Hochschwab-Salza loop trip planning

Diurnal instability triggering daily thunderstorms, the airmass in the boundary layer moist enough to keep the base of cumulus clouds low enough, often obscuring the mountain summits in fog, temperature at 1500m around a warm +11°c during the first few days with till Thursday 30 to 60mm of precipitation calculated over the mountains by the ECMWF model. That seems to be the weather I may expect on a traverse of the Hochschwab massif during next week, a limestone mountainous plateau in the east of the Austrian Alps. On Thursday a coldfront passage is expected giving lots of rain, possible snow at the end over the highest summits. Afterwards the 850hPa temperature of the operational run, although the ensembles plume is diverging significantly by that time, drops to slightly above freezing. Might become cold towards the end of the trip even though that remains premature to consider as a certainty at this point.

Hochschwab 201305
Packed for the Hochschwab-Salza loop.

This forecast may sound discouraging to many. To me it sounds very exciting! It’s been a long time I have had such unstable weather on a trip. I like thunderstorms in the mountains even though it demands special safety considerations while planning the trip beforehand and while out on the terrain. I will start the 8 day loop on the Salza river with my packraft. The river has some beautiful canyons with up to class III white water. I will put out on the second day before the hardest part on the river near Palfau and then hike back over the mountains with a traverse of Hochschwabs summit itself (2277m) if conditions permitting. Winter has been snow rich, higher then average, but the recent warm temperatures have made things evolve rapidly when looking at the local webcams (Wildalpen with Salza river in the valley, Tauplits Alm at 1656m, Bergstation Polster at 1800m). The big question: carry snowshoes or leave them home? The only pair of snowshoes I own are 25inch MSR Lightning Ascents. That’s in general too big for spring snow and I will probably not walk on snow for at least about 60% of the hiking distance. The absence of night frost and all the rain will keep compacting the snow. If the snow has become portable enough I can done the snowshoes. Will assess the conditions just before starting the trip and decide what to do best.

Will be continued…

Free online topographic maps for hiking

Hiking maps are off course essential for planning a trip. While in the old days you had to buy a paper map first before you could start with planning your trip in detail, today you can already start planning your trip entirely from your computer screen for many regions in the world. Today the Internet is a fantastic resource for a wide variety of maps suitable for hiking:

  • Sheets of topographic maps readily downloadable in JPG, TIF or PDF-format and ready to print, usually paying but some are also available for free
  • Interactive topographic maps can be consulted in a geographical application on your screen
  • Base maps for use on a GPS device
I will keep this post limited to the first two types of maps and will only include maps that are available for free. I have a long list of these kind of maps saved under my favorites in my browser. Not that I have already used all of them for preparing a trip, far from. I’m just a map fan and I think it is an interesting list to share with you. So if you are not aware of a map that covers a region that interests you, than you can bookmark it right away. I’m sure this list will not be a complete list at all. So if you know or stumble upon other interesting map sources, don’t hesitate to mention them. I’d like to continue supplementing the list.
Sample of the interactive topographic map of New Zealand over Mount Cook.
So here’s the list:
  • This Czech list contains many topographic maps from various corners over the world.
  • Wanderreitkarte is a source for hiking trails and long distance trails in some European countries.
  • TopoMapper concerns another source for an almost global coverage in topographic maps. Australia, USA, Canada, and the coastal areas of Greenland are covered by national or local map sources. The rest of the world is covered by old Soviet military topographic maps (which are unfortunately not always that accurate). This link can be helpful to better read the Soviet Maps. New Zealand and Antarctica are not covered.
Sample of the Soviet military map in TopoMapper over Patagonia’s Torres del Paine. Place names are unfortunately difficult to read if you cannot read Russian.
  • ArcGIS Explorer is an online GIS application by Esri where you can find a wide variety of maps from a community of users. By registering you can even make and edit your own maps and share them with the world if you like. For a complete understanding of the application and how to browse the maps, use the help function. The entire USA and New Zealand are covered in detailed topographic maps. To find them, type in the search bar in the right upper corner one of the following names to find one specific map:
    • USA Topo Maps or
    • ArcGIS Online USA Topographic Maps
    • New Zealand Topographic Basemap (LINZ)

    When planning a trackless hiking expedition in a remote region where detailed maps are hard to find or nonexistent, the following maps in ArcGIS Explorer might also be of value beside the Soviet military maps in Topomapper or any other topographic map. The topographic maps in ArcGIS Explorer only show elevation contours, hydrology and some basic ground cover information for most part of the world. The satellite images give a better idea about ground and vegetation cover. These composite multispectral Landsat images have a resolution of 15m and are sometimes a better source for the few Landsat images that still have lower resolution or cloud cover for a few places in Google Earth, Google MapsBing Map and many other sources (although these images are not completely free of cloud cover either):

