Basic GPS setup via Starman

I carried a Garmin eTrex 30 for 5 months over 2500 miles in 2013 on my Continental Divide thru hike.

Garmin eTrex 10, 20, 30

Garmin eTrex 10, 20, 30

I was not alone in relying on the device to find my way.  When I was preparing for the hike  I quickly became frustrated with the poor Garmin documentation. Their web support was no better. This stuff is  not easy to understand.  Nothing is intuitive about it.  I needed to learn lots, and fast.

One great source of hiking information, specifically about that trail,  is via the CDT list serv.  The following GPS set-up information has been just listed on the CDT-l by Frank Gilliand, AKA Starman.  He’s known in long distance hiking circles as the guy who knows about GPS.  He’s also one of the rare individuals who is able to communicate how-to-info about GPS that’s understandable by ordinary people, like me.  Thanks, Starman for letting me share your info on this blog!

Here are the facts from Starman himself:

There seems to be a lot of general confusion about the set up and operation of GPS units (Garmin Etrex in particular)
In the next couple of days I will put together a basic breakdown of step by step procedures to load data (waypoints, POIs, Maps and tracks)
I will post NEW set-up info on my “Web Site” soon:

Go to my Info page for some basic definitions:

For purposes of setting up a handheld gps for CDT hiking you need:

1)  Purchase a GPS unit (I prefer a Garmin Etrex 20 or 30)
2)  Purchase a Micro SD card (4 or 8 gb)
3)  Purchase a Garmin topo map DVD (either the TOPO 24k West or the TOPO 100k US)
(you can purchase the SD card version but it complicates things IMHO)
4)  install Gamin’s Free software on your computer:  BaseCamp, MapInstall, and WebUpdater
5)  update the GPS units Firmware using WebUpdater  (need to do this at purchase and check once a year)
6)  install the needed Garmin topo maps on to your GPS using MapInstall from your computer
7)  download and install the FREE Bear Creek POI file.
8)  Optional: install Tracks I have posted

Some definitions for clarity:

1)  Waypoint is a stored point.  (name, coordinates, elevation, etc) It can be downloaded from another source usually saved as a .gpx file
(the Etrex 20/30 is limited to 2000 of these loaded or field created points)

2)  POI point is an un-editable “waypoint” that can be loaded on to your Garmin GPS
(I have not found the upper limit of the total number that can be stored on a GPS)

3)  Loaded/stored TOPO Map:  A USGS based map that is installed and viewable on your GPS screen and Computer.
(You must get the Garmin TOPO 24k west or 100k US)

4)  Tracks are no more than “line segments” between “track points” that are drawn on software or they can be “active” tracks created in the field.
(I turn off the “active” track creation feature on my GPS)

( For the purpose of hiking the CDT if you choose to load tracks I would only use the tracks I created roughly following the Bear Creek Waypoint/POI points)

5) Routes are generally reserved for lines showing “routes” on roads.  So, for hiking purposes using the phrase “routes” only confuses the conversation.


Garmin does a really poor job of documenting basic operations of there handheld units and instead focuses on the bells and whistles…..
I feel your pain on the jumble of words and operations.  Call Garmin on their Help line and ask for better documentation.


If you just can’t figure it out the set-up of your GPS I am willing to set up your Etrex 20 or 30 sent to me via USPS Priority mail.  I have done several setups already.  Contact me for mailing instructions.  (You need to have the TOPO map file loaded onto either the GPS internal memory or the SD card)

Contact me off line at     frankgilliland    <@>    gmail   <dot>     com

I am in the middle of planning my own Summer hikes, so I am busy and can not walk you thru “BASIC” GPS loading operation questions.
I would prefer to just load your GPS up with data and set it up once.  But, you need to decide soon……

If you prefer Bear Creek will also do some GPS or SD card set-up for you for a nominal fee:


Bottom line: this is what I do in the field (on-trail) once I load the TOPO Map, POI point file and optional Track files:

1) Turn on your GPS and and you will see your location on your GPS screen as a digital USGS topo map
(this is helpful by itself and then you can find or verify your location on your paper map)
2)  you should also see the loaded Bear Creek Way-point or POI point(s) near you.
3)  if you have loaded and turned on the track viewing feature you will see the trail location as a line(s).
4)  If you are “Off Trail”  walk towards the closest or most logical Waypoint/POI point.
5)  Walk to the next Waypoint/POI in your direction of travel
6)  If it is obvious that you are on the trail then turn off your GPS to save your batteries until the next time you are “Off Trail”
(or you just want to see what the next POI point is and your physical location on your paper map)


Final Words of Wisdom:

You are responsible for learning the operation of your GPS.  In the field in the Middle of Montana is to late…..
GPS units are known to fail, batteries die and you should always have Paper Maps and the skills to use them.

