Ropewiki Explorer

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Ropewiki Explorer is an application designed to help find and explore new technical canyons and caves. It runs inside Google Earth providing functionality through different modules that can be used together or independently. Using Ropewiki Explorer you can quickly:

  • Display maps from multiple sources inside Google Earth: Aerial, Topo, OpenCycle, Terrain, Geology, etc.
  • Identify best approach/exit routes by displaying hiking and biking trails in 3D
  • Identify locations where crowds have reported presence of waterfalls and/or slot canyons
  • Identify locations with streams/drainages, current magnitude and /or seasonality of water flow.
  • Identify potential location, number and height of rappels present along unexplored canyoneering routes
  • Identify type of rock present at specific locations and quickly identify regions with granite, sandstone, limestone, etc.

How to use it:

  • Download Ropewiki_Explorer.kml and open it in Google Earth
  • Enable or disable the modules you are interested in, each module is described in more detail below
  • Optionally, you can save the Ropewiki Explorer to "My Places", so it will be there every time you open Google Earth
  • Everything will always be up to date, all you need is to open Google Earth and have an internet connection
  • Send feedback or suggestions to User:Lucach

If you find new cool locations please consider sharing them by posting on If you post somewhere else that is fine too, please create a basic entry with coordinates and a link to your site. That way your beta will be referenced and mapped along with all the other documented locations and will be easier to find.

IMPORTANT: It is highly recommended to enable Google Earth 'external browser' option, so that web links are opened in a real web browser rather than inside Google Earth. Otherwise modern websites that make use of HTML5 or advanced javascript features may not work properly.
  • Enabling 'external browser' option'

  • Ropewiki Locations

    Ropewiki is a publicly-editable repository of information about canyoneering, caving and other Single Rope Technique related disciplines. This module displays all the 10897 currently documented locations in Google Earth.

    For people exploring new canyons, you will want to enable this module to make sure that your "new canyon" is in fact "new". Os sometimes you might be exploring a tributary or an undescended section of a documented location, then the beta might be very useful for determining best approach/exit to your new section.

    Clicking on any location will provide more information and a link to download the KML route (if available) directly into Google Earth.

  • Click on a Ropewiki pin for more information

  • Map Overlays

    This module displays different maps directly inside Google Earth, and provides a quick way to switch map views.

    • Topo Maps (World): maps with worldwide coverage displayed in 3D by Google Earth. The most useful are:
      • Google Terrain: Topo map of choice for most parts of the undeveloped world
      • Open Cycle: great for displaying locations of dirt roads, bike and hiking trails, but missing many streams and drainages
      • Thunderforest Outdoor: generated from the same data set as Open Cycle but displays more streams and drainages
    • Topo Maps (National): maps with limited coverage, usually just for one country, but MUCH HIGHER DETAIL. The most useful are:
      • US & Canada (CalTopo): high resolution Topo map based on USGS paper maps. Covers all USA and Canada.
      • US Forest (CalTopo): high resolution Topo map based on digital USGS maps. More recent but coverage is limited.
      • US National Map (NatGeo): not as high resolution as CalTopo but maps are usually more recent and up to date
      • Canada National Map (Toporama): official Topo Map published by the Canada government
      • Mexico National Map (Inegi): official Topo Map published by the Mexico government
      • Spain National Map (Sigpac): official Topo Map published by the Spanish government
      • France National Map (Geoportail): official Topo Map published by the French government
      • More Countries: more countries may get added whenever someone asks for it
    • Aerial Maps (World): Bing, ESRI, Mapbox and other Satellite imagery with worldwide coverage. These maps provide different views of the same area (replace Google imagery) at different times of the day and the year, hence can provide an additional glimpse at waterfalls or canyons that can be very helpful.
    • US Geology: displays US geologic map with different colors representing different type of rocks (see Color Codes). BEST used in conjunction with 'Rivers & Streams' and 'Canyon Mapper' modules, so you can see where rivers flow and identify the type of rock at the center of the cross hair easily.

