Maps of popular and confusing climbing areas (requesting feedback)


Original Post
ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0

Hi all,     

My wife and I have been working on a venture to create maps to help climbers find the walls of large, popular, and confusing climbing areas. We have collected the trail/approach/walk-off data for Red Rock Canyon NCA, Joshua Tree NP, and Smith Rock SP, and are now working on the cartographic aspect. We are reaching out to you, as fellow climbers, to get your feedback to ultimately help shape the final visual presentation of the maps. 

We are looking to you to tell us what you think about the content, functionality, intuitiveness, visual appeal, etc. of our map samples. Currently we have a few variations of a small area of Red Rocks that has most (but not all) of the elements that will be on the maps. We'd love to hear your early opinions. We will utilize your feedback to make adjustments and adaptations for the larger maps.   

We have already received feedback that the trail symbols were a bit confusing so we have 3 options below. Aside from the trail symbols, these are all the same. For scale/distance reference, Civilization to Dante's (as the bird flies) is about 900 feet.

If you're interested, here is our original sample (http://imgur.com/tqPDHbk). A lot was changed including the rock color, background colors, boulder/boulder fields, noisy pictures, etc.

We're thinking of displaying the Joshua Tree rocks as more of a grey tone.

A couple of side notes that may answer questions or aid in your review/consideration:    

(1) We recognize that guidebooks and Mountain Project (MP) have maps but they are typically very small scale, sometimes insufficient, and sometimes incorrect. Our maps are intended to be a complement to those sources as they have done the massive amount of hard work to document the details on all the routes (we value and promote the use of those resources). Our maps have stats for each wall which we compiled from multiple sources including up to 6 guidebooks and MP to create a comprehensive summary of climbing wall information (all of those sources will be credited on the maps). Where necessary to assist with orientation, we will note a specific route's location on the map, but we do not intend to show all routes on the maps, as there is not space for this (and we do not intend to replace guidebooks, but as mentioned, to complement them). Our goal with the route summary, combined with the other map elements, is to make the maps a helpful planning tool (for example, to determine a good place to climb for the day based on climbing level, tolerance to exposure on the approach, etc.)    

(2) We are using high accuracy GPS equipment (<1m) to survey approach trails, walk offs,walls, and key route locations for orientation while noting exposure and trail difficulty. Our goal is to display this information in detail and in a way that (hopefully) will help users choose the best approach to the wall. We have physically walked on every trail in the map so you can be sure of its reliability. In addition, we have taken photo's of the particularly confusing sections (and labeled them) to try and help climbers go the easiest way the first time.   

Thanks again! (and we seek and appreciate  your honest, thoughtful, and critical/constructive feedback)     

More info on our maps: http://www.climbonmaps.com/quality.html   

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

None of them are any good. They all have way to much going on in the picture to really follow very well.

As much as you would like to have all those colors in the picture you would be better off doing the map in black and white (or solid set of colors for certain types of features) and having the lines to follow a color that stands out on top of the rest.

Right now the lines that you are suppose to follow blur into the rest of the image and don't stand out.


Change the boulders to just black outlines, change the mountains to solid color A you have instead of faded, get rid of vegetation, make all the trail lines i single color B (maybe make different degree of darkness for easy vs hard),  make the wall a single color C. Vegetation should only be on the map if it is needed for refernece when following a trail or looking for something.

The circles with the route types is probably fine the way you have them but not sure if you need a breakdown for the grades and types of climbs, maybe just the types of climbs and they can go to another page for the grade breakdown. It doesn't help much to give a grade breakdown when people don't know if the hard grades are sport or trad etc.

Zach Holt · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 60

Version 2a.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

I'm concerned that all those lines on your maps are going to send people on a wild goose chase for the best approach to an area that only has one established approach trail from Civilization with an optional approach from Red Springs (the upper one on your map is the correct trail). 

A big concern we have here in the desert is unnecessary trail erosion- Mike went to a good bit of trouble to establish the correct trail to Dante's with good cairns so as to help limit the creation of new trails. 

IMHO, you should consider eliminating most of the trails on this particular map and instead focus on putting in the primary trail to each crag, thus reducing impacts by climbers trying to find cliffs. If most of your maps have more than one trail to a cliff, I would recommend only plotting the primary trail (if you are unsure, please chat with locals- there are a good number of us in Vegas who can assist you with this), and not plotting any others (or even marking them as not recommended). This would not only encourage using the correct trail, but also make your maps MUCH easier to read.

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 958

Overall too busy.

As a practical matter, what John said above about just including the primary trail is a good suggestion. 

Nitpicky:

The photo for (1) doesn't really jive with what is shown on the map.  I can make it work, but without the photo, the map wouldn't do much good.

