Thursday, 7 July 2016


Last week the new and long awaited hiking map of the "Sentieri CAI dei Monti Lattari:Penisola Sorrentina, Costiera Amalfitana e Isola di Capri",  (the CAI trails of the Monti Lattari: Sorrento Peninsula, Amalfi Coast and island of Capri”) was presented. It has been produced by three branches of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI), Castellammare di Stabia, Cava dei Tirreni and Naples, in collaboration with the  Consorzio Turistico Amalfi di Qualità and has already generated considerable feedback.

Probably the most comprehensive and detailed has come from Giovanni Visetti who, as anyone interested in hiking in this area will know, is an expert cartographer and particularly clued up about our local trails. I will now do my best to give a succinct résumé of his blog on this subject.
He is complimentary about the overall graphics, the print, the quality of the paper and above all the impagination. The map extends front and back, but with a wide range of overlap, so that it will only be necessary to consult both sides if the walk is particularly long. If the old map on a 1:30.000 scale was enormous and unpractical, precisely because of its dimensions, the new map with its even larger scale (1:25.000) would have been virtually unusable during a hike if printed on just one page.
Due to the physical characteristics of the Monti Lattari it might have been even more useful to increase the scale yet further to 1:20.000 so that the morphology of the territory could be better described with the inclusion of more of its infinite trails, passages and steps, so characteristic of the coast.
For Giovanni (and not just him, since this has been highlighted by others too) this is the map’s weakness and there are various reasons why. Some are absolute limits, since with such a scale it is impossible to represent everything. If the lines were made narrower and the dimensions of the symbols reduced in order to include everything, the map would become illegible submerged in details. Another  problem is the classification of the many extra-urban paths (those that are of greatest interest to the hiker) in such a way that their difficulty and ease of identification is clear to the map-reader.  Anyone who has walked the CAI trails of the Monti Lattari knows that many of these paths are rough but easy to identify (no other options being plausible), whilst others are easy to walk but difficult to follow, passing through woods or open fields with little gradient and very few points of reference and where, in spring and summer, the vegetation invades those lesser frequented, hiding their eventual way-marks at ground level.
This map has been produced by the CAI and therefore, and quite rightly from their point of view, the highest possible profile has been given to their own identified and marked trails. However Giovanni thinks that for future editions, (and even earlier online), it would be appropriate to integrate these with at least the other main paths used by local hikers and tourists, since as being very evident, they are important both as a point of reference and as potential escape or access routes. To give an example, the path  Praiano - San Domenico -Cannati (Path of the Gods) is missing from the CAI map. This is a path regularly used by hikers and above all by foreigners staying around Positano, Vettica and Praiano, who can, by taking this route, avoid having to take the bus first to Amalfi and then to Bomerano to reach the Path of the Gods and not only.
The work on this map has been in course for several years and therefore it is understandable that the authors wanted to start producing something tangible, even if, at the same time, they have publicly declared that, although satisfied with the result so far, the map still needs numerous adjustments and that therefore work is ongoing. This is true of any map or tourist guide, since months if not years pass between the surveying and the printing , plus it is impossible to control hundreds of kilometres of trails and thousands of roads, streets and lanes constantly. It therefore goes without saying that no one can ever claim that a map is completely up to date. In view of this it is essential that this map is  updated whenever possible, without waiting for a general revision some time in the future. Cartography is always work in process, as Giovanni points out, citing as example his own newly updated map of Massa Lubrense and Sorrento (first published over 25 years ago) in order to mark various interruptions and insert Vuallariello and Acquacarbone, historical trails closed for years but now cleared and  open for hikers.

The project coordinators have had the foresight not to use a cartographic base such as I.G.M. which, although of excellent quality, would always have remained the property of that entity, preferring to take the long, complicated and onerous way of drawing the map from scratch so that it remains their exclusive property.
Even if the results are far from perfect (a map can never be perfect by definition) in future they will be able to update it digitally, practically in real time and at no cost.
However, the real innovation has been the genial idea to create a new website where the map is freely available. Here you can consult the individual routes complete with their itineraries, altitude profiles and GPS tracks. The search for the paths is very simple. You just need to type a single word in the appropriate window, (eg the number or name of the path or even  the departure or arrival point).

