Spot has released and been gracious enough to send me a unit to test that will communicate to your friends and family from the backcountry permitting you to check in and indicate that you are either alright or that you need help to drag yourself out of the bush. If your friends will not suffice and you are faced with a serious emergency the Spot call center will also alert emergency services that you need assistance and provide emergency services with your location.
The advantage of Spot is that it sends messages to satellites which are then relayed to the Spot Center or your contacts via email or text message. By using satellites to communicate you are able to keep in contact in locations where there is no cellular signal. In Alberta, this includes almost every location in which you want to hike.
I have been testing Spot for a few weeks now and so far I am pretty impressed. The Spot has four functions. Spot will allow you to:
1) Send a emergency 911 message to Spot which will result in the notification of all of your contacts and emergency services of your location.
2) Send a message that you have preprogrammed into the Spot site requesting help from your contacts when you press the help button.
3) Send a message of your choice indicating that you are okay to alleviate worrying spouses that otherwise may not let you venture into the backcountry either alone or with what they view as your untrustworthy friends.
4) Allow your contacts to track in real time your progress on your hike. Again I can see this being advantageous to help alleviate worrying but would also be convenient to coordinate pick ups on a long hike. If you have ever spent three or four hours waiting in a parking lot either for a pickup or to pickup some friends after a excursion into the bush you can understand the benefit of this feature.
I have not finished my review of Spot yet and I will update this post when I am finished. I am still playing with the tracking feature and the feature that permits you to create a shared web page that lets people see your messages anytime by viewing a web page as opposed to following a link to google maps via email or text message.
Over the weekend I saw a couple of trail runners a few kilometers into the backcountry. They had no gear other than a water bottle and a small fanny pack. In the summer I have come across other trail runners and hikers with no emergency equipment. Coming across these trail runners I thought that Spot is the perfect product for them. I would not and I expect that Spot would not encourage you to think that their product is a substitute for proper planning and equipment. After all, if the weather or conditions are poor your would be rescuers may not be able to get to you, but should you sprain your ankle, blow a knee or startle an angry bear, it might be nice to get a message out. As spring approaches, consider whether Spot might be a product that will give you some peace of mind and added security.
For more information or to purchase Spot check out the Spot site. The price is $169 for the unit, $99 per year for emergency service, and the OK and help features. In order to use the tracking feature the cost is an additional $69 per year. Chances are if you use it once, you will think the cost is well worth it.
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Hawaii. As I planned for the trip I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was geotag my photos. Several weeks before I left ATP indicated that they would send me a ATP Photofinder to review. The weeks went buy a couple of emails were exchanged but no test unit arrived. After giving up on ATP I went to a local store and attempted to order a unit but was told that there would be a six week delay for delivery. I am not sure where the unit was being shipped from but the last time I waited 6 weeks for delivery of any product was the mid-80s. Eventually I resolved myself to the fact that I would have to mark the locations on my Garmin unit as waypoints and manually enter the coordinates. Not a lot of fun.
GPSPhotoLinker can be used to save location and GPS position data to a photo. The latitude and longitude recorded by your GPS unit while you were taking photos can be linked, and saved, to the photos. GPSPhotoLinker automatically enters the city, state, and country annotations into the metadata.
I was able to load my GPS tracks, including waypoints and scroll through each picture manually adding the latitude and longitude to the EXIF metadata. I was able to geotag almost 200 photos in 15 minutes which would have taken hours manually. When the photos are uploaded to sites like flickr and Everytrail, the photos automatically appear in their proper location. While the level of detail in parts of Alberta is poor on Google Earth, it is fantastic in Hawaii. Below is a screenshot of some photos from a hike on the Pololu Valley Trail in Hawaii. The waves breaking on the beach are visible, in other photos you can see the waterfalls.
The Photolinker also allows the automatic batch geotagging of photos by comparing the time on the active GPS track to the time recorded by your camera. To simplify the process, set the time on your camera and computer to match the time on your GPS. To test the Batch tag, I went for a walk through Bowness Park snapped some photos, used the Photolinker and uploaded the results to Everytrail. Drag your mouse across the track to see the uploaded photos.
Each photo, in only seconds, was accurately geotagged. The downside, Photolinker is designed for the Mac. I have not found a similar program that works with the PC. Bottom line, if you have a Mac, a camera, and a GPS device already you do not need a device similar to the ATP Photofinder. Remember, devices like that from ATP and Sony will not help you find your way out of the bush.
The Photolinker is currently under development and free to download (but donations are appreciated and recommended). The only issue that I had using the program was that sometimes I had to drag and drop the photos and track as using the upload buttons sometimes caused the program to shut down, but it is after all under development. If you are looking for more information on geotagging, see my post Automatically Geotag Photos.
According to some recent posts from Trailex the bears are starting to come out. Very timely that Parks Canada has announced that a website to track bear activity in the Canadian Rockies is nearing completion. For those that missed it, the Calgary Herald reported that Fatal Bear Attacks have led to the site. According to the story:
Information received from the public, biologists and Parks Canada staff will be posted on the website to warn mountain-goers about where the animals have been spotted. It will also caution trail-users of danger areas, such as a section of the park that's sporting a good crop of berries -- a favourite staple for bears.
Another obvious benefit is that in addition to helping one avoid bear encounters the site will also help protect the bears. The story reported that five grizzlies died in the Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay national parks. If you are interested you can read the story online until Canada.com limits its access to only subscription holders.
A couple of months ago I received an email from Summerthought Publishing asking if I would be interested in reviewing the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide. The book arrived before my pilgrimage to Jasper so I took it along on several hikes in this national park and I have used it around Calgary. When I sat down to do a review I realized that it is comical that I am doing a book review. The truth is I hate reading. If I make it through a single book a year it is an accomplishment. I really have no idea what makes a good book. While I do not read (except when forced through work), I do hike a fair bit. In 2007 I hiked about 50 different trails (some on more than one occasion) of varying length and difficulty in Alberta. As a result I have a fairly decent stack of hiking guides and trail maps. When Summerthought offered to send me the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide I looked forward to adding another to my collection.
Published in April 2007 the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson is the 8th edition. The first edition was published in 1971 and to date in excess of 230,000 copies of the various editions have been sold. That means the authors have over 35 years of experience hiking and publishing hiking guides. These guys even pre-date Gortex (patented in 1976). As indicated on the Summerthought website the 8th edition retails for $24.95 and covers more than 3,400 km (2100 miles) of trails in Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay and Waterton Lakes National Parks, plus the provincial parks of Mt. Assinboine, Mt. Robson, Akamina-Kishinena, Peter Lougheed, and Elk Lakes and includes:
- Descriptions of 231 hikes and routes plus dozens of side trips
- More than 150 photographs
- 40 maps
- Trail logs measured by "trail wheel"
- Sources for information, maps, backcountry lodging, and transportation
The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide provides fantastic detailed trail descriptions. This is the real reason for buying a hiking guide. No point wasting your day questioning whether you are on the right path when you would prefer to enjoy the scenery. Especially in K-country I find that the trail maps posted along the trails are sometimes not very accurate and difficult to interpret. The trail to Mount Indefatigable is one such example. The Guide provides very detailed almost kilometer by kilometer logs of the trail which help you determine if you are on the correct route as well as the distance, duration, maximum elevation, total distance and in most instances the Guide details some of the history of the area.
For the areas that are covered in this book, I could not think of any trails that should have been included that were not included. This will not be the last hiking guide that you will buy but it should be one of the first.