guthook’s hiking guides

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Is it too late to reflect on the year that was 2016? Heck with it, I’ll do it anyway! We’ve been so busy here at the Guthook’s Guides team that we never got a chance to shout out about our most eventful year yet, so here goes.

See ya later, 2016. I got places to go, people to see, things to do!

The first big development for the year was that we have a new name (sort of) for our company: Atlas Guides. If you click on the “Trail Guide Apps” link at the top of this page, it brings you to our new, snazzy website. We’re still the same three people working on all of the apps, and the apps in the stores will still be sold by Guthook Hikes (iPhone) and High Sierra Attitude (Android), but most of our new business is going to use the new name. Confusing? No worries– you can still find our most popular apps by searching for Guthook.

And speaking of apps, my goodness we’ve added a bunch in the past year!

  • Mammoth Tracks, the official Ice Age National Scenic Trail app, was released in early spring in partnership with the Ice Age Trail Alliance.
  • We produced an app for the Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier with guidebook writer Tami Asars. The Wonderland Trail is also available in our Pacific Crest Trail app.
  • We replaced our South Downs Way app with Trailblazer Walking Guides. Both are made in partnership with Trailblazer Guides of England. The new app will house several long-distance trails in Great Britain– so far, we have West Highlands Way and South Downs Way. Soon we’ll be adding Cape Wrath, the North Downs Way, and The Ridgeway, and eventually even more.
  • For our most international app yet we released the Te Araroa Hiker, for New Zealand’s long-distance hiking trail.
  • Continuing the international trend, we released an app for Canada’s Great Divide Trail.
  • We’re teaming with Australian Cycling Holidays to make the CycleWayz app, with dozens of bicycling routes in Australia and Tasmania, and soon to be many more.
  • And, while the New England Hiker was released in 2015, we expanded our coverage of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire to include almost the entire hiking trail system, including the Presidential Range (the rest should be finished this summer).

My goodness, that was exhausting.

But wait! There’s a lot more in store for 2017. While we will hopefully slow down in the breakneck pace of new apps and trail guides, we’re hard at work on lots of new features for our apps, including a major upgrade to the iPhone app’s look and feel, with a new main menu, improved settings, and an overall improvement in use. It’s the biggest interface change we’ve made in the iPhone version yet.

That’s what we’ve been up to, and what we are currently up to now. I’ll try to keep you informed with news about the apps and other things a little better this year than last. Most small pieces of news will be shared on our Facebook page, so keep an eye out there. In the meantime, get outside and work those legs!

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Earlier this week, I posted this notice to the info section of the AT Hiker app (iPhone version). I’m posting it more publicly here, partly to get the word out, but mostly to spark some discussion. The move is probably going to be controversial among people who have used the app, and I didn’t arrive at the decision to do this lightly. In the end, I decided that listing so many heavily impacted, unofficial campsites on the over-crowded section of the AT is a burden on the people who maintain the Trail, and I’d rather do what I can to help them than make their lives harder for my own personal gain.

At the request of land managers in the southern three states of the Appalachian Trail, I will be removing many of the unofficial tent sites from the AT Hiker app soon. Many of the waypoints will remain as landmarks or water sources, but without the “tentsite” icon, and won’t show up in the “next camping” tool or the databook list of campsites.

The reason for removing many of the unofficial campsites is that, as many of you know, there will likely be increased crowding on the trail in the coming years due to the films “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods”. Land managers and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy are doing everything in their power to limit the negative impacts of those crowds on the trail, especially in the southern states where the heaviest use of the Trail takes place. We are all hoping that not listing some of these unofficial campsites will lead more hikers to choose established and maintained sites (like shelters and official campsites), which consolidates the campsite impacts to smaller areas.

I understand that for many of you who purchased this app, the abundance of unofficial campsites is a major draw, and I sympathize. I can’t stand overcrowded campsites and shelters, and I like to know that I’ll be able to camp elsewhere to avoid crowds. But, also like many of you, the Appalachian Trail was a major positive influence on my life and I’d like to do what I can to ensure that it retains some semblance of wilderness for future generations. Each of us needs to do our part to protect this trail that we love.

I encourage all of you who enjoy any part of the trail to contact the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org) to find out what you can do to help. There will be a great need for volunteers in the coming years to protect and maintain the trail. I hope you will join me in supporting the efforts of those who work so tirelessly to ensure the continued existence of the trail.

In the last few weeks I’ve been working non-stop on the major 2015 updates to the iPhone versions of my apps, along with some trail data updates for the AT. With a bit of a break around Christmas, I took some time to look back at the past year— it’s been a mighty eventful one.

Looking at the newspapers, I was reminded that it was a pretty rough year to be a human on planet Earth. There’s been so much death and violence and injustice, from Ukraine and Syria all the way to Ferguson and Staten Island. That’s just the tip of the shitberg, but I’ll just assume you know at least some of what I’m talking about. The urge to drop everything and head out for a through-hike can hardly get stronger.

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But for me, personally, the year has gone better than any I can remember. The business and trail guides that I created with two good friends began to take off to the point where I can finally treat it as a job rather than a hobby. Having created something that people use and enjoy is incredibly gratifying, though I still can barely believe it when I see someone using the apps or mention them on their gear list. It feels a bit like a dream.

Of course, the stars have aligned pretty well to put me here. Being able to afford health insurance certainly helped, as did several years of experience living with next to no income. Mostly, I can attribute the success of the apps to blind luck, stubbornness, and lots of great friends whom I can ask for advice. Not a day goes by where I don’t feel thankful for at least one of those things.

