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Monday, April 12, 2010

Route Planning for Skiing and Climbing A Primer

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Follow this blog A key component of trip or tour planning - route planning was one of the most revolutionary skills I learned as I worked my way through the AMGA!s guide certification program. This is a way of doing your homework before heading into the backcountry so you are not flying blind so to speak. Where the power of the route plan really struck me was several years ago when some friends and I decided to ski the Forbidden Tour in a day. This is a tour that we typically guide in 3-4 days but at that point none of us had done the tour before. With the aid of a 7.5 min map (with a UTM grid marked on it), a Rite in the Rain notebook, compass & grid reader I came up with our route plan while camped out at the trailhead the night before the tour. According to the tour plan it would take us 14 hours and 40 minutes to ski the 21 km, 9,300! tour - a big day but manageable with an early start. We left the car at 4:20 AM and when we returned at 7:05 PM, 14 hours and 45 minutes later, I was pretty psyched. When I realized the utility of the route plan was skiing the Spearhead Traverse in a complete whiteout. It has since come in very handy on more than one whiteout tour. To keep this from getting way to long I do not touch on some of the foundational skills needed to complete a successful route plan (i.e. how to pull a bearing or way point off of a map, aiming off, hand rails etc). Benefits of a tour plan:

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Most tour plans should be done as a whiteout plan giving you the added benefit of being able to navigate in a white out. Select your waypoints to lead you in a whiteout (avoiding hazards), then If you are then out in clear weather it is easy to adjust and take short cuts as appropriate. The tour plan gives you an idea of how long it should be taking you to cover certain sections of ground. This allows you to recognize if you are falling behind schedule and adjust accordingly. For ski touring you can include a column in your route plan for aspect. This is very useful for hazard forecasting. For example on a spring tour if there is a south facing slope that you have to cross you can adjust your start time to get you across the slope before it heats up. You can leave a copy of your route plan with someone at home so they know where you are headed. There are 2 main ways to come up with your route plan. You can do it by hand with a map/compass/grid reader or you can use a program on your computer, National Geographic TOPO, to come up with the route plan and then upload it to your GPS and transcribe it to your notebook. I believe there is value in learning how to do this process by hand but once you have the hang of it the computerized method is much faster. Even if you are coming up with the plan on the computer it is important to have some sort of a hard copy in case you drop your GPS, or it dies. By Hand: Begin with a USGS 7.5min map (for trips in the lower 48). If the map does not have the UTM grid marked on it it is important to do this at home with a good straight edge. The UTM is the most useful grid for skiers and climbers, it is also easier to use than the lat/long grid. You will need a compass (preferably w/ adjustable declination) for pulling bearings, a grid tool for pulling waypoints (Brooks Range Mountaineering are making the nicest grid tools), a Rite in the Rain notebook, a pencil and a GPS (the calculator function on the GPS also comes in handy for converting units and calculating time). There are different ways that you can lay out your tour plan. Below is the system I use. Once you practice with this you might decide to tweak it for your own purposes.

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Sample Route Plan- Additional Day of Verbier Haute Route Leg: This is the Waypoint name, these names should be short so they are easy to type into your GPS in the field and and all have the same prefix which makes them easy to find in your GPS in the future as they will all be grouped together. Comments: This is a description of what the way point is, it can

Olivia Tor Lundgren

also include any other pertinent information about that section of the route (any hazards, things to watch out for etc) UTM: This is the UTM coordinate for your waypoint. Make sure your GPS is set to the same datum as the map you are using. For white out navigation purposes try to make your waypoints easily identifiable places, like obvious features or at least an major elevation point, try to incorporate handrail features (like a ridge line) in your roue plan, also consider aiming off. Make sure that your waypoints steer you clear of any hazards. Elevation: The elevation at the waypoint (list this using the same units as are marked on the map for ease of use - feet in the US) Change in Elevation: +/- list this in meters which will be useful when you are doing the time calculation. Out Bearing: The compass bearing toward your waypoint. It is easiest to use true north if you have a compass with adjustable declination. This way you don!t have to remember to add or subtract (which I never can), just make sure you adjust your declination when you move to a new area. If you are contouring along a feature rather than following a line you can describe this in the bearing section instead of assigning a number. Distance: This is listed in km as It is easy to get that with the grid reader (the UTM grid works in km) and it will make it easier when you are figuring out the time calculation. This can be measured in a straight line. Slope Aspect: What direction does the slope you are crossing in the given leg face? If you are wrapping around a bowl you can list the range i.e. SW-SE. Units: This is the basis for the formula that allows us to figure out how long the tour will take. The formula is called the Munter Time Calculation developed by the same guy who came up with the hitch. 100 meters of vertical gain or loss = 1 unit 1 km of horizontal distance = 1 unit Add the Vertical and Horizontal units to come up with your total units for the leg. For the units it does not matter if you are going up or down - i.e. descending or ascending 200 m is the same 2 units, later when you calculate time you will account for down vs up. Time: Once you have your units you will divide them by a fixed number to come up with time for the leg. As you play with this formula you can adjust the fixed number to better match your personal pace. The numbers I include below are for a steady but comfortable pace for most groups. You do not need to factor breaks in as they work into the overall formula. I tend to round up to the nearest 5 min to give a slightly conservative time estimate. This time calculation works on non-technical terrain, as soon as you switch to pitching things out you need a different method for calculating time. For uphill, or traversing, legs divide units by 4: Time (in min) = (Units / 4) x 60 If you climb 100 m over the course of 1 km that would give you 2 total uphill units. 2/4 = .5 hours multiply by 60 to give you 30 min. This is the same for climbing on foot or skis. For downhill legs divide by 10 (skis) or 6 (foot): Time (in min) = (Units / 10) x 60

