GPS usefulness on the mountain? - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 03:57 PM Thread Starter
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Default GPS usefulness on the mountain?

My biggest problem with scrambling alone is path-finding.

I tend to second guess myself often, which frustrates me, especially when I'm tired. I'm heading out again to scramble for a few weeks in Banff/Jasper/Yoho area. Will a GPS device help me on the mountains? Has anyone used them before? How accurate are they? DO they have pre-loaded routes?

I'm asking because I don't want to sink money into something that'll confirm that I am indeed in Alberta, on a mountain.

I would need it to track my progress along a specific route.

Thanks ahead.

D.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 04:56 PM
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I would personally never use a GPS for navigation. Relying on electronics for that purpose is risky because if they fail you'll be lost. A certain pair of guidebook authors say they lead to "Gadget Peabrained Syndrome" and I'd agree with that.

I do use a GPS though, and find it very useful as a navigational AID. Finding an unmarked trailhead along an old road speeds things up, knowing how far from a summit I am is encouraging (or discouraging...), and even keeping track of my overall pace is nice. Using it to find a route up a mountain or to a lake, however, is not what it should be used for.

You can get topo maps for GPS, but most don't have routes on them (although check out "Southern Alberta Trail Maps" for some maps that do have routes).
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 05:19 PM
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I use the Garmin Montana with the Backroads map set, and have been very happy with it's performance in the mountains. Generally I find it to be very accurate, but there are times (generally when you're on a mountains north aspect) that you lose some resolution.


You can pre-plan routes and load them onto the device.


To mclay1234's point though, GPS should never be your only method of navigation. Batteries can die, screens can get cracked, etc. I mainly use mine to produce tracks of where I've been. However it did come in very handy during a "we're lost" situation when we had to find our way around a section of washed out trail on our way to the campsite at Aster Lake in Kananaskis (in the dark). Of course we also had map and compass with us.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 05:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by englishoct View Post
My biggest problem with scrambling alone is path-finding.

I tend to second guess myself often, which frustrates me, especially when I'm tired. I'm heading out again to scramble for a few weeks in Banff/Jasper/Yoho area. Will a GPS device help me on the mountains? Has anyone used them before? How accurate are they? DO they have pre-loaded routes?

I'm asking because I don't want to sink money into something that'll confirm that I am indeed in Alberta, on a mountain.

I would need it to track my progress along a specific route.

Thanks ahead.

D.
Not really answering your question but if you have a smartphone or iphone try out some free GPS apps and you can learn a lot.. I like "Canada Maps Free" for android but there is plenty of free software. I was mindblown the first time I tried it and was able to view 9 different map types.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 07:45 PM
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yes they help and yes they are useful.

theyre not perfect and nothing is

there is a learning curve for sure!
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 09:11 PM
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I love having a GPS, but you have to be aware that sometimes the easiest way isn't what you think the topo map shows. a 10m cliff can be invisible when you have 20m topo lines.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 11:07 PM
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I have been carrying a Garmin 62s on all of my trips for the last year and a half...

GPS can come in handy if you are socked in and having trouble getting your bearings... and I reinforce what has already been mentioned and add a few points...


* you get to bring a beta track (you can learn to build these in google earth or software provided by manufacturer, or online using free resources) or load an existing track as reference
* useful when nighttime or socked in and cannot reliably predict position on a map
* save your own track for repeat endeavours / future reference
* works well in the rain and snow as long as you avoid the touchscreen versions - no need to trash your maps in a downpour - ever tried to pull out a map in -20 C with 2 pairs of gloves


A GPS is one of many parts... map & compass, personal experience, gps, due diligence studying trail reports/photo essays & trail books.

Suggest you also get yourself a free copy of Ibycus Topo Maps online somewhere and install it or have someone help you with that as it is a great supplement to other paid for map resources.

And lastly... does it help you scramble that crux or last bit to the peak... no.. not really... but it can tell you that you are on the right path.

