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Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps

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emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 16, 2012 11:14AM
Should Yosemite, our other parks, and national forests put more emphasis for hikers to obtain topographic maps before setting out on at least some trails and to use them? The currently active thread "Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon" is a strong example of how inexperienced hikers can get into serious trouble without using a reasonable topographic map. They supposedly had a larger scale map but I doubt they used it. My own experience over several decades is that I have met a significant number of people in the backcountry that don't seem to either have a topo map or if they do, don't bother to use it even when they are confused and uncertain as to where they are. In fact I've seen a fair number of people who once they did take their map out, obviously seemed in a daze as to what they were looking out, and some that seemed in a fog even after I'd slowly carefully explained what they were looking at. There are certainly many front country trails on which visitors don't at all need a map like hiking from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley or from Tuolumne Meadows down and back to Glen Aulin. But then there are other trails with a range of increasing dangers.

In most cases I as a decades experienced both on and off trail Sierra hiker could look at a map briefly before setting out on any trail dayhike and not really have to look at the map again. And so could most of the other members on this board. However we have all also seen many unmarked trails and use paths that are not on maps that may branch off of a trail I am hiking such that I am uncertain which is the trail I need to take. That is especially the situation close to trailheads, near lakes, and near popular backcountry camping zones. In those situations I am always very careful to study my map. If I start down one path, I am going to be immediately comparing what I see, how the trail turns, the elevation changes, and terrain features encountered, so that I might backtrack and take the other trail if need be.



http://www.davidsenesac.com



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/16/2012 03:31PM by DavidSenesac.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 16, 2012 01:09PM
I wonder how many people know how to read a topo map.....
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 16, 2012 01:39PM
On a backpack in the Grand Canyon, while going down the South Kaibab trail, I gave directions to two people who were day hiking to the bottom and back, whose water supplies were somewhat minimal (thankfully it was late November), and whose "map" was a brouchure from the mule packing service. Grand Canyon strongly emphasizes not to day-hike to the bottom of the canyon, and to carry lots of water.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 16, 2012 09:02PM
If you stay on the trail, you can't really get lost.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 16, 2012 09:31PM
We're just back from a four-day trip in the Jennie Lake/SEKI area, and found two trails that are completely mis-marked on the NatGeo and USGS topo maps of the area. In one case, the original trail has been "removed" in the backcountry--it doesn't exist anymore. And only the cut-off trail is still used, maintained or even signed. But that trail isn't marked on the USGS topo maps.

And in the other case, a trail that is clearly marked on both maps is now a very rough cross-country route marked by cairns until you get to the creek...and then it just plain disappears inot a maze of meadow and deadfall.

The staff in the NPS offices were unaware of this...although their free and "not for use for hiking" brochure map does not show this latter trail as existing.

Knowing how to use a map isn't the only skill you need...

(and yes, we managed to find our way through the xc route by contouring over to an existing trail. We hit it dead-on. And we would have taken more pride in our navigation if we had hit it about ten minutes later! )



Balzaccom

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Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 17, 2012 06:11AM
Whenever I go to a new area, I always get the NPS free maps, or whatever agency is governing the area. These maps, while primitive, are almost always up to date.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 17, 2012 07:32AM
With often incorrect mileages on them....

I've had better luck with Tom Harrison. Same map with more accurate notations. For actual land navigation I print 1:24000 scaled topos.

Trying to talk people into using maps while hiking is difficult. If they have a set idea that it's like calculus they won't even give it a look - too hard, can't do it, I'll just follow the trail. But time and time again trails are not so reliable. Either there are use trails, the signs are missing at junctions, or the folks they meet lead them astray because they themselves are confused.
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 17, 2012 08:17AM
A couple years ago I was descending the Cathedral Fork trail from the Echo Lake area to Merced Lake when I met a family of five heading uphill at the lower of the two footbridges on that trail. It was a water replenishment site for all of us so we got to talking and I asked where they were headed. They said Clouds Rest! It was already mid-afternoon. I quickly informed them that it was going to be a very long day getting to Clouds Rest going up the Cathedral Fork trail. They were stunned when I showed them where they were headed on my topo map. They had a cheapo map with no topo information and very faint trail lines that were difficult to make out. I don't recall the source of their map but it looked like a free handout type or something they didn't pay much for. They had somehow completely missed the left hand turn that would take them to the JMT intersection below Clouds Rest. These folks were diligently trying to follow a map and got themselves diverted due to poor map resolution and lack of topo information.

I ate cold oatmeal that morning because I forgot to pack the special striker required for my waterproof matches. In exchange for getting them turned around they supplied me with a spare box of matches for the remainder of my trip. If I had not come upon them these folks would have had an extra 7.5 miles just trying to reach Clouds Rest and I would have had to bum matches off somebody else.
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 17, 2012 10:31AM
Agreed. Too many people are simply clueless in regards to reading any sort of map, be it a topo map, a city street or state road map!

