The mapping for our apps is a pretty complicated business and has been a big learning curve for everyone.
Working with Harvey Maps to produce our first app of Everest Base Camp, we first asked them to create a map of the entire route from Jiri to Lukla. So, in November 2011, after asking Harveys to make a start on the new map, Issie walked the route (Jiri to EBC) with a GPS, sending back the GPX files from Kathmandu.
Once that was complete, at a scale of 1:100,000, it looked fantastic printed out. However, as print was not going to be our media for this production, we needed to test it out on the phone.
Once Keith had created enough of a platform for us to do that we realised very quickly that one layer of 1:100,000 was definitely not going to be enough. Opening up the map on the phone it quickly lost its resolution, the paths and contours became too wide, the text too big and there was not nearly enough information, even although Harvey’s had taken as much information as they could from the aerial photos. When Issie had done the original GPS of the route, because we were not entirely sure of how much information was required she had only waypointed a few big features along the way.
Three of Issie’s handrawn maps
We decided we needed more layers and at least one more scale for the map so that more features could be shown to help trekkers see where they were, and we could add things like mani stones, walls and prayer wheels. We also felt it was important that more information was available in the bigger villages of Namche Bazar and of Lukla; just more detailed information across the whole map really.
So Issie made another trip back to Nepal in January 2012 (pretty chilly at that time of year!) with her GPS, drawing pad and two sherpa friends, Cshiring and Dan Bhadur. The idea was to GPS and draw every feature along the path up to EBC so that when looking at the map to determine your location there would be more features available. Issie took the more complex section from Lukla up to Kyangjuma, and Cshiring travelled quickly (as only sherpas born in that region can do) up to Kyangjuma and then GPS’ed the entire section up to Kala Pattar (minus 20 at Gorak Shep, just below Kala Pattar).
Frozen fingers, no electricity and storms not withstanding, the Khumbu in the winter is just fantastic. Crystal clear days, stunning views and no people, it is one of the quietest times of the year for visitors if you don’t mind the cold. In fact Namche Bazar had more electricity than Kathmandu, so Issie was able to send all the GPX files direct back to the team at Harvey’s who continued working on the new scale version of the map.
Once back in the UK, the mapping journey continued; Issie drawing in her corrections of Pete’s (at Harvey’s) interpretation of both her drawings and the new GPS data; a long slow process. And after all this, we both eventually came to the conclusion that we needed to drop down to yet another scale to show as much detail as we felt was needed.
Issie believed that it was crucially important to be able to see as much detail as possible when arriving in Lukla so we went down to a 1:5,000 map plan of Lukla. The other main village of the Khumbu of course is Namche Bazar so we decided to do the same here: so many trekkers spend more than one day here and it’s good to know where everything is. However, Namche Bazar proved to be very hard to map as somehow the GPS track did not match with either the drawing or the aerial photo. So there were lots of incarnations of Namche. These are three!
Some incarnations of Namche Bazar!
At the same time as Namche was driving us all mad, Keith, our app developer was trying to make some sense of the map on the app platform, trying to create enough layers of mapping so that the transitions went smoothly and all the fonts and image sizes reduced as the map opened up; and trying to convert the files coming through from the mapmakers. Another long slow process which delayed the launch of the app but we all felt would vastly improve the quality for the viewer.
So, 17 layers of mapping and quite a substantial amount of hair loss later, the map is what you see now on your phone…. A brand new, beautifully drawn, digital map of the route to Everest Base Camp.
In the making of this first map for the first app, we inevitably kept finding ways in which it could be improved, but there comes a point where you just have to stop making changes in order to get the app launched. Our plan is to make the following changes after launch which will be sent out as a free upgrade:
- 10metre contour interval for the 1:20,000 scale (currently 50metre)
- 5metre contour interval for the 1:5,000 of Lukla and Namche Bazar
- Blue contour lines to indicate permanent snowfields