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Thread: Survey: guidebook format

  1. #1
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    Survey: guidebook format

    The AMC Guide to the White Mountains has been the dominant influence on my thinking when it comes to organizing a guidebook. That for me was always the gold standard for printed guidebooks. However, today’s internet allows for flexibility of presentation not possible when I started hiking several decades ago. Perhaps there are better ways than the AMC standard in today’s world.

    Now that I am creating my own hiking guide and website, I am faced with the task of organizing and formatting the material. At this point I am presenting an individual route in the following manner (I call them routes rather than trails, since they are used by local residents and not intended as well-marked hiking paths. This means the route description must be detailed enough to be usable by outsiders.)

    Route Title
    Statistics of duration, elevation, difficulty
    Hiking Times
    Summary
    Description

    Originally, I was going to place the Hiking Times section at the end, after the Description. This was (is?) the AMC guide format. (I don’t have a current guide on hand for reference.)

    A friend suggested I move the Hiking times above the Description. So, a question for VFTT: where do you prefer to see Hiking Times, near the top or at the end?

    I also invite your thoughts about the best presentation format. Have you seen on-line examples that you find especially clear and useful? Comments welcome.

    Here is an example of a route to be included in the guidebook, following the format laid out above.

    Haba-Benxi Route
    Region: East Peak Group
    Itinerary: Haba Village—Haba Muru River—Water Trough Junction—Benxi Village
    Duration: 4½ hours, excluding rest breaks
    Altitude in meters: Start 2,650. Max 3,000. End 1,800
    Elevation Gain: 370 meters. Elevation Loss: 1,200 meters
    Rating: Difficult
    Hiking Times: Haba Village to ridge crest 1:00 hrs. Haba Muru River 2:00 hrs. Pancake Meadow 2:30 hrs. Water-Trough Junction 3:10 hrs. Top of Benxi Village 4:00 hrs. Tiger Leaping Gorge highway 4:30 hrs.

    Summary

    The Haba-Benxi Route connects the villages of Haba and Benxi, located respectively to the north of Tiger Leaping Gorge and in the lower gorge. This is the quickest way to walk from Haba to the gorge. From Haba up to a ridge at 3,000 meters, the route coincides with the final section of the Luke-Haba Route. At the ridge crest the two routes separate and follow different paths. Lower down in the valley, at Water-Trough Junction, they cross each other and then go their separate ways. From the end of the route at Benxi, there is an option to trace the highway up to Walnut Garden Village where you will find several guest houses. This optional stretch takes an additional 1½ hours of walking and 200 meters of vertical gain.

    Description

    The Haba-Benxi Route leaves Haba Village on the south edge of town and ascends through forest and meadow to the southwest ridge of Pusa Mountain. The climb up to the 3,000-meter ridge takes one hour.

    <snip bulk of description>

    After passing a large cultivated field, follow a dirt road that switchbacks down to the top of the paved road above Benxi Village. You may have to open (and close) a gate on the way. At the paved road, a distance marker indicates three kilometers to the Tiger Leaping Gorge highway. From here on down, there are extensive views of the Jinsha River Valley. Arrive at the highway 4½ hours after starting the hike.
    散步 Sanbu

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    This is somewhat similar to the style I used for my 52WAV guidebook, although I didn't include times or difficulty level as I feel those are quite subjective. What might be difficult for a beginner might be easy for an experienced hiker. Times are in a similar boat. The 52WAV list in particular attracts hikers of all abilities and I didn't want to provide a sense for folks to think they "should" complete a hike in a given time.

    It sounds like your book may be different though, so to answer your question, I would prefer to see any times given at the top with all of the other data. It makes logical sense to keep all that together, rather than having the time separate after the description.
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    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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    The ADK (for which I write) shuns hiking times. They do give a short description of why in the preface of the book, with a very conservative formula.

    I'm not sure it has ever happened, but if you stick to facts, you can not be sued for providing false or misleading information.

