GPS HIKES & MAPS: Trip Search Products Using GPS

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Walkumentary

Lawton Grinter, aka Disco, walked the CDT southbound in 2006 to finish where Team Southern Terminus started. This summer he'll be heading back out with a GPS unit in hand, ready to spend some more intimate miles on a section of trail in Colorado for the Backpacker map project.

But in that long, cold stretch of snowy months between his successful thru-hike and the coming summer, Disco has been hard at work editing and compiling video from last year's trek. The finished product, set for distribution in mid-May, is an epic travel log: The Walkumentary.

Disco has trailers up on YouTube and a blog posted with more details (and links to those trailers). Check it out here to get a taste of what a thru-hike on the King of Trails is all about.

...and as it so happens, Disco found his way onto The Misfit Happy Hour, a Chama, New Mexico, radio show, during that 2006 hike. He and Felicia Hermosillo, aka The Princess of Darkness (who will be on a Backpacker team as well), can be heard here spinning trail yarns on the KZRM show.

Team Status

Congrats to Team Southern Terminus for knocking out the remote, mostly dry 51-mile section in southern New Mexico. We'll post the map, photos, and video within the next week.

Meanwhile, at the office, we're contacting others to build the rest of the map teams. It's been a tough task. Many, many applicants have put lots of enthusiasm into their application. So while your waiting for our call, check out Steve Wargo's video on YouTube.

Kris Wagner, Map Editor

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Team ST: Day 3

[8:09 p.m.] Team Southern Terminus has pulled it off in style! The group really put some miles behind them today, and has finished off the full 51-mile section in 24 hiking hours. The team reflects on the experience over dinner at El Charro restaurant in Lordsburg--check back soon for more on what they encountered and experienced over the past two and a half days...

Team ST: Day 3

[10:23 a.m.] With views to Little Hachet Mountain, the team continues between water caches through the Little Hachets. UTM coordinates are 12R 0743059E 3524767N.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Team ST: Day 2

[9:30 p.m.] A day of drainage crossings has brought the team to the Little Hatchets, close to 20 miles north of the Day 1 camp.

Team ST: Day 2

[2:01 p.m.] From rattlesnakes to fossils, it sounds like New Mexico is keeping the team busy. UTM coordinates are 12R 0752197E 3503684N.

Team ST: Day 2

[11:05 a.m.] Team Southern Terminus has packed up and found their first water cache , heading north through Sheridan Canyon. UTM coordinates are 12R 0755012E 3500083N.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Team ST: Day 1

[8:14 p.m.] A round of introductions at the Sheridan Canyon camp, following a lovely bean burrito dinner. UTM coordinates are 12R 0753766E 3495889N (WGS 84).

Team Southern Terminus: Day 1

[3:34 p.m.] Andrew reports in from the trail near the southern terminus. From here the CDT heads north through the Big Hatchet Mountains, rising up from the horizon like "big scoops of mashed potatoes." More descriptive similes to come...

On the road to Hachita

Well alright. Team Southern Terminus is intact and on the road from Lordsburg to Hachita to meet our shuttle to the border. But first, a quick recap of the first leg of travel for this trip.

Jim, Jimmy, Brian and I had a great home-style Mexican dinner at El Charro and watched the freight trains roll by. (By the way, try the fried chile relleƱo; probably the best I’ve ever tasted, with a perfect cheese to chile consistency). Outside, it was a crisp night, and a Cheshire-smile shaped moon hung on an indigo tapestry of stars tossed into the high desert air.

Then, the four of us spent the night in Jim’s Winnebago in the north parking lot of Short Park on the west end of Lordsburg. At around 10 p.m., the lot outside the Lordsburg Event Center (happenin’ place, let me tell you) started filling up with cars. Turns out there was a quinceria party or something going on, and we were parked in the middle of the festivities. They were rocking to Tejano until I don’t know when. I was just trying to get some sleep before we started out our hike through the Chihuahua Desert.

