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Is mapping of mountaineering/climbing routes excessive? I noticed people are obviously very keen and are excessively mapping mountaineering climbs while the official hiking trails and camp-sites in the area are unmapped?  I feel this is a misguided priority and litters the maps while not truly being representative of the area. Some of these climbs are only for an exclusive group of climbers, very difficult, unlikely to be climbed very often. I’m all for contributing but perhaps this belongs on traces instead or mountaineering forums. The specific area of concern is the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper National Park. As an example, Glacier Lake, is an easy, flat, hike to a camp-site on a lake, on official trail maintained by Parks, not mapped, but the area has a trail mapped straight up a mountain, e.g. Glacier Lake example

What to do?

asked 05 May '14, 20:30

huaraz's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

As an aside, this is not really a question, more of a complaint, and therefore not really suitable for this site (where we strive to find good answers to questions, and not discuss policy). This issue might be better debated at a forum or mailing list of your choice, for example the Canadian mailing list.

(05 May '14, 22:06) Frederik Ramm ♦

I assume, in order to respect the openness of OSM, it is not feasible to even consider defining a policy for this situation.

(06 May '14, 02:57) huaraz

Mappers are free to map what interests them, as long as the things mapped can be verified by other mappers : these appear to be edits by someone interested in climbing mountains. Information regarding suitable routes up mountains can often be very useful: I see no problem in adding such information to OSM. Commonly used routes in the European Alps such as Piz Palu are already on OSM, and similarly winter routes are also mapped in the same area.

There are issues because we do not have a well formed and widely used group of tags for mapping some of the elements of a route like this. This description of an ascent of Survey Peak makes clear that parts of the route are following vestigial traces of a trail, others involve 'bushwacking' and probably the higher parts of the route are following natural lines. Ideally all these different aspects would be tagged and mapped differently: in particular so that climbing lines are not prone to be interpreted as routes for ordinary walkers (we do have the SAC Scale tagging which provides a well-tried way of making such disambiguation). I see nothing in this description which suggests this peak is extreme: on the contrary there are many OSM contributors who would be happy to climb it if it was in their area.

Also the route as mapped seems to include an excessive number of ele tags (one per node) suggesting that it is an unrefined GPS trace. This is not particularly good practice: but given the user may have a substantial backlog of previous expeditions which they want to add to OSM, not particularly reprehensible either. As OSM data can be iteratively refined, all of this data can be improved.

If you want the Glacier Lake trail on OSM, get out there and map it.

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answered 05 May '14, 21:36

SK53's gravatar image

SK53 ♦
accept rate: 22%


Thanks. Good points. Mappers map what interests them. Data can be improved. The mountain climbers are more OSM enthusiastic then the visitors/hikers in this area. It just stood out that the climbs are mapped ahead of other basic features.

(05 May '14, 23:13) huaraz

Ideally, GPS trace is stripped of elevation, timestamps, and start-up/reception errors. Next, upload the track to GPS Traces instead of the OSM map. I would stop at this point. Otherwise, because the climb is not done often (‘bushwacking’) it's desirable to wait for additional traces to define the “general” route. I’ll guess, you'll be waiting years. Each trace would be different due to navigational variations so it's challenging anyway. So, you simply add your own track and the main hiking trail (from other sources) so that the route doesn’t look out of place. Just a plan for improvement.

(09 May '14, 02:18) huaraz

Being both a hiker and a climber, I believe that it's misleading to have routes ranging from easy trails to difficult mountaineering routes on the same map without any form of distinction. Frankly, on normal topographic maps I don't expect anything beyond difficult hiking and easy mountaineering routes. To me, the limit is nothing beyond PD for mountaineering routes and nothing beyond around UIAA grade II (roughly YDS 5.2, maybe a short 5.3).

For some I reckon that that's already too much. I can imagine that there are those that might not want to see anything that doesn't follow a trail. More intrepid hikers might want to see important routes, even without a trail, as long as it's possible to follow them without having to use your hands. In any case, regardless of the upper limit, if a map does go as far as to show routes that do not follow trails anymore, I would expect to see (almost) all hiking trails as well.

However, OSM being open source means that it's up to us, the contributors, to enter all these trails. The whole principle of voluntary contributions means that things will be missing. Generally speaking, the more active contributors there are for any particular area, the better the map will be. But with a limited number of contributors, we'll just have to live with what there is, and make a few improvements ourselves if we can.

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answered 06 May '14, 16:05

Rob%20Holland's gravatar image

Rob Holland
accept rate: 0%


Yes, but the main map on is not designed as a map for walkers/climbers/alpinists. For years the Hoernli route up the Matterhorn has been mapped as a path: fortunately it isn't now.

As I stated the SAC Scale covers the range roughly from nice trail, hands in pockets to PD or UIAA II, but we don't have good tagging for very widely known and used routes above this scale (same is true for skiing, see ).

(06 May '14, 20:15) SK53 ♦

What makes you say OSM is not designed for the backcountry? The SAC Scale you pointed out goes a long way in distinguishing the various difficulty levels. Even just a basic “path” is a well know and identifiable concept on existing topo maps.

(07 May '14, 01:40) huaraz

I think SK53 was saying that the map isn't designed for backcountry. For example, although the data for a trail may have a SAC scale set in the tagging, that will not be shown on the "main" OSM map. A specialized hiking/climbing map might display that information, and leave out or minimize other info.

(07 May '14, 15:29) neuhausr

@neuhausr thanks, I'd forgotten to reply, you are on the button!

(07 May '14, 21:40) SK53 ♦

Thanks, now I understand: Mapnik is the rendering engine used by the Slippy Map on and Mapnik currently doesn’t render the SAC Scale. So, a climbing route will display identical to a walking trail. However, the discontinued Osmarender engine did render the SAC Scale. Similar safety concerns were raised when the SAC Scale tag was accepted: “categories above T3 should NOT be mapped similar to normal footways for the safety considerations.”

(08 May '14, 17:46) huaraz

It sounds like it would be a good idea to suggest incorporating sac_scale into the rendering of footways/paths/etc (at least to remove the more difficult paths from rendering on You can submit an issue (or better, a pull request with a fix) at

(09 May '14, 15:14) neuhausr
showing 5 of 6 show 1 more comments

For crag climbing rather than mountaineering, it would be helpful to be able to mark the principal areas, rather than routes, described in the relevant climbing guidebook. I am thinking of a time when I was climbing at Swanage, and on the walk-in I was asked how to find a climbing area mentioned in the book. The group looked possibly a little inexperienced, so had they abseiled into the wrong area, they could have been in trouble. It would not be feasible to map individual routes because there are so many of them, and because they are mostly vertical. For mountaineering, it would probably be useful to have the line of a route loaded on to a GPS (and could be a life-saver in an Alpine blizzard), but there must be no risk of a walking party mistaking it for a hiking trail. Do we need some new tags for steeper routes?

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answered 06 May '14, 19:42

Madryn's gravatar image

accept rate: 13%

edited 06 May '14, 19:57

(07 May '14, 01:45) huaraz

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question asked: 05 May '14, 20:30

question was seen: 23,640 times

last updated: 09 May '14, 15:14

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