5 classes of trail classification is too many. Eliminate bushwhack entirely.

No north arrow is unmaplike. Same with scale. 

The trail going in and out of the cliff at Civilization is weird.

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

Figure out how to link to GPS assisted navigation off the map page - QR code would be one option. Perhaps preload GPS track while in network area.

Take a look at how Rakkup does it.

Charlie S · · Ogden, UT · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 1,471

2c.  As a map geek, I appreciate the detail without using satellite photos as the background.

With the detail you have going on, the dashes are hard to track.  Solid lines are better.

Idaho Bob · · McCall, ID · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 58

I visit Red Rock a few weeks each year and am always dismayed by the multiple trails, especially in the wilderness areas.  My recommendation, as others have mentioned, is that only the major already established trail be shown for each approach and walk off.  If the maps are going to include key GPS waypoints, suggest that those be in MGRS, instead of lat/long.  

hotlum · · Bend, Oregon · Joined May 2009 · Points: 365

On the right track imo. I make loads of maps for field users including myself. Keeping things simple is key. Are you producing these in Arc and exporting the maps a georefrenced PDF?

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
John Wilder wrote:

I'm concerned that all those lines on your maps are going to send people on a wild goose chase for the best approach to an area that only has one established approach trail from Civilization with an optional approach from Red Springs (the upper one on your map is the correct trail). 

A big concern we have here in the desert is unnecessary trail erosion- Mike went to a good bit of trouble to establish the correct trail to Dante's with good cairns so as to help limit the creation of new trails. 

IMHO, you should consider eliminating most of the trails on this particular map and instead focus on putting in the primary trail to each crag, thus reducing impacts by climbers trying to find cliffs. If most of your maps have more than one trail to a cliff, I would recommend only plotting the primary trail (if you are unsure, please chat with locals- there are a good number of us in Vegas who can assist you with this), and not plotting any others (or even marking them as not recommended). This would not only encourage using the correct trail, but also make your maps MUCH easier to read.

Thanks for your comments John! We completely understand the environmental impact of braided trails and it pained us to see it so bad in so many areas around RRC. We have provided assistance to the Access Fund and the BLM in their current effort to map the extent of braided damage in the canyons. We strongly believe in taking care of our playgrounds and both have a background in ecological restoration.
As for our maps, we believe that by showing that there are multiple/braided trails, as well as which ones are bad or dead ends, the user will choose the more primary trail because we are showing that there is a better trail up ahead. That was a problem with the maps we were using to survey these areas – we'd see lines for a single trail and in reality there were many trails. At that point the user (us at the time) just picks one and goes for it which exacerbates the problem.
The trail from Civilization to Dante's is well marked. There were a few uncertain points and the description was a little vague but it was all there. However at the beginning there is a short scramble on a slopey slab with a ~15' drop. We note locations of exposure so folks aren't caught by surprise, and if we find a trail (existing or on slab) that bypasses it we'll put that in there. I should note that every trail in this particular sample is either very established, is well cairned (perhaps our "bushwhack" is misleading), or is on slab. The trail (or cairned path) from Red Springs is also well marked and well used. I talked to locals who use that trail even when Calico 1 wasn't under construction because it was still faster to Civilization.
Another concern we have for putting only the primary trails to/from a crag is that those are usually from the parking. We also want people to be able to move between crags with ease. Fixx cliff is a good example of this. The Handren guide has one approach to Fixx and a completely different one to Tuna and Chips. They are 20' apart from each other on easy ground but I had no idea until I walked both ways.

I apologize for the wordy response but we really want you to know where we are coming from. It seems we have the same goals but a different approach. We will be back in Vegas in the near future for a demo and feedback session. I'll be sure to PM when that happens. In the meantime, feel free to comment on my response.
Thanks again for your feedback!
-Rick & Stefani

ps. With all this said, I do agree that there is room for readability improvement.

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
hotlum wrote:

On the right track imo. I make loads of maps for field users including myself. Keeping things simple is key. Are you producing these in Arc and exporting the maps a georefrenced PDF?

Hotlum, 

We are collecting the data with a Trimble R1 and Terraflex, exporting to SHP, and doing the data cleanup and map production in QGIS. I've worked with Arc for almost 20 years but at this point we can't afford it. 

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
Charlie S wrote:

2c.  As a map geek, I appreciate the detail without using satellite photos as the background.

With the detail you have going on, the dashes are hard to track.  Solid lines are better.

Thanks Charlie!

Hey, we're from Ogden too! Check out our video on climbonmaps.com and you'll see we climbed and did the interview at the Schoolroom / Utahnics wall.  We are thinking of doing a demo/feedback session at the Front coming up soon - I'll PM if we do.