Unbeknownst to us, Dave and Judy were sleeping in the south side of the park. Since they didn’t have a cell phone, we weren’t sure how to meet up with them. In the morning, we took off for I-10 to Hachita and stopped for breakfast at the Kranberry Restaurant just off the road. Then, we spotted a red, California-plated Saturn sedan we’d been told to look for, and figured we’d check inside. Lo and behold, there were Dave and Judy. Sweet serendipity. This group is off to a fortuitous start. We pored over maps and coffee, and then pushed off for the end of the line in the lower Bootheel, with a quick photo op where I-10 crossed the Continental Divide—one of only two times we’ll even touch the watershed line on this trip.

Andrew Matranga, Assistant Map Editor

Team Southern Terminus: Pre-Trip Update

[9:53 a.m.] Backpacker Assistant Map Editor Andrew Matranga checks in from the Continental Divide, south of Lordsburg, NM, en route to the trailhead (The audio control panel below requires Adobe Flash Player, an easy download if not already installed).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Stay Tuned

In but a few days, our first team will hit the trail at the CDT's southern terminus and hike roughly 50 miles north. We'll get the resulting data online ASAP, showcasing what we're really after as far as an end product goes.

In the meantime, the team will be posting daily updates, via podcasts, to the blog over the course of the week. They'll be able to do so by calling in with a Globalstar GPS 1600 satellite phone (pictured to the left). The phone gets a signal within a couple of minutes or so, and weighs in at a manageable 384 grams (0.85 lbs).

So to get a feel for what scouting the CDT is all about, check back here through the course of the week. It should make for a good listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

News Along the Divide: New Mexico

Last week the CDTA announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a number of agencies and organizations, making the trail a priority in New Mexico. The press release describes its importance best:

The MOU will further the high level of cooperation that already exists and will expand on the projects currently underway on the Trail. 740 miles of the CDT are within New Mexico, but only 46% of the New Mexico portion is complete, compared with 63% of the Trail overall. When complete, the Trail will link many of New Mexico's natural wonders such as El Malpais National Monument, famous for its unique landscape created by lava flows; Mount Taylor, a towering peak considered sacred by several nearby tribes; and the Big Hatchet Mountains, a remote and scenic area in the Southwest corner of the state. It will also connect with important historical and cultural sites such as Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, El Morro National Monument and the Zuni Acoma Trail.

It's big news for a state where much of the trail remains fragmented, a reason our teams and sections down there are so choppy. You can read the full release on the CDTA's media page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Other New Mexico Team

While our New Mexico teams are hard at work mapping the CDT section by section, another pair will be doing the same, on a larger scale. Curt Harris and Randy Sackerson (pictured, with Curt at left) are two hopeful thru-hikers planning on bagging the entire length of the trail this season, starting in New Mexico. Amazingly enough, they had planned their trip to start from the Mexico border next week; that times out perfectly with our southern terminus team.

So in that there are some hefty chunks of undesirable trail throughout the state (lovely country, but less-than scenic roadwalking), Randy and Curt will be filling in the gaps. We've equipped them with a Magellan Meridian GPS unit, an SD card that should get them as far as Grants, NM, and 48 lithium batteries (roughly enough to make it to Colorado).

They may cross paths with other teams along the way, but on the whole they're out there on their own. Both had originally planned on hiking with Matt Matson, a CDTA-connected Rotarian walking the trail to spread awareness, but he's slowed his pace to a four-summer section hike. You can keep tabs on his effort, MatQuest, at

And now, a little about the pair...
Curt Harris: Retired banker, current student of business & finance; has bagged 35 Colorado 14ers; summited Mt. Kilimanjaro--three times; CDTA and Colorado Mountain Club member, Colorado Rotarian.
Randall Sackerson:Professional photographer & graphic designer; contributor to the Canyon Courier and High Timber Times (here's a sample column); avid hiker, skier, world traveler; Colorado Rotarian.

Curt, Randy, good luck hammering out final trip details. Drop the blog a line if you get a chance before heading out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Starting Point

So how do you follow a trail that has no official map?

That’s a question coming up a lot at the Map Office in Boulder, CO, these days. Unlike the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, the CDT has many, many routes—some official, some not—stringing along America’s backbone from Mexico to Canada.

