Mount Everest, Khumbu Himal, Rolwaling Himal I Khumbakarna Himal, Satellite Image Map; K2 and the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram, Satellite Image Map

Publication Year: 2005.

Mount Everest, Khumbu Himal, Rolwaling Himal I Khumbakarna Himal, Satellite Image Map (1:1,000,000), Jan Zurawski.

K2 and the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram, Satellite Image Map (1:80,000), Grzegorz Glazek. Both by the Polish Mountaineering Association with Geosystems Polska.

For all of us who have traveled to, or dream of traveling to, these crowning ranges of the planet, who read and write about them, or who simply enjoy images of the world’s famous ranges, these two new publications are real gems. They cause one to sit and stare for long periods, as the eyes grow accustomed to the amount of detail found on these moderate-resolution satellite images.

Using fairly recent color imagery (Nepal Himalaya, 2000) and black-and-white imagery (Karakoram, 2001), these new satellite maps show details that were available only to those savvy enough to find and use Landsat and SPOT satellite images. They show us an unadulterated and surprisingly cloud-free view of the mountains, free of the interpretation and cartographic license used by cartographers in compiling their maps (often from these same type of images).

Few traditional maps can rival the detail found on the Karakoram sheet. (Brad Washburn’s collaborations with the Swiss are the only ones that come to mind.) This is clearly a case where less is more, and the lack of color enhances the shadows and aids legibility. This sheet makes use of the higher resolution French SPOT imagery, which permits greater detail and a larger scale compared to the data used on the Everest sheet. Distinct medial moraines and access gullies on the Trango Glacier are clearly identifiable, as are sharp ridge lines and crevasse fields on the entire sheet. For those planning a trip to the Baltoro Glacier, or any other subrange portrayed, this map will prove an essential planning and visualizing tool. It fills a void for detailed current maps of the region north of the Baltoro Glacier along the China/Pakistan Border. Sources used in labeling this sheet are remarkably inclusive, from the earliest Italian to the most current Japanese maps of the range. The text elements are legible, tastefully done, and unobtrusive. [A 1:1 scale sample of this map can be found on page 16 of this Journal—Ed.]

The Everest sheet, while beautiful, is nonetheless not as aesthetically pleasing and of the two probably less essential. The spectral band combination chosen for its natural color look is oversaturated and makes the green of vegetation the dominant element on a sheet where the white of the mountains should be (including four 8,000m peaks). This is understandable for a product destined for the mass market, where colors mimicking nature are more likely to be understood quickly by casual observers. The multicolor typography, with a large number of serif-italicized river labels, is distracting and takes away from the imagery below it. There is also an abundance of transparent lines that, while not as prominent, are not useful enough to warrant their inclusion. For the Nepal region in particular there is an abundance of easily available maps that already fill that niche. Jan Zurowski, the cartographer, uses several of these as sources for his place names, including the Schneider and Washburn maps, yet does not make use of the more recent Finnish/Nepalese-produced National Survey Department’s 1:50,000 maps. These were likely ignored because they introduce new elevations for peaks whose heights have been set for several decades from earlier maps.

Both sheets have illumination from the south, which in the Northern Hemisphere creates problems of cast shadows on the northerly aspects so favored by alpinists. Details on these faces lie inshadows and can be difficult to decipher. The southern illumination can also lead to an inversion of the terrain by some observers, with valley bottoms appearing as ridge tops. Fortunately, this can be fixed by rotating the map to show south at the top. The result is terrain relief that pops off the page.

The beauty of these images and the advantages of satellite maps lie in their large amount of unedited details. These are not traditional maps in that they do not contain enough navigational information (such as a coordinate grid and magnetic declination) to be used for taking measurements in the field, and the information has not been edited. When the cartographer obscures the image with superfluous information already found on traditional maps, it is to the detriment of the user. While text elements are useful for identifying peaks, they should in my opinion be minimized, as these images are best enjoyed as images, and are attractive enough to stand on their own merit. With the increasing availability of satellite imagery it is likely that more publishers will venture into this genre of map. They would do well to use Grzegorz Glazek’s K2 and Baltoro Glacier map as a model.

Martin Gamache