Thanks for the feedback!! The common opinion is that the trails are difficult to see with the other noise in the map.

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
Idaho Bob wrote:

I visit Red Rock a few weeks each year and am always dismayed by the multiple trails, especially in the wilderness areas.  My recommendation, as others have mentioned, is that only the major already established trail be shown for each approach and walk off.  If the maps are going to include key GPS waypoints, suggest that those be in MGRS, instead of lat/long.  

Hi Bob,

Thanks for your feedback! Please see my response to John Wilder as it addresses the braided/multiple trail issues.

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
amarius wrote:

Figure out how to link to GPS assisted navigation off the map page - QR code would be one option. Perhaps preload GPS track while in network area.

Take a look at how Rakkup does it.

amarius,

Our maps will be on water-proof / tear-proof paper rather than digital. This medium is more reliable and functional, and allows for better planning with the crag stats graphic. 

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
Jason Todd wrote:

Overall too busy.

As a practical matter, what John said above about just including the primary trail is a good suggestion. 

Nitpicky:

The photo for (1) doesn't really jive with what is shown on the map.  I can make it work, but without the photo, the map wouldn't do much good.

5 classes of trail classification is too many. Eliminate bushwhack entirely.

No north arrow is unmaplike. Same with scale. 

The trail going in and out of the cliff at Civilization is weird.

Thanks for your feedback Jason! Nitpicky is good!

1. See my response to John about showing only primary trails. If you all disagree with our reasoning feel free to say so.

2. You're right! The exposure symbols don't match and the map is missing a slab section. Is that what was breaking the jive?

3. If we eliminate the bushwhack then that would confuse the user into thinking that there is supposed to be a trail around somewhere. This let's them know not to bother looking. I think you're right in that we do need to reevaluate the number of trail categories, symbols, and readability. Note that the "soul crushing" trail is reserved for special trails (only a handful in RRC) so there are really only 3 categories.

4. The only time a north arrow is needed is when north is not up - otherwise it's taking up valuable space on the map. However, you are right that a scale bar IS critical and that was just left off this sample to make room for all the other graphics (bad move on my part).

5. I agree that it looks weird and I had a hard time publishing it like this. IIRC, in this particular example the rock bulges out and the trail goes under the overhang. I didn't want to add yet another symbol for when a trail goes under/behind a boulder, but perhaps if trails were made solid then a dotted section would better illustrate this.

Thanks again!

ClimbOn Maps · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
ViperScale wrote:

None of them are any good. They all have way to much going on in the picture to really follow very well.

As much as you would like to have all those colors in the picture you would be better off doing the map in black and white (or solid set of colors for certain types of features) and having the lines to follow a color that stands out on top of the rest.

Right now the lines that you are suppose to follow blur into the rest of the image and don't stand out.


Change the boulders to just black outlines, change the mountains to solid color A you have instead of faded, get rid of vegetation, make all the trail lines i single color B (maybe make different degree of darkness for easy vs hard),  make the wall a single color C. Vegetation should only be on the map if it is needed for refernece when following a trail or looking for something.

The circles with the route types is probably fine the way you have them but not sure if you need a breakdown for the grades and types of climbs, maybe just the types of climbs and they can go to another page for the grade breakdown. It doesn't help much to give a grade breakdown when people don't know if the hard grades are sport or trad etc.

A lot of the input we've received is that the map is noisy and makes the trails (one of the most important components) are hard to follow. Our first draft had trails of a single color that darkened with difficulty, but no matter how we colored/symbolized the back ground data some of the trails blended in. We're going to fade the rocks and boulder fields and possibly eliminate the other backgrounds which should bring out the trails better.

Some background on the crag stat symbols: This information was compiled from multiple guide books and MountainProject to create the only truly complete/comprehensive source for routes on a wall. There are guide books that have complete information for some walls but not every wall in the book. This way our map shows you what you will find on the wall whether your source lists it or not. You are right that listing the count for grades by type would be more informative but that graphic would get messy fast. As it is, it gives people a ball park guess and then they can get more details from their guidebook/MP.  

Our maps are not intended to replace guide books and/or MP, but rather to complement them.

Thanks for your feedback!

ClimbingOn · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 405

This general trend recently has sought to eliminate all of the unknown, the adventure, from climbing. I now see climbers walking along the base of the cliff, phone in hard, being led to their exact climb just as a horse is led to water. Gone are the days of having to ask fellow climbers for help. Just as Facebook and texting have taken away from social interactions, now too are apps and ultra-detailed maps taking away from the climbing experience.