This summer, I also finally fulfilled another dream by teaching for NOLS. I’d wanted to work for NOLS since the first course I took in 2005, but I’d been nervous about being able to live up to my own expectations. The first of two courses didn’t go so well, but the organization is filled with great people and has a very positive, feedback-oriented style, and I was able to learn from my experiences in the first course in order to improve on the second. I’m already looking forward to working more courses next summer, although there’s a lot to be done between now and then.

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Then there were some really wonderful backpacking trips (for work and play) on the Appalachian Trail and in Baxter State Park. While I can’t say the AT trip was as fun as my original through-hike, it did have some great points. The Baxter trip is definitely up there with the best backpacking trips I’ve ever been on, though. To top off the fall, I spent more time hiking in Acadia National Park than I have in years. And I finished my New England 4000 Footers, and thus ended my peak-bagging lists (for now). Hiking so many miles in two of the most beautiful places in the world highlights just how well the year has been.

So now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be. I’m busy, I have a useful outlet for my creativity, I get to hike fairly often, I can afford to live on my own, and I feel like I’m doing something good. While I don’t harbor any delusions that I’m saving the world from any major problems, I know I’m making a few people happy, and at least that’s something. Hopefully, in the coming year, I’ll be able to put my skills to use in more productive and helpful ways. Here’s to a better 2015!

I’ve been working non-stop for the past few months to make major upgrades to the Guthook’s Guides apps for iPhone, and I’m pretty excited to announce what is in the pipeline for 2015. The updates will probably not be ready until January or February 2015, but I’m aiming to have them ready before most Appalachian Trail hikers hit the trail on Springer.

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New Maps!
The biggest improvement will be the base map. For the past three years, I’ve only had access to maps by OpenCycleMap, an open source mapping project with high-quality maps for the entire world, but those maps weren’t always ideal for what I wanted. So I’ve finally found a good replacement for the base map, using the USGS National Map, which is a beautiful topo map with hill shading, contour lines in feet, and a simple, uncluttered map view.

Of course, I’ll also leave the OpenCycleMap option in the apps for trails outside the US, so you can choose which map you’d like to use. To accompany the new choices, I’m also overhauling the system for downloading and choosing maps. No longer will you have to wait for the maps to download before you can use the app– a single button will bring up a list of online map sources (which you need an internet connection to load), offline map sources that are loaded to your phone (no internet connection necessary), and offline map sources that are available but haven’t been downloaded yet. Selecting an offline source to download will start the download, which will work in the background while you can play around with the app without being stuck with a loading screen.

Simpler Photo Downloads!
While I was working on improving the map download system, I also wanted to make the photo downloads simpler as well. So now, rather than waiting while the photos download, you can go about your business while downloads happen in the background. Each trail section will have a setting toggle for automatic photo syncing, which means the app will check for new photos without any extra work on your part, and will download them automatically if they exist on my servers. If you don’t want the photos for a section of the trail, just turn off syncing, and the files will be deleted for that section. Easy as pie!

More Stable and Efficient
Many of the upgrades I’m making aren’t flashy and exciting new features, but will improve the speed and stability of the apps. Fewer crashes and faster loading are always high on my priority list for upgrades in the apps. With phones becoming exponentially faster each year, incremental improvements in how quickly the elevation profile loads, or how quickly you can switch from one section of the trail to the next aren’t going to be as noticeable to you on your shiny new iPhone 6+, but I try to be a perfectionist anyway.

Stay tuned for more news about what’s coming up in the future!

The plane leaves in less than three days, and I’m barely ready for it. The a past few weeks have been a blur of loading food drops, gathering backpacking gear, fixing app bugs, traveling back and forth from Portland to my parents’ place, saying farewells. Time has lost most meaning except as a way to know I’m behind where I need to be. I don’t remember my other big trips being so frantic in the days before leaving home. Somehow, despite the stresses, I feel great.

Not the worst mess for packing, but far from organized.

Not the worst mess for packing, but far from organized.

A few weeks ago, two app users alerted me to a bug in the apps that occurred when starting the app in an area of low cell signal. My crash reporting software showed no trace of these crashes, but as I searched around for the cause, I realized the problem was more widespread. How frustrating. I searched frantically, two weekends in a row on the trail so I could experience the same conditions that caused the problem, but again and again I failed to understand the cause.

Finally, a lucky break, I found the exact problem during my hours of poring over code and software developer forums. It was only three days ago, leaving me less than a week to fix the apps and send them out to the world. I don’t like cutting things so close, but I hate the thought of leaving any major bugs in the program while I’m away for the summer. The past few weeks have been bad for sleeping, with possible reasons for the bug flowing through my mind. And they’ve been bad for my eyes. Too much screen time makes my eyes itch.

Starting to sort the food packages.

Starting to sort the food packages.

But I’m done with the programming for now, at least as much as I can be. Now it’s time for hike preparations. Next week begins the most ambitious backpacking trip I’ve ever planned for myself. Nearly 1000 miles, and no more than 45 days from start to finish. This may not be the smartest decision. But the challenge is pretty exciting.

For the past few weeks, in what little downtime I could find between programming, I’ve been buying loads of hiking food, organizing gear, testing new equipment, packing food boxes, studying maps and guides, planning logistics, and trying to organize the things I’ll leave at home. The mess in my room is smaller than it could be, but I have to wonder how it compares to my previous hikes. This is the part I always seem to block out of memory. Is getting ready for this kind of backpacking trip always this chaotic?

Soon enough, I’ll have to let go of all the anxieties and just get on with the hike. And everything will work out just fine.