Get an Etrex 20, load your TOPO map, load the POI and Track files…….Stay Found!


Scoring Focaccia and Miles

Surprised at the continued presence of the ice and snow on the trails in Camden Hills State park.

Still snow in April

Still snow in April

Normally I’m walking and biking the north side from Lincolnville.  Today I tried the Route 1 approach just to play it safe and hike a bit on dry ground.  Other than the road up to the top of Mount Battie, I regretted leaving my Stabilicers in the car. Whenever there was no ice or crumbly refrozen snow on the trails, there was mud, with a few choice pits obscured by the fallen leaves.

My walking day began after eating an early breakfast in Rockland with my friend David.  I enjoyed the renovated Home Kitchen, where I had a most excellent vegetarian Eggs Benedict, clearly one of the contributing factors to knocking out breakfast at the nearby Brown Bag.

By 9 AM I was hoisting 30 pounds on my back, when I walked from Rt. 17 to the top of Ragged Mountain ( 1300’) and back. So pleased to have the Leki poles on the dicey descent.

Then Rockland again, for lunch with my friend Robert, at the Atlantic Bakery where I enjoyed a hot bowl of soup with turkey on onion foccaccia.  I was dressed in my admittedly tattered hiking clothes, which likely inspired pity from a pretty girl at an adjacent who had finished her soup and offered me her unbitten foccacia on her way out the door. Trail magic!

Zipped over to Camden Hills where I was armed with my newly minted season pass ($35).

Camden Hills from Moody Mountain Road

Camden Hills from Moody Mountain Road

I wanted to get into double digit miles today and had no real plan.  After descending a bit from my slow stepping up to the top of Battie ( 800”) , I bypassed the Carriage Road Trail, just 0.2 miles from the top, in favor of the Table land trail, where the snow pack did not appear as thick.

I was too lazy to dig into my pack paper map to check what possibilities were ahead, but had my iPhone with me, primarily laying track for Strava, when I remembered I had the Camden Hills App (Guthook’s Hiking Guides- iTune App Store, $3.99). [NOTE: the App includes a bonus- 11.6 miles of the Georges Highland Path plus the Thorndike Brook access to Ragged.]
I fired it up, and voila, there I appeared on the map, with the route choices in colorful array.

Me= blue dot .  Choices, choices?

Me= blue dot . Choices, choices?

I tracked my progress on the screen, and I decided to head up to the top of Megunticook (1385’).

From there, I had a very quick, slippery descent, thankfully with no falls down the Slope Trail. I successfully skirted \ numerous post holes perforating the trail, some several feet deep.   I exited at the Multipurpose Trail right by the Ski Shelter. I took a right and tramped out, with 12 miles and 2,300 feet of vertical work completed, definitely beat and desperately in need of  chocolate milk and a candy bar at Village Variety.

Mt. Abram, or is it Abraham? – awesome Maine hike

Ah, the warmth of summer! A check on the weather on the top of Mt. Washington this morning was sobering. Up there, at 6,288′ it was 32 degrees, with the wind holding steady at 52 MPH with gusts up to 80 MPH.

GuthooK was up to Abram on August 8th, and wrote about it.

Aislinn wrote about it this month in her One Minute Hikes.

If you don’t know about the Maine Trail Finder, you should. Here is the link to the Fire warden’s trail on Mt. Abram- it’s all you’ll need to get there.

It was my turn today, and what a day it turned out to be.

It is only a two hour ride from my house to the village of Kingfield, where you veer off onto to West Kingfield Road and the navigating gets more interesting. You’ll be driving over 6 more miles of road, the last 3 gravel, washed out in places, but you can make it in a passenger car if you are plucky and drive carefully over the ruts. You used to be able to drive all the way to the trail head. Hurricane Irene washed out two bridges that are 1/2 a mile from the actual Firewarden’s Trail head, and there is no way a car can fly over a 10′ drop that is twenty feet wide. Here’s a 4 minute video of me getting back over the deepest wash out.

The day was crisp, clear, and breezy. Perfect for hiking. I dislike humidity.

This is a great hike. The trail is well-marked, and I was following a GPS route supplied to me by Guthook. The hand printed signage is a little confusing after crossing the second washed-out bridge, but just take the immediate right. There was an especially confusing brand new sign about a mile from the top that read “Appalachain Trail”, with the usual warnings about vegetation, etc. The real AT was more than a mile away skirting the side of Sugarloaf to the north. Someone made a mistake.

The beginning is easy, gradual, shady, and with ample water. Just before the site of the former cabin, at the three mile mark at 2,100′ there is a strong stream where final drinking water can be accessed. This site now has an outhouse and several tent sites, for those who want to make an overnight out of this trip. From here it is 1.5 miles to the summit, with 2,000 feet of vertical ascent coming into play.

