Home >Technology >Apps >Peakfinder: Mountains in your smartphone

I remember the fights only too well. “That is Thalay Sagar!" I would scream. “No, you idiot, Thalay Sagar would be blocked by Draupadi ka Danda," my friend would insist. Sitting at a choti (tea shop) just below the Tungnath temple in high Garhwal, Uttarakhand, we would spend our time trying to identify the many pointy Himalayan peaks that dominated the horizon. The maps, even detailed ones, wouldn’t help as they provided a bird’s-eye view, while we were looking at the peaks in profile.

But those were the days before an amazing app called PeakFinder.

In 2010, a Swiss mountain enthusiast called Fabio Soldati created the app, and its basic premise remains as simple as it was then. You launch the app and point it at the mountains you can see. The app digs through its database and lines up the names and heights. In case you do not have connectivity, you can download and store location data which you can use offline while on the trek.

The app has come a long way. PeakFinder’s database now contains the names and details of over 350,000 peaks from around the world. A nifty new feature called the camera mode adds a touch of augmented reality (AR) drama. With this, you can take a photograph of the mountain panorama, which the app overlays on the old 2D panoramic drawings, and get a photograph with all the peaks in front of you neatly labelled. The usefulness of this feature as a form of reference is immense.

This makes PeakFinder an excellent trekking app. Last year, I used it while on the Manaslu circuit trek in Nepal. Given the number of Western trekkers and mountaineers, the Nepal Himalayas had always been better represented on PeakFinder. During the Manaslu trek, using my downloaded location data, the app gave me perfect updates of peak locations, which helped me differentiate Manaslu from, say, its subsidiary peak Manaslu North. Even during fogged out conditions, pointing the app towards the skyline helped me orient myself.

For the armchair mountain enthusiast, the app offers many fun ways to spend time. You could go through PeakFinder’s peak directory database or use “Viewpoint selection" from the menu to get a mountain view from any random location in the world, and spend hours marvelling at the sea of mountains, each one labelled. The compass on your phone is extremely important, and if it’s off, you can recalibrate it by waving your phone in a figure-of-eight motion. It’s surprisingly effective. The app also shows you the lunar and solar orbit of the location, which is useful if you’re scouting for a spot for the ultimate sunrise shot.

Touching a mountain name gives you additional information on the peak. Tap on the flying bird icon next to the selected peak and you can “fly" to it. Another useful feature, especially if you’re faced with a jumble of peaks, is the “digital telescope" function, which helps you locate less-visible mountains. Tapping this icon, you can make out whether, yes, that mountain tip on the horizon is indeed Thalay Sagar, and that no, it isn’t obscured by Draupadi ka Danda.

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