In fact, as odd as it sounds, there’s a debate on where the CDT begins on the Mexico border. Most thru-hikers prefer Antelope Wells, a small port of entry on the Mexico border. However, Jim Wolf of the Continental Divide Trail Society claims a spot near Columbus, NM, in his guides. And most land managers say it’s the south end of the Big Hatchet Mountains. That’s where we’ll send our first scouting team in a few weeks.

As the crow flies, the Big Hatchet trailhead is roughly 30 miles south of Hachita, NM, on the eastern border of New Mexico’s bootheel. From there, the trail travels north crossing mostly BLM land, bypassing the private lands and long road walks of the other two routes. The route is constantly being tweaked; BLM staffers were out marking a re-route of the trail earlier this week.

Jackie Neckels, the wilderness and recreation planner for the BLM's Las Cruces office, made a quick note on a map of recent reroutes that speaks volumes for the process: "The reroutes and proposed trail segments should all be marked with orange flagging—unless the cows ate it, or the wind has blown it off!"

Our team will carry a detailed topo map with a rough outline of the trail, and a GPS unit preloaded with known points to assist them. Getting lost will be part of the job since there’s no official line or continuous blaze throughout the first 40 miles.

It’ll be dusty and hot, and water sources are scarce. That and the border patrol wants to know our team‘s whereabouts, and its satellite phone number. It’ll be dirty job full of adventure... maybe Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs should join us.

Kris Wagner, Map Editor

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Team TarpMan

Oh, it's an exciting time at the Backpacker map office. With New Mexico teams in place, we have begun the process of filing through those last few applications and assigning volunteers to suitable sections. You won't hear word until the dust has settled, so you can stop jumping every time the phone rings until, say, the end of the month.

One other team has been formed, however, and is already trip planning for a section of the Wind River Range in Wyoming. The mosquitoes are going to be nasty, but the views should more than make up for any welts. Lush green, glacially-carved valleys nestle among jagged peaks as the Continental Divide juts up from the Great Divide Basin to the south. The team will cover right at 50 miles, refreshed from a stay at the charmingly rustic Big Sandy Lodge. Here's the team:

Leon Nelson: Team co-leader; Backpacker map contributor; more than 50 years backpacking in Northern CA; hasn't used a tent since 1984.
Mike Nelson:Team co-leader; avid geocacher; mountain biker; completed several epic father-son trips with Leon; uses Esbit stove exclusively.
Nancy Huber: Triathlete, ultra-marathoner; has climbed Mt. Kilmanjaro, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Whitney; team dentist, along with Leon and Mike.
Thom Gabrukiewicz: Outdoor writer/editor; guidebook author; team executive chef.
Roger Cannell: CPA, marine pilot & still flies own aircraft "all over" the States; extensive use of GPS; former Philmont Scout Ranch staffer.
Bill Zellman: Experienced backpack crony (and boyhood friend) of Roger.

The photo is of Leon and a beloved tarp, by the way. My question to Leon: what made you kick the tent in '84?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Finding that Trailhead

The Continental Divide Trail is arguably the most remote and most rugged of its National Scenic Trail brethren, giving it rightful claim to the title "King of Trails." But how does one access a trail that is both rugged and remote? Sections for this mapping project have been broken out with trailhead access in mind, but there's not always an easy way in. Some require long drives over forest roads, others require some extra hiking. Leon Nelson, a Backpacker map contributor and the leader of Team TarpMan, has some good advice, assuming there's a pre-hike hotel stay involved:

When overnight accommodations are booked for the team members, ask about shuttle service from the airport to the hotel; also ask about shuttle service from there (the hotel/motel/lodge) to BOTH the go-in trailhead and the come-out trailhead. If shuttle service is not available, then vans for the hikers can be rented; the the hotel will be able to help with this, as well!

Other excellent sources of access information are local outfitters and outdoor retailers, who often keep a list of hiker-friendly shuttle services on hand. Then there's our southern terminus team, which is piling into an RV for the trip down to the border. The bottom line is, each section will be unique. We'll get teams the information, but they'll have to take it from there.