    • ArcGIS Online World Topographic Map or
    • Topgraphic
    • MDA NaturalVue Satellite Imagery
MDA NaturalVue Satellite image in ArcGIS Explorer of Pangnirtung and Mount Asgard on Baffin Island. The image gives more clues about the location of moraines, quicksand and boulder fields in the glacial valley and is therefore a much better source to determine your hiking route through the valley than any topographical map can do for this rugged environment.
Finally, if you only need a map for a small area it can be interesting to just print the map from an online interactive map instead of buying the whole paper map. Sometimes I even stitch multiple cut print screens from an online interactive map just like I would stitch several individual photos into one single panorama photo. This works just fine with most panorama stitching software. To print the map you only need to make some measurements and calculations and optionally an adaptation of the size of the digital map to know the exact scale of your printed copy. Keep in mind that strictly speaking this method can only be used for personal use.
That was it. So now, start planning your next trip!

Five weeks under the midnight sun


25 june – 30 july 2011

Follow my actual progression on a map: my SPOT shared page.

During the upcoming five weeks you can find me in the outdoors of Northern Scandinavia admiring the midnight sun while hiking and packrafting. Normally, this should become my big trip for this year, but due to a recent injury I will not be able to cover a large distance this time. It even remains a big question which exact route I will be following. During the previous trip in the Karwendel mountains I suffered a knee injury caused by an earlier impact. It was difficult for me to tell about it previously, but at the moment I seem to be almost completely recovered. Anyhow, I will need to stay calm the following weeks to prevent a new inflammation.

Sarek 201009
Packrafting the Rahpajåhkå river in Sarek Nationalpark.

So I will not announce an exact route planning here on a map, but the idea is to start in Nordkjosbotn at the southern end of the Lyngen Alps in Norway and hike steadily from there to the Swedish border through Signaldalen. Then I want to hike and packraft on the undulating tundra of the extreme north of Sweden and the northwest corner of Finland. The rivers Gobmeeatnu and Poroeno do look as promising opportunities. After some time I enter back into Norway and packraft the Reisaelva river in Reisadalen Nationalpark. Probably, this river will be floated the whole way to its mouth in the Arctic Ocean. From then on my plans become largely subject to the weather. If conditions are okay I try to make some saltwater crossings over the ocean to the Islands Kågen and Arnøya from where I can catch a ferry to the Lyngen Alps to continue packrafting in the fjords and the lakes around the Lyngen Alps or do some more hiking over there if my knee feels right.

An injury should not dampen an entire trip. Every trip is a new occasion to try out new gear or techniques and on this trip it will not be different. I’ve never been fishing on a trip ever before, so this time I will take the time to try my luck in the rivers. I bring some fishing line and jigs with me. No rod because I don’t want to carry too much weight. Chances are probably higher to catch a midge than a fish with this setup and my clumsy fishing skills but hey, the goal is to amuse myself. And in case I would catch something, it will be a challenge to prepare the fish above my home made woodgas stove for a special meal.

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Paddling on the lake Liehtjitjavrre in Sarek Nationalpark.

Big open water crossings will be new also with my packraft, at least saltwater crossings. I already did a few open water crossings on an earlier trip in Sarek where I crossed two lakes but the fjords and narrows will definitely be more challenging this time. Beside the wind and waves, tidal currents are also an important factor to check out. Because I don’t want to take any big risks on those possible saltwater crossings I’m assisted with meteorological information by my collegue and meteorologist Kris Ghijselinck. He will be supporting Wim Smets on its K2 expedition at the same time by the way!

Despite that I had to change my first plans for this big trip, (I wanted to concentrate on hiking in the Lyngen Alps in the first place) I’m still excited to discover this region above the polar circle during the early summer. I’ve never experienced the midnight sun ever before. A packraft is a great invention and a grateful alternative in case you are not able to do some more hiking.

Sarek 201009
Packrafting the Rahpaädno river under the dark face of the mountain Nammasj in Sarek Nationalpark.

It will be interesting to follow some other packrafters this summer too. Sabine Schroll will be packrafting in the north of Finland for four weeks, on and around the big inner lake Ivalo. And then there’s Jörgen Johansson with its epic plan to packraft the South Nahanni river in the Mackenzie mountains of arctic Canada, a region which looks to me as one of the most beautiful on the entire planet. I’m also looking forward to the upcoming trip of Steve and Katrijn from Belgium. They are going to spend a few weeks on the east coast of Greenland after a smaller trip on Iceland (only hiking). Also check out the latest packraft trip of Hendrik, the new packraft blog of Marc & Sven and the Scotland trips of David and Chris! Finally packrafting seems to become more popular in Europe.

Enough for now, let’s pack and head to the north! Happy hiking and/or packrafting!