Bread Crumbs – How much information is enough?

As my outdoor “career” has progressed, I’ve learned new,  or enhanced existing, outdoor skills…mainly through trial and error!

Among them..

  • Map reading and compass use became more efficient.
  • Learning to plot out a route by looking at map.
  • Picking a good campsite.
  • ..and so on

All skills that were refined the more time spent outdoors. 

But there are other skills I had to learn along the way, too, as this website has gained more readership.

Mainly, striking a balance between giving information and sharing a place without giving so much detail it is less of a wild place.

I learned the hard way that if a person gives detailed instructions on a backpacking trip (what maps to take, trailhead directions, trails to follow and other specific information) , the law of unintended consequences may kick in.

(It was also a  lesson in that more people read this silly little website than I realized at the time!)

And it is a trend I’ve noticed. If a person gives out an exact way of doing something, even if the route existed in one form or another for a long time, the route  becomes popular.  Throw in  an acronym for some alphabet soup hiking, and the popularity is insured.

Giving detailed instructions ala a guidebook is not necessarily a bad thing. There is an obvious niche where people want very detailed information on how to spend their outdoor time. 

But, at least for me, I’ve realized giving detailed instructions is counterproductive in some ways.  In the increasingly busy mountains of Colorado, trying to keep certain spots, routes or camping locations a little obscure is important for me.  

Older posts of mine won’t be edited. However, some astute readers have written me. They noticed that for reports written within the last year or so, I’ve been vague in giving specific details of the places where I’ve been. Guilty. 🙂

As Aaron of TrailGroove magazine succinctly puts it:

“There also seems to be a big difference between saying “Here’s the route I took, here are some photos, and check out my trip on this map” and something like “Here is THE route, this is the map, here are the coordinates and campsites“, and then critically, giving it a name… “

I think it is important for these areas to be known. Without some use, it is hard to justify protecting the wild areas in my opinion.

On the other hand, giving the exact way of doing something can turn the wild areas into something to check off a list.  Less of a wild area and more a city park with limited cell service.

Give the person the tools (overall area and information)  and a wild place can be experienced. Give them the bread crumbs? A lot of people are lead a certain way,  and in many ways, have the experience as done by someone else…

Of course, the advantage of OTHER people placing breadcrumbs means I know to avoid those specific places and do something on my own.  😉

Update 2017: I wrote a follow-up article about Social Media Ethics.  If I had to sum up the article, I’d call it “Obscurity, not secrecy” as the overriding principle. 

How to get your own ideas for your trips? This article gives some ideas. Some additional Trip Planning articles are instructive as well.

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Boots on Trail
Boots on Trail
4 years ago

I was just thinking about this very thing last week as I was working on a LNT post. We seek to leave our wild places wild, leaving no perceptible imprint of our time there, but when trip reports and guidebooks draw new users to the area, we have essentially failed in our reach for ethical travel in the backcountry. Doesn’t take long for an area to be devastated once boots are present.

C.H.
C.H.
4 years ago

I finished a hike in Lost Creek Wilderness last month, a nice out and back where my nephew and I got to introduce my sister to backpacking. We ate at Zoki’s(?) on the way out, and we saw you and Liz Thomas. I only know about Lost Creek because of you, and I’ve introduced more than a half dozen people to backpacking there. It cuts both ways. I’m populating the wilderness area with hikers a few times each year. But, I’m looking at another 30+ years of hiking here if I’m lucky, and I’m eager to help protect and preserve… Read more »

Nick Gatel
Nick Gatel
4 years ago

Bravo!

LarryBoy
4 years ago

To me it’s pretty simple – people are fundamentally lazy. If we can find a “canned” route for which someone else has already done the legwork, we’re much more likely to choose that option over a scratch-built option. Furthermore, because canned routes don’t require as much prep, the average person can do more of these kind of routes per year. I prepped for a big week in the Winds this summer using Pallister’s book, Skurka’s notes, Wilson/Dixon, and hours upon hours staring at a map, trying to figure out the best route across the spine of the Winds. This was… Read more »