With that in mind, we'd love to see tips posted to the blog: share the wealth, if you come up with an RV-style scheme or otherwise.

New Mexico Team 11

And another team is set to go, accounting for all of the project's early season hikers. What is left of the state (in less arid climes) will be mapped in July and August, along with the rest of the trail north of New Mexico. That'll be a little over 2,400 miles, for the record. In the meantime, the volunteers below will be collecting data south of Skull Bridge, covering some 46 miles through the Santa Fe National Forest.

Dennis Wagoner: Extensive wilderness backpacking experience.
Gordon Buttke: Team co-leader; retired Airborne Infantry;
proficient in GPS and photography; husband to Geri.
Geri Buttke: Experienced hiker; lover of outdoors; wife to Gordon.
Ginger Davidson: pilot, flight instructor, airport co-owner;
map/chart enthusiast.

New Mexico Teams 1, 3 & 5

Now we're getting somewhere. Having juggled many a schedule, the New Mexico teams are starting to shape up. The groups below will really be covering some ground, collecting data on a total 184 miles of trail through the Gila National Forest, and across BLM land south of Cuba, NM. And it seems they just may have the experience to pull it off...

New Mexico 1
Natalie Dawson
: upcoming naturalist guide author; CDTA volunteer.
Steven Taranowski: Civil engineer/surveyor; learned geologist.
Matt Feeney: Aerospace engineer; US Military GPS Center top student.
Jason Childre: Cave-mapper; New Mexico CDT experience.
Ken Haag: Team co-leader; Former Army officer; AT section-hiker.

New Mexico 3
Roger Ludwig: Team co-leader; has led hikes for troubled teens;
Cheyenne newspaper columnist.
Michael Holmes: Charter member, AHS; Fire Program Manager, USFS.
Matthew Eldred: education in Forest and Surveying Technology;
wilderness first aid trained.
Joseph Walker: USAF Special Ops veteran; rock climber.
Michael Grosh: Tug captain; AT section-hiker.

New Mexico 5
Kurt Johnson: Geologist; reportedly makes amazing dehydrated meals.
Mark Watson:
Interest in ethnobotany; photographer;
doctoral student, college instructor.
Patrick Kinney:
Team co-leader; Land surveyor,
25 years backpacking experience.
Frank Twenter:
Firefighting and technical rescue experience;
EMT/First Aid trained; trail lover.
Mary Twenter:
Publishing company owner; extensive hiking experience.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Picture This

This was 2 months ago.

I’m at the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region Office in Golden, CO. With me at the long conference table are Greg Warren, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail Administrator for the Forest Service, and Bryan Martin, Field Operations Coordinator for the Continental Divide Trail Alliance.

This is our first meeting of many. We’re outlining the details of the CDT Project, and absolutely ecstatic about the overwhelming response from BACKPACKER readers who want to map the trail (at this time, we had 1,800 applicants).

Greg and Bryan know the CDT like Roger Ebert knows movies. They scan maps and Google Earth images of the trail almost every day. They can precisely name the most debated sections, the longest road walks, and other problematic areas along the trail’s 3,100-mile course. I’m learning new place names like Pie Town.

We begin discussing what data we’ll collect on the trail to put on our interactive mapping website. We’ll collect points of interest like trail junctions, overlooks, and campsites. We’ll gather details for land managers about trail conditions and bridges. We’ll take photos. And video clips.

“What kind of video clips?” asks Greg.

That’s when I learned about Public Law 106-206 (2000), which sets strict standards on filming and photographing on public lands. In short, it says commercial filming on public lands requires special permits (read: lots of red tape and fees). Greg added that filmmakers (even ones endorsed by PBS) have been denied filming permits in some Wilderness areas.

I can see why this law exists. We’ve seen Ford commercials in Joshua Tree National Park. Zippy Nissan ads in Olympic National Park. The law demands responsibility and awareness of public lands.

Would video kill the CDT project?