The new map is excellent for planning a hike since it gives a general vision of the territory, with all the CAI trails evident. It will therefore be easy to plan itineraries which include more than one path, choose and evaluate the time and distance, all simple operations if you use the information on the site including the altitude profiles.
That said,  the detail is still very lacking and more work needs to be carried out as soon as possible to make the GPS tracks congruent with the contour lines and the actual paths or roads. As Giovanni wrote in one of his previous blogs, it is practically impossible for a gps track, no matter how accurate, to coincide precisely with the altitude profile due to the contour lines. The designer (with the help of the surveyor or at least someone who knows the route well) will have to adapt the contour lines to the gps tracks or vice versa, otherwise the details will be inaccurate. 
Here Giovanni uses as an example the route to the Molare which seems to have shifted north. In the image you can clearly see that, although the route of the path is substantially correct, the way in which it has been superimposed onto the map induces the hiker to look for a slope on the northern side (impossible for a non climber), taking him away from the existing path on the southern side.
Although, as someone pointed out, hardly anyone actually uses a map, sometimes because they don’t know how to, but mainly due to the bad habit of keeping it neatly folded in its cover inside the backpack,  bad habits and limitations  are not a valid reason for sacrificing accuracy for approximation. Giovanni has always suggested taking a photocopy of your specific itinerary with you, rather than the whole map, and now that this can be printed or even saved onto your smartphone or tablet, there is no reason not to.
To sum up
·     the overall work which covers the entire network of about 500km of the trails marked by the Stabia and Cava CAI on the Lattari Mountains is to be appreciated;
·      it is a clear basic map, particularly with regard to the morphology of the area which has been highlighted not only with contour lines (no small job) but also by a good use of shading;
·  the minor roads and non CAI paths have been a little overlooked, both in quantity and representation, but this can easily be remedied, though of course, it will take time;
·   there are too many points inserted in the middle of nowhere, not linked to clear  elements, and therefore vague and of no use, whilst other significant elements such as  peaks, saddles, intersections and easily identifiable points such as the ends of the paths are insufficient;
·    the various symbols are too big, such as the invasive and ever-present little flags numbering the paths and the symbols of the snow holes (luckily very few), the caves and the climbing sites. With regard to the latter two, the paths linking them to the CAI trails should be added, but the most serious consequence is that because of the size and quantity of these symbols, they often cover other more significant details of the map (why waste time marking important details and then cover them with an icon?);
·    to have the updated trail numbers and a representation of the routes existing today is a great step forward. Many have been added whilst some of the old ones have been abandoned;
·   without a shadow of doubt it is the only valid general map of the Monti Lattari, much more legible than the previous CAI map, which although it had a more detailed base (IGM tables) had become obsolete and many of the superimposed red lines (representing the paths) differed by several hundred metres and over 100 meters of quota difference to reality. Even if the GPS tracks do not entirely match the trails in the new map, the discrepancies are restricted to a few tens of metres;
·   there is no point in comparing it to the map produced by the Parco dei Lattari which is absolutely impracticable.
·  other maps (such as Kompass) are on too small scale, insufficient, totally inaccurate and inadequate for hiking in such a varied and rugged  landscape packed with trails, as the Sorrento-Amalfi peninsula
·    the new website, in Italian and English, is excellent, and not only has no equal in this area, but is truly innovative and easy to navigate. The CAI map superimposes the Google map and you can select which levels to consult. On each path tab at the bottom of the map you have the elevation profile and you can download the GPS track, which can be used in combination with the map! This too can be downloaded with the full itinerary, quotas, gradients, length, times and difficulties.
Giovanni concludes his lengthy dissertation with the following words:
All in all an onerous and meritorious achievement if it is to be considered a starting point. Hopefully  work will continue. Whatever, the promoters, surveyors and collaborators deserve a round of applause and a big thank you.