Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: ADK’s New Topo Map Of The High Peaks

High Peaks mapThe Adirondack Mountain Club has largely stopped making maps, with an important exception: it recently published a color topographical map of the High Peaks that is waterproof and folds to fit in your pack or back pocket.

ADK used to put paper topo maps in the backs of its guidebooks. For the past several years, however, it has instead bundled its books with waterproof maps produced by National Geographic.

So now we have two High Peaks maps: National Geographic’s “Lake Placid/High Peaks” and ADK’s “Trails of the Adirondack High Peaks.”

Both maps are designed to accompany ADK’s guidebook, High Peaks Trails. Tony Goodwn, the longtime editor of the book, also edited the new map. When we asked him why ADK wanted to publish a second map, he gave several reasons.

For starters, Goodwin said, the scale is larger (1:62,500 as opposed to 1:75,000) and the contours more precise (ten meters as opposed to fifty feet). Also, the contours are on a white background, not green or tan as with the National Geographic maps. This makes it much easier to see the topographical relief.

Another plus is that the territory encompassed by the ADK map includes all forty-six of the High Peaks. Two of the peaks, Whiteface and Esther, are missing from the National Geographic map (though they are found on another map in the company’s Adirondack series).

In addition, the new map shows designated campsites; the National Geographic map does not. Each trail has a colored oval with a number inside. The color corresponds to the markers (red, blue, or yellow) found on the trail, while the number corresponds to the trail number in High Peaks Trails, the ADK guidebook. Herd paths also are shown.

Distances are shown between trail junctions—a popular feature adopted from National Geographic.

One drawback is that it’s hard to distinguish private land from public land. Although private land is shaded slightly darker, the boundaries are not evident at glance. This is not a problem with the National Geographic map, given its vibrant colors. Goodwin said he expects the problem to be fixed in the next printing.

As to dimensions, the ADK map is only slightly smaller than the National Geographic map but folds into a much more compact size. At 4¼ by 6 inches, the folded map easily slips into a pocket or the small compartment of a pack. In contrast, the National Geographic folds to 4¼ by 9¼ inches, the size of a brochure. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from folding it again to stuff it in your pocket, but this creates unnatural creases.

Goodwin said he expects ADK will be able to update the map often to make corrections or reflect changes in trails or land ownership.

Both maps can be purchased on ADK’s website and in stores. “Trails of the Adirondack High Peaks” sells for $9.95. National Geographic’s “Lake Placid/High Peaks” goes for $11.95.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

16 Responses

  1. Bill Joplin says:

    There were also serious omissions in the National Geographic map — at least in the first printing. The summits of Basin, Saddleback, and Yard were not labeled, nor was the town of Westport.

  2. Alan Via says:

    I was on the committee that designed the map. The large majority of the people I polled outside of the committee felt the map needed to be smaller than the NG map. Kudos to Tony and the rest of the group for going along with this.
    I remain opposed to all of the large, wasted map footprint used for things that I believe belong in guidebooks. We compromised and about 30% of the verbiage was eliminated. I strongly believe that map purchasers, people who still use paper maps want more map and less of the white ‘extras’ covering the sides of the excellent new map.

    • Scott H says:

      Thanks for yours and the committees work on this! I’m looking forward to receiving my copy very soon!

  3. jeff levitt says:

    Been using the map for a month or so and most hikers are annoyed at the metric contour lines and constantly have to convert and discuss the contours in feet. The metric system was not and probably never will be the preferred system for map measurement and one wonders how the Club could have made such an oversight on what is an otherwise darn good map.

    • Agreed. Although I am a scientist and understand the metric system, I have learned to gauge my hikes based on the imperial system. I know how difficult it is to climb 1,000 ft in less than a mile. I won’t be using this map for bushwhacking because I don’t want to continually have to do conversations.

      It also doesn’t make sense to use two measurement systems on a map. Now everyone has to do some sort of conversion to use the map…

      Finally, it is also worth noting that the DEC uses the imperial system in its regulations. Trying to figure out where you can legally camp is quite difficult with the new ADK map.

