Topographic maps - those maps covered with serpentine lines - can be intimidating to beginning canine hikers but are supremely useful in planning a day's outing in an unfamiliar woods if you have access to one. Topographic maps seek to represent the terrain with contour lines that represent the same elevation throughout their length.
When picking out trails to follow the first thing to look for are the spaces between the lines. If a trail passes through closely spaced lines you can expect steep climbs while broadly spaced lines are indicative of gentler terrain. Closer inspection of the contour numbers can tell you exactly how many feet you will be climbing.
Principles of Reading A Topographic Map
Principle 1: concentric contour lines that form complete, closed paths, whether those paths constitute circles or some irregular shape, represent mountains and hills.
Principle 2: contour lines in valleys form Vs or Us pointing to higher ground; ridge contours form Us and point to lower ground.
Principle 3: the closer contours are spaced, the steeper the terrain
Principle 4: a path straight up or down a slope will always be represented on a map by a straight line perpendicular to the contour lines depicting that slope
Other Features of a Topographic Map
> blue line indicating a stream is sure sign of a valley
> you can be certain whether the trail follows a ridge or a valley by checking contour numbers
> thin contour lines are intermediate contours, every fifth contour is thick index contour which has elevation written along it
> when tips of two Us point at each other you have a pass in between
> difference in elevations between contour intervals is always the same
> a cliff, with elevation change and no horizontal distance is merging of contour lines
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