GPS HIKES & MAPS: Trip Search Products Using GPS

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Gear in Question

So you've been assigned to a team (or you're still crossing your fingers). You've bought a plane ticket. You've cleaned up your boots. The question now: what else goes in that pack? We're working hard on this end to drum up some gear sponsors, but until you see something here announcing a sweet pack deal or fresh batch of tents, you should be prepared and pack accordingly. No matter how experienced the hiker, it always helps to have a checklist (my personal favorite item to forget is a spoon, followed by a cup).

A great resource is at; it'll keep you in line and prepared to slog through swamps, deserts, snowfields and whatever else may cover the trail.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Mexico Team 9

It's official: the first team of volunteers for the 2007 Backpacker CDT Mapping Project is assembled and ready. They're to head out from the trail's southern terminus (as highlighted in the March 19 post) on April 23rd. Our hope is to equip them with a satellite phone system to keep us posted on their adventure. Here's a breakdown of the team's members:

Andrew Matranga: co-leader, Backpacker magazine staff
Brian Daigle: co-leader, former Eco-Challenge participant,
Navy Search and Rescue experience
Jim Newman: former Eco-Challenge participant
Jimmy McElroy: former Eco-Challenge participant
David German: extensive professional GPS experience,
long-time PCTA volunteer
Judy Rittenhouse: Search and Rescue experience, Sierra Nevada-savvy

And this is an interactive blog, by the way, so if you team members want to expand upon the rather dry experience list above, tack on a comment or two.

They'll be starting out with a pair of thru-hikers who will also be collecting data for the project, Curt Harris and Randy Sackerson. Other New Mexico teams are quickly coming together, so never fear if you feel you should somehow be included in a list--your time is coming. And for all of you applicants still waiting to hear back, keep those phone lines and inboxes ready! We'll be getting out final word on all teams throughout the next month, so before too long the waiting will all be over...

Monday, March 26, 2007


As a new batch of letters, pictures, and what appears to be a collage came in this afternoon, so did an update on the total number of applicants: 2,833. That's right. Another number of note here is 167 -- the number of applicants we'll need to sign on this week to bridge the gap to the quite-epic three thousand mark.

The deadline for applications is this Friday, March 30, so make sure all of your GPS-savvy, backpacking friends and neighbors know to sign up at With any luck, another CDT-themed collage will arrive by the end of the week.

More FAQs

Questions, questions. This week we'll be getting some answers, meeting with all the various individuals holding sway over the project; that handy FAQ sheet is just around the corner. But for now, here are a few more popular ones. The first just so happens to come from Leon Nelson, another current Backpacker map correspondent...

Q: Some applicants who are not selected as volunteers are good friends of those who will be chosen to participate. Will it be possible for these people to tag along?
As much as we would love as many to experience the trail this summer as possible, alas, we won't be able to do so when volunteer mapping teams are involved. Many stretches of the trail pass through sensitive areas, and we've agreed with land managers to keep our teams -- and their resulting impacts -- small. But by all means, if a group wants to gather for a grand send-off, or the trail passes your uncle Jebediah's bed and breakfast, make them a part of the experience. There is such a thing as trail magic, after all, and that can be readily facilitated by generous friends.

Q: How long will all of this take?
A: A week. No more, maybe less. Unless a special case arises, most teams will start hiking on Monday, to be finished with enough time to get home and back to work, school, or all the trappings or retirement before the next week. The actual itinerary will have to be worked out within the team.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A FAQ Teaser

As congratulations are going out to volunteers mapping the New Mexico section, questions are pouring in, and for good reason. We've done a good job of keeping details fairly vague up to this point, so trust that a list of frequently-asked questions is being honed as we speak. Watch for it in coming posts. In the meantime, here's a question from Backpacker map contributor Eli Schelin and his hiking partner Robert Vanderhoof; they'll be mapping a leg in Glacier later this summer.

Q: What will the roles of team members be?
A: An average team will be made up of five volunteers, plus one representative from a project sponsor (be it Backpacker, the CDTA, or a federal land manager). One of the five volunteers will serve as a team co-leader with the representative in question, coordinating logistics such as travel, meeting place and time, and a basic trip itinerary. So we'll be supplying area and route information to the team leader (including updated maps), and the planning from there will be within the team. And what of other roles among team members? That's up to the team, and can fit whatever dynamic a particular group may take on. If you find yourself to be the only good cook around, it's probably no mistake. The same goes for photographers, and so on; we're trying to spread the wealth, so that every team has a good mix of expertise. And if there are two good cooks on a team, that's when things get interesting. Dueling ramen recipes are the stuff of legend.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Down in the Bootheel

As teams are coming together for the early New Mexico push (see March 8 post), a lot of attention is being paid to deserts. No doubt, much of the trail through the state takes in coniferous forests, rolling mountainscapes and even Aspen groves; but we mustn't ignore the blisteringly hot, waterless, mesquite-dotted Chihuahuan desert. The hike isn't for the faint of heart, and it most certainly isn't for July or August. As CDTA guidebook author Bob Julyan explains in New Mexico's Continental Divide Trail:

The terrain is complex, and often very steep; the vegetation, although interesting, is conspicuously hostile to hikers--thorny, prickly, spiny, jagged, sharp, serrated, stabbing--you get the idea. I hiked here with two thru-hikers who wore shorts; blood soon ran down their legs.

