Winter Travel Series #3: Learning About Your Route
This is the third post in a 5-part series covering our favorite CalTopo layers and tools for planning winter backcountry travel. Each post will dive into a different stage in the process, from learning about the terrain to actually heading out into the backcountry with the mobile app. We will largely be focusing on the web app but many of the layers and tools are also available in the mobile app. Now let it snow!
Learning about your route
As you build your plan, you can use the map objects that you add to your map to dive into the terrain and your intended route. Is the line you drew for a possible ascent actually feasible to travel or is it brutally steep? Did you budget enough time for snack breaks and will you be able to get back to the trailhead before the sun sets? CalTopo tools such as profile, terrain stats and travel plan can shed light on these questions and more.
With this information, you can tweak your plan as needed to give yourself the best chance of a great day in the backcountry. Let’s dig more into how you can use these tools to efficiently plan winter travel.
Evaluate your route
As discussed in the previous post, lines are a useful way to designate possible ascents and descents. However drawing a line doesn’t tell you a whole lot about what it will be like to actually travel that route. Displaying the profile of the line allows you to visualize how elevation changes over the course of that line. On the web, the elevation profile is interactive. If you mouse over the graph, you will see a dot on the line itself that indicates where that spot is on the map. This can be particularly useful for pinpointing the locations of steep ascents or descents.
If you want to dig deeper into the terrain that a line travels through, you can also examine the terrain stats for that line. In addition to the elevation profile, terrain stats also displays graphs of slope angle, aspect, tree cover and land cover. Terrain stats can provide a more complete picture of what you can expect along that route– you can zero in on which sections have dense trees vs no coverage, what aspects you’ll be traveling through, and more.
For example, based on the terrain stats above, you would expect that the first mile or so of your intended route to gently climb through a forest with well spaced trees. As you approached about 1.5 miles in, you would anticipate the climber to get steeper and the trees to disappear as you moved above treeline.
Estimate travel time
Having a realistic idea of how long a tour might take can be the difference between heading back to the car in the daylight or by headlamp. With shorter days and overnight temperatures that often dip below freezing, proper timing is a particularly crucial part of planning winter travel.
Displaying the travel time for a line provides a quick estimation for how long it will take to travel a single line based on the Munter Method for Time Calculation. The Munter Method is a popular method for estimating travel time through non-technical terrain that takes into account elevation gain and loss, distance and travel mode.
However, oftentimes you want the big picture- how long will the entire tour take you? How much time should you budget for your ascent or the long exit with plenty of bushwhacking? And what about your snack breaks?
If you have a pro or higher account, you can create a more comprehensive travel plan. Also based on the Munter Method, travel plan allows you to incorporate multiple lines (such as separate lines for ascents, descents and traverses) and break those lines into legs by adding markers (such as for a transition point or snack break). You can then adjust the travel mode individually for each line, resulting in a detailed travel plan that provides an estimation of how long it could take to complete an entire tour.
Both travel time and travel plan can help you get a better idea of how long a trip might take. This can be incredibly valuable for planning winter travel so you don’t get caught out after dark.
Adjust your plan as needed
Based on the information you gather from tools like terrain stats and travel plan, you may find that your plan needs some fine tuning. Maybe terrain stats revealed that the second half of your ascent is unnecessarily steep or perhaps your planned tour is going to take far longer than you anticipated. Regardless of the reason, you can easily adjust your plan by either editing or modifying existing map objects or adding new ones as alternatives. Using tools to dive deeper into the terrain and your intended route ahead of time can go a long way in planning efficient winter travel.
Now it’s your turn! Are there any layers or tools we missed that you find particularly useful for learning about your route in the winter? Question or comments? Leave them below.
Next week we’ll cover learning about current and forecasted conditions for the area. Having a thorough understanding of what to expect in terms of snow, temperature, wind and avalanche conditions can greatly influence your planning for winter travel. Until then, happy mapping!
Dear CalTopo team,
Thank you for the overview. Your winter offering is pretty good. I am missing more information about winter recreation infrastructure. I am thinking of trailheads (bail points), groomed trails (used by snowmobilers), and other infrastructure usable in wintertime.
Sometimes one can see on the USFS maps that there is a trailhead. Some trailheads are managed by local or state agency. It would be nice to combine the sources of information.
Have you tried stacking different base layers (such as MapBuilder Topo and Forest Service maps) on top of each other? Since different base layers draw from different data sources, this can be really helpful for comparing information that might be on one base layer (such as the location of a trailhead) and not on another. You can then add a map object to mark that location so you can reference it no matter what base layer you are looking at.