Route Making 101

Running in the wilderness can be intimidating for a variety of reasons. Knowing where you are, your route, and how to get to safety shouldn’t keep you out of the woods. I use a pretty simple setup to make sure I always have the maps, trails,and routes I’ll need on a run.

The tools I use are Caltopo and Backcountry Navigator Pro(Android).

Backcountry has a free trial, I believe, but it’s entirely worth the purchase. This app has allowed me to go places I’d never go before. Most importantly it’s saved my life a couple of times. Before beginning any adventure you should know how to use it. Get familiar with it before heading out.

Caltopo is an absolutely phenomenal tool and it’s free. I do pay for it but only because I’ve used it so much. They have a great knowledge base, here’s a link. I’d highly recommend going there.

First thing I do is head into Caltopo. My preferred maps are MapBuilder Topo, Thunderforest(Open Street Map) and the 2016 Forest Service map. I’ll also download aerial imagery for visual reference. Imagery is useful for finding clearings or knowing what kind of vegetation you’re heading into.

Once I’ve scouted the area using different maps I use the ‘Add Line’ tool which is located in ‘Add New Object’. Once you select the ‘Add Line’ tool there will be a small drop down in the top right corner of the map called Snap To. This is insanely useful. You can choose which map your line will snap to, or automatically follow. This makes creating routes along trails really easy. It saves so much time. The drop down lists OSM, USFS, Hydro, and Lines. I mainly use OSM and USFS because they’re what I need. Which one I use depends on the area and maps I’ll be using. They’re both accurate enough. Any yellow trails you can snap to.

The tools you’ll use while creating a basic route.

Once your route is all done you’ll need to label it. Labeling it will also end the route. You can change your line weight(thickness), color, and design. I tend to go with weight 4 and a color that stands out.

So you’ve made your route, labeled it, now you need to save it. You can save it by clicking ‘Save This Map’ under your login located in the upper left.

Save your route.

Your route and map are saved. Now you need to get your route onto your mobile device. The easiest way to do this is to export your route as a GPX file. You can find this option on the top menu bar located under ‘Export’. Most map apps will accept a GPX file.

Export a GPX file on desktop.

Now all you need to do is import your GPX file into your app. For me this is Backcountry Navigator. This app makes it as easy as opening the file because it’s the default handler for gpx files.

You’ll need to download your maps that your route goes through. For this I’m just going to link you to Backcountry’s tutorial on this. They explain it much better than I can. Click here to go there.

Now you have your route and maps downloaded. You can use these in airplane mode without issue. You should never get lost and you’ll always know where you are.

Have fun!

Table Rock Wilderness

This is looking at Table Rock from the Saddle Trail.

I haven’t been able to find time for the North Umpqua run yet so I decided last weekend to head out to the Table Rock Wilderness. TRW is a beautiful little area. It’s basically a couple of mountain ranges, 3, that extend out from Rooster Rock. Part of what makes TRW so incredible is Pechuck Lookout. It’s a STONE lookout tower. It’s first come first serve and no reservations. It’s a little slice of awesome just outside Molalla.


You can see Helens, Rainier, Adams and Hood in this photo.

It’s a pretty quick little run up to Table Rock from the trailhead. Along this trail there’s a little outcropping of rocks that you can climb up. On the far end there’s a geocache in a green munitions box. I left a little note and took inventory.

Once up to Table Rock I sat and rested for a little while. I chatted with some folks for a little a bit while flip flopping in my head if I should run to Rooster Rock. I hadn’t run this section before and I’d heard stories about how steep it was. I asked a guy and gal to pick a number between 1 and 10. If I was within 2 of their number I would run to Rooster. I chose four immediately. They chose four so onto Rooster I went.

This is from the intersection of the Saddle and High Ridge trails. Looking towards Rooster Rock.

The Saddle Trail really was something else. It definitely isn’t a heavily traveled trail. Parts of it were a bit tricky to follow because of recent vegetation growth. I had to stop quite a few times to figure out where the trail went. Parts of the trail also had some water damage but that’s to be expected.

I didn’t stay at Rooster long. There were 3 people and a cute beagle/dachshund mix. The doggo took to me pretty well. We chatted while I drank some water. I was flip flopping in my head if I should head south to Pechuck Lookout. I asked them to pick a number between 1 and 10. If I’m within 2 I’ll goto Pechuck. I chose 5. They chose 7. Onto Pechuck I went.


Pechuck isn’t in the boundary of the wilderness area. This sign designates the boundary.

Pechuck Lookout is really something else. It’s 2 stories. It has shuddered windows. There’s a deck. A beautiful view. A fire pit. An old bed frame outside. There’s even a wonderful spring a bit downhill from it. The tower itself is well provisioned. 4 benches that double as beds. A well stocked first aid kit. A recent cabin log. I couldn’t find the old one which bummed me out because I’d left some funny entries and I’d wanted to see how folks reacted. Oh well.

I had service up there so I rested for a bit and did some Instagramming. I was running somewhat low on water at this point. I still had to run back.

The journey back was mostly uneventful. I set a good pace and went with it. I was completely out of water by Table Rock. I knew there was a bottle of water in the geocache so I had that to look forward to. I was out of water by the time I got back to my truck though.

Overall I really enjoyed this run. Table Rock is always an amazing experience. You don’t find many casual city folks out here so the conversation is always great. I’d highly recommend Table Rock to anyone looking for a great time. I’m excited to go up there in the snow.  

North Umpqua Trail FKT Planning

My next challenge is going to be the 80 mile North Umpqua Trail.

This trail is a bit special to me. I’ve spent a lot of time on this river but only explored about a third of the actual trail. Terrain wise the trail varies a good amount. The eastern end is up in the Cascades and goes into the river valley as you go west. I’m running downhill on purpose to make it a bit easier but also so my ride doesn’t have to drive as far.

I’ve created a caltopo route for this run. I’ve also put the elevation and slope profiles below so everyone can get a better idea of what it’ll be like.

I’ll have drop bags along the course at various trailheads. Inside the drop bags will be things like Squirrel’s Nut Butter, socks, batteries(at the overnight trailheads) and calories.

Nutrition wise I’ll most likely do cliff bars, nuts and seeds, and possibly some hot food for the overnight portion. Lots of salt too.

I’ll keep everyone updated on the progress of this run. As it looks now I might go do a large portion of it tomorrow. My goal is to run all 80 miles in one go unsupported. This would be an FKT I believe. I can’t find any evidence of running the entire trail.

Below are some photos from previous trips down there.


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