As we like to say at AlpineSavvy, “A map is great, but a map with your route drawn on it is even better.” That usually means getting a GPS track of where you want to go.
Trying an initial search on websites such as peakbagger.com (climbing) or alltrails.com (hiking)is a great place to start. But, if those sites don't give you a track file, here's another trick to try - the publicly posted tracks at GaiaGPS.com.
This is a bit of a hack to find GPS tracks for a hike or climb. It's not the most reliable, and not guaranteed to give you what you’re looking for. But if other avenues don’t work, this is an alternative.
Note: You need to know pretty much where your route goes, and also be aware that being publicly posted is no guarantee of the quality of the track. The person posting may have done it in a different season then you want to try your climb. They may have tried a different approach than what you intend.
Note: Gaia can sometimes be a good source for those scramble/half trail routes that are not a common hiking trail but are also not necessarily mountaineering objectives either. Think high routes like the Ptarmigan Traverse in the North Cascades, the round Mt. Adams trail, the popular through hike of the Alpine Lakes wilderness in central Washington, routes like that.
Disclaimer: Before you use ANY track file you find on the Internet, always know that it provides a general guidance of where to go, and is not a step-by-step route which you need to follow. This is especially true on snow/glacier climbs, as in the example below.
Here's how to find the public tracks at GaiaGPS.com.
In a distant corner of the GaiaGPS.com website is a map overlay called “Public Tracks”. If you turn this on, you should see all of the publicly available tracks people have uploaded to Gaia GPS in your area. If you're going on a reasonably popular hike, scramble or climb, one of these might well be the track you need.
Another benefit from using the public tracks overlay as you can see where people are actually going, which might show a rerouted trail that's marked incorrectly on the map.
Note: you need to have an account at Gaia GPS for this to work.
For this example, let's look for a track for the North Ridge of Mt. Baker climbing route in Washington.
Go to GaiaGPS.com, login to your account, and tap on the “map layer” icon on the left side of the screen.
In this example I'm using the “OpenCycleMap HD” layer, which shows backcountry trails and topography pretty well. Feel free to choose any map layer you like. Zoom in to your area of interest; here Mt. Baker.
On the left sidebar under “Layers”, scroll all the way to the bottom. In the “Overlays” section, you should see a checkbox for “Public Tracks.” Check this box.
Once you check the box, all of the public tracks for your chosen area should appear on your screen. (These are all tracks that that backcountry users have saved to GaiaGPS and given permission to share publicly.)
Yep, there may be a LOT! Or maybe none at all, if your objective is not very popular. See even more if you zoom in.
If you see a lot of different colors drawn over pretty much the same route, that's a pretty good indication that’s where you want to go too.
If you know where your route goes, start clicking on some of the colored lines near your route. A label should pop up, and you may well find the track you're looking for, as seen below.
If you click the title link in the pop up box, that should open up another page where you can see just that track, and download it.
Clicking the track link brings up a page of just that track. Hey, looks pretty good, might be able to use that one! Click the “Data” menu to download the file to your account, GPX file recommended. If it's downloaded onto your desktop account, it should auto-magically synchronize with your phone in a minute or two.