If you are like me, planning a backpacking trip is half the fun. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from working out how far to walk each day, where to camp, and what side trips to take—whether they are a few hundred yards or a few miles. Once I’m on the trail I am more than willing to deviate from the plan for a good (or frivolous) reason, but I still show up at the trailhead with a plan, all the way out to the summit of Mount Whitney.
If you like to plan, and if you don’t mind losing hours to the internet as you go crazy trying out different routing alternatives, you have to give Sierra Mapper a try. What a joy!
Sierra Mapper is a mapping utility that works within your internet browser. No software, other than that browser, is necessary. Its operation could not be simpler.
Adam White, the genius behind the app, has done all the tough work for you. When you first navigate to the website you are presented with a topographical map. To get to that map click first on the Sierra Mapper link and then on the link that says, “Go to the Alpha (Latest and greatest!)” on the top of the page that loads in your browser.
Each major trailhead and trail intersection are already represented as “nodes” on the map. All you need to do is decide where you want to begin and where you want to end. Let’s say, for example, you are hiking the John Muir Trail and you are taking your first zero day at Red’s Meadow. Click on the Happy Isles trailhead, then click on the Red’s Meadow Cafe and General Store node, and click the “Calculate Route!” button. Just like that you have the shortest route from Happy Isles to Red’s…which, actually, isn’t the route you want. (Before “fixing” this problem, take a look at the route. It’s quite a bit shorter than the classic JMT route, and would be a very interesting alternative if you have already done the standard route.)
In order to ensure you get the proper John Muir Trail, click on Happy Isles, one of the trailheads or intersections near Tuolumne Meadow, and then Red’s. Voilà! Now all you need do is click on “Calculate Route!” and let the utility do its thing. Soon you will have a map route and a terrain profile.
A few more terrific features:
~ You can download your route as a .kml file. Why is this cool? Because you can then open the route in Google Earth and take advantage of all the neat features there.
~ The profile includes a chart for cumulative climbing and descending data. I find those useful when determining how far I should hike each day.
~ There is also a button that allows you to export your route to CalTopo, which is another great internet resource for hike planning.
With the Donohue Pass quotas that the park service is imposing this year, lots of people are looking for alternate routes. I can think of no better place to try those out than at the Sierra Mapper.
Good hiking, Ray