Social media hits the trail as iPhone delivers thousands of hiking routes

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Users can share information about outdoor adventures on land, water and snow through a Canadian-made application by

Gillian Shaw

Now you don’t have to go any farther than your iPhone to find a hiking trail in your area with the launch of a new application for the popular Apple phone by

The Ottawa-based company, which traces its roots to the mountains around Vancouver where founder Kurt Turchan came up with the idea of a community of online users sharing their hidden hiking gems, is offering its application through Apple’s app store.

The application taps into more than 10,000 trails, with reviews by users and turn-by-turn directions to help hikers locate them.

“We have become Canada‘s largest trails website and it all started in Vancouver,” said Turchan, who moved to Ottawa in 2005, four years after he started the website.

It’s social media meets mobile in a trend that is seeing an explosion of services aimed at taking advantage of global positioning systems (GPS) in mobile devices to deliver information targeted to the user’s location.

“We think we are really hitting the nail here, we have such rich content on and now we are allowing people to get content on their iPhone, which is very cool,” Turchan said.

While your iPhone can already tell you where the nearest Starbucks is or rate the quality of the restaurant you’re strolling by, Turchan said this is the first app that offers up Canadian hikes.

“It is a fairly simple app right now, but it’s exciting because we are the first ones to do it,” he said. “With your iPhone, you can do a simple search, browsing all trails, or you can click to find trails near you.

“It will bring up a Google map and show with push pins the trails closest to your present location.”

The application free for downloading with Trailpeak getting feedback from users for future improvements.

“The feedback we hear from users is that they love and they are really looking for this mobile app,” Turchan said. “We wanted to get it out there and it will be continuously improving and evolving.”

With the mapping and GPS technology changing constantly, it’s a non-stop job to keep up. Currently the Trailpeak iPhone application goes to Google maps to generate its mobile trail offerings. Apple’s recent announcement of the new compass function with mapping in its new iPhone 3G S means Trailpeak will switch to the native iPhone maps, a process that will be seamless for users but should speed up the map delivery.

I inadvertently became a tester of the Trailpeak application when it failed to show any trails near me. The company has testers across the country and apparently I was the first to uncover a glitch that left the app unable to connect the list of nearby hikes with my location.

Once corrected, the application plastered the page with colour-coded push pins, from nearby Vancouver beach trails to more adventuresome treks in the mountains of the North Shore.

The mobile app is an adjunct to the successful, where 100,000 to 150,000 people a month peruse and share information about their outdoor adventures. While hiking is a popular focus, the site also caters to water sports from kayaking to canoeing and surfing, to mountain biking climbing, snowshoeing and cross-country and back-country skiing. Its reach has extended across the border to the United States where users get details of adventures from San Juan sea-kayaking to back-country skiing at Mount Baker.

“It really is a social media site,” Turchan said. “The idea is, it is run on karma points. If you don’t see a trail you know about, then you add it.”

Users can also upload GPS waypoints from their hikes to provide the equivalent of a GPS bread-crumb trail for other users. Under the karma system, every time a user uploads a GPS trail, he or she gets credit to download three.

The site also has a $25-a-year premium membership but Turchan said it differs only in adding some GPS downloads without the karma exchange and a few other perks.

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Trailpeak’s on the phone

Following the success of his website, Ottawa-based Kurt Turchan came up with an iPhone application that lets outdoor enthusiasts share their favourite hikes and paddles with others while harnessing the mapping and global positioning powers of Apple’s iPhone.

Users click on red push pin icons to get details about the routes.

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