The trail continues up in elevation, over the dwindling forest cover. Lots of rock and roots to get over.


Eventually you round a bend and there is the scree slope and rock scramble part of the hike.

Looking down over start of last mile up

From the Maine Trail Finder: “The remaining half mile of the trail to the summit is a boulder scramble through the second largest alpine zone in Maine. At approximately 350 acres, it is second in area only to Mount Katahdin in the state. This section of trail is very exposed and can be dangerous in bad weather. The trail is well marked by cairns, but even the experienced and advanced hikers will need to pay attention as not to lose the trail, especially in bad weather.
At the summit, there is a fire tower marking the peak and, nearby, a shelter on the remains of an old fire warden station. Here, the trail connects to a side trail of the Appalachian Trail which runs north connecting to the Appalachian Trail Corridor. On a clear day hikers can enjoy 360 degree views of the entire High Peaks region of Maine.”

Hanging out at the tower

Accurate description. It was stunning up there. Regarding the “shelter”- It is a small “cave”, created from piled rocks, covered with tar paper and a tiny wooden roof, but one person can lay down in it, maybe two can squeeze in, and one could definitely spend a sheltered night on top. General Lee did it last year at this time and encouraged me to stay up there on this hike.

I was back home just 12 hours after leaving this morning, and am still digesting this most rewarding hike, up high, here in Maine. As a concluding rant, I am truly baffled by the fact that I saw only two other hikers all day- both from New York, and concluding their New York/ New England peaks list.

From video games to apps: Ryan Linn (AKA Guthook) turns love of hiking into a business — Business — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine


Guthook is profiled in today’s Bangor Daily News.  He released his Camden Hills Hiking App, for iPhone, with plans for Android release.  I was involved with field-testing the App when Guthook and I were hiking the trails in Camden Hills State Park last year. We both agree that hiking there is excellent preparation for any adventures on the Appalachian or Long Trail (in Vermont).  The app is a interactive map with color coded trails from the park, with a moveable blue dot that places you right on the trail.  Intersections and key features are backed up with photographs and fact sheets about those GPS points. Read the whole article below.

From video games to apps: Waldo County’s Ryan Linn turns love of hiking into a business — Business — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

Guthook Hikes!: Introducing Guthook’s Hiking Guides

A major announcement from my hiking pal, Guthook! The man himself has been working in stealth mode, for over a year, on a group of backpacking projects: Guthook’s Hiking Guides. I  can attest to the precision, thoroughness, and ease-0f-use of  the Camden Hills version of his Guide for the iPhone and iPod Touch, an app prototype that I have been field testing.  The first product- Guthook’s Guide to the Pacific Crest Trail, Southern California section-  is available as of this morning (March 1) on the App Store.  I would have paid big$$ to put this app on my iPod Touch when I was wandering lost in the California wilds on my own PCT thru-hike in 2010.

Check out the full story, including order info below.

Guthook Hikes!: Introducing Guthook’s Hiking Guides.

GPS: getting better !

Today I rode my bicycle from my house down to Camden to buy a coffee to put in my water bottle and a half-dozen bagels at the Bagel Shop. Then I rode over to buy a Sunday paper at the convenience store, and came home. I am still running the Garmin Geko on the initial set of two AAA batteries. I have high hopes for practical use of this waterproof GPS as it only weighs 3.0 ounces, with batteries installed. I paid $60 for the GPS (used) on EBay, but it looked as new when it arrived at my house with original packing material and all manuals included.
I am using a Keyspan Tripp-Lite USB serial adapter from the MacBook to the Garmin serial cable connecting to the back of the Geko 201. The enclosed CR-Rom installed the driver flawlessly.
I am successfully using LoadMyTracks, a piece of free software that will communicate with GPS devices from many manufacturers to send and receive data. A single popup window shows my Garmin device and then a choice can be made to import either .gpx or.kml formats, saved to whatever folder you wish ( mine is labeled GPS).   The software can also be used to translate data between the popular GPX and KML (Google Earth) formats. The software provides support for waypoints (single locations in space), routes (lists of waypoints that can be used as instructions of where to go), and tracks (the breadcrumbs that many GPS devices keep to show where you have been).

After I access the tracks from my recent trip, I load another free program,  GPS Visualizer,  an easy-to-use online utility that creates maps and profiles from GPS data (tracks and waypoints, including GPX files), driving routes, street addresses, or simple coordinates.

We are not done yet, no we aren’t.  After it creates a Google map overlay, I use the Preview program from OS X to clip the map from my Visualizer screen, which I save as a JPG file on my desktop.  From here it is easily pasted into a WordPress post.  Here it is!

I like this map better. It details a 16 mile round trip, 1 hr., 29 minute total time, with max speed of 29.8 mph (coasting downhill) bike ride. I  do believe that engaging in this process somehow fills out  the outdoor experience .