    "You said it would only take 3 hours, and it took me 6, and I ran out of daylight".
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    Senior Member maineguy's Avatar
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    Keep the overall dimensions of the guide to the minimum possible. The WMNF guidebook is really too large to take on a hike. I just copy the pages I need, but sometimes it might be nice to have the whole book. Look at the guidebooks from the 60s and 70s. You could actually put them in your day pack. I know that the newer guides have more info, but still...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Rankin View Post
    "You said it would only take 3 hours, and it took me 6, and I ran out of daylight"
    I have a disclaimer at the front of my book that covers this. Basically, "this is one source of information; hikers should thoroughly research their trips" and so on.
    Proprietor, NH 52 With A View Facebook group
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    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    First thing I wanted to comment on was the idea of "book time". I think it's quite useful to have a "guideline time" in the summary description, especially if your routes vary greatly in character. But it's even more important to include the indisputable facts: distance and elevation gain. I don't see any distance information anywhere in your route description, and that's a major mistake. Distance should go right after Duration in the summary, and also be mentioned within the segment times ("Hiking Times").

    I was happy to see altitude (starting, finishing, and peak) listed, that's very useful info.

    Do you have good maps? The stuff about "coinciding with the final leg" of some other route, and then diverging, and then recrossing, was confusing. Honestly the summary paragraph should just mention very briefly that "parts of this route coincide with or cross the other route." Anybody wanting to make a loop will look at the map; the summary text is to tell me where the route starts and ends, and main points of interest along the way. The detailed paragraphs are where you should say "stay left here or you'll end up on the other route", with special attention to signs, cairns, blazes, etc.

    I'm going to disagree with MaineGuy - if the routes are poorly maintained and/or poorly marked, then the value of the guide is in including lots of detail. Consider publishing it in multiple small volumes, but don't make sacrifices for ultra-portability. A book is smaller and less heavy than lots of gear people hike with all the time - binoculars, for example.

    I think the Hiking Times is useful at the top. But it looks like you're listing cumulative times: a->b 1 hr, b->c 2 hrs, total time 2hrs. I think I'd prefer to see the time for each segment: a->b 1 hr, b->c 1 hr, total time 2 hrs.

    Also the math doesn't work, or I'm confused. Looking at the segment times, if you get to Benxi at 4:00, and the optional highway leg takes 1h30, then the end of that leg should be 5:30, not 4:30. I also guess the total Duration at the top is supposed to exclude the highway leg, so shouldn't the Duration be 4 hours, not 4 1/2 ?


    PS ALWAYS be explicit about whether times are one-way or round-trip, and always give parenthetical times that include optional segments:
    Duration (one-way): 4 hours to Benxi (5 1/2 hours to Walnut Village).
    Last edited by nartreb; 09-23-2020 at 10:48 AM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maineguy View Post
    Keep the overall dimensions of the guide to the minimum possible. The WMNF guidebook is really too large to take on a hike. I just copy the pages I need, but sometimes it might be nice to have the whole book. Look at the guidebooks from the 60s and 70s. You could actually put them in your day pack. I know that the newer guides have more info, but still...
    I'll second that!
    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

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    Good feedback, thank you.

    I have never liked hiking times expressed as a range. Like, "the hike to the summit takes 4-6 hours". For my guidebook, I provide hiking times from my personal trips, in hopes that a baseline of one person's experience will give useful info. That plus elevation gain and good maps (I went to the trouble of drawing true-scale maps), will have to suffice for now.

    I offer a disclaimer that goes like this:

    "Unless otherwise noted, hiking times on this site are derived from my own experience carrying a light day pack. Your times on the trail may be higher or lower. Please bear in mind: the hiking times do not include rest stops or lunch breaks. Add 25% as an initial projection of total time on the trail. Adjust to suit your own experience and circumstances. At a future date, hiking distance will be added to the site."

    The current lack of distance is a drawback, as several people noted. I personally always want to know distance before a hike. So, when I figure out how to use my iPhone to plot GPS, I will add distances. No way I would attempt to figure distance from a topo map, too time consuming and prone to error. I was nervous about the GPS issue earlier, since professional GPS units are illegal here. But now that everyone has GPS on their phones...

