You can't always trust your GPS

  • Follow Outdoors

You can get the surprise of your life when you use an online mapping service such as Google Maps or Mapquest.

When I punched start and end points into Google Maps for a trip near Yosemite National Park, the suggested route included a Jeep trail that was built in 1916-17 to 1913 wagon-trail standards, has been closed to traffic since 1938, and now sits in wilderness open only to hikers and horses.

Good thing we knew better. Still, it’s hard to believe a service millions rely on could be so far off.

Ahead of a trip, I often use Google Maps to calculate driving distances and time, then pick whatever route I feel like. I often try to avoid driving the same route twice.

The idea of depending on electronics as a safety net can leave you in a free fall. I always vet everything with detailed maps. In time, you can learn to read the land, and in turn, how to find water, the best routes and the best locations for camp sites with scarcely looking at a map.

On one recent trip, we left from the Onion Valley Trailhead, located out of Independence in the eastern Sierra, and hiked over Kearsage Pass and Glen Pass to reach Rae Lakes. About 150 yards above Charlotte Lake, a guy stopped and asked for help. He showed me his GPS, which showed the trail we were on, the lake and another trail (that didn’t exist) that went to the lake.

“I can’t find the trail to the lake,” he said. “Here it is on my GPS. But I can’t find it. What do I do?”

I pointed at the lake, practically right in front of us. “Walk to it.”


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