The biggest number one problem they always encounter is determining exactly where they are currently located on the map. The next big problem they have is determining which way is north at their present location (and even sometimes which way is north on the map).

In national parks like Yosemite, maybe what the park concessionaire should offer is rentals of Easy to Use fully-charged handheld GPS units. The place that rents the GPS units could also offer to program the rental handheld GPS with the hiker's intended route and destination.

While not foolproof by any means, a well-designed GPS is easier to use on a trail than a topo map and compass. The problem is that many casual hikers and backpackers won't want to spend the money on a good handheld GPS that they might use only once or twice a year. Hence the market for low-cost rentals of handheld GPS units at popular national parks.

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Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 17, 2012 01:01PM
The one issue one would expect with renting GPS units is that visitors because of cost would not just be able to rent units for $10 without say leaving their drivers license or enough cash to cover loss. Else some would provide phony ID then rip them off.



http://www.davidsenesac.com
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 18, 2012 09:17AM
Quote
DavidSenesac

The one issue one would expect with renting GPS units is that visitors because of cost would not just be able to rent units for $10 without say leaving their drivers license or enough cash to cover loss. Else some would provide phony ID then rip them off.

Often with these type of rentals (like say camera equipment and lenses), one is required to use a credit card. Often times (though not always) the rental company authorizes on the person's credit card the total amount of the cost of equipment being rented (as a form of deposit) but only charges the card the actual cost of the rental upon the return of the equipment.

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Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 18, 2012 07:22AM
Since SAR ends up pulling people who blindly follow GPS units off ledges, not recommended.

You NEED map skills BEFORE you try to rely on a GPS. It's not going to help them at all to have a tiny screen instead of a big square of paper. Figuring out where you are is a job for a real map.
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 18, 2012 09:36AM
Quote
AlmostThere

Since SAR ends up pulling people who blindly follow GPS units off ledges, not recommended.

You NEED map skills BEFORE you try to rely on a GPS. It's not going to help them at all to have a tiny screen instead of a big square of paper. Figuring out where you are is a job for a real map.


I know you're not a fan of the "evil" handheld GPS, but in the real world people without any discernable map skills go on long hikes in popular national parks like Yosemite. And for these people, a GPS would be far more useful (though not foolproof as I already stated) than a topo map and compass. And a map doesn't tell anyone where they are. It's up to the person to figure it out on their own with the map being an aid for only those who know how to read one properly (which many people simply do not know how to do).

But I'm curious (since you brought it up), when was the last time a SAR had to pull a hiker or backpacker off a ledge that the poor soul got stuck on because they had "blindly" followed the instructions of a handheld GPS? Is there any online link to a story of any such incident?

In the recently discussed incident of a man and his daughter inadvertently ending up in Tenaya Canyon (when they were only trying to hike down Snow Creek Trail to Yosemite Valley), I'm pretty confident that a handheld GPS properly programmed would have helped them avoid their terrible mishap.

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Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 19, 2012 04:12PM
Quote
plawrence
Quote
AlmostThere

Since SAR ends up pulling people who blindly follow GPS units off ledges, not recommended.

You NEED map skills BEFORE you try to rely on a GPS. It's not going to help them at all to have a tiny screen instead of a big square of paper. Figuring out where you are is a job for a real map.


I know you're not a fan of the "evil" handheld GPS, but in the real world people without any discernable map skills go on long hikes in popular national parks like Yosemite. And for these people, a GPS would be far more useful (though not foolproof as I already stated) than a topo map and compass. And a map doesn't tell anyone where they are. It's up to the person to figure it out on their own with the map being an aid for only those who know how to read one properly (which many people simply do not know how to do).

But I'm curious (since you brought it up), when was the last time a SAR had to pull a hiker or backpacker off a ledge that the poor soul got stuck on because they had "blindly" followed the instructions of a handheld GPS? Is there any online link to a story of any such incident?

In the recently discussed incident of a man and his daughter inadvertently ending up in Tenaya Canyon (when they were only trying to hike down Snow Creek Trail to Yosemite Valley), I'm pretty confident that a handheld GPS properly programmed would have helped them avoid their terrible mishap.

.

I agree with AlmostThere. In this case we are talking about inexperienced hikers who have little or no map reading skills. Adding how to use a GPS on top of that will just make it that more difficult for them to understand and comprehend navigational skills. Additionally, the small screen of the GPS makes it more difficult to see the larger picture of where you started and where you are going to like a map can. GPS also has the reputation of being 'right', so for inexperienced hikers I would think they would tend to rely on the GPS instead of using their brains which is what we want them to use. Obviously I'm not saying a GPS is bad or evil, but in this case I think it can be more problematic than useful. A GPS is a very helpful tool, but shouldn't be used in isolation, so one should always have a map and know how to use it.. Either way, you will always have people who don't plan & don't know what they are doing going out in the wilderness. Those are also the type of people that would not rent a GPS or grab a map before they go. Some people you just can't reach.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 17, 2012 10:30AM
Quote
hotrod4x5
If you stay on the trail, you can't really get lost.

