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GPS/Navigation - beta on best device is needed


Original Post
nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Hi,
I would like to find currently available (used OK) BEST device that is good for the alpine mountaineering. The criteria are basically as following:
- accuracy good to navigate around crevasses (when backtracking or using downloaded waypoints, route)
- ability to add maps (paid, free and handmade) specifically with track info from previous climbs
- reliability
- ability to add waypoints, to backtrack, etc

The touchscreen is out due to deep freeze.

I hope fellow alpine mountaineers know what they would need.

Specifically my next projects will be Rainier and Denali and specifically the need for GPS is to be able to find a route under total milk-out conditions (I've been on both mountains and know how scary it is under whiteout and how GPS actually helps to survive)

I am currently looking at garmin 64 st or sc, but reviews are somewhat unconvincing.
$$$ is not a big issue - I will gladly pay for what is best for what I need.

Thoughts?

Thanks,
Nikolay

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175

consider inreach devices as they have good mapping SW, can pair with your phone for out of cell service texting, allow friends and family to track you from home and best of all, have an SOS button.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 650

YEs, look into the new Inreach devise. I have an Inreach explorer that I love, but I haven't tried out the GPS too much yet.

Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 8,986

I've got a Garmin GPSMAP 62st, works great, just need to remember to turn it off when it's not needed.
When talking crevasses, remember that accuracy of real GPS are at most ±5m, and gets worse if you're near a cliff or obstacles to satellite signals.

nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

We used inreach explorer (not sure which version) on Denali and it worked nicely, however it is any better compared to simpler garmins if satellite feature is not required?
My main goal is to safely get home (assuming summitting is also a goal) and ability to find way back is probably most critical requirement.
I understand that accuracy of 5 meters would not allow me to go totally blind, but it would be enough at least to see the closest edge of a crack.
So I am still leaning towards 60s (64 or 62), the question is - is 64 any better than 62? Not sure how much GLONASS helps in that condition

Thanks

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175
nkarasev wrote:We used inreach explorer (not sure which version) on Denali and it worked nicely, however it is any better compared to simpler garmins if satellite feature is not required? My main goal is to safely get home (assuming summitting is also a goal) and ability to find way back is probably most critical requirement. I understand that accuracy of 5 meters would not allow me to go totally blind, but it would be enough at least to see the closest edge of a crack. So I am still leaning towards 60s (64 or 62), the question is - is 64 any better than 62? Not sure how much GLONASS helps in that condition Thanks
if you only want to compare GPS capabilities, youre probably better off getting a basic GPS, as you will save money. but garmin now owns inreach and has a new version of the explorer out which has full garmin GPS function with the great inreach functions i mentioned above.

personally, id prefer to have both communication and GPS available (vs just GPS).

i spent 22 days on the west buttress of denali (assuming thats the route youre going on) and id rather have an inreach device than a basic GPS. we back carried from 11 back to 9 and back up to 11 in a white out no problem, just place wands. we had a team member have a heart attack above 19k ft on summit day and were very thankful to have the ability to comminicate with NPS. we used radio in this instance, but im just trying to stress how important having some communication can be.

also, i think youll have a pretty easy time navigating regardless of which option you choose. there will be a lot of wands on the west buttress, you cant really get lost on the fixed lines or 16 ridge. i guess the big place id want one is above 17k camp. hopefully when you are that high, you will be waiting for good weather and not summitting (or descending) in white out.
nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Jake,
I agree with you that having communication abilities add to the overall safety. I am only questioning whether inreach with its sms abilities would help your person at 19 as the help would not come as fast as if you were using radio. So this is additional gear we would be discussing.
I do remember all the wands "disappearing" when conditions are next to grave - if you first time, you simply do not believe that you just keep coming down slopes of autoban and you would just stumble upon the camp :) It is scary if you not too sure. In our case inreach helped - shown that camp is just 0.2 miles below, so we wandered into the white and were "home" in 30 minutes.

I expect the Rainier to be far more dangerous in the same conditions as step left or right off the path in some cases mean plunge 100s feet below... Not sure if inreach helps in this case :(

Anyway, I agree that having radio improves a lot, but again - at this time we explore GPS options.

