Will Robertson talks about creating topographical maps for trails in the Rockies.
After years of penciling paths onto old U.S. Forest Service maps, Will Robertson, aka Mapmaker Will, created his dream job: drafting user-friendly topographic maps of trails in the Rockies: Montana's Absaroka- Beartooth Wilderness to Yellowstone National Park. (800) 838-1058, beartoothpublishing.com.
Q New topos—needed?
A Everybody asks that. Well, why keep making new cars? You can always make something better.
Q You check every trail? ?
A I wish! When I start mapping a new area, I look for the spots that haven't been updated. Then I grab a GPS unit and hike it or bike it, taking notes along the way.
Q Is it hard to be true to the territory?
A As soon as any map comes off the press, it's out-of-date—something has changed. It's a fine balance between mapping everything that exists versus everything that's supposed to exist. There are lots of unofficial trails. If I put two of those on a map, why not all?
Q So what things do you leave out?
A I believe there should be secret trails to give locals places to go. And I don't put Indian ruins or cliff dwellings on my maps. They're fun for people to stumble upon.
Q Which map has the most great day trips?
A My Bozeman–Big Sky has 10. But over in the Beartooths, the scenery is unparalleled. Several hikes start at Beartooth Pass above 10,000 feet.
Q Your top day hike?
A Cinnamon Mountain on the Bozeman–Big Sky map. Fantastic views and amazing wildflowers.
Q Is there a downside to your job?
A The horrible irony is that mapmaking keeps me in front of the computer more than out on the trail.
Photography by Janie Osborne
This article was first published in September 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.