You don't want to get lost. I don't want you to get lost. It is embarrassing to both of us. And dangerous to you.
Our basic tool for not getting lost is the map. Knowing how to read that map, and doing so at the appropriate time, will keep you from getting lost, allowing you to get in trouble in other ways.
For your entertainment and possible edification, I offer THREE pages about maps:
• The page you are reading now discusses the various forms of maps and technologies available;
Maps and Mapping Technology
There are many different forms of maps available: what works best? I'll review each of the types I have used, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. And I'll give an image of the switchbacks in Pine Creek for comparison. Physical maps have been scanned at 300 dpi, so they reproduce on screen quite a bit larger physically than on paper, but with the same amount of detail.
Here's the choices:
When and How to Use Maps
Before going further, perhaps a quick mention of when and how to use the map is in order.
First, when doing a canyon, look over the map carefully when reviewing the written description. Find landmarks you will be able to navigate by. Make a good guess at what the terrain will look like, and look for places that could be difficult or confusing.
The first challenge is starting in the right place. Many times, I have started off into the outback only to realize I was not where I wanted to be. Pay careful attention to the map when driving in, and be absolutely certain you know where you are when leaving the car.
Use the map all the time. It is often difficult to figure out where you are, so keep track from the beginning. Follow the twists and turns. This will not only constantly improve your map reading skills, but may keep you from getting lost in the first place.
And of course, maps do you no good when left at home. There are many hikes in this guide that can be done without a map, but there are even more that cannot. Always plan on bringing the map.
Maps on Paper and Plastic
The standard by which others are measured. Quads cost $4.50 and are available at many stores. Maps for Zion are available at the visitor center gift shop at Zion. The best selection in Salt Lake City is at Utah-Idaho Supply, 6562 S State in Murray (262-0222), or 2120 South 700 East (474-2244). REI carries a limited selection of the best quads.
What makes them great is detail. Each sheet covers 7 miles by 9 miles at a scale of 1:24000. They are beautifully printed and works of art. They have substantially more detail than the other map technologies available.
The downside: they get beat up quickly, and are therefore kind of expensive. When I use them in the field, I usually fold them up and put them in a ziploc bag. Because they are printed on plain paper, they do not hold up well, and each quadrangle is good for 1, 2, or up to 4 trips at most.
Because of that incredible detail, quads can be awkward to carry. Each quad covers only a small area, and it is often necessary to carry 2, 3 or 4 quads to cover the area of a day trip. For extended trips in the Escalante, the stack of quads can be thick and expensive.
Since each area map is at a different scale, the usefulness of the maps varies. The Canyonlonds map is quite good, but the Escalante map (actually the Glen Canyon NRA map), while providing a great overview of the area and excellent for navigating the roads it covers, lacks sufficient detail for careful navigation on foot.
Maps on Computer
With maps on your computer, you can mark your maps up with additional information, then print them using your color printer, making adventure-specific maps for yourself and your friends. With the investment of a couple thousand bucks, you can save a few bucks every time you go hiking.
OK, so it costs a little bit to get going, but not thousands. And once you have it, the question is how long does it take to get your map into printable form, and how nice do they come out? And how much does it cost?
You will find Topo! MUCH more useful if you have an oversize printer, though some make it work with 8-1/2" x 11" printouts.
TOPO! is da BOSS. Load em up on your computer, and you have seamless topographic maps for the area covered. Trace routes with the pen tool and figure out how long they are. Press another button and it figures out an elevation profile. Add text boxes and symbols - and in about 5 minutes you have a deluxe map ready to print. Damn good.
Working with GPS is easy too. On the computer, mark spots (waypoints) at meaningful places, then upload them to your GPS unit. Print out maps with those waypoints in place. In the field, you can use your GPS to locate your position relative to the waypoints.Better still, since all the map data is on CDs, the overlay file with the route traces and extra information are small and tidy. Easy to trade with friends. Or visit the Topo.com Websiteand download "Trail Files" created for topo from 'experts' like me. Unfortunately, Trail Files are built for a specific CD set, so since I build my trail files for the All-Utah set, you can only use them if you have that particular product.
The latest version has a cool new feature - shading. They look really cool on your computer screen, but it's probably better to turn it off for printing.
If I was admitting problems with Topo, which I don't, it would be these two: Money and Precision. The setup is not inexpensive, though the price is working its way down: All Utah, 6 CDs, 1:24,000 $ 99.00, so it's pretty reasonable. You can get Zion on the 15 Major National Parks set for a modest $19.95.
Precision is helpful, but more data means more CDs, more $$. Topo selected 180 dpi as their standard data density on the 1:24,000 maps and though I wish for more, it seems like the right choice. Examples of shaded and unshaded output from Topo are shown at right. It helps to export the maps and print from Photoshop, rather than printing directly from Topo.
Topo! has many different products, some of which are not as good as others. For instance, the scale on the "National Parks of the Canyon Country and Southwest" has a Zion at 1:24,000; and Canyonlands at 1:18,000; but the Glen Canyon NRA is at 1:75,000 making it useful for mountain biking and 4WDing, but not so good for hiking and narrow canyon work.
Available at the Canyoneering USA Store.
Speed: Very Fast - 15 minutes to lay out a hike.
Precision: OK - 180 dpi.
