Google Earth overlay for California Thirteeners peak list

My friend Schmed has compiled the definite list of California peaks that are at least 13,000ft in height. This labor of love has consumed countless hours, and now he’s adding to the effort by creating a database-driven GUI.

While incredibly detailed and accurate, his data set wasn’t all that useful to me when thinking about climbing trips. I’d still wind up hunched over my old “Guide to the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia-Kens Canyon Wilderness” maps, with R. J. Secor’s “The High Sierra” book in hand, trying to figure out possible routes to interesting areas.

So I wrote a program to convert his data into a Google Earth-compatible KML file, which I could then use to visual the peak list in glorious 3D. The resulting file has proven very useful, so I thought I’d share it via this blog post – and provide a bit of commentary regarding the program/process at the same time.

Google Earth peaks

First, notes about the file:

  • You can download it here. Then just open it from Google Earth.
  • I use different color pushpins to denote the difficulty of reaching the summit. Green is for class 1 or 2, yellow for class 3, and red for class 4. I didn’t factor in the higher difficulty of the summit block, as many of the peaks are class 2 or 3 to the base of the summit block, but the block itself is class 4.
  • In the peak description, I tried to generate links to trip reports on, but not all of these will be valid. Usually this is because the peak in question has no trip report, but a few are due to issues with reverse-engineering the “shortened name” algorithm used at that site when grouping trip reports.
  • The same thing is true for links to Secor’s “The High Sierra” book at Google Books. I have page numbers, but not all pages are available (as one would expect), and sometimes the peak name used to highlight entries on the page won’t match the name that Secor used.

Next, some notes on the KML format:

  • The on-line documentation is really good, especially the KML Reference provided by Google.
  • I ran into a few minor problems, where no error would be reported by Google Earth when loading my file, but problems in the data meant that I wouldn’t see the expected result. For example, I’d accidentally specified the <color> value as hex-ified RGB (e.g. “ffffff” for white) instead of ABGR (alpha/blue/green/red), which needs eight hex digits. Also I’d added an <IconStyle> element with a an <href> child, but I needed to put the href inside of an <Icon> element. Minor things, but a bit frustrating to debug without any useful error being resported by Google Earth.
  • I wanted to use different built-in icons, but didn’t see a document listing all of these on Google. Eventually I found the list I needed in a Google forum post titled “Setting KML icon colors“.

I’ve posted source for the Java program used to generate the KML file. It’s located in my GitHub account, at the peaks2kml repository.

This Java program should have been trivial to write – basically convert from a text file dump of a database into the KML format. But I ran into one painful issue, which was converting from the NAD27 UTM locations into longitude/latitude. Seems like this bites everybody, and the lack of a universal, high quality Java package is frustrating.

I’m using the GeoTransform package, but I didn’t see a clean way to specify the source UTM datum as NAD27. I did figure out that the Clarke 1866 ellipsoid was the right one to use for conversion, and dumped out some results. I compared these with manual results from an excellent on-line UTM conversion page, and then used the delta (which appeared to be relatively constant) to adjust my results. Ugly, but close enough for a first cut.

And if I had to do it again, I’d probably use something like the KML beans (e.g. from the Luzan project, and an XML package to convert the resulting object graph to a textual KML representation.


5 Responses to Google Earth overlay for California Thirteeners peak list

  1. woosht says:

    Thanks for the effort! I did receive an error opening your KML file in google earth (v5.0.11733.9347)

    Parse error at line 1180, column 5: mismatched tag

  2. woosht says:

    apparently google earth doesn’t like the Class entries. Changing to something else allows the file to open in google earth. You might want to run your kml through, it’s quite useful for this sort of thing! Thanks again

  3. kkrugler says:

    Hi woosht,

    Weird – I thought I’d updated the link to the KML file a while back…I’d run into the same problem, which was caused by me using “” without escaping the ” characters in the XML node text.

    I’ve fixed the link now – thanks for pointing this out, and please give the new version a try!

    — Ken

  4. Hi, thanks for creating and posting this KML file. It’s super useful! By the way, it works fine in Google Earth version 5.1.3533.1731 on a Mac OSX 10.6.

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