Planning your route
As you learn more about an area, you’ll start to build your plan. Adding map objects (such as markers, lines and polygons) allows you to identify points of interest, potential travel routes, zones, and other relevant information. Overlaying your CalTopo map in Google Earth provides the opportunity to further visualize your plan in 3D and tweak it as needed. Let’s dig more into each of these features and look at how you can use them to plan winter backcountry travel.
Add map objects to build your map
What we call a “map” in CalTopo is actually just map objects that you have added at specific locations. Markers, lines and polygons are the most common map objects used for planning winter backcountry travel- let’s take a look at why you might use each of these types of map objects as well as some tips for getting the most out of them.
Markers are a great choice for identifying relevant points of interest, such as the location of a trailhead, creek crossing, hut or decision point. If you add a marker along a line, the marker will show up in the terrain statistics or travel plan for that line. We’ll get more into tools like terrain statistics and travel plan next week, but for now just know that this can be particularly useful if you use markers to break a line up into legs- for example, you might add markers along a line showing an ascent route to indicate a potential lunch spot or where you might switch from skinning to boot packing on a ridge.
Lines are a useful way to designate possible ascents, descents and routes that you might want to travel. As you draw your lines, you can adjust how you are drawing them based on where you are trying to go. For example, if the first part of your ascent follows a summer trail shown on MapBuilder Topo, you can use snap to in order to snap the line to the summer trail as you draw. However, if you want to climb a broad ridge in the next part of your ascent, it might be a better choice to switch to clicking to add vertices or drawing freehand so that you can follow the contours of the land.
Polygons are another common map object that are helpful for calling out particular areas. For example, you might add polygons to indicate common or local names for ski zones, such as the South Bowl, Silver Couloir or East Face. Since many zones can go by multiple names depending on who you ask, adding polygons with the name of the zone can provide a common language as you plan your day with other people.
Switching between map layers does not affect the position of map objects. As you add and draw map objects, you can change map layers as often as you would like to reveal even more information about a particular area.
Organize your map
Now let’s talk about the unsung hero of map organization: folders. Often overlooked, folders are organizational powerhouses. As you explore an area and add map objects, the Map Objects menu on the left hand side of the map viewer can quickly become overwhelming. Folders allow you to organize your map data in a meaningful way that can help make it more discoverable and manageable.
How you choose to organize your data depends on the purpose of your map and what makes sense to you. For example, if your map displays possible ski tours in a particular area, you may organize the data into folders based on ski zones in that area. There is no wrong way to use folders- the key is to find an approach that works for you.
Visualize your map in 3D
As you start to build and refine your plan, exporting and overlaying your CalTopo map in Google Earth allows you to visualize your map in 3D. This can provide further insight into the nature of the terrain and how your plan stacks up.
If you are working with a saved map, you can use a KML network link to export your CalTopo map to Google Earth. The network link is a small file that tells Google Earth to keep requesting new KML files once every 10 seconds so that it will automatically update to show the latest version of your map. This gives you the option to tweak your map in CalTopo as needed, see those changes reflected in Google Earth and further refine your plan.
Now it’s your turn! Are there any layers or tools we missed that you find particularly useful for planning your route in the winter? Question or comments? Leave them below.
Next week we’ll cover using existing map objects to learn about terrain and your planned route- that’s right, we’ll be getting into line profiles, terrain stats and my personal favorite, travel plan. Until then, happy mapping!