Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Maps, maps, maps

It seems that since this expedition began we have been looking for maps of the Kamchatka Peninsula. I can't speak for the beginning, but I know that I have spent a good many hours myself searching the interweb and the Oregon State library for some semblance of a topo map.

After the obligatory Google search of topo + maps + Kamchatka + Russia turned up little more than a few internet bride sites, I took a study break to go to the Valley Library and search the map archive. Now if you want an original copy of the map John Wesley Powell made of his trip through the South Dakota Badlands, that is easy to find, but looking for a Russian Map in the card catalogue involves sifting through 10,000 hits that are mostly in Russian, Cyrllic Alphabet Russian, Pho-Cyrillic Alphabet Russian and German. Apparently the Germans love maps of Russia, almost as much as David Hasselhoff. After floundering in the drawer of Russian political maps that told me which areas of the country were known for their cheese , and which are known for their wheat, I decided the better tactic was to ask for help.

With a little coaxing, my girlfriend, Steph, who happened to live in Russia, helped me look through the card catalogue. After a few hours of chasing leads, we basically found only one map of the Kamchatka Peninsula, and it was from 1875, drawn in that old map style where all the rivers go straight inland to the mountain with a dragon on top. Thar be dragons!

On the disheartening walk back home, Steph suggested I look at the online data base through the library that allows you to borrow books, and other materials from libraries around the world. The next morning I did a few quick checks and ordered 1 map, with only a modicum of hope. It would be two weeks before I would get anything anyways, so I continued the "help" route by asking a few friends who actually take map classes, formally known as GIS (thats a hard G sound) or geographic information systems. These are the 21st century version of maps, that have layers of data so numerous I could look at shading that tells where to find the highest concentration of male pattern baldness.

Luckily one of the people I asked was Josh Grabel, who also happens to be a paddler. This made things a lot easier, especially when he decided to do his GIS project on "Runnable Rivers of the Kamchatka Peninsula", after finding a bounty of data from an old Space Shuttle mission. That's right, the government just leaves folders of data from Space Shuttle missions just lying around the internet so that people can make maps from it. And, that's right, he did a graduate project that entailed picking which rivers had the best chance of having good whitewater. That is a great class.

Josh sent us 47 maps of the highlands of Kamchatka that he made using the shuttle data. To the right is the key that he made of the different maps. These maps have allowed us to actually start looking at the the feasibility of the different drainages for whitewater.

I recently received the map I ordered from Inter Library Loan. It is a single map, and not much bigger than a street map. It also happens to be 1:1 million scale which basically tells us whether we are looking at a river or a creek. It is the most up to date map we have found, and shows many more roads than we had hoped for. It is published by Avacha Bay Co. a small company right here in Oregon, in the town of Brightwood.

What I was really hoping to find out there somewhere, was a DeLorme Gazetteer - type atlas, the first purchase any kayaker makes when moving to a new state. Well, when I went to the Avacha Bay website what did I find, but two Atlases of the entire Kamchatka Peninsula, published in DeLorme style. Unfortunately, Avacha Bay is out of stock, and the maps are published by the Russian Government, which makes it difficult at best to find them. Also, not one library in the US has a copy.

Right now I am waiting to hear from Avacha Bay to see if they know when they will have more copies, but while writing this post I found a website, Mapstor, that actually has digital topos of the entire peninsula. I am currently downloading those maps, and I can't wait to spend some time pouring over them to find out where our adventures will be. In fact I still need to email the other folks on the team, so you all probably know that tidbit before them!

I hope folks out there can start seeing how much ground time a trip like this takes. Normally, I would go to the government map agency, once we arrive in country, but we can't afford to wait that long. If any of you out there in the blog-o-sphere have an suggestions please let us know. We would love the extra help. Now that we have some good maps we will start coming up with a list of feasible rivers.

Keep posted for some actual river names.

1 comment:

romain said...


I'm french and I made an expedition in Kamchatka last summer.

My english is quite bad but I understand that you have some problem with maps... I'm sorry to tell you that the only detailled maps are in russian(cyrilic)and that the distances are sometimes wrong. Don't worry, you can buy it easily in petropavlovsk.

If you have another question you can ask me at

Enjoy your trip and good luck with Bears.