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Off-trail, UTM and Cautions

Disclaimer: I assume no responsibility for incorrect coordinates, hazardous conditions between your car and the wreck site or any other hazard you may encounter.  You should be responsible for yourself as you pursue this activity. If you don't know how to go hiking, driving, or walking safely, get professional help. Getting lost in the woods with inadequate gear can be FATAL. If I had a lawyer, he'd probably tell me to never tell anyone about anything.  Be careful!

GPS/equipment & Standard Operating Procedures

CAUTION: Because I took coordinates pre-SA shutdown, you still must use descriptive information provided when trying to find the wrecksites listed. One hiker reported being on the wrong side of the ridge from the Crown Point B-17 when using my coordinates. I'm sorry about that but there is error inherent in what we're trying to do here.

UTM  and Datum Discussion

There are some additional nuances about GPS that should be discussed. Most consumer-grade GPS units have the capability of handling alternative coordinate systems and alternative datum (plural?).


The most useful alternative coordinate system is UTM. UTM stands for Universal Transverse Mercator. That's nice. This doesn't explain why it's useful. In a nutshell, it is useful because it is a decimal-based system which allows you to very accurately transfer coordinates to and from your USGS quad map.

Consider the problem of trying to plot coordinates in a degrees, minutes (that's the  ' symbol) , seconds (the "  symbol) system.  How does one interpolate 40 seconds?  In practice, 40 seconds is 2/3 (or 60%) of the way between minutes.  In UTM, the interpolation is already contained in the coordinates you have.

If you have a modern USGS quad map, you should be able to find tick marks along the edge with a string of numbers - 4130  for instance. If you were to pencil a grid across your map based upon these marks, you would find that you have divided up your map into a series of squares  each 1km (1000meters) on a side. So when you go to plot your coordinate: say 4130600   you would know that this is 600 meters from the edge of the 4130000 line.  Try it on your map and see for yourself. When I'm transferring coordinates to/from my USGS maps I will ONLY USE UTM. It's wonderful!


Datum is another word for "reference system."  Most consumer GPS units can accomodate different reference systems.  This becomes important in MY coordinates because I do not use the standard WGS83 system that GPS units are normally delivered to initialize with. I use the NAD27 reference system because that's what the UGSG quads use. NAD stands for North America Datum 1927.  Yes, it's old. But it's what the maps use.    This makes transferring coordinates to and from the map more accurate.  It also introduces an error between GPS units operating in WGS83  compared to NAD27.  The magnitude of the error is not known to me at this time.  Be sure you set your GPS to the right datum when using my coordinates. That's why it's part of the table - so you know to think about it.

Note- During a Colorado Aviation Historical Society outing to the Pingree Park B-17 it was found that one of the students had failed to enter the correct datum for the coordinates he was given. He was aware of the datum and had thought he'd used the correct datum but something happened and he did not. While standing at a checkpoint we each compared our GPS readings to that checkpoint. Coordinates were entered the same but the datum was different. His GPS told him that he was 0.15 miles from the point while mine read that we were 0.05 from it (basically within touching distance).  The datum difference at this point yielded a 0.1 mile error in position. That may not sound like much but that difference could be very frustrating in the woods.  The error could be larger. I simply don't know. USE THE CORRECT DATUM!

GPS Decimal

You'll find entries on each crash page labelled as "GPS decimal."  This is my way of having the coordinates available for easy typing into the US Census Tiger Mapserver so that I can construct the link to show the maps.  My Garmin GPS units can easily be changed to show and use UTM,  degrees and decimal degrees, degrees + minutes + seconds and so forth.  If you need to convert from one system to another, do it the easy way, change the display in your GPS and then look at that waypoint again.

Off-Trail Hiking Precautions

Off-trail hiking requires a heightened sense caution which should lead you to exercise greater than normal preparedness. When hiking off-trail you will be less easily found if injured, will not be accidentally found by others in the area and are much more likely to encounter bad footing, down trees or get lost. I've hiked off-trail by myself very happily many times but this might not be for you. All the outdoor wisdom says you should not go alone and indeed this is good advice. I've just found over the years that if I'm not willing to go alone, I might not get to go at all. Still, I work very hard to minimize my risks when I go and I try to pay close attention to each and every move and step I am going to make because breaking a leg  while alone off-trail is a horror scenario.

When hiking off-trail I regard the following as essential:

Home Moggie!  

Last Modified:7/8/2006