Route Planning - How to
This winter a blown ACL, and the resulting surgery, has put me on the sidelines while my husband John has been picking up the guiding slack. Since I have been spending more time in front of the computer than ever before I have been finding myself living vicariously through Google Earth, following John’s most current location and planning new trips for next season. All of this has reminded me just how much information you can gather about your upcoming trip before you ever leave home. So while John is skinning and skiing 165,000 vertical feet in Europe this April I have written this article is an effort to help folks figure out how to come up with their own tour plans.
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 - both with the tour and with my plan. Similar route plans have 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 route plan:
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) You can leave a copy of your route plan with someone at home so they know where you are headed.
Developing Your Plan
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.