Growing up in New England, I had access to trail info and maps for almost any locale in the entire six-state region. The printed guidebooks and maps were easy to find and wonderfully informative.

Then I retired and moved to China. I was astonished and dismayed by the overall lack of trail info and maps. To be sure, there are a few exceptions, e.g., Gary McCue’s “Trekking Tibet” (latest edition now ten years old), or the most popular treks which are well documented on the internet, e.g., Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yubeng Village.

But for the many places I wanted to explore in Yunnan Province, pretty much nothing. Nada! So, I decided to hit the ground, walk about, and share what I learned on the internet. So far, I have published several articles about hiking in Yunnan, some of them with maps and detailed hiking info. These are available for free on a website catering to expatriates and English-speaking readers.

Now here’s the thing. My approach arises out of a lifetime using printed maps and guidebooks, like the AMC White Mountain Guide. The difference of course is that my articles are published on the internet instead of on paper.

Reading some of the threads here at VFTT, leads me to ponder whether my approach will be all that helpful to a generation of hikers that values cell phones and GPS tracks. A recent thread discussed the Guthook guides, how on some long-distance trails most hikers are navigating exclusively by phone app.

So, I am left wondering whether my articles are a colossal waste of my time. Perhaps the actual audience for them approaches the vanishing point. Perhaps they will be ignored by those who I thought would benefit.

I do find making the maps and writing up the hikes immensely fulfilling. I could see myself continuing for years to come, as long as I am able to continue walking and exploring (I am closer to seventy than to sixty).

To date most of my articles have been limited to day hikes. I am now working on trekking areas with potential for multi-day hikes.

I don’t use GPS, although I may learn how in the future. In one case I did use GPS tracks to trace hiking routes onto my map. The situation in China is clouded because of stories that individuals have been deported for using GPS “for mapping”, whatever that means.

As a matter of interest, there is a Chinese hiking app that allows sharing of GPS tracks for all regions of China. I have looked at their website and it includes tracks for local areas of interest to me. The website appears to be legit, that is, they appear to have a proper Chinese business license which is mentioned on the “About” page. But I am still wary. I won’t spell out their URL other than to say it consists of six of the letter “o” with an “f” in front and a “t” at the end, dot com. As is customary with Chinese web sites, you have to *turn off* your VPN to load the website.

Who hikes in Yunnan? Who is the audience for my articles? There are relatively few Chinese hikers and backpackers, nothing percentage wise as in USA. Reportedly the number is growing, however. Many will probably pass over an article written in English as mine are. (However, I do make the maps bilingual.) My impression is that most who hike here, whether Chinese or foreign, hire a guide service. This makes sense for convenience sake, and for the foreigners, eliminates the language barrier. But it all comes at a high price. Finally, there would be people who trek independently without guides, a rather small group. Outside of the most popular trekking areas, I have only met one other foreigner deep in the outback.

For myself I do hire a local guide for multi-day trips, for safety and to handle the mule to carry my gear—at my age carrying a light pack is a joy. Hiring guides who speak only Chinese is a big money saver. I typically do day hikes solo.

Another potential focus for mapping/guidebooking is the many parks and recreation areas that have been developed in China. These are often exploited to the max by the Chinese government to bring in mobs of visitors in order to maximize the collection of entrance fees. Many have gondola rides to bring visitors up a mountain or deeper into the park. At one park I visited, our group waited in line 5 hours to hop on the gondola up the mountain. Coming back down we waited two hours in line, in the rain.

These parks typically provide a miniscule map on the back of the entrance ticket. So small you need a magnifying glass to decipher it. Sometimes the map shows walking routes, sometimes they just want to herd you onto the gondola ride and if you try to hike outside of the approved zone, you get told firmly “No walking here”.

What would be helpful is a larger map, in English, showing the walking paths that you can use to avoid the gondola. And telling when to visit in order to avoid the crowds. That would mean, for example, avoiding the National Holiday first week of October, and the Spring Festival time in January-February.

Back to the main point of the post. What will serve the needs of hikers in terms of maps and info, in an area currently lacking such? Should I move away from traditional map and written info, whether on paper or static internet? Should I move in the direction of GPS and interactive cell phone app?

At this point I don’t know. I’m open to hearing different perspectives from folks on these forums.