What’s so magical about maps? I love them. They are basically an alternate reality, a data-driven representation of what’s going on. Create a world in your mind and you can map it. Want to show or display some phenomenon so a person can get a one-page intuitive glance and understanding, show it on a map. Like the beautiful work of art above. They are the creation of a Hungarian Geographer, Robert Szucs, who just considers them scientific not artistry like people have viewed them. They show river basins and their drainages. From it you can get a sense of elevation as well, clearly seeing the spine that runs North to South, an East Spine (the Appalachians) and the West Spine (The Great Divide). I think it’s the fact that the coloration is lite brite neon on a black background that gives way to veins to arteries, showing the world vibrant and alive with channels of water, the life blood that carries to the ocean.
I could lose hours, half days, exploring Google Maps and Google Earth, studying the lines, the contours and mountains, valleys, cliffs, peaks, they clearly show the lay of the land that would lead to a mountain climb or a trail run, just find the places where the lines are farthest apart. Last fall I got the chance to climb up Thompson Peak the high point in the Sawtooths. Here’s what it looks like.
From all appearances, this looks like something you wouldn’t want to even begin to tackle without ropes, pitons, and an extensive knowledge of technical climbing. But now look at it on a topo, a contour map.
Aha!!! Now the impossible becomes possible. From that lake (profile lake) which we camped on and should have seen from the map that there would only be about 2 or 3 places flat enough around the whole lake where you could pitch a tent, there’s a way up that mountain. Go around the North side of profile lake then make your way to the saddle in between Thompson and Williams Peaks. Then you access a whole backside valley and you’ll know you have to cross a few permanent snow fields…then just look for where the lines are furthest apart and you’ll see you can ascend another saddle on the Southwest shoulder of Thompson then make your way up a steep-ish gully to the top and that’s all from a map, a depiction of whats really there. Just avoid those places where the squiggly lines get close together and don’t be deceived by what looks like mere fractions of inches on a map from how difficult the journey and path will actually be.
One of the first maps I can recall being truly transfixed by was the maps in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books by JRR Tolkein. I would love to track along with Mr. Baggins journeys to see where in the story he was and what the surrounding country was and look ahead and imagine what dark dragons awaited him. It was a world that was created by one mind, laid out, right there for you to see. I was enthralled.
It may be helpful to be British to truly get all the jokes in the above map but this is the UK according to the people of North London. My favorite… “Here Be Dragons.” Sheeposexuals is pretty funny too.
Down the way, the road’s divided.
Paint me the places you’ve seen.
Those who know what I don’t know
Refer to the yellow, red, and green.
(Can’t you see that?)
Maybe he’s caught in the legend,
Maybe he’s caught in the mood,
Maybe these maps and legends,
Have been misunderstood.
— R.E.M, Maps & Legends
What to end on? Mount Everest, the highest point in the world at nearly 30,000 Ft. MSL. Route finding here is challenging without knowing the way and it’s pretty clear which way has been established but you can see the Nepal approach, that huge valley to the Southeast, base camp is somewhere there and then It think you find where the lines are furthest apart to the east of the peak, gain the ridge and follow that up and up and up until you are standing on the highest point in the world. I’ll never do this but through a map I can see how it could be done and can imagine myself there. It’s a bucket list to do a Himalayan trek and just see Everest with my eyes after having read about it so many times. I can envision it by staring at that map. A map is usually where the adventure starts, countless planning and imagining your way through mountains. If you want to go somewhere, start with a map, even if it’s just in your mind, like Tolkein. And look at these cool maps I found before you leave. Peace People’s.