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Maps & Mapping

There is no official or unofficial SHR mapset that is publicly available. The guidebook does include maps but they are inadequate for field use: they are black & white and printed on standard paper stock, and the scale is not ideal for technical navigation. (I believe that Roper included these maps to make the route less abstract for guidebook readers who may not yet have a mapset.)

Without a publicly available mapset, aspiring SHR hikers have had to assemble their own. This consumes time & energy that could be spent on other aspects of trip prep, and it can be frustrating trying to piece together the perfect mapset.

To reduce this barrier to entry, I have made my SHR mapset available for purchase on CD-ROM.

What is a “perfect SHR mapset”? For me, it included two map series: one set of technical maps that permit safe and efficient navigation; and one set of overview maps that offer area context and emergency exit routes, which are hopefully unnecessary but which are wise to have on hand. Also, the mapset should be efficient, i.e. I don’t want to carry or pay for mapped areas that are irrelevant to my route. And I also prefer to keep the total cost of the mapset to a minimum.

Assembling a mapset can be done using paper maps or mapping software, or a combination of both. Paper maps are time-efficient but they have several pitfalls: large portions of the maps are often inapplicable to the route; they are not conducive to quick referencing because of their large paper size and their numerous folds; and it seems that trekking routes have an uncanny habit of straddling map edges and bouncing back and forth between maps. Mapping software allows for a more perfect mapset, but it’s a more time consuming process: the mapset must be created from scratch and then printed.

Paper Maps

A paper SHR mapset could be pieced together using maps from at least three map publishers:

US Geological Service. The 7.5-minute topos, which have a scale of 1:24,000, are ideal for the “technical mapset.” And the 30×60 minute maps, which have a scale of 1:100,000 are ideal for the “overview mapset.” But the cost of this mapset is almost prohibitive: the 195-mile SHR would require 30-40 7.5-minute maps at $6 each (and probably another 10 maps would be very helpful), and then probably 10 30×60 minute maps at $7 each.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated. The entire SHR could be covered with just three TI maps (#205, #206, and #809), but they are not ideally suited for technical navigation—the scale is 1:80,000 for the Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Park maps and 1:63,360 for the Mammoth Lakes map, the latter of which would be marginally adequate. TI also makes two 1:40,000 maps (#308 and #309) that cover about one-quarter of the SHR; they should be adequate for technical sections but they obviously would need to be supplemented with other technical maps in order to cover the entire SHR corridor.

Tom Harrison. This California mapping company produces about 10 maps for the High Sierra. The most detailed maps have a scale of 1:40,000 and 80-foot contour lines. These detailed maps are not available for the entire SHR corridor, so some of their 1:63,000 maps would also be needed. The least detailed maps have a scale of 1:125,000 and 200-foot contour lines.

If the three paragraphs above did not make it clear, assembling a SHR paper mapset can be a frustration-causing puzzle. And, regardless of how hard one tries, a perfect mapset can never be obtained because these general area maps are not completely relevant to the SHR.

Mapping Software

A perfect mapset can be created with one of several electronic mapping programs, which are available online or as desktop software. But this process is time consuming: the mapset must be created, exported as printable files (e.g. JPG’s), and then printed. I usually have my maps printed professionally, which assures that the fine detail is preserved and that they maps are resistant to bleeding/smudging and flaking. I have used consumer-grade printers for maps before but I have never been pleased with the results: the quality is disappointing and the process is slow; the cost savings are minor after accounting for map paper, ink, and time.

I have a lot of experience with TOPO!, which has some quirks but which is functional. I can’t comment on the MapTech or iGage packages. I have used TopoZone.com and I cannot imagine trying to develop a mapset with it. There are free online map databases from TerraServer and numerous universities and state agencies, but I have intentionally avoided them—again, I think it would be frustrating and time-consuming to develop a comprehensive mapset with them.

For the SHR, I created the “perfect mapset” that I outlined above. I printed both mapsets in color on 11×17 double-sided sheets,. The technical mapset was at a scale of about 1:24,000 and the overview maps at 1:100,000. Because the largest export size offered by TOPO! is 8.5×11, I had to export the maps at a scale of ~1:29,000. Buzz and I were both extremely pleased with the results.

11 Responses to Maps & Mapping

  1. Joe MacLeish June 3, 2015 at 12:02 am #

    Do your SHR maps have the route clearly drawn in on the map and does it follow the Roper Route. I noticed the National Geo maps that I have that show the route show it going over Alpine Col and not over Snow Tongue Pass. Last year I followed what I think is your route and went out to Bishop over Thunderbolt Pass vs. Knapsack Pass which is OK but I would like to know.
    thanks
    Joe

    • Andrew Skurka June 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      My maps have breadcrumbs, not a line, in order to depict the route. Two reasons. First, there are oftentimes multiple routes to get you there. Second, I didn’t want to steal your fun by showing you the optimal route between points — you can figure that out.

      Remember, there is no official Sierra High Route, so a route over Alpine Col is just as worthy as over Snow Tongue.

  2. Joe June 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    OK, and is there a good GPS track somewhere that follows your guidance?
    thanks
    Joe

    • Andrew Skurka June 3, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

      No, there is not, intentionally. I would encourage you to ask yourself whether you need or want one. If you need one, the SHR is probably not the right route for you. If you want one, you probably know how to create one, or you can use this as an opportunity to learn.

  3. Joe June 3, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

    Well, I had one (GPS track) last year and it was a great help. The SHR is a good route for me, I did the first leg last year, and will do the middle this year. But if there is not one I can make one as you say.

    • Andrew Skurka June 4, 2015 at 5:23 am #

      I am curious by what you mean in describing it as a “a great help.” Are you using it occasionally for peace of mind, constantly to hike point to point, or some way other than this?

  4. Joe June 9, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    OK, so I probably don’t hike like you and I have no trouble with being “lost”. I would say we were not where we wanted to be about 25% of the time last year and the GPS track helped us get back to where we wanted to be. Choosing a particular slot seemed to make a lot of difference on staying on the way. The GPS often helped us choose the right slot but not always. We used a combo of the Nat Geo maps with a hard line route, Roper’s book, and the GPS track we had from somebody else. Even with that we still went awry and we enjoyed every minute of it and in my mind were never in any danger. We saw one person in six days.

    I did the JMT and hiked back to Roads End from OV to start the SHR last year but no need for a GPS on the JMT.

  5. Nate P. December 17, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    Andrew,

    Is there a reason you did the SHR with a buddy vs solo beyond the fact it just worked out that way? I know you’ve done some intense solos in what I would consider much more dangerous wildland (Alaska/Yukon). I’m assuming the choice was not related to safety, and it just worked out to have someone else with you, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I intend to follow Roper’s route next August solo so I was just curious. I’m currently studying Roper’s Sierra High Route book and route planning and there’s nothing here that gives me reservations about a solo. Thanks!

    – Nate

    • Andrew Skurka December 18, 2015 at 8:51 am #

      Buzz wanted to do it, too, and I thought I could use the company given that the route was more ambitious than anything I’d done up to that point. I’d do it solo now without pause.

      Solo in Alaska is another step up.

  6. Kayleen June 23, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Did you have your map printed on waterproof paper? Or could you give paper recommendations? Just got a quote back from the printer for over $150 for on 11×14 mapset…

    Thanks!

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