      • Pete Nelson says:


        Hope you’ve been well!

        I don’t really care about which measurement system is used as much as it might seem, but what the heck, I’ll offer a challenge to you: as someone who knows the metric system – and therefore knows how easy to use and eminently logical it is – how long would it take you to gain a level of comfort gauging your hikes and climbs using metric units? For example, 1000 feet can be replaced by 300 meters, not a difficult number with which to work.

        DEC could provide both imperial and metric measurements in its documents without much effort. Having both as a matter of course would well serve our Canadian and other foreign guests.



    • Dawn Mills says:

      I totally agree. I am fairly new to hiking and this is my first topo map. I am ‘highly’ disappointed that the contour lines have to be converted. Not sure if the National Geographic one is like that, but if it is not, then I am tempted to order and use that one instead.

  4. Tony Goodwin says:

    The metric contours was the one compromise we had to accept when we digitized the map’s format. After much searching, we and our very experienced cartographer could not find a good quality digital version of the 20-foot contours found on ADK’s predecessor map. We learned that those contours had had the 20-foot contours cut whenever the slopes were so steep that the slope would look “muddy”. Manually cutting the contour lines in many, many places was not something the project could afford. (If you have a copy of the old map, get out your magnifying glass and see what we mean by cut contour lines.)

    If in the future we manage to locate a good 20-foot contour layer, that will become the base map. In the meantime, chalk up this problem to a totally justified attempt to move the good ‘ol US of A into the international mainstream with regard to measurements. Too bad it didn’t work, but that’s the contouring we’ll have to deal with for now.

    • Pete says:

      Speaking both mathematically and practically, the metric system is utterly superior to the cobbled-together “American”/”British”/”Imperial” system we use here, which may be what we know but is borderline senseless. Every facet of measurement is much easier in the metric system. It is only a matter of gaining some familiarity with it, which is actually not that hard to do.

      • SwilliAm says:

        I strongly disagree with that assessment. The Metric system may be superior in some ways, but the American/British system superior in many other ways, especially as it’s much more intuitive as it relates to human scale. Brion Toss’s excellent article:


        • Curt Austin says:

          Those two links lead to specious arguments from reactionaries worried about their “heritage,” and bemoaning the over-reach of governments. Ironic, since these flag-waving patriots are defending something called the Imperial System.

          They seem to feel that American Exceptionalism must include stubborn devotion to a primitive system of measurement. The historical basis for this exceptionalism, as far as it goes, is our youthfulness as a nation, our willingness to change, to do new things, to reach for the future with enthusiasm. It’s very sad to see so many people today acting so old.

    • Curt Austin says:

      Thanks, Tony.

      I think it’s fine that those in a position to prod us in the metric direction do so. If we can learn to use a smartphone, we can adapt to meters. For reference, consider that Pete Nelson is 2m tall, without stilts.

      Speaking of smartphones: For a bicycling-related iPhone app I developed, I needed a short label for the units switch. With some chagrin, I chose “American”. By default, however, it is set to metric.

      • Pete Nelson says:

        And just exactly about 3.2 meters on stilts, not including the omnipresent tremendous hat.

    • I’m surprised you weren’t able to create your own contour interval based off a Digital Elevation Model. You could have gone with 25-foot if you felt as though the 20-foot counters looked “muddy” on a steep slope.

      • Tony Goodwin says:

        Brendan, the first contours we looked at were digital elevation models. Any that we saw were definitely just “models” and not “real” contouring done by photography and field checking.

        And yes, the typo on Colvin’s “Imperial” elevation will be corrected on the next printing.

  5. Jeff Davis says:

    I absolutely love the new map; terrific upgrade over the NG map for reasons mentioned above. I’ve only used it for one outing in the Dix Range, but in planning a hike in Ausable Club area I noticed that the summit elevation of Colvin is incorrect (3057 should be 4057).