This all started a couple years ago when I decided I should try to hike the Long Trail in the winter.
My experience with the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail in winter (only as day-hikes) is that the trails are exceptionally hard to follow. Some popular sections of each are frequently hiked, so you can follow footprints with ease, but if nobody’s been to a section of the trail in a while you’ll get lost at the drop of a hat. Solution? I figured I would need to get a GPS to aid in my navigation. I picked up a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx last fall to learn the ropes (you can find them for much lower prices than the Garmin MSRP if you search a little).
One thing led to another– I figured it would be nice to have a track file of the trail rather than just a map that showed where I am, but I don’t trust other people’s track data (due to an annoying incident on a day hike a few years ago). So I decided I would make tracks of the trail on my own so that I would have those tracks later on when I started the winter hiking.
The Winter Long Trail idea is still just a fantasy in the corner of my mind, but since I’ve started playing with that GPS and recording trail data I’ve found it to be a lot more entertaining than I had anticipated. I still hope that some day the LT idea will come to fruition, but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I can still record trail data with the GPS and enjoy the results. Here’s a little guide to what I’ve found, in case anyone else who is as new to this hobby as I am would like some pointers.
First, you can upload KML files to Google Maps by going into your “My Maps” link from the main maps page. This can be useful for some purposes, but in general I just like to see my GPS tracks in Google’s terrain map. I think it looks pretty.
How to get these KML files from your GPS? I’m a novice as far as GPS units go, so there are probably easier ways to do many of these things. My eTrex saves its info to a .gpx file. I found this snazzy little website that lets you play around with .gpx files– convert them to other file formats, display them in various online map formats, and make elevation profiles.
Garmin’s software for editing track data and waypoints is pretty simple and effective, but I had two problems with it. First, their website didn’t make it very easy for me to discover the software, but once I knew what I was looking for it was fine. Just search for Base Camp. It’s very simple, and very intuitive. The other problem was that if you want topo maps for it (or for the GPS itself) you have to pay extra to get them from Garmin. Or go to this website, where people make free versions of these topo maps that seem to work just fine.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with this new hobby, but it’s proving to be plenty fun, and it’s given me more motivation to get off my ass and do some hiking this spring. It doesn’t take much to get me out hiking, of course, but sometimes a little extra motivation in the form of concrete goals helps a lot. My goal for this spring is to get data for all the trails in the Camden Hills State Park before Mother’s Day. That goal has forced me to get out a lot more often than the usual desire for just some nice walks in the woods. Hopefully it will also give me some more incentive to discover a few other trails as well.