Time to Seam Together Maps: Zero. Maps are seamless.
Scans of USGS Quads are available directly from the USGS in a form known as Digital Raster Graphics (DRGs). High quality scans of the maps are made, then reduced to 250 dpi and processed into an 8 bit compressed tiff. File size for each DRG Quad is 4 to 8 Megabytes. Big!
The good news - they are free! Well, at least you can download them for free from the Utah Office of Water Resources, although at 4 MB minimum per file you better have a high speed connection.
Or you can order them on CD from the USGS Earth Explorer Site. Cost is $50 per order plus 1$ per Quad.
They are in an odd, 8-bit tiff format that may not be readable by inexpensive graphics programs. At home, I immediately convert to a more normal tiff format, but the file size goes up. While the 250 dpi format give you a bigger view of the area in question, the limited 8 bits of color mean that they appear rougher on your screen. DRGs are somewhat awkward to use - you get just an image of the map. Thankfully, the micro-orientation of the maps has been adjusted so that, after cropping out the edges, DRG Quads can be knit together easily. Only takes about 15 minutes per knitting.
Before TOPO! All-Utah was available, this was the preferred form, but now I cannot recommend it.
Speed: Slow - 20 minutes to lay out a hike, plus whatever seaming is required. Good when no seaming involved.
Precision: OK - 250 dpi, but only 8 bits of color.
Time to Seam Together Maps: About 15 minutes for each seam.
Scans of USGS Quads can be made on your own computer with an inexpensive flatbed scanner. For small scale hikes, this produces the nicest results, because you can start by scanning the map at 300 dpi rather than the more limited 180 of Topo or 250 of DRGs. But scanning itself is slow, and knitting quads together is almost impossible. It requires nice clean maps to start with, and your scan section is probably limited to the 8-1/2" x 14" of a cheap scanner. That scan under USGS Topo Maps shows the high quality available by scanning the Quads, at least until you start marking them up in the field.
Speed: Very Slow - 60 minutes to lay out a hike, plus whatever seaming is required. Good when no seaming involved, and a very small area required.
Precision: Excellent. At least 300 dpi (24 bits of color).
Time to Seam Together Maps: About 30 minutes for each seam, and they don't come out real nice.
There are many different GPS units available on the market, and I have only used 2 of these, The Garmin GPS 12, and its successor, the Garmin eTrex. While far from essential, a good GPS unit reduces certain navigation problems to triviality. The eTrex is a well-designed and convenient unit, and I highly recommend it. Most features discussed are common to most GPS units. Any GPS is a fairly complex electronic toy, and requires some time to familiarize yourself with the features and how to use them.
GPS Basics: turn the unit on. The unit finds and locks onto the signal coming from satellites in the visible sky. After 15 - 30 seconds, the GPS acquires locks on 3 or 4 satellites and determines where you are within 10 to 30 feet. With a little more time, the GPS locks in more signals and the location error slides down to 10 to 15 feet. Now that it knows where you are, you have several options:
- you can Mark where you are, creating a "Waypoint", and label it with 6 letters and a symbol.
- you can map where you are, showing nearby waypoints and the direction you are moving in.
- you can choose a waypoint to head towards, and the unit will show you an arrow in that direction, with distance and estimated time to destination.
- you can read the location off the GPS, and use the blue grid on your USGS quads and make a pretty good estimate of where you are on the map.
- you can figure out the coordinates of someplace you want to go, and enter those coordinates by hand.
GPS uses the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate section. This sets up a grid of points on the earth's surface, and then describes any point as a Northing (meters north of) and Easting (meters east of) the sector points.
The GPS can also be used in conjunction with TOPO!. The program marks waypoints where you want, and these can be typed in or transferred through the special eTrex computer cable directly to the unit.
Using GPS in the Field: navigation is usually pretty easy in canyoneering. Once you are in the right canyon, all paths lead down. You can use the GPS to get you started quickly, easily and reliably on the right track.
Before the hike, pick out key navigation points (where to park, where to head off the trail, where to drop into the canyon) on your USGS map or in TOPO!, and enter these into your unit. This is especially important for finding the start of your adventure in the middle of the night. Make a waypoint when you park the car, and occasionally during the hike. You don't need to leave the unit on for more than a few minutes at a time, or you will run down the batteries.
When you pop out of the canyon onto an endless rolling plain of Pinion/Juniper forest, the GPS will show you, and keep you on, the shortest path back to your car, the cooler and it's precious, ice-cold liquid paradise.
Of course, when you are actually in the canyon, the GPS does not work very well, since it requires a clear view of about half the sky to attain a fix.
Need maps? Try Topozone.com, an on-line on-screen map source. It gives you access to maps of the entire USA at the blink of a modem. Which is pretty good if you have a fast connection and an 11x17 printer.
Let's say you want to check out Castle Rock Canyon which you know is somewhere in Montana. Just type "Castle Rock Canyon" into the search box and select Montana as the state, and Topozone will show you all occurances of that name in Montana. Click through and it will load the map. Zoom in, zoom out, shift left, shift right, etc.
Unfortunately they are somewhat difficult to print - what you see is what you get. And they are very difficult to download, since they are broken up into small tiles. But it's a fun thing to play with, and great for exploring areas for the first time.
Terraserver is very interesting site that serves up aerial photos from around the world. Check it out.