Looking beyond cartography and changing what “mapping” means
words :: Nikkey Dawn
It’s a wild, wide world out there and trip planning is personal. Some take great pleasure in the hunt-and-gather of information—running a finger along the shelf for just the right guidebook, digging out and unfolding a weathered map, and calling up friends to find out who’s got a line on current conditions. There are some who purposely avoid too much research in order to preserve a sense of adventure. Others want the most information possible delivered in the most convenient form—for that, of course, we turn to our phones.
“Mountain landscapes are fluid places. Avalanche terrain, crevasses, river crossings or rapids may not appear as you expect. While we integrate new technology into our outdoor experiences, it’s important we don’t lose foundational skills and critical thinking.”
Map apps have developed rapidly over the last few years. FATMAP founder, Misha Gopaul, was training in Chamonix as a mountain guide when he observed a disconnect. “I noticed that in our urban lives, digital maps have become the search engine and information source for the physical world wherever we go—but in the outdoors, everything is still very localized and you end up piecing together information from lots of different places.”
Gopaul would go on to create a map app with hopes of redefining what “mapping” our adventures means. FATMAP wants to “map the world’s wild places” and allow users the ability to look for first ascents (or descents) in zones they’ve never visited, or simply discover a trail in their own backyards. Apps like FATMAP aim to blend digital cartography with community building and providing information such as real-time conditions to help people make good decisions.
But in this new age of information and discovery, can access to copious amounts of data turn self-discovery into delusions of preparedness and ability?
Whistler Search and Rescue Society member, Joel Sweet, uses map apps and sees their value as a tool but cautions, “as great as these apps are, they should never replace proper trip and navigation planning or packing essentials like a map and compass.” To rely solely on your phone—which can run out of battery, get smashed or lose data coverage—is not a wise move.
Sweet also points out that satellite imagery used by some map apps can be outdated. “Mountain landscapes are fluid places. Avalanche terrain, crevasses, river crossings or rapids may not appear as you expect. While we integrate new technology into our outdoor experiences, it’s important we don’t lose foundational skills and critical thinking.”
For Gopaul, safety has always motivated the app’s development. He sees FATMAP as an opportunity to help people share and access better information—and ultimately make it easier and safer to explore the world. It’s up to us users to remain present in the face of potential hazards, but as our lives become more intertwined with tech, is that presence itself at risk? Whether scrawled on a bar napkin or downloaded to a smartphone, maps help us make sense of the world—a world that is changing rapidly. “Maps are answers to questions,” Gopaul says.
I guess it depends on what, and how much, we want to ask. —ML