ROT Anchorage February 2020

A data-driven approach to remote overland travel allows you to gather information about current conditions, identify best routes, bailout plans, and successfully explore the wild.

AKP Snow Science Fundraiser
February, 2020
Contact: Luc Mehl

These resources are described in some detail, including video tutorials, at I recommend creating a bookmarks folder for our day together, bookmark the pages that you want to return to.

Remote Overland Travel

I’ve split this content into four modules.

Information Gathering: Research, remote sensing, weather

Route Planning: Google Earth, CalTopo,

Navigation with Gaia GPS

Safety: Trip plan, self-rescue, communication

Information Gathering


Remote Sensing, Near Real-time Imagery

CalTopo has added some of these imagery sources, but with limited options (one image per week, etc.)

High-resolution Satellite Imagery

Weather in action

Route planning

Google Earth: 3D Planning

CalTopo: 2d Planning

  1. $20 annual subscription to access the superoverlay.kml (Free upgrade for SAR)
  2. Download the superoverlay.kml to view topo map, etc. 2D Planning

Manually import basemaps:

Google Earth:{x}&y={y}&z={z}&s=Ga

ESRI Satellite:{z}/{y}/{x} 

Working with Topo Maps

  1. CalTopo offers a very mature printing interface. Unfortunately, I find that most of the maps in Alaska need some contrast adjustment to be workable.
  2. USGS quads can be downloaded and printed for free from topoView. No easy way to add routes.
  3. DNR offers topo maps for view and print, without having to select individual quads. No easy way to add routes.
  4. QGIS is open source software that can be used to create maps (georeferenced or not) with various free basemaps. Routes can be added easily.


Phone as GPS


  • Faster processor
  • Larger screen
  • More basemap options
  • Everyone has one
  • Easily transfer information


  • Battery life
  • Bright sky / wet screen


  • The GPS-A chip in phones can actually be more accurate than a standalone unit, but only when near cell towers.
  • The GPS chip in phones is only accurate to 100 ft, and in practice, two side-by-side phones can record locations several hundred feet apart.
  • Bad Elf makes a plug-in accessory that boosts accuracy to 10 ft. This accessory is not field-tough.
  • Bad Elf makes a standalone GPS unit that gets 10 foot accuracy and plays well (bluetooth) with Gaia and other apps.

Gaia GPS

YouTube all app features tutorial

  • topo and satellite layers
  • slope angle shading overlay
  • import route
  • hidden features: line of sight, distance and bearing
  • share/import/export/airdrop
  • manually enter point (choose 2)
    • 63.065852°, -151.009386°
    • 67° 4’46.94″N, 158°56’32.86″W
    • 62° 6.858’N, 144° 39.006’W
    • 4 V, 551721.70 m E, 6305751.73 m N
  • import point/route from text or email
  • battery life

Managing phone batteries

  • best practices
  • solar panels
  • extra batteries


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