You're joking of course haha!

Like driving out on some BLM 4WD areas where besides the labyrinth of roads actually shown on maps, there are other dirt roads not on the map, some just as used as ones on the map while others ranging down to increasingly faint. At each intersecting road the wise backroads driver stops, takes out their map and assesses which is more likely to go where they think it does. After making a choice, they continue to compare the map route to every turn, stream, or elevation change and are ready to turn around back to the junction and try the other. Places like the Owens Valley especially Alabama Hills, Carrizo Plain, Mojave Desert, and much of Utah are notoriously so. And the same applies to some of our hiking trails. With a map particularly a small scale topo map, one has a chance of making sense out confusion. Without a map, one ends up a rat in a maze.



http://www.davidsenesac.com



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/17/2012 10:33AM by DavidSenesac.
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 18, 2012 07:43PM
David,

I agree with you on the 4x4 roads in the backcountry, if I had a dollar for every time we looked at the map and said "well thats not on the map..."


I don't pretend to govern other people, but when I got into the backcountry, I carry the gps and my buddy will have the 8.5 topo map. Also, for those who are tech savvy, the iphone app Topo Maps is awesome. Although, I would recommend pre-downloading the maps of the area you are going to be in before heading out, because your reception in the backcountry is going to suck.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 19, 2012 07:47PM
Quote
On a backpack in the Grand Canyon, while going down the South Kaibab trail, I gave directions to two people who were day hiking to the bottom and back,

These people must have been totally clueless. The only trail that intersects the South Kaibab is the Tonto trail and that is clearly marked. It is impossible to get lost on the S. Kaibab trail, it goes down to the black bridge and the CO river and then comes up! Anyone "lost" on the South Kaibab trail is... well... let's be kind and repeat the adjective "clueless." I will exclude hikers with heat-related issues or who have suffered an injury or serious fall in the canyon.

The most unprepared hikers I've ever seen are on rim to rim hikes in the canyon. 23 miles with either 4600 or 6100 elevation gain (depending upon which direction you're hiking). No one should be attempting a rim to rim unless you're seriously prepared and fit. Yet every October I encounter plenty of "hikers" who have no business attempting it.
avatar Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 19, 2012 07:57PM
Quote
Ulysses61
Quote
On a backpack in the Grand Canyon, while going down the South Kaibab trail, I gave directions to two people who were day hiking to the bottom and back,

These people must have been totally clueless. The only trail that intersects the South Kaibab is the Tonto trail and that is clearly marked. It is impossible to get lost on the S. Kaibab trail, it goes down to the black bridge and the CO river and then comes up! Anyone "lost" on the South Kaibab trail is... well... let's be kind and repeat the adjective "clueless." I will exclude hikers with heat-related issues or who have suffered an injury or serious fall in the canyon.

The most unprepared hikers I've ever seen are on rim to rim hikes in the canyon. 23 miles with either 4600 or 6100 elevation gain (depending upon which direction you're hiking). No one should be attempting a rim to rim unless you're seriously prepared and fit. Yet every October I encounter plenty of "hikers" who have no business attempting it.

As I said, their 'map' was a brochure from the mule packing concessionaire. They were deep in the inner canyon, and didn't know whether they were going to cross the river to meet the Bright Angel Trail, or not (edit: this was south rim to south rim, late November, the north rim road was closed).

I did notify a ranger I saw near Phantom Ranch that they should expect to see two day hikers with no real map and inadequate water, possibly eating their lunch (a hamburger). I wouldn't normally assume a fellow hiker wasn't prepared for what they were doing, but the assumption seemed required in this case.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/19/2012 08:08PM by ttilley.
Re: emphasis for hikers to carry topo maps
September 21, 2012 07:20AM
I was at the top of Vernal Falls going down. I gave instructions to a young man from another country who was turning around at dusk going back up the trail - his stated destination was Camp 4. He had the handout map from the gate instead of a real map showing the Mist Trail and could not figure out where to go from the railing. It was not immediately obvious to him to go up the rock to the top of the stairs.

When I met him at the bridge farther down he thanked me profusely for turning him before he went all the way back to Nevada and down the JMT.

People are often confused by mazes of use trails as well. Sometimes even with a map they have a hard time. There was a gent who got lost in the use trails in Tuolumne Meadows trying to get to the campground. A ranger got him going the right way before he went down Lyell. There are a lot of places out there that are trampled to the point that the trail isn't immediately obvious.
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