Get Out There

GPS Leading People to Potentially Fatal Hikes

We love talking about getting outside. Right now, with heatwaves, it might not be possible. But, you might be looking forward to the fall and planning ahead. We always talk about being prepared. News this week has shown you may need to be even more prepared than you thought as far as navigation goes.

Before setting out for any hike, you obviously check the route. But, danger lies ahead for people who use Google Maps to hike to the top of Scotland’s highest mountain. According to the John Mui Trust, the site leads to a path that is “Highly dangerous, even for experience climbers.”  

Ben Nevis is a popular tourist attraction, and thousands climb it every year without going this dangerous way. But Google Maps assumes you are driving to the site and is sending people to a parking lot to start the trek. And that route is perilous. “The problem is that Google Maps directs some visitors to the Upper Falls car park, presumably because it is the closest car park to the summit,” said John Muir Trust’s Nevis Conservation Officer Nathan Berrie. “But this is not the correct route and we often come across groups of inexperienced walkers heading towards Steall Falls or up the south slopes of Ben Nevis believing it is the route to the summit.”

If you are a casual walker who just wants to take a day trip, it might seem like Google Maps would be your first stop to find the right path, but it isn’t. Heather Morning, Mountaineering Scotland’s mountain safety adviser, said, “Even the most experienced mountaineer would have difficulty following this route. The line goes through very steep, rocky and pathless terrain where even in good visibility, it would be challenging to find a safe line. Add in low cloud and rain, and the suggested Google line is potentially fatal.”

There has been a rash of recent injuries on other peaks in the area from people using data from Google Maps, according to Ms. Morning. This underscores the importance of using an app explicitly meant for hiking, checking that it is reliable and up to date. AllTrails has an app and website. It is crowdsourced, has current conditions, photos, advice from locals and over 200,000 maps. It’s also free. Gaia GPS allows you to track yourself on GPS so you can backtrack very easily if you get lost, and Maps 3D Pro helps you read topographical maps. While they both have a fee, they are helpful. Hiking project is a free trail app that acts as a guidebook. The National Parks has an app created by the Park Rangers to be as accurate as possible. The maps can be downloaded, so you still have them on your phone if you lose service. All of these apps are much more useful and accurate than Google Maps that was primarily designed for driving.

Just as you wouldn’t bring soda instead of water, you need to make sure you have the correct map for your trip into nature. While Google maps is excellent for helping you find your way to the parking lot, it shouldn’t be used as a tool to help you navigate your hike. Hopefully, they will improve it for people who might make the mistake in the future. But, as you are aware of it, steer clear and using a hiking app or website instead.

Banner image: Man hiking Ben Nevis Credit: Migle Siauciulyte via Unsplash

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