    Cumulative times vs. segment times. I recently saw a guidebook that uses segment times, inserted and highlighted into the text description. Pretty useful. Based on that example, I started incorporating segment times into the body of my text, for example:

    "Walk up the road for 15 minutes to a patch of evergreen forest."

    "50 minutes above Jianshan Meadow, you will pass by a hut in ruins."

    Cumulative and segment each have their advantages, and I hope the guide will benefit from both.

    Nartreb, thanks for pointing out the confusing language. I have rewritten to clarify.
    散步 Sanbu

  9. #9
    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sanbu View Post
    So, when I figure out how to use my iPhone to plot GPS, I will add distances. No way I would attempt to figure distance from a topo map, too time consuming and prone to error.
    http://caltopo.com has a mileage calculator. And a lot of trails are already denoted with mileage on their web site.
    Tom Rankin
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  10. #10
    Senior Member iAmKrzys's Avatar
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    You probably should check out https://www.alltrails.com I believe this is currently the most popular on-line "living" trail guide that has a quite a number of useful features. It has curated & community content. You can create routes and get distance & elevation profiles for them prior to hiking. If you have premium subscription you can download various map layers for off-line use in places where you may not have service using a phone app.

  11. #11
    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Rankin View Post
    The ADK (for which I write) shuns hiking times. They do give a short description of why in the preface of the book, with a very conservative formula.

    I'm not sure it has ever happened, but if you stick to facts, you can not be sued for providing false or misleading information.

    "You said it would only take 3 hours, and it took me 6, and I ran out of daylight".
    This reminds me of the Rigi-Kulm in Twain's A Tramp Abroad.

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    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Sanbu,

    Lots of good comments here for you. Nice! I have one regarding the "Rating" item.

    Lately my wife and I have been doing hikes that are rated as "Moderate" in the WMG. But we are finding them a bit more demanding than the moderate rating. It is because we are old!! So I suggest you describe the target hiker to which the rating applies. You might do this in the Forward or Introduction. Something as follows:

    Difficulty ratings in this guide apply to very fit hikers of under 60 years of age who are fully acclimatized to the highest altitude of the hike. If you do not meet these criteria you might find the hikes more difficult and take more than the suggested time to complete them.


    I never thought I'd suggest such a thing, but I never thought I'd become a 73-year-old hiker either!
    Last edited by ChrisB; 09-29-2020 at 04:47 PM.
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    Senior Member griffin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post
    So I suggest you describe the target hiker to which the rating applies. ....

    Difficulty ratings in this guide apply to very fit hikers of under 60 years of age who are fully acclimatized to the highest altitude of the hike. If you do not meet these criteria you might find the hikes more difficult and take more than the suggested time to complete them.
    I think it's better to use a simple disclaimer and not add a bunch of details about "applies to people who are fit/acclimatized..." because some of what you suggest here is based on assumptions that may not hold for everyone (I know older hikers who are much faster than I, and younger hikers who are slower), for example. As long as the rating system is reasonably consistent, users will figure out how their experience stacks up against the ratings in the book. Same holds for hike time estimates IMO. I know pretty well how my hike times stack up against the AMC estimates (shorter if I'm solo or with my two closest friends, longer in some of the larger groups).

    And yes, I'd also vote to have that information included with the summary, and before the description. Very helpful if you're considering different options and don't have a destination/route in mind already.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member iAmKrzys's Avatar
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    Ratings are subjective and inherently asymmetric - the person rating the trail will very likely perceive the difficulty differently than a random user of the guide. That's why I prefer attributes such as "rocky trail", "very steep section", "slick slab", "difficult stream crossing", "sparse trail markings", "muddy", "bridge out", "blowdowns" etc.

  15. #15
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    I agree with Tom, Ken and Griffin. Make the book accurate, but include a nice big disclaimer. Review several climbing guidebooks for examples of strongly worded disclaimers.

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