Ramble On

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Tech-watch Geek Visits Death Valley

I've been in Las Vegas this week, and since I found some time on my hands I decided to make a day trip up to Death Valley National Park.  Among the things that the Park is famous for is Badwater Basin, officially the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level.

In addition to the sightseeing - I'll put up photos over the next few posts - this fact gave me the opportunity to geek out a bit with the altimeter function on my Casio Pathfinder watch. 

Plug here:  You can check out the Pathfinder on Amazon.com by clicking the add on the right.  :-) Thank you.

Last year, during my work trip to Yosemite, the Pathfinder took an altitude reading of 2,315 meters, or approximately 7,177 feet.  I took the reading at Glacier Point on one of our drives back to the hotel; the original post with spectacular photos is at  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/07/yosemite-second-day-post-3.html. By the way, looking back at that post, the margin of error for that altimeter reading wasn't bad - less than 10%, which I find very tolerable for my use of the altimeter function.  I typically expect an error of up to 20%.

So with that in mind, I was looking forward to the prospect of recording a new low reading on the altimeter, and for that, Death Valley didn't disappoint. 

One of the first steps I take when geeking out with the altimeter is to find a reference altitude, which was very easy to do in Death Valley National Park.  As you come over a final ridge before arriving at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, there is a big sign designating Sea Level - and from that spot, elevated as it is from much of the surrounding landscape, it's pretty clear you'll be spending a lot of the time during the visit to the Park at altitudes below sea level.

So I took my first reading near the sign, and recorded -45 meters, which I noted would mean an altitude of "0" for most of the day.

Driving on downhill to the visitor center, there's another sign marking 100 feet below sea level; I hastily took another reading and got -70 meters.  Adjusting that by 45 meters gives -25 meters, or -78 feet.  That's a pretty big error, but I did take the reading while driving using the auto function, so that reading could have been a few seconds old when it was recorded...

I kept the watch on the altimeter function for most of my time in the Park. I enjoyed observing the readings from time to time and watching them alternate between above sea level and below.  Finally, I arrived at Badwater Basin, my objective, as shown in the photo at the beginning of the post. 

My Pathfinder altimeter reading at this spot was -150 meters; as I mentioned, the watch has recorded this as the lowest altitude I've taken a reading at so far.  Adjusting for the -45 meters margin of error, we get -105 meters, or roughly -326 feet.  The reading was about 44 feet off, indicating that I was further below sea level than the actual elevation, and the margin of effor was off by around 15%. 

That is usually good enough for me - I mainly use the altimeter to give myself an idea of my progress on a climb or descent while hiking.  I don't expect or require precision on these readings, just need an idea of how much elevation is left to the particular effort I'm involved in.  There are other instruments to use if better precision is needed.

(I should mention that the mountains that surround Death Valley are quite high - to the west, they reach to just more than 11,000 feet above sea level.)

So, for the record, the established high and low points for my watch are:

High Point:  Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, 2,315 meters (approximately 7,177 feet) recorded July 20, 2010.
Low Point: Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, -150 meters (adjusted for errors, 105 meters; translating to -326 feet), recorded October 12, 2011.

These are nominal readings, as I discussed above.  And between the highs and lows, we have all those readings in my beloved stomping grounds back at Shenandoah National Park.

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