected to constant reviews and updates by people who've found mistakes and reported them to the authors.

Like getting advice from someone who's been there before, I guess it all depends on who the source is.

1:13 a.m. on September 20, 2012 (EDT)
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Maps are only as accurate as the cartographers who drew them. Trail signs are often less accurate than many maps. In the case of many maps, marked trails were and are laid out by engineers, or others with a particular mindset. If it's a horse trail, feed and water, as well as not too steep are keys. If it's a portage trail, it likely won't be over a mountain, or through the deepest part of the bog between two bodies of water or drainages. There are always exceptions. Being able to read a map in the same mind of the cartographer, is a great way to understand how trails are laid out and the history of an area. In my travels in the North, many routes were laid out by the voyageurs, trappers and explorers. Some of the most accurate routes description are by HBC employees. And in prewritten history, many routes of today were first traveled by the native peoples.

11:06 a.m. on September 22, 2012 (EDT)
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We love maps.  We spend hours pouring over where to go what else to see and I use a Pentel pencil (9mm yellow) for a gauge of mileage on 1:63,000 maps.  It's length is about 10 miles (on rough terrain) or about a day for my wife and then we adjust when we get there.  Trail signs and mileage  marks have lied to us more often than an incumbent politician running for office.  But not by much.  The adventure starts when the sign has been turned at junctions.  On the trail we usually use time as an indication of progress than mile indicators.  When it gets late or we get tired or there is something else we'd rather do we make camp (assuming no restrictions).

We love old maps that show now abandoned trails (or just old instructions) and try to include them when we can.  Just plan on a LOT more time in case you find out why they abandoned them.

We've 'earned' a couple of 'free' maps from the map makers by pointing out significant errors.  Like a bridge across the Kern was about 1/2 mile from where it actually was.  Might have been a new bridge. Changed where we were to camp that night...for the better.  Some map makers are better at trail mileage than others (Tom Harrison Maps for Sierra).  Most trail sign markers have used a wheeled odometer (except in wilderness areas - no wheels allowed).  Most map makers approximate where the trail is and calculate mileage from point to point.  Most 'quad' maps don't often show a 40' cliff blocking your path along the way cross country.

Now a map, along with an almost accurate compass, is a wonderful tour guide of the area.  At least in most of the western mountains you can see things in the distance almost all day long - as compared to the green tunnels of the Aks.  The map has been the source of answers for our kids and grand kids ("Are we there yet?"  "What's that?").  At an early age, we put them in charge of the navigation... with some guidance.  The problem is that the youngsters are not that interested in accuracy except when it applies to lunch and dinner.


Back 'in the day' early visitors to the areas would ask if that destination could be made in a week or so and if water was available - sometime.

Long cross country trips need a well thought out plan and a good map and compass - even if you can see that next pass.  Somewhere along the way you give up on miles per day rather than progress per day.   Gawd, I'd trade my favorite sleeping bag for a good willow and talus indicator and a route through it.

That was a good trip report and pictures to Jennie Lakes and beyond.  Thanks.

11:04 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice post!

And yeah--one of my treasured possessions is a map of Kings Canyon from before they put the road in to Cedar Grove.  Lots to see there, and lots to imagine how it would have been!  

July 22, 2014
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