Google Earth is an endless source of inspiration for me. I spend hours virtually exploring places and although some might argue that it takes away the mystique, it will only serve to show me how much there is left to explore.
Of course not everywhere has images of equal quality. Some remote places and large icefields have little to no definition. Those areas will remain mysterious for the time being. All the more reason to visit them on foot.
Occasionally I spend days plotting traverses which I can latter translate to my maps. Other times, I take a last minute peak before I head out the door to memorize key pieces of terrain and key elevations.
For those who aren't wholly familiar with the use of google earth, I'm going to demonstrate a bit of what you can do as well as point out of some of the key features.
Let's start with navigation. Although google earth provides you with navigation arrows and tools to the top right side of the screen, I find the best way is to use the keyboard. Use your arrow keys for left, right(x-axis) and up, down (y-axis) motion. Use fn (mac) or ctrl (pc) with the arrow keys up and down to zoom (z-axis). Hold shift while pressing different arrow keys to change your angle of viewing and then rotate.
Using the keyboard is much faster and the most fluid way of moving through landscapes. Occasionally I do use the trackpad or mouse to drag myself around or zoom where my mouse is but that's about all. Play around with the arrow keys a bit.
So lets talk about the key features that you can use to plan trips.
The main ones are the place-marks and the route tools. I use place-marks to denote anything, wether it's a particularly bad cornice, a hut, a safe spot, camp spots, landing zone, etc. you can mark them.
The route tool is amazing for plotting a line through terrain. This can be a ski line, an up-track, a mountaineering route or an extended ski traverse. Plotted routes can give you an elevation profile, steepness (although in percentage instead of degrees), total elevation gain and loss, distance, max and mins and more.
All this information can be stored and organized in the sidebar. You can also share any place-mark, route or folder by e-mail with partners.
At the base of the screen, info is displayed. The scale is great for getting a quick look at distance without plotting the route. Zoom out till you can fit your route on the scale and you're done. Imagery date is key. Different landscapes are photographed at different times of the year. The top tool bar also has a tool to view previous images of the area if there are any, so you can essentially go back in time.
And where-ever your cursor is pointing in the virtual landscape, at the bottom, the elevation, latitude and longitude are displayed for the point your cursor is on.
This is how I keep my preferences:
True colour and high quality terrain slows the load time but also gives you a better quality image. You have the option of using UTM coordinates instead of Lat-Long.
The memory cache is useful as it stores information on areas you've recently visited. This means that you can go back and the load time will be much faster and you can even view things offline later. I keep my cache larger than default as I often go back to the same general areas and like to be able to use the program when I don't have internet.
Some peaks in BC are unnamed or labelled wrong. Here is a .kmz file which labels all the peaks.
When doing a lot of work plotting routes, saving place-marks, etc. It's a good idea to close google earth now and then. Google earth is a heavy program and if it crashes, everything you've added since the last time you closed the program won't be saved. Closing and restarting it now and then is a good idea. You can go a step further and back up all routes, etc. by saving them as a file in your documents. It's not a very large file.
So here's a little demo of me using the program and some of it's features. The movement in the program is more fluid in actuality. Specify 720p for high definition and notice the detail in some of the terrain. You could probably see an alpinist on the flanks of Mt Waddington if he/she were there.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvulIqDcOCM&w=640&h=360]Hopefully this was helpful for those less familiar with using google earth. The more you use the program, the more you'll discover. You'll be exploring Mars, the Moon or the constellations next (yes you can do that).
Just remember to use google earth as a tool not a replacement for exploring the outdoors. Use it to help find your muse and inspiration or plot routes for the next adventures in the real outdoors!