How Climb Assist is Using 3D Topos to Change Climbing Guides

By Rock and Ice | March 3rd, 2020

A 3D top of Castleton Tower created by Climb Asisst. Illustration courtesy of Climb Assist.


Climb Assist, an online outdoor climbing guidebook, released a beta version of their new website unveiling an interactive 3D topographical (topos) viewer.

Climb Assist first showed off how textured and proportioned 3D topographical maps, created using photogrammetry, can be useful route-finding tools back in 2018. Unlike flat pictures or written descriptions, 3D models allow climbers to see and inspect their routes from any angle. However, route finding is only the first solution in Climb Assist’s goal to become the one-stop solution for all outdoor climbing info. Since its inception in 2018, the Climb Assist team has grown from just Brian Uyeno to a team of 5 working to design, develop, and populate a new online guidebook as their side project. The team has been working hard to improve the new website and capture more climbing areas.


New Beta Website Release


The new website features a modest number of crags (which can be viewed on a list or a map) with models and routes in California, Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Once users have selected a crag, they can toggle between an information page, a 3D model, and a map, allowing them to get all the relevant information for each stage of their climbing trip.


[Also Watch VIDEO: Google Maps Creates “Street View” of Yosemite’s El Cap]


The info page lists details on each crag and all of its routes, including difficulty, route length, and protection needed. The model page lets users interact with a 3D model of the crag to inspect the routes at any angle or distance. Lastly, the map page displays parking and trails to each crag, as well as other nearby crags.

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The Future of Climbing Guides?


Guidebooks are still the most popular outdoor guide solution today due to their reliability. But while they contain accurate, quality information, they may not be up-to-date and lack the technological advantages they can be found in digital solutions. On the other hand, there are several mobile apps with community aggregated resources, such as Mountain Project, where the latest information can be shared, but is often incomplete, unreliable, or low quality. Climb Assist aims to provide an ultimate solution through superior technology.

“Climb Assist is developing a toolbox,” explains Dustin Tong, CEO of Climb Assist, “we cannot be experts on all of the crags in the world, but we can create the right set of tools for local experts to share their knowledge.”

Currently, written descriptions, GPS pins and the occasional cairn are used to help climbers find their way to the crag. To improve the approach, Climb Assist is developing an interactive map where users can mark parking spots, trails, campgrounds, and add pictures of important landmarks to make the approach more straightforward.

Information about crags and routes will be improved by the 3D viewer where users will be able to view route lines, add tick marks, and measure the distance between holds. A user will even be able to note the crux, or most difficult section, on the model and share this with users hundreds of miles away who can use it to prepare for their trip through replica training. Much further down the line, route information could be viewed directly on the rock through augmented reality.


Looking Ahead


This all sounds great… but will Climb Assist be free?

“Somewhat, yes,” says Dustin. “We believe the information should be free and accessible to all climbers. We need a lot of help from climbers to build Climb Assist but we also need to become a self-sustaining business and build a team to capture models and develop tools. We plan to use advertising and sponsorship to keep the information free and offer a subscription for offline download and other additional features. That being said, we have yet to test this business model out to see if it works.”

Climb Assist is still in its infancy and a lot of work needs to be done to populate more areas and develop the features needed to become the one-stop outdoor climbing guide. You can cheer them and follow their progress on Instagram and Facebook.


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