If you descend on skis 400 m over the course of 2 km that would give you 6 total downhill units. 6/10 = .6 hours multiply by 60 to give you 36 min Running Time: This is useful because it allows you to easily compare where you are in the day to where you route plan says you should be. If you have a 14 hour tour planned and have a rappel that commits you to finishing the remainder of the tour (makes retreat difficult) you can check where you are before committing to the rappel. If you had planned to be there in 3 hours and it has taken you 6 hours you might decide to turn around as you are now on pace for a 28 hour day. Sometimes people assume they will make up the time - this is usually not the case you will likely fall further behind as the day goes on and you get more tired. Actual Time: You can note this at several points throughout the day. This will help you calibrate your time calculation for future tours. It is also good for future reference if you do the same tour again. After you have come up with you route plan you should enter the waypoints into a GPS to aid you once you are in the field, especially in a white out. You can also draw the route onto the map marking waypoints with their name, and on the lines connecting the waypoints listing the out bearing & distance. It can also be helpful to mark a few of the UTM lines (the 634 & 94 marked on the map below) for quick reference if you are working in the middle of the map, this is especially useful if you are carrying the map in a case or ziplock and do not have easy access to the grid markings on the edges.

Now that we have done it the hard way.... Route planning with the aid of the computer (Preferably done at home with a good cup of coffee ;) National Geographic!s TOPO! program will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to come up with your tour plan. It is key to know how to do it by hand, in case you need to change the plan in the field, but once you know how to do this it is nice to streamline the process.

Benefits to planning on TOPO: You can change back and forth easily between meters/feet and km/mi for purposes of planning and plugging into time calculation formulas. Plotting a waypoint is as easy as clicking a button, much quicker than pulling it off the map with a grid reader. You have a much lower likelihood of writing down the wrong number in a waypoint (which can put you way off in the field). Waypoints are instantly downloaded into your GPS. Again way faster and no possibility of error! Using the waterproof adventure paper you can print up a map of exactly what you need rather than carrying 4 maps if you happen to be traveling in the corner regions (worst case scenario).

Things to know when using TOPO:

When you are starting your tour plan make sure to begin with New GPS Route in the Handheld Menu. Also make sure that if you plan to use the waypoints from TOPO with a standard USGS 7.5 min map you select the correct Datum in the Coordinate Display in the Preference menu. Make sure if you are using true north you have adjusted your compass to the correct declination before heading into the field. When you do go to print the map make sure you click the Custom print magnification and choose to print map at a scale of 1:24,000 this will allow you to pull waypoints off of the map when you are in the field if you need to.

One thing Topo doesnt do a great job of is exporting the data in a very usable format. I have come up with

my own spread sheet to quickly take the info from Topo and put it into a format I can work with in the field.

You can print this on adventure paper to carry with you or transcribe it to your notebook. The elevation change, units, time and running time columns all have formulas built in which make it super fast. For traverses that loose slight elevation you will want to manually enter the time as it is better to divide by 4 than by 6 for traverses as they are not that much faster than climbing uphill. You can also use this spreadsheet in conjunction with route planning with a paper map to speed up the process.
Formulas: These formulas are for Row 4 (LR2 waypoint), you can fill them down for the remaining rows. Elevation Change =(D4-D3)/3.28 Units =(ABS(E4)/100)+F4 Time =IF(E4>0, (I4/4)*60 , (I4/6)*60) Running Time =SUM($J$4:J4)/60

Posted by Olivia at 10:33 AM Labels: Map and Compass, Munter Method, Route Planning, Ski Tour Plans

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