    How to use it:

    • Expand Ropewiki Explorer's "Map Overlays" module in Google Earth
    • Enable any chosen map to display that particular map
    • The map will display as an 'overlay' over Google imagery
    • Only one map overlay will be active at any given time
    • Enabling a group will enable the default map in that group

    Example: North Fork of San Jacinto (California)

    Example: Mist Falls (Oregon)

    Points of Interest

    This module displays locations of interest gathered from multiple sources. The list of interesting locations includes Waterfalls, Kayaking, Canyons, Caves, Mines and Hot Springs for all North America (USA, Canada and Mexico). The data is optimized so Google Earth will download only those that fall inside your view at any given time. If you are flying too high above the ground you may not see any markers, zoom in and they will show up.

    Most data comes from reputable websites, but some data is 'scraped' from crowdsourcing sites. Sites such as Panoramio or Flickr can be very useful, but also subject to 'false positives'. If a particular location has A LOT of data, you may want to temporally switch crowd sourcing sites off, in order to focus on reputable data. You can always switch it back on later.

    How to use it:

    • Enable Ropewiki Explorer's "Points of Interest" module in Google Earth
    • Enable/Disable data sources based on your personal preference, switch them on or off as needed
    • Locations markers are color coded by category and use distinct icons to identify each source
    • Numbers are used to identify reputable sources, letters are used to identify crowd sourcing sites
    • Clicking on any pin will provide direct access to information provided by the original source
    • Coverage for most data is currently limited to North America and parts of Europe. See map

    Examples: Points of Interest

    Rivers & Streams

    This module displays rivers/streams as vector lines for all North America (US, Canada and Mexico). The data is optimized so Google Earth will download only those that fall inside your view at any given time. If you are flying too high above the ground you may not see any streams, zoom in and they will show up. Clicking on any stream will provide information on that stream: Name, Order, etc. It will also provide a button to run "Canyon Mapper" (see next section) which will map the watercourse upstream and downstream of that point for a few miles. Additional tools for Waterflow and Watershed analysis may also be available for US and Canada streams.

    This module also displays gauging site locations for US and Canada. Clicking on a gauge site will provide links to 7 days, 30 days and 1 year water flow charts. These can be very helpful to determine seasonality, even if the gauge is no longer actively reporting data and even if it does not directly measure the flow of the stream you are interested in. Assuming they are not dam controlled, if another stream is located in the same area and has similar characteristics (spring fed, runoff fed, glacier fed, etc) it will be subject to peak and bottom about the same time as your stream. So by looking at the annual charts you can quickly determine what month your stream is more likely to be flowing high or low. Short spikes in the charts are a telltale of storm activity and will give you an idea of what month has the most unstable or stable weather. You don't want to drive 1000 miles to have to turn around.

    How to use it:

    • Enable Ropewiki Explorer's "Rivers & Streams" module in Google Earth
    • Clicking on any stream will provide a button to run "Canyon Mapper" on that stream
    • Clicking on any gauge site will provide access to water flow data from that particular site
    • A dark blue icon marks sites no longer active, but may still be used to evaluate historical flows

    Examples: Eaton Canyon

    Canyon Mapper

    This is a tool to plot the elevation profile of a canyon simply by clicking on the top of that canyon. It works for most of North America (US, Canada and Mexico), but the accuracy will depend on the character of the canyon and the quality of elevation data in the region. In the San Gabriels and Columbia River Gorge this tool is accurate enough to distinguish MOST rappels and their ACCURATE heights. For slot canyons in remote areas of Utah it may not be that reliable.

    For US territories, it will also report the type of rock found at the center of the crosshair. This can be very useful in conjunction with the the US Geology overlay to find locations of specific interest: Granite/Sandstone (canyons), Limestone (caves) or Recent Volcanic (lavatubes).

    The tool will report the resolution of the data it used in the results, at the bottom of each pop up window:

    • High Resolution (~5m): The profiles will be very accurate, able to properly locate drops and compute their height
    • Medium Resolution (~10m): The profiles may not be very accurate, short drops or slot sections may not be detected properly
    • Low Resolution (~20m): The profiles will not be very accurate, use as a general reference only

    The resolution will also display as a solid color line at the bottom of the profile chart, two lines for data obtained on a 2nd pass.