Regards,

Rex


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post #8 of (permalink) Old 03-18-2015, 11:19 PM
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A GPS will tell you if you are on the right part of the mountain (north ridge vs. south ridge) but won't help at all in finding the left foothold at the crux
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 12:19 AM
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In optimal conditions, GPS is accurate to within a 3m radius (so 6m in most working conditions) in most of North America. As others have said, they are helpful but you should have other non-electronic skills and tools first. Most modern ones will let you download relatively accurate maps purchased from the manufacturer, which may or may not be precise enough for your needs. GPS relies on radio signals from geo-synchronous satellites (you need a fix from AT LEAST three to fix your location), so things like dense bush, narrow canyons, overcast skies or even being near a cliff or tall building will interfere with it's usefulness/accuracy. Dedicated GPS devices with be much more accurate than smartphones, generally due to the dedicated antenna.
One feature that most hand-held ones have that I find useful in off-trail hiking is the ability to lay a trail as you go, so you can follow it back if you need to (useful when trying to decide which gully or rib you came up, or which cutblock you crossed on the way out (if you were savvy enough to turn it on BEFORE you needed it anyway).

The only pre-loaded routes you'll find are the ones you've created yourself, usually on the software for your laptop that comes with the device. Some websites host beta to load to said software, which can then be loaded to your device, but as with anything crowdsourced, accuracy might be suspect, so you still have to do your homework.

Last edited by Big Ian; 03-19-2015 at 01:26 AM. Reason: Added info
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 01:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dru View Post
A GPS will tell you if you are on the right part of the mountain (north ridge vs. south ridge) but won't help at all in finding the left foothold at the crux
That's why you need a smartphone, so you can get your belayer to take, get your phone, and look for someone spraying beta on SuperTopo or some site like that
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 01:25 AM
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Originally Posted by trick View Post
That's why you need a smartphone, so you can get your belayer to take, get your phone, and look for someone spraying beta on SuperTopo or some site like that
I'm waiting on the new GoPro with legs, so I won't even have to leave the couch to go on the hike!
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 01:31 AM
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Oh, no, not another GPS thread.

Yes, they are helpful and work on the moutains. No, they will not cook dinner for you or solve every possible problem you have. Yes, you will be much happier with one than without. No, you shouldn't listen to people who say "never use a GPS for navigation". They will die off with time, but the GPS will be here to stay.
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post #13 of (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 01:34 AM
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If your issue is large-scale, it will help, assuming you use it as an assist to other navigation methods and not as a "do everything for me now". It will give you your position on the map, so you can confirm that you are on the correct ridge or in the right cirque, or whatnot.
It can mark a position so you remind yourself about when to turn right off the ridge when coming down to get into the correct descent gully.

As others have said, if it's replacing your brain, it's a problem, but if you are using it to check up on yourself and confirm you are where you think you are and want to be, and get an early warning if you turn out to be not where you wanted to be or thought you were, it's a good additional asset.

However, if your struggles, particularly with scrambling, are small-scale - you're not good at routefinding and picking a good line to get up a rockband, and you tend to stray into more technical terrain, and things like that, then no, the GPS will not be able to help you out. That just requires practice and work.


So for your use, the second-guessing, it could be good, if you just want to confirm that you are about where you think you are. On an open mountain ridge, you can generally rely on accuracy of about 5m either way, which is enough to be not quite on the good line up the rockband, but small enough to be pretty confident this is indeed the rockband in question.
A GPS will not come with pre-loaded routes, but if someone else has been where you want to go, you can get a file to load on your GPS to show a track, which can be helpful.
If you want to give it a shot, the UofC outdoor centre will be renting GPS units this summer - you could try renting one and taking it out for a day and seeing if you find it to be helpful or not. That would be a good way to give it a shot for your use before sinking your money into it,

Last edited by Rachelo; 03-19-2015 at 01:39 AM.
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post #14 of (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 08:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold View Post
Oh, no, not another GPS thread.

Yes, they are helpful and work on the moutains. No, they will not cook dinner for you or solve every possible problem you have. Yes, you will be much happier with one than without. No, you shouldn't listen to people who say "never use a GPS for navigation". They will die off with time, but the GPS will be here to stay.
bingo

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post #15 of (permalink) Old 03-20-2015, 01:54 AM
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One thing to note is this;
most people think that the accuracy displayed is describing a 95 to 99% confidence interval. It is not - on all GPS units I've ever seen, and even on the specs for the chips, the accuracy is expressed in Circular Error Probable which is equivalent to a 50% confidence interval.

This might not make sense to people who do not understand probability and error estimates. The up shot is that you should double whatever value your GPS is telling you.

99% of the time this will not make a difference, but it's something you should know if you are making decisions that involve your well being.
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