Climbers now can look at their phones to see the lines of the climbs drawn in exactly, overlaid on a picture of the climb. This eliminates routefinding skills, and detracts from the climber's decision-making process. We absolutely do not need (and I do not want) super high-tech, high-definition maps dumbing down the climbing experience even more. One could say "then don't use them," but having them available detracts from the experience.

I have spent hundreds (thousands?) of hours wandering around Joshua Tree. Yes, it can be confusing, especially the Wonderland, but that is a large part of the appeal. Dumbing it down may help the hordes, but in doing so it takes away from those who have taken the time to seek out the less traveled, more involved areas.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

Here is a simplified version of your map. 4 levels of trails simplified into 3. Removed alot of the clutter that is really not needed. Not sure what your bushwhacking symbol is for because you are showing a trail and if a trail exist than you aren't bushwhacking. One thing that kinda confuses me on the map is some of you black line for walls are not even on the cliff or are up high on the cliff. I am assuming that you are starting those climbs after scrambling up 3rd class but like on the civilization wall the trail doesn't even touch the cliff line on the rock (maybe just an issue with the trail and wall edge overlapping?). Also not 100% sure why you are putting those 2 trails in the middle that seem to dead end into nothing. When I was coloring the cliffs I took out the height lines but I would vote for leaving them, only got rid of them because it was to much work to make them solid and keep them in. The hard vs easy trails didn't show up to great when the map was uploaded but basically all are blue and some have dots in the middle of light blue and others have light blue lines for blue = easy, blue / dots = median, blue / lines = hard.

You got to figure out what you are going after. Usability or being pretty, your maps are pretty for the most part (some of the trails are kinda jagged and I am not sure if that is necessary vs making them turn smoothly around corners) but the trails need to stand out if you are using them.

I put the original version as well so you can see how hard the trails on your current map are to follow compared to this one I threw together in paint.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

I think you're being optimistic that the user will be able to read what looks like a very confusing map correctly and by default choose the correct trail. 

I think that, if you must show multiple trails, which I strongly recommend against in red rock, as the local coalitions are working hard to clean up the primary trails and destroy the secondaries, then the primary trail should be very bold and bright and the secondaries should be pale and hard to see with clear markings to not use them. I also think you should reach out to the local coalitions to ensure that you're not publishing trails they want to destroy or trails that the local land manager doesn't want people using. 

I get the idea of providing alot of information, but too much information can be detrimental to the experience. A good map with a single, primary trail clearly marked is what climbers need. They don't need a map of every trail in the area. 

Please consider reaching out to the local coalitions in the areas you're mapping to have them review your product and ensure that there are no trails that should not be on there, and ensure that the land managers will be happy with what's published. 

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

I agree with that, I mean you have 2 trails that go into a dead end with no climbing at the end. One of them looks like it goes past what you label as a picture area but if this is a map for climbing it would be better to remove that sort of thing and only give what is needed (sometimes knowing the trail forks and you need to stay on one side or the other is useful though).

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 958
ClimbOn Maps wrote:

Thanks for your feedback Jason! Nitpicky is good!

1. See my response to John about showing only primary trails. If you all disagree with our reasoning feel free to say so.

2. You're right! The exposure symbols don't match and the map is missing a slab section. Is that what was breaking the jive?

3. If we eliminate the bushwhack then that would confuse the user into thinking that there is supposed to be a trail around somewhere. This let's them know not to bother looking. I think you're right in that we do need to reevaluate the number of trail categories, symbols, and readability. Note that the "soul crushing" trail is reserved for special trails (only a handful in RRC) so there are really only 3 categories.

4. The only time a north arrow is needed is when north is not up - otherwise it's taking up valuable space on the map. However, you are right that a scale bar IS critical and that was just left off this sample to make room for all the other graphics (bad move on my part).

5. I agree that it looks weird and I had a hard time publishing it like this. IIRC, in this particular example the rock bulges out and the trail goes under the overhang. I didn't want to add yet another symbol for when a trail goes under/behind a boulder, but perhaps if trails were made solid then a dotted section would better illustrate this.

Thanks again!

1. John is giving solid advice.

2. The trails in the map (regarding photo 1) do not appear to be in rock (or slab), so yes that is what is causing the disconnect.

3. For the sake of simplicity, only one type of trail "font" is needed. The one that is the prefered route. This could be categorized with smaller symbol(s) along the line to denote difficulty. 

4. In an effort to maximize information into a rectangular format, orientation will more often than not, need to be rotated, making a north arrow compulsory. Regarding the real estate a north arrow takes up: It is insignificant. Much smaller footprint than the ClimbOn logo. I like a north arrow, regardless of orientation.  (I've been making maps as a geologist for 25 years, so that was kind of beat into me a long time ago.)

5. This is a case where artistic license trumps physical precision, IMO.

6. The photos need borders.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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