    The rappel locations are color coded according to their grade:

    • Rg1.png: High angle terrain, potential rappel in waterflow, probably downclimbable if dry
    • Rg2.png: Steep terrain, probably a rappel or a very hard downclimb
    • Rg3.png: Very steep terrain, most likely a mandatory rappel
    • Rg4.png: Vertical or overhanging terrain, a rappel guaranteed

    How to use it:

    • Enable Ropewiki Explorer's "Canyon Mapper" to display a red 'crosshair' on the screen
    • Navigate the virtual world and use the crosshair to target potential canyon locations
    • Once pointed at a specific start location, click on the 'red triangle' icon to map the canyon
    • The mapped route will follow the path of least resistance down the canyon following gravity
    • The process will stop once it reaches a dead end, a lake or big flat areas
    • Repeat the process with as many locations as needed, each will produce its own results
    • Click on the routes to get the summary: distance, # rappels, height, grade, etc.
    • Click on the rappel flags to view the profile for that rappel (and forward)
    • The profile image is 1pixel per 1m, so you can make your own measurements on it
    • Accuracy of the results will depend on resolution of the digital elevation data for that area
    • Whenever possible Google Elevation data will be applied in a 2nd pass to improve results
    • Coverage is currently limited to North America and parts of Europe. See map

    Examples:Mapping Mist Falls (Oregon), which are MISPLACED on all Topo maps but can be seen in aerial pictures

    IMPORTANT: Due to Google Earth technical limitations, all mapped routes produced by Canyon Mapper are loaded by means of 'MapperLink'. Save the MapperLinks you want to keep before you exit Google Earth. When you reload a MapperLink the map data will automatically load in the 'Mapper Locations' folder of Ropewiki Explorer. If you want to download the actual KML data click on the MapperLink link and choose 'Download KML data'.

    Additional Tools

    Canyon Mapper's 'crosshair' also provides quick access to some additional tools useful for finding caves & canyons:

    • Bing Bird View: Provides super-high-resolution 45-degree-incline low-altitude aerial view of the location. Coverage is limited mostly to populated areas and vicinity and the website is buggy, but if true bird view is available you can CLEARLY see waterfalls, cave entrances and other details like you were right there. When 'Bird view' is not available Bing will still display it, but using a simulated 3D version based on satellite elevation and imagery data that is in most cases pretty much useless.
    • Recent Pictures: Provides a list of recent pictures publicly available from Social media hubs such as Instagram, Facebook, Flicker and Panoramio that were supposedly taken in the vicinity of the location. This allows to see how much water is currently flowing in popular waterfall destinations or if any snow is still present in the area.
    • Geology report: Provides a complete geologic analysis report for the area, this will tell you how old and what type of rock the surface has, useful to assess amount of erosion by water or the likelihood to find caves / lavatubes.
    • Full report: Provides geography, geology, minerals, survey history and other scientific data for the location.

    Examples: Additional Tools for Bandy Canyon (San Diego)


    Locus is an Android app that works particularly well with Ropewiki, as it can import KML data preserving all colors, icons and links. Locus also supports Ropewiki Explorer's Overlay maps and allows to take them offline. For more information see Locus page.


    The current coverage area is limited because we had to draw the line somewhere, but the system is capable to handle the whole world

    • To extend Point of Interest coverage just send us a bounding box of Latitude and Longitude you want and we will add it
    • To add more POI sources just send the KML/KMZ file or a network link to a KML/KMZ (so it will autoupdate every 15-30 days)
    • To add a new tiled map source send the url for the tiles in {X}{Y}{Z} format, test it in first (Add New Layer, Custom Source)
    • To add rivers and streams send us a KML with the vector data, if in other format convert it with Google Earth Pro (now available for free)
    • The system manages DEM data automatically, choosing higher resolution data when available and filling gaps with lower res
    • We can add coverage for any regions, but will need the DEM data (any format) or a link from where to download the data
    • Some commercial companies sell high resolution DEM data for USA and other countries, but they charge $$$. You might be able to convince them to provide data for free for non-commercial recreational uses, who knows? Otherwise USGS is continually adding more high resolution data to their ftp archives, and we get all those updates every month


    Ropewiki Explorer created by Luca Chiarabini. Original idea and algorithm by Benjamin Pelletier (Canyon Mapper). Digital Elevation data by USGS and Canada Natural Resources and INEGI. Other data sources credited directly in Google Earth.