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Best New Apps: PeakFinder Makes Virtual Peak Bagging Easy

By Keene Haywood

How often have you stood before a glorious mountain range and marveled at the peaks and wondered: “What the heck are the names of those spires?” Just a few years ago you would have been out luck unless you had a good map—and some solid range finding skills. Enter recent technology advances into the picture. Enter the iPhone.

Like a lot of things, the humble iPhone has changed our view of things—and literally, in this case. Using technology such as GPS and the compass embedded into the iPhone, a new app will help you impress those around you with name of that obscure peak off yonder. And when they were about to ask why you brought that vestige of modern urban life with you into the backcountry, you can now give them a solid answer!

Just what is the app that can do this marvelous thing? It is called PeakFinder and actually comes in two flavors serving different parts of the worl: one for the Alps and the other for U.S.A. West. You buy the one most appropriate for your needs as they are actually two different apps/databases. Swiss developer Fabio Soldati has made it so the entire database is loaded onto your iPhone or iPod Touch. So you can be off in the most remote part of the American Rockies without nary a cell signal or wi-fi hot spot around and still get the name of the peak towering before you.

The peaks are rendered very nicely with vector based graphics. Huh? The peaks are black and white line drawings of peaks around you, or from a location you wish you were standing. For instance, if you want to know what it looks like from the summit of Mount Rainier, this app can take you there and then you can use you finger to swipe a 360 degree panoramic view of the peaks that you would see from the summit. The peaks' names are clearly labeled above them. Tap one and the elevation is shown along with the peaks lat-long coordinates and its distance from the summit of the peak you are standing on. You also get an icon with a little person on it. Tap this and you are whisked away to the summit of the peak you had selected. It is all very well done. So you can be on the summit of Mount Rainier and see Mount Adams in the distance to the south. Tap it to get the elevation, coordinates and distance away from Rainier. Tap the little person icon and Bam! you are off to the summit of Mount Adams. Look south and you can see Mount Hood. You get the idea. Virtual peak bagging for the rest of us!

Aside from the peaks on the screen, you get four other icons. The one the lower left can center you at your current location where you can then see what is around you. Nifty for out-and-about hiking. Not so nifty if you are on the East Coast or outside the Alps as the database won’t have any peaks for your location. The icon at the upper left is a little magnifying glass. Tap it and you get a new screen where you can search for peaks in the Peak directory. The Western US version allows you to select the state you want to search. Another selection lets you find nearby peaks based on your location (either real or virtual location). Below this is a link to Google Maps where you can see you viewing location in satellite view.

This is slick, but again the little issue of needing an Internet connection comes up to make this feature work. Below the Google Maps selection, there is an Enter coordinates section where you can enter the location of your favorite peak. C’mon don’t you know the lat-long of your favorite peak? By heart? This is for those who are more into numbers rather than peak names.

Finally, below this you get a Favorites selection that will let you quickly access peaks you have made favorites. The next icon at the upper right of the main map view screen is a little compass icon that tells you what direction you are facing. Normally you will use you finger to scroll around in the map view to see different directions. But, if you tap this compass icon and you have an iPhone with a compass, it will activate and all you have to do is turn the iPhone and the view will change automatically as you move around the cardinal points of the compass. Finally, at the lower right of the screen is the “i” icon that you can tap to update the map database or change settings like metric vs. Imperial measurements, font size for peak labels and whether you want to view the compass information as North-South-East-West or in degrees. This is about it in terms of buttons and settings, nothing too complicated for those feeling lightheaded in the thin air of your favorite peak.

The one somewhat hidden feature are the digital binoculars. If you double tap an area on the panorama screen, a pair of binoculars appears letting you see less prominent peaks, highlighted by a little red dot. Line the dot up in the cross hairs of the binoculars and you will see the information related to this peak including the ability to zoom of to it’s summit if you so desire. Nice! This app is straightforward and very snappy in terms of performance. It is loads of fun and useful to use. Aptly named, PeakFinder will help you enjoy the view from any peak in the Alps or in the American West. It costs $1.99 and is worth every cent for mountain geeks.

Developer website: http://www.peakfinder.org

In the Apple App Store: