If life has taught me one thing it’s that change is inevitable and that it’s rarely welcomed with open arms when it occurs. As 2020 progressed and the Covid-19 virus kept us all cooped up at home with nothing to do, something that was slowly becoming more and more apparent to me over the past few years suddenly became crystal clear. Scenes showing hundreds of cars lining highways that used to be empty made me realize that the need for guidebooks, GPS tracks and websites such as mine is officially over. People don’t need more resources telling them exactly where to go and how to get there – they have plenty of avenues to help them with that already and I would argue there’s way too many of them. Friends, I have concluded that it’s time for me to take a big step back in this regard, resulting in some pretty big changes here at explor8ion. As I am want to do, I will ramble on a bit about it below (!!) but let me summarize;
- GPS tracks have been removed from all posts and I will not be providing these going forward. Explor8ion is meant to be a repository of story and adventure, not a store of GPS tracks.
- I am limiting access to certain trip reports to people who create a user login on my site (you can use an existing WordPress account if you have one) and request access via the contact form or an email to what I’m calling “premium content”. Anyone who asks qualifies – the reason for doing this will become clear if you read my musings following this summary. The short version is that I wish to limit the sharing of certain trip reports to folks who have genuine interest in my art as expressed through photos and stories, not just blindly following my tracks.
- Trip reports from common areas that are already widely published will remain public for now – albeit without GPS tracks.
One thing is certain. There is an end date coming for this site – I am quickly losing interest in driving more and more people into more and more obscure and remote areas of our backyard when I see what’s happening nowadays in our front yard. That’s it for immediate changes, now let’s get into some of my reasoning behind them.
What and Why is Explor8ion?
As anyone who has hiked, biked, skied, climbed, scrambled or just hung out with me will already know, I’ve been struggling with an identity problem for many years when it comes to explor8ion. Is it a repository of GPS tracks and beta on peakbagging, hiking, backpacking and canoeing? Is it a blog? Is it a photo album? Is it a brag list? It is all those things? The biggest question of all is the shortest but also by far the toughest.
Why have I spent countless hours of my own time maintaining and producing thousands of pages of content on explor8ion? Why do I spend hundreds of my own dollars each year to keep the site going, year after year? Why have I shared it so publicly with so many people – most of whom I don’t know and have never met? Answers I’ve come up with include;
- Personal enjoyment – I love writing and photography and most artists love to share their work with others
- Preserving good memories for myself and my friends
- Ego – wanting all my efforts to mean something and desiring some sort of recognition for them
- Boredom and anxiety – I get ‘twitchy’ very quickly at work or at home, explor8ion is a nice outlet for all this energy
- Beta sharing & community spirit – encouraging others to get off the couch and explore
- Future income – books, sponsorships and potential partnerships if I ever get around to these
When I meditate on what I really want out of explor8ion I realize that I want to write and share stories, photos and video of my various adventures around the Canadian wilderness. I consider myself an artist and a Canadian farm boy explorer who loves to poke around in corners of our vast landscape that I haven’t seen before – sharing my impressions with others through writing and photography. I want to preserve great memories with my friends and family, and I want to share just enough beta to inspire others to do their own unique explorations. I do not want explor8ion to be about my ego (i.e. site traffic stats / social media) or boredom. I do not want explor8ion to be a simple