is it a useful tool for mountain adventurers ?

We all know Google Street View, the Google app that allows, starting from Google Maps, to choose a position and from there to get a photographic view of the surroundings (usually 360 ° horizontally and 160 ° vertically); it is also possible, with the mouse, to move on the path and view the scrolling  images.

The Google Trekker program has been developed since some years,  with the goal to obtain images also outside the urban and road environment, therefore theoretically everywhere, even in the most remote mountains.
Google provides volunteers with an ad hoc backpack that contains the group of cameras and image acquisition hardware, about 18 kg in all, to be carried around as to document the landscape being visited.  Google thenafter takes care of the complex data processing and  final loading on Google Map.

On Google Map it is possible to pre-view the areas covered by the system (marked in blue): for the moment in the mountain areas only the low valleys (where there are roads and main paths) are mapped, although often not continuously along a whole itinerary.
However, the program continues and, thanks to the contribution of volunteer walkers, and despite some technical problems, it is destined to increase coverage. For example, now there is almost complete coverage of the normal route to Mont Blanc via the Gouter route, then some trails in the Dolomites, in the Khumby valley of Nepal, etc.

-> To find out more, read the questions / answers below.


Q. Is Google Trekker really useful for those practising climbing, trekking, ski touring, mountain biking, also in remote mountain areas?

A. It can be useful in planning the tour, to view the terrain, and therefore better evaluate the difficulties, and help in the choice of equipment. Google Trekker can add extra data to the images already obtainable from Google Earth and to the information given in a  topographic map (on paper or digital).
In our opinion it is an additional useful tool, but not indispensable; indeed, it m should not be indispensable …

Q. What are the limitations or drawbacks, if any ?

A. The most obvious limitation is the still very partial coverage. Even in 10 or 20 years or more, only the most popular mountain trails and perhaps some major climbing routes will be mapped. The other important limitation is that the images offered are obviously related to the conditions of the mountain at the time of image acquisition. Therefore, if the image is taken in summer,  for example, it will not be very useful for a winter ski tour in the snow. Furthermore, even within the same season, the conditions  of the mountain can change a lot (especially on glaciers).
The third limitation is that, in the areas without a mobile network, you will not have access to Google Street Map online.


The google Trekker device here in the configuration normally bestowed to the volounteer walkers for mapping. It will be installed in a dedicated backpack, for a total weight of approximately 18 kg. Future versions may weigh less.


Q. Having a mountain itinerary mapped on Google Street View could definitely kill the adventure?

A. Here two reasonings are needed, one practical and one philosophical. From a practical point of view, due to the limitations mentioned above, there will be very few cases in which the information offered by Google Trekker would actually “cancel” all unforeseen events during the outing. Moreover, on a known itinerary,  you get lots of detailed information even without Google Trekker. For example:  I want to know what the normal route on Grossglockner is like? … I go to YouTube and I have dozens of videos showing all the stages of  the climbing.
On the other hand, the lesser known routes, the less visited mountains perhaps in remote areas, will always remain little or not at all documented, to the delight of pure adventurers. The more technical routes and the high altitudes will not be mapped by Google Trekker, due to the difficulty in carrying the equipment along (18 kg !).
Furthermore, on a technical route or on a 7000 or 8000 m peak, if it is really necessary to have a precise and instant view of the conditions of the mountain, the best option now are the drones, which can be used exactly when and where is needed …

From a philosophical point of view, Google Trekker is a tool like any other. Whether and when we use it is up to us. Anyone can choose to climb, for example, the Kufner route of Mont Maudit, without getting any prior information, if this is believed to be his/her personal approach to adventure: he/she will not consult the topographical map, will not read guides or reports, will  not look at photos or videos. …
But if someone else wants to search for more information,  why shouldn’t he/she be free to do so? In some cases, detailed information can help in making choices on how to prepare for the tour and can  be useful also to professionals (for example, mountain guides with clients, or rescue technicians during an operation).

Q. The fact remains that some purists reject such tools as Google Trekker …

A. Well, they are free not to use it. But let’s not forget that adventure is always relative to the goal we set ourselves, and to individual abilities. For the extreme professional guide, adventure may be to attempt a new climbing route on the Ulvetanna massif in Antarctica but, for the average hiker,  adventure can be just crossing the forest hill out of town,  after having collected all the available information.
The real adventure lies not in the use  of a tool, but in our mind. Let’s allow everyone to choose  his/her own limit …


A view (from a laptop screen, in this case) of Google Street Map after having zoomed on the Gouter route to Mont Blanc.



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