October 8, 2010

Sierra Sightlines

An interesting question popped into my in-box yesterday: is it possible to see the Grand Canyon from the top of Mount Whitney? In fact I ask myself questions like this all the time, especially when I'm looking at shots of the interior Sierra and trying to identify distant peaks or other features on the horizon. Happily, I've found a free tool that is absolutely brilliant for coming up with the answers to exactly these kinds of questions. Can you guess what that tool is? Hint: it's not evil...

Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow


5 thoughts on “Sierra Sightlines

  1. Joseph says:

    Someone said that you can see Whitney from Mount Baden-Powell, I called bull pucky…. You can’t even see Indianhead from MBP

  2. davidn says:

    You mean http://www.heywhatsthat.com/ ?
    (Select “Mt Whitney” and then turn on “Visibility cloak”. It looks like it’s covered by the mountains NW of Vegas.)

  3. Xavier "Square root of wha...? McGillicutty says:

    About 15 years ago I came up with a (mostly) straight-forward way of solving problems like this: You can get distance to the horizon (at sea level) by taking the square root of elevation (in feet) and multiplying by 1.2. For example …

    Mt Whitney is at ~14K feet.
    … square root is ~120
    … times 1.2 gives you 144 miles

    The correct theoretical answer turns out to be 147.6 (according to http://www.ringbell.co.uk/info/hdist.htm ). So while this isn’t perfect, it’s darn good.

    But that’s only half the answer. The G.C. isn’t at sea level. To get the max line-of-site distance between to aribtrary elevations, you just do this calculation for each point and add the two together. So at 8000′, you have a horizon distane of ~90 x 1.2, or 108 miles. Making for a total line-of-sight distance of 252 miles.

    The Grand Canyon visitor center is ~350 miles from Mt. Whitney as the crow flies so that’s definitely not visible. The western most point of the Canyon (where it flows into lake mead) is ~270 miles away. So even if it wasn’t 7000 feet lower, it’d still be below the horizon.

    So… no, no gorgeous canyon views happening on that hike I’m afraid.

  4. Andy says:

    Xavier, as usual I am unconvinced with your logic, but I know better than to try to prove you wrong, so I’ll just forward this to your father, and let him do the dirty work…

    The “hey what’s that” site is very cool–I hadn’t seen that. Love the visibility cloak feature. But no, I just use good old fashioned Google Earth to solve these problems. You can set the camera to whatever elevation you desire, align it over your target peak, and start looking around. Simple! :)

  5. Bill says:

    I have photographic evidence that you can see Mt. Whitney from Baden-Powell. It was taken on a very clear day in January of ’08

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

more Musings:

On the Leacock TrailOn the Leacock Trail
SkiingSkiing's Man-Made Future
Blind to the BishopBlind to the Bishop
The Sun Rises...The Sun Rises...
The Invisible NoteThe Invisible Note


SIERRADESCENTS FAVORITES: