I’ve sat on this blog for sometime now, it’s been in my drafts for a good few weeks and when I’ve come close to publishing, I’ve changed my mind. If you’re reading this then I’ve obviously finally decided to go ahead and publish it.
I decided to write this blog from what I’ve witnessed in recent times on social media, mainly Facebook and I don’t know if folk are getting more lazy or dumbing down or we’re just more exposed to them thanks to social media.
I’ve set out this article from my own experience when I first started out and how I perceive GPS and Social Media now with newcomers to hillwalking. I feel a general laziness is setting in and Mountain Rescue Teams (MRT) across the UK experiencing high volumes of call outs. Is it connected?
I began my hillwalking career in the summer of 2008, where I bagged my first Munro; Ben Nevis. Naturally I caught the Munro-bagging bug and it wasn’t before long more Munros followed up. As a newbie to hillwalking, I was lured by the ease of GPS and bought myself a basic Garmin Etrex H and downloaded GPX routes from the popular walking website, Walkhighlands. My first few Munros were done without carrying a map or compass. I then became a bit of a slave to following a line on a screen, I wouldn’t deviate off the route and my hillwalking skills were not developing. Thankfully after some very minor mishaps, coupled with walking with more experienced hillwalkers, I soon realised the importance of carrying a map and compass and being competent in how to use them.
Back in 2008 GPS enabled mobile phones were still in their infancy, but fast forward to current times and you could argue that GPS is as good on a smartphone as it is on a standalone GPS device. Not to mention excellent navigation apps that are now available like Viewranger. So the temptation of going out on the hills without map reading skills are much higher now, certainly more when I first started out.
Returning to 2008, Facebook existed and was beginning to evolve but dedicated outdoors pages hadn’t yet taken off. The popular pastime was to join a message board forum. At the time Walkhighlands and Munromagic were the two main sites to join for Scottish Mountains. I found myself joining the smaller lesser known; ScottishHills.com but found everybody friendly and willing to answer my novice questions. The quality of advice was excellent.
As I progressed into the early stages of my Munro round, I probably got a bit over enthusiastic and became an expert over night trying to help like minded newbies. I never meant any harm, but the more experienced members were always on hand.
By 2013 ScottishHills.com had peaked, and Facebook pages for hillwalking and wildcamping began to appear en masse garnishing more likes, comments and photos. By 2016, the ScottishHills forum like many others, struggled to attract new members. The instant access to posting photos with a captive audience of thousands of like minded folk meant that the antiquated message board forum was becoming obsolete.
With the ever growing popularity of these pages, newbies would ask questions, which isn’t a problem per se as, we all have to start somewhere. The issue for me is the lack of willingness from some to research information for example; where to park, what’s the weather like, what is the path like, where can I wild camp… The list is endless. But this is all information that is easily obtainable by a quick Google search or to read a guidebook.
The other issue is the questionable quality of answers given in reply from perhaps the over enthusiastic types like I once was. But some of the replies are down right irresponsible, for example; you don’t need a map and compass, you’ll need your crampons but not an ice axe and it’s a walk in the park (when referring to a particular hill walk, not known the person’s capabilities).
I made the decision that I would only reply to snow condition questions to those I knew had good winter experience. But in reality the experienced wouldn’t normally ask that type of question anyway.
When I first started out I would research a walk beforehand by reading trip reports, route descriptions and I found Ralph Storer’s ‘Ultimate Guide to the Munros’ guide books excellent. Then add weather forecast sites like MWIS, Met Office and SAIS and I’d have all the information I needed. Not to mention the all important map.
So, do most new/inexperienced walkers do the same preparation these days or is it a simple case of following a route on GPS and asking any questions on social media? Would this explain the rise in MRT call outs and will this trend continue as the popularity of hillwalking grows?