To be fair, the landscape doesn't have to be so desolate and hellish as all that. Start out at daybreak, and you may spot some deer browsing in a clumped yucca stand. Or better still, perhaps you'll catch a coatimundi sneaking off with a bag of trail mix (think of it as fox-raccoon hybrid. Arguably worth the trail mix).

Our southern terminus team will be down there during the week of April 23 in an attempt to bypass all that comes with a Southwestern summer. The above picture of the starting point, courtesy of the Forest Service's CDT administrator, may best showcase the lay of the land. And remember: wear long pants.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pie Town, et al

Backpacker is no stranger to the CDT. In fact, just last June we ran a four-page spread pointing out some of the trail's high points in a "Best of the Classic Trails" issue. A link to the online version is to the right under CDT Links, and if you're looking to get a feel for the trail as a whole, an interactive map is also posted (click here to check it out).

The map highlights towns a long the trail, most of which project participants will come across in one way or another this summer. It gives a good ballpark notion as to what the trail traverses, although the official route has changed a bit (as is the nature of the CDT at this stage). The map also sheds some light on the trail's character, at least through populated areas -- you can't go wrong in a place named Pie Town, after all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The CDT in Michigan

How are Big Rapids, Mich., and the CDT related? After being lured to the West via Glacier National Park in 1989, Big Rapids-based land surveyor Jerry Gray took an interest in the CDT and the ample photogenic vistas it provides. Four years ago he turned his passion for the trail into a "King of Trails" calendar, and new versions have adorned walls every year since.

"Although I use [the calendar] as a promotional tool for my business, I also use it to bring awareness of the CDT and the functions of the CDTA," he said in a letter to BACKPACKER. "Unfortunately, for most folks in our area, the CDT is an unknown and the mountains are something you see in pictures or from a car."

Jerry treated us to a few samples with his application, but you can get your own by contacting him at jerry[at] Calendars are standing by.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hot Dates

One of the most common questions coming in from project applicants is: when would we actually be hiking? Good question. At this point, we can confidently say that the bulk of the trail will be mapped in July and August. This is the Continental Divide we're working with, after all, and we don't want anyone post-holing through snowfields. New Mexico is another matter, and we're looking to get a handful of teams down there in May and early June. We'll be notifying those 30-some hikers soon...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

GPS Units in Action

Several applicants have chosen to use the essay portion of the entry form to spin a yarn or two (all applicable to mapping, of course). These are always entertaining, and do help in passing those long hours spent hunched over entry forms. A solid example comes from Allen B., a Navy test pilot who got in the habit of strapping a Garmin GPS unit to his F-14's instrument panel with two rubber bands. The potential hazard here? Allen sums it up best:

On my first cruise, a RIO (the backseater in an F-14: Goose) forgot to put away his Gamin handheld before landing aboard the carrier. As they trapped, the unit flew forward and hit the pilot's ejection seat actuator, ejecting the pilot through the canopy. So the jet is at full power on deck, being held back by nothing but the tailhook, flight deck personnel all around, and nobody at the be continued somewhere on the CDT.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Want to Make Hiking History?

Mere months after the February issue (and Jon's announcement of the project) first hit mailboxes and newsstands, the reader response is breaking records: we're up to 2,386 applicants and counting, more than any other BACKPACKER contest to date. For those of you that may have missed out on the editor's note in question, read on. For those of you that haven't yet applied, get to it!

There's a lot to love about the Continental Divide Trail. It's the most challenging and remote of America's big three long-distance paths, tracing the crest of one wild range after another: the Bitterroots, Wind Rivers, and San Juans, to name just a few. Many hikers swear it trumps the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails for raw beauty. No surprise there--this 3,100-mile roller coaster links no fewer than a dozen iconic destinations, including Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and the Weminuche and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas.

Yet the CDT lacks one basic ingredient of a world-class hiking path: an official map. Bruce Ward, executive director of the Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), says that more than 1,000 miles remain unsigned, undetermined, or simply unmapped. In some places, multiple trails run from point A to B, leaving hikers puzzled about which option to follow. The CDTA has been working with private landowners and federal agencies to define a single pathway, Ward told me, but obstacles remain in completing a designated, non-motorized route.

That's where BACKPACKER--and perhaps you--can make a difference. We want to put readers on the CDT this summer and get as much of the trail mapped as possible. Maybe we'll cover 2,000 miles, maybe all 3,100. The goal is a Forest Service-approved map that eliminates route confusion and gives hikers a definitive document for trip planning. It's a unique opportunity to make hiking history.

Over the next few months, we'll pick about 200 applicants to join BACKPACKER editors and CDTA volunteers for a week of hiking and mapping. We'll split you into teams, provide GPS units and training, load you up with free gear, and assign your team a specific section of trail. You'll record waypoints, shoot photos, and submit trip reports. We'll publish the results next winter and post a downloadable version of the map (with your pictures and notes) on our website.

Don't miss this chance to join me for a week of phenomenally scenic--and worthwhile--backpacking. To apply as a map volunteer, go to The contest deadline is March 30; we'll notify winners by May 1.

Jonathan Dorn

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Applicant Pool

While we're busy working out the logistical details of a project that runs some 3,100 miles, applications continue to come in, and we continue to plow through them. All of your online essays, letters, photos, slide shows and postcards are getting personal treatment, with innovative entry ideas popping up every day.

One intrepid Minnesota-based journalist, for example, used every space available to work in a pitch. The result is a bang-up column, I'd say.

See it online here.