I soon came up with a list of Buts:

  • But our goal is to protect the trail, the land, and possibly finish the last long trail in the Lower 48.
  • But we’re not making a commercial or movie or 30-minute documentary
  • But our scouts are largely made up of volunteers, passionate hikers
  • But the trail details can be used by the land managers

Greg understood. He advised us. The meeting ended.

Over the next few weeks, we wrote a White Paper which was submitted to land mangers outlining our project, including our policy on video: “All video clips will be short (under 3 minutes), utilizing small digital cameras, and will only serve to promote wilderness and trail features.”

So far, so good. The outlook to shoot short video clips looks promising. Several land managers have reviewed it and so far no red flags. We’ll keep you posted.

Kris Wagner, Map Editor

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

New Mexico Team 6

Another team is set and ready to go, heading to an area of the Carson National Forest near the Colorado border. Their section seems particularly epic due to features on the map alone: at one end lies Hopewell the other? Skull Bridge. No one said this project was going to be easy.

Chris Shaffer: Team co-leader; engineer; completing
New Hampshire 48 x 4,000 Footers
Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds: Forest Service archeological surveyor;
REI GPS whiz
Justin Bringhurst: REI GPS whiz; former Philmont staffer
Tom Patton: Special Ops veteran; navigation experience
Joy Patton: Military Intelligence officer; future full-time civilian/wife/mom

Monday, April 2, 2007

The End Product

A fine question that has popped up more than once is, simply: what are we doing? More specifically, what kind of data will be collected out on the trail, and how will it be used? This project is being handled in the same way we would a Waypoint card (those handy tear-out hikes in the back pages of BACKPACKER magazine). Of course, we don't plan on laying out 3,000 miles of trail on a pocket-sized card. Hikes also appear online, at -- this is where the data collected for the CDT project will really come to life.

With that in mind, volunteers will be asked to collect a GPS track and waypoints corresponding to trail junctions, points of interest, potential water sources or campsites, and so on. They'll also take a boatload of photos and shoot short segments of video to pair with certain waypoints. Detailed notes are also par for the course, and many land managers are asking that management specifics like trail conditions be included in these.

The finished product will be an online, interactive map of the CDT, which can be tweaked throughout the years as the trail itself changes and grows. Once our New Mexico teams begin collecting data, we'll post examples online. In the meantime, you can get a feel for what's in store by checking out our online PCT map (you can find it here). The sample screen grab shown above is from a Colorado stretch of the CDT in the Neversummer Wilderness, also available online.

The CDT does run through some sensitive areas, which we'll have to be mindful of in collecting data. For example, posting specific GPS coordinates for a sweet campsite in a wilderness area may not be the best idea. Furthermore, legislation was passed in 2000 restricting video shot on public lands. Although it won't apply to our short snippets, it is the kind of thing we have to be mindful of in tackling a project such as this. For you detail-oriented types, you can view the act online here.

New Mexico Teams 2 & 4

More New Mexico teams are shaping up as availability is verified (trickier to lock down than you would think, what with the early start dates for these southern legs). Below are some details for a group that will be hiking through a section called the Chain of Craters, and another that will be tackling trail through the Gila National Forest. Note the wonderfully dry team names; in time they should change to better reflect the team. My hope is that someone will come up with "The Flaming Skulls"...if nothing else, it would make for a good tattoo.

New Mexico 2
David Morganwalp: Team co-leader, learned geologic mapper
(works at USGS HQ)
Bob Kloepper: Former Green Beret medic, ultramarathoner
Nathan Young: Professional land surveyor, PCT thru-hiker
Doug Melton: Professional engineer, geologist

New Mexico 4
Dean Rainwater: Team co-leader, Adventure racer.
Rebecca Stearns: Certified athletic trainer, first aid/CPR-savvy.
Greg White: Avid geocacher, Special Forces terrain analyst.
Matthew Huffman:
Professional surveyor and mapper,
Seasonal Park Ranger.
Eric Clajus: aka Big Poppa, professional photojournalist.

Again, team members should comment on and add to these bios -- five-word descriptions can only get you so far.