Thanks,
Nikolay

nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Jake, out of the topic - which radio did you use? Standard walkies, or a specific, maybe satellite base equipment?
Thanks,
Nikolay

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20

Get a handheld GPS unit with replaceable batteries - Garmin Map 64s fits the bill, but I would go for eTrex 20x - simpler device, unfortunately touchscreen.

Get a sat phone for sat communications - you will also get sms capability. Rentals are not that expensive.
UHF/VHF radio is a no brainer.

InReach is convenient, but it needs your smartphone to function. It uses same satellite network as some satellite phones.

If you are looking for emergency communication device, you should get PLB - their transmitters are much stronger. They use different satellite network than other beacons.

It is convenient to have multiple functions in one device, but if the device craps out, you lose all those functions at once.

Cor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 1,455

Justy download whatever app for your smartphone you like best, and use it on your phone (which will be in airplane mode - but still can navigate via satellites..) Then you can also listen to music.

I currently use TopoMaps (By Endicott I think is the developers name) but it's for iPhones only. $8
My friend now uses Gaia Topo (I think that's what its called.) $20

His one will draw a line of path and show you vert, etc.

The one I use uses the highest res USGS topo maps.

Maps must be downloaded prior to trip. Mine may only be US, and his might be worldwide..

Just some more thoughts to ponder…. :)

Martin le Roux · · Superior, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 234
nkarasev wrote:The touchscreen is out due to deep freeze
I've used a smartphone as a GPS on a couple of trips to the Alaska range and the St. Elias. It worked fine if I kept it in an inside pocket and wore tech-compatible liner gloves. It's just as accurate as a dedicated handheld GPS, the screen resolution is much better, and with apps like Gaia you can download USGS topo maps, which are much more detailed than the 100k Garmin or DeLorme maps. And it doubles as an e-reader and music player. The only drawbacks are that the screen's hard to read in bright sunlight, and it's not as robust as a handheld GPS (best to carry it a hard-sided case).

amarius wrote:InReach is convenient, but it needs your smartphone to function
That's only true of the 1st generation InReach device. The 2nd and 3rd generation InReach SE and Explorer work fine as standalone devices, although it helps to pair them with a smartphone if you want to compose long messages.

In 2014 in a minor issue with the InReach was that the dispatchers at the Talkeetna airfield weren't used to them - they only checked for incoming messages once or twice a day. If we wanted to get their attention it was best to send a message to someone else and have them phone Talkeetna. It may be different now.
Gavin W · · Surrey, BC · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 183

I'm seconding the app route, specifically Gaia. You can have multiple layers, so you can see topo and satellite images, and can map out your route ahead of time on Google Earth. Mark Smiley put together a video tutorial on how to plan your route out and set waypoints or a path and then follow it with the app. You can watch the tutorial here: vimeo.com/ondemand/getlostn…

In talking with him about it he said he hasn't used a GPS device for years. He's climbed Denali with the app a few times, and used it exclusively on his recent expedition to China.

Long Ranger · · Boulder, Colorado · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 75

eTrex 20x is not touchscreen, it has buttons on the side, and a tiny nubbin for screen navigation. the Etrex 25/35 are touchscreen. Both take AA's (use Lithiums) and the 20x lasts longer on those batteries.

nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Hmm...
Seems like I lived a century ago and still dreaming of it :-0

Ok, more choices than I can imagine. I need to research on each to be more certain. Thanks everybody!

I have a doubt about using smartphone. Especially on Denali. The battery life is the issue especially if GPS is ON and an app is running. You could have extra batt, but they are very expensive, and probably still need a very nice solar charger. Still need single batt to live single day of climbing which expands over 20 hours on summit day.
I have Galaxy S5, 2 years old. Not planning to replace yet. Battery is somewhat weak already, so probably need to replace it if deciding for the option.
What I do not know is how it behaves at deep freeze. It is understood that need to keep in warm pocket close to heart, but chances are it needs to be out too often when needed, it will definitely freeze. Any clue as to how S5 reacts to freeze? Especially prolonged one.

nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Not to bash, but it is noted that eTrex 20x does not come with maps. Maps costs twice $85 for what I want so the total price of device and a maps comes to over than a new 64st is sold with 100k installed. I am in doubt of eTrex 20x for just this reason. Extra AA batteries are not an issue on the go (though might need to replace while on a single prolonged route like summit day). I know you can get free maps likely, but I sense a lot of hurdle to get them right.
Again, other than extra battery life and $100 savings (without maps) - is there anything else in eTrex 20x better than in 64 st? Seriously.

nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Downloaded and will play with giaia. Looks way cool!
Thanks

Long Ranger · · Boulder, Colorado · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 75

I've used the etrex 20 extensively, the thing rules for what you want to do with it, which isn't much:

You want to turn the thing on, you want it to track your position, and you want to perhaps load a track up to follow (which you can find for free). That's it. You don't need no f'n maps, as far as I can understand? Are you going to get so lost that you want a complete topo of Denali National Park? Even if you did, here ya go, price? $0:

gpsfiledepot.com/maps/state/ak

Etrex 20 Battery Life: 25 hours
64st Battery Life: 16 hours

Save $100, Save a coupla ounces, lug along something less bulky.

The only question on both of these devices is operating conditions (namely temperature). I don't have any info on that. Some smart phones like to shut down at a certain temp. I think for backup they're great, but bringing along a GPS Unit is a no brainer.

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

Honestly, for what you're talking about "navigating the West Butt or DC in a whiteout) you don't exactly need cutting edge technology.

An etrex is cheap, simple, and durable, and will do what you need. You can simply lay down a track as you go and follow it back down to camp. If you wanted, you could pre-program a track in Google Earth beforehand and load it in.

Gaia on a smartphone is a viable option too. You don't need to run it day-in and day-out, so battery life shouldn't be a big problem. Carry an external battery pack to recharge your phone, or maybe solar on Denali.

FYI Mark Smiley has done a few little seminars on how to use this app for this specific purpose, if it's good enough for him it's good enough for my meager use. instagram.com/p/BLeMmHuhVxZ/

nkarasev · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0

Long Ranger - thanks for your reply. I agree that the more I know, the better I can manage things, including finding free maps. I never had experience with any GPS so started this thread since have not seen any relevant posts that would answer my quests.
You right also about temp range. I am afraid the smart phone will shut when -20F or so. I am also not convinced I can use any touch-screen enabled gloves at that temp - the mittens are ON at all times and frankly - dexterity of mittens will lead me far away from main path if I use touch screen device :) There is also snow that will get device wet no matter what box it is in.
And of course there is no substitute for reliable backup.

Kyle - the West Butts are not that complicated, but believe me, for the first time there in total white out and low temps, exausted after the summit day - it was hard to find a way down. It may be more of a phycological, but reminded me of even more danger on Rainier. I actually almost got to Nasqually glacier in similar conditions - simply trying to get down to Paradize from Muir. It was that bad. Using proper GPS device (and know how to proper use it) was the key to finding way back. We eventually figured this and had to climb up 50 degree slope with waist deep fresh snow about 60 yards up from the tight place between two cliffs. The glacier was just hundred feet below.
The etrex may be the right "cheap" option compared to 64st, but it is not quite that cheap either at around $170 if you can find one for this price.

Anyway - I appreciate any response and plese keep 'em coming. If not for mine, but for others benefits too. I downloaded giaia and played with it - works neat. Just not sure about low temps. I will also be seeking other options to have free maps for etrex included.

Nikolay

Cor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 1,455

How do you expect to use a gps with mittens on? Same problem as phone. (Almost)
Put phone in something to protect from moisture. Keep it next to body for keeping it warm.
Or even put a hand heat pack next to it.

Just a few possibilities to think further through. I do agree. Whiteout and cold, and not finding your tent can suck bad!!

Good thread!

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

I don't know what you're looking for. People have proposed a bunch of good, well-tested and proven options and you don't seem to like any of them? Also, in your first post you said cost was no problem, and then you're complaining about the cost?

Not trying to be a jerk, but if you got all turned around going from Muir to Paradise, maybe you need some better navigational experience/training. You can do that with a compass using the NPS supplied bearings: nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/…

Seriously, just buy an etrex and use Gaia as a backup. Problem solved.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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