‘But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know’
With the ease of access of social media, I have seen a rise in people selling themselves in three main areas, Photography, journalism and adventure. The first two I know very little about but the third for me has caused concern. I am all for encouraging others to get out but with the rise and fashion of becoming an ‘adventure blogger’ I feel a number of things need to be addressed.
I love reading about other peoples adventures and I love the sharing of information on places and of areas and the scrapes people have got in and out of. Many are inspiring and beautifully written. What concerns me is how misleading some of them are. Social media is a very good platform to advertise oneself under the guise of encouraging and supporting other’s when really the sole underlying aim is to boost one’s own profile. Many of the adventure blogs are written by people who are experiencing their first forays into the outdoor world. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact I love reading about the motivations behind why someone has quit the ‘rat race’ and has found enlightenment in the outdoors. What concerns me is that some of the blogs I have read have a very clever way of making the mundane into an epic adventure, implying that what they are doing is some insanely brave and daring feat that has never been done before. And that the unprepared, newbie can do this too. This I find dangerous and I believe this accompanied with the associated photos on Instagram has a lot to answer for in the accidents in the mountains of the UK over the winter this year.
I recently fell for this ‘false epicness’ on a trip to Iceland where I was involved in the safety for a photo shoot. I searched the locations the photographer and company wanted to visit and saw the pictures on Instagram of these amazing waterfalls. I assumed as the wording under these pictures implied that they were mega remote and involved some crazyass trek into them. On the ground however the waterfalls are right next to the road. You needn’t get out of the car to see them and from certain angles it is easy to avoid capturing the carpark in the background. With the need for oneupmanship, people with no training and no understanding of the risks involved encouraged by and made to feel guilty by their ‘unenlightened’ status are putting their lives at risk venturing into the outdoors and into places they are not equipped to go to get their ‘epic’ selfie.
I was amazed and rather concerned over the Easter weekend when I ventured up Snowdon. The winds were over 60 miles an hour and the top was shrouded in a blizzard of face flaying ice crystals. I was intrigued and worried by what people had chosen to wear out on their hike up the mountain and rather concerned by the number of people who holding a flapping map in their hand were asking where they were. The paths on Snowdon are now maintained motorways compared to how they were 10 years ago, this is good for the mountain as it keeps the erosion confined to these paths but it also encourages the uninitiated to venture out. When the weather is good, a stunning hike with clear views up and down is a relatively safe option. However, the weather changes fast and visibility can drop to 10 meters very quickly. If you wander off the path and can’t map read, this very quickly becomes a life threatening situation. The right clothing for the mountains is designed to keep the wearer safe. Breathable and waterproof fibres worn in a layering system help manage temperature and keep the elements out. The wrong clothing and footwear choices can very quickly put someone at high risk if the weather suddenly craps out.
The answer to this problem is education. Giving those that wish to venture out into the wilds the skills required to look after themselves. There is no shame in this, in fact having access to a qualified instructor for a day, weekend or week while you learn the skills needed to venture out solo into the wilderness will set you up for life and will minimise the chance of you making a life threatening decision. ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’.
Although, unless working with children in the outdoors, there is no legal requirement to have qualifications to lead others out into the mountains or on adventures, there is a very regimented scheme of training and qualifications that outdoor professionals go through to work in the outdoors. Although this legal requirement does not exist, no outdoor centre or professional expedition company I know would hire someone without the basic outdoor qualifications unless they were proven as an expert or asset in their field of expertise. The outdoor qualifications do not show someones experience above and beyond their qualification but they do standardise and show that if a person holds a certain qualification they have met the minimum requirements to hold that qualification and that above all they can look after other people in that discipline.
If you are venturing out this summer, which I wholeheartedly encourage you to do, please seek out advice and training from properly qualified outdoor professionals. Many basic courses do not break the bank and are totally an investment into your future enjoyment and understanding of the outdoors and will equip you for a true epic adventure if this is a path you wish to walk. No more ‘false epic’ selfies or embellishment of the mundane. Real wilderness, kick-ass shots and wild immersion all within your control.
Please be safe out there!!!