Virtual Trekking In Google Earth

On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


Virtual Trekking With Google Earth


When Google, Inc. changed their policy in December of 2015 in regard to the open use of satellite photos within their Google Earth computer program, it opened the floodgates for storytellers who want to share their adventures.  It is now permissible to use photos and adaptations of photos and maps captured from Google Earth and Google Maps to illustrate stories with geospatial references that are germane to the story.  

A long repressed desire to return to the rocky crags of the Zugspitze in the Bavarian Alps can now be fulfilled in virtual reality and immediately shared with readers who have an interest in trekking; an interest in mountain climbing; and an interest in re-visiting old haunts.  Seeing the route up to the top of the Zugspitze can be done on a paper map or a computer monitor; but trekking the route can also be accomplished in virtual reality.  The Footloose Forester knows that it is possible to climb the Zugspitze in virtual mountain climbing mode because he has done it several times.  He also knows the way because he made that climb more than 50 years ago.  Thanks to Google Earth, storytelling has just opened up an exciting new chapter in the art of writing.

This dream induced chronicle will begin as a draft; but most certainly will be expanded and revised in the future as ideas pour forth from the hard-wired memories of the Footloose Forester who is excited about revisiting the Zugspitze and other places in virtual reality.

Before he goes too far afield, the Footloose Forester also wants to mention that Google Earth can be used to zoom down to details on the ground in cities and small towns, with the aid of their embedded Street View mode.  He was able to read the street number of the small apartment building where he lived in Honolulu, merely by following one of the marked Google routes mapped from a moving car, in one of Street View’s many project files.

Sometimes the data on satellite photos is so far out of date that the reality on the ground does not always match the data on the photo. Buildings get demolished in bombing raids, residential areas get torn up in tornados, glaciers advance and recede.  To overcome some of those inconsistencies, Google Earth keeps a large inventory of historical photos that match the geospatial identities of ground features of interest.  For example, the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya that was bombed by terrorists in August 1998 was torn down and replaced with the August 7th Memorial Park, but Google Earth users can see satellite photos of both the original embassy building and the latter day park, also called Bomb Blast Park.  In pre-1998 satellite photos the embassy building was shown standing; and in the various Google Earth photos subsequent to 1998 the exact spot shows only the August 7th Memorial Park.  The Footloose Forester knew where to look on the satellite photo scenes of Nairobi because he visited that embassy many times during the years when he was working in Kenya.  In fact, his office was on the same street and just a few blocks away. Thus, he had, and still has, a special interest in before-after photos with geospatial references.  For the record, that sorrowful piece of terrain is located at latitude 1° 17′ 20.74″ S and longitude 36° 49′ 36.96″ E.  A photo of the park from above is shown below.



August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi is outlined in green


The trekking adventures now encouraged under revised Google Earth policies are not limited by still photos.  Meter by meter virtual progress along a mountain climbing route can be facilitated by using an embedded flight simulator.  Although the simulated speed of the mock aircraft is a bit too fast to catch all the twists and turns, the flight pattern already tested by the Footloose Forester led him to conclude that doing a virtual trek is possible from beginning to end. In addition, it is possible to pause the virtual flight to look around, left or right, to see additional ground features.  The photo below shows the choke point where the Footloose Forester almost met his maker one sunny day in 1962.



Go to Google Earth and zoom to the yellow stick pin for detail


Once the user of Google Earth is satisfied that both the photo resolution and the simulated flight are efficacious, he/she can make the climb for themselves.  Whereas a still photo may entice a reader to consult with Google Earth directly, a printed map of the route will become a kinetic virtual reality when the climbing route is followed in the flight simulator within the Google Earth program.  Go to latitude 47° 25′ 37″ N and longitude 10° 58′ 44″ E to get started but be sure to zoom in for spectacular clarity of the rock faces.

One last morsel of anticipation has arisen.  The Footloose Forester wants to re-enact launching a paraglider from the rim of Fogo Volcano in the Cape Verde Archipelago.  He had previously confirmed that the Google Earth flight simulator permitted him to launch silently from the rim of the volcano, glide for 8.3 miles on an azimuth of 230 degrees, and land on a strip of black sand beach, in a virtually simulated flight that had all the precisely known and required parameters needed for success.  Because the virtual flight requires the “pilot” to maintain proper speed and altitude to avoid crashing, planning and executing the flight are legitimate concerns.  To attain the thrill, however; the virtual pilot must be at the controls in flight simulation mode; because the volcano named Fogo is real, the ideal place for launching a paraglider is real; and the obstacles on the ground are real.  


Kansas University (KU) at Lawrence, Kansas 1959-19...
Hampton, Virginia 1956-1959

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