Climber Brian Uyeno is taking climbing topos to the next level with his project, Climb Assist. His website (and hopefully soon, mobile app) allows climbers to inspect routes with never before seen levels of detail and accuracy. Uyeno utilizes a technology called photogrammetry (basically taking lots of pictures from all angles and melding them together) to create three-dimensional maps of climbing crags.
“I came up with this idea when doing some work that had some aspects of photogrammetry involved,” Uyeno wrote in an email exchange with Rock and Ice. “I had heard of photogrammetry, but hadn’t looked into it too heavily until then. After looking more deeply into the technology, I realized it could be a valuable tool for backcountry route-finding. … Originally I had planned on using it for long backcountry backpacking and mountaineering routes, but quickly realized that due to the distance and terrain that wasn’t going to be a possibility.”
Uyeno said that he soon found rock climbing, however, to be “a perfect fit for the technology, as the formations are relatively small and easy to map,” and went out and bought a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone to begin taking high resolution photos from multiple angles.
When asked if a particular incident of getting lost or off route catalyzed his decision to create Climb Assist (the author has certainly had many), Uyeno responded, “I don’t have a particular incident, but after wasting many hours stomping around just looking for some routes, getting on the wrong route or getting halfway up a pitch and realizing that you’re no longer on the route, I figured there was a better way to visualize the routes.”
Uyeno, who works alone on Climb Assist, started the project in March, but said he has not yet begun to work on it full time. Based in Colorado, California and Washington, Uyeno said those states would likely see the most crags on Climb Assist, at least for now. “I am also looking into finding additional photographers to assist me and get many more areas done,” he said.
His website is currently up and running and though it currently only includes a handful Boulder Canyon, Colorado, areas such The Dome, Elephant Buttress, The Bihedral and Cascade Crag, more are on the way. Uyeno says his main goal, however, is to create a mobile application. “A custom app with a custom 3D viewer, to allow more interaction with the user so they can add and share their own beta and thoughts. It would also be available, offline which would be a huge benefit to climbers, allowing them to take it to the crag even when there’s no service. This will be the biggest improvement I can make to the project.”
For a given crag, it takes around 30 minutes to take the photos with a drone, then a couple of hours to generate the map itself. However, “finding and adding all the route lines and descriptions and getting them on the site,” he said, “can take a few days, depending on the size of the crag. This is something I will hopefully be able to get help with from the community in the future.”
Still, he expressed doubts that the technology would ever be completely open source, stating that the tech itself “is a bit limiting … namely the drone. I’m hoping I can get a group together to take photos, as it can be done pretty quickly with the right equipment. I do want it to be as open as possible because I think getting climbers engaged in the project is key to its success. I would like to have the community be able to at least add routes and beta to the maps.”
“As I get more feedback from climbers,” Uyeno said, “I’ll be able to implement those improvements to make a better experience. I’m committed to the climbing and outdoor community and am happy to work with and assist you in any way I can.”