Want The Best Bad Advice On Hiking? It’s All Too Easily Found
There Latin phrase that has been adopted for consumers…Caveat Emptor. Buyer Beware.
Anyone know what the Latin phrase for ‘Surfer Beware’ is?
It is a truism of the internet…if you search in any popular search engine for a greatest or best or top ten anything, whatever pops up is going to be basically a complete waste of your time. There are of course perfectly good explanations on why this is so. What it boils down to is, people who know how to use the internet, but don’t know squat about a popular topic, say topic, have found clever ways to drive search engine traffic to a poor content site about topic X, where they take full advantage of an unsuspecting public.
Not so surprising. Surfer beware. But what does surprise us is how many allegedly legitimate content venues routinely parlay in this sort of nonsense.
One of the biggest mongers of un-authoritative, borrowed or recycled content is, in fact, that great enigma of the newsstand, Outside Magazine. Or more correctly, its online counterpart, Outsideonline.
Here’s an example. I did a google search for ‘the best summits in the southeastern United States.’ Guess what popped up out of the surf?
According to this Outside writer – who is an accomplished outdoor journalist – in an Article entitled these are the top five southeastern mountaintops worthy of visiting (“What are the best summit hikes in the Southeast?”)
5. Springer Mountain, Georgia
4. Clingmans Dome, Tennessee
3. Mount Rogers, Virginia
2. Max Patch, North Carolina
1. Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
Almost no reasonably informed and well-travelled REAL hiker would come to the above conclusion.
If the person in question actually HAD done the research, they might have discovered that…
- One of these summits has NO VIEWS from the mountain top itself
- One other has a few very restricted views only
- Two others have views only because there’s a (typically crowded) observation deck on top
- The same two mountains with the observation deck also have parking lots almost on the summit (it’s mentioned in passing, as in, “You can drive if you want to but…”) The writer seems oblivious to the havoc a parking lot on the summit will do to the experience regardless of what method you reach it by.
What’s left, basically, is Max Patch…which probably is a legit contender for the top five. But it’s the only one that could reasonably carry a candle.
Basically, this is a list of real famous, real popular and well visited summits that one can pull from any AAA road trip guide, compiled by a person who took no time to investigate whether any of these are actually worthwhile or not. A true southern hiker will tell you that there’s easily twenty summits as good or better than these. Roan Mountain, Black Balsam, Mt. Leconte (surprised he overlooked that one,) Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Old Rag, Albert Mountain, Sam’s Knob, Table Rock Mountain, Shortoff Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain, Sharp Top…We could probably extend that list out to two full paragraphs.
The article also opines about Mt. Rogers and its “360-degree view of southwestern Virginia from its exposed summit.” Well, as anyone who has been there knows (and anyone who has access to the internet can clearly find out) the summit of Mt. Rogers, like most in the south, is entirely treed in. There are no views from the summit at all, except those of pine trees. The views to be had on Mt. Rogers are from the open meadows well below the summit…which, by the way, you can drive up to. All of which any well-informed article should have mentioned.
At the bottom of each blurb, the article also conveniently mentions an outdoor outfitter service that will helpfully ‘guide’ you to the top of any of these peaks for a fee. Nice of them to give a shout out to local business…but they might also have mentioned that no guide service is required to hike to any of these peaks. Well-marked established trails lead to all of them.
Now…the fact that any so-and-so possessed of a keyboard, mouse, microprocessor, connection to the internet and a web hosting site could make this mistake is understandable, perhaps even forgivable. Surfer beware. But that a national brand name could publish this sort of dreck…
Maybe they should change the name of the magazine to “Indoors’ if that’s where their staff wants to stay.
(*Note: Incidentally, the authoritative Summitpost.org has a list of criteria for “notable peaks” (they consider ‘best’ to be an arbitrary term) which includes three criteria…
- has an exceptional view from its summit or en-route to its summit,
- can be accessed only by an arduous but rewarding wilderness route, and
- has outstanding cultural or historical significance.
Of the peaks on the Outsideonline list, three do qualify as a Summitpost.org “Notable Eastern Peak” because they meet the third criteria. But a host of other peaks also meet this broad litmus test. End Note*)
A lot of great talented people have written for Outsideonline. But the site has lost a lot of credibility with us for publishing too many articles just like that. They aren’t the only ones by any means. We have seen any number of so-called authoritative experts writing for big name outdoor and travel sites make statements which don’t have any authoritative weight to them at all. We prefer to follow bloggers, outdoor influencers and hiking sites that feature good content from people who actually know what they are talking about. Fortunately, there are a lot of them.
We here at BecauseItzThere do not consider ourselves experts in the realm of mountains by any means…there are still scores of Southern Peaks we have yet to even see. To be a true expert in a mountain range like the Appalachians you realistically have to have hiked each major venue two or three times, at least. The nature of Appalachians hiking is that you will hit some peaks on a great day and some on an awful one, and the difference can be substantial. You need to experience something multiple times under different conditions before you get a feel for it. We’d like to be that kind of authority, someday.
But until then, we’re not going to make a claim about anything we haven’t seen and done for ourselves.
Bloggers and influencers should never claim authority beyond what they actually can attest to. Boiling down lists of dreck compiled from other sites or books or lists without knowing anything about the subject, or taking any time to look into the subject — that is wrong.
So the bottom line is, chose your subject matter experts wisely. Always consider the authority of the source. If the source hasn’t been there, or at hasn’t at least talked to anyone who has been there, then it’s a good bet they aren’t really an authority at all.