"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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I've been frustrated with the driving instructions of quite a few climbing topos. No matter how good the verbal instructions, you just can't beat the map. However, if the map is rough, it can be even more frustrating than the verbal description.

If you have schematic map and not all of the roads are marked, figuring out which ones are marked is nearly impossible unless the map clearly identifies which roads are marked using either (or both) the road name and/or number.

Don't even consider drawing any map as a raster image. Vector is the only way to go for scalability and editability. If you need it as a raster image, fine, export it into a raster format of your choice, but don't ever consider drawing the map as a raster image.

My take on the best way of drawing maps is to draw them in scale. By far the easiest way of doing this is to use real geographic map as a guideline, then draw a vector map over it. Very easy to create scale-accurate maps this way. Using layers available in all remotely good illustration apps, it's even possible to easily create different versions of the same map within same image. This is very handy e.g. for different language versions and for different scale versions. Granted, vectors scale nicely but if you downsize a large map to very small size, there's often so much detail, that you just can't read the map any more. Not to mention that text needs to be certain size in order to be readable.

Furthermore, in the current era of GPS navigators the GPS coordinates are valuable help as well.

To ease the pain of drawing multiple maps, use symbol sets for common symbols.

Trad tips

I've tumbled on few interesting articles recently, mainly on trad climbing.

Dark chest of wonders

Web can be treasure chest for climbers searching for maps and information about the climbing destinations. Google maps is a good resource in planning. However, their maps don't offer sufficient details for mountain areas. Furthermore, when zoomed in into greatest detail, their maps cover only small area.

Google doesn't allow users to save a map for offline use either. This is easy enough to circumvent by taking a screen capture though. However, if you need a larger area than what fits into screen (or viewport if viewing embedded map), then you are out of luck. Well, sort of. This can be circumvented just as well, simply by:

  1. Taking multiple screen captures
  2. Stitching them together in image editing application

Depending on the number of screen captures required, this can be a very painful process. There are some tools to automate the process when working with Google Maps though, search and you'll find.

Very well, I found out that Map+ has maps about Switzerland available online, that zoom in all the way to great detail (looks a lot like 1:25.000 at least for mountain areas). The downside is that their maps are available only through small vieport, therefore, tens, if not hunderds of screen caps are required to cover larger areas. Which makes the manual stitching process rather time consuming and very boring indeed. So I thought there needs to be a better way. The best I've found so far (best and good are very different things, though) consists of

  1. using screen capture application/add-on, that allows capturing of selection only to a file. For Firefox, e.g. Screengrab add-on is such a tool
  2. Import the files into image editing application of your choice as layers.
  3. Carefully align the layers. Some image manipulation tools have features to auto-align the layers or separate images. Such a features are designed for building panoramas and can be a great help in stitching maps as well. Unfortunately I had rather poor results with such features though, as they tend to crash when you throw tens of images their way. Furthermore, they tended to rotate and/or distort base images thus producing inaccurate results. If such a automation works, it would be a time saver though.

Another nifty Google service is Google Earth. It can be a great help as well in planning the trip as it makes it easier to visualize the area, therefore it can assist in trying to figure out whether it is feasible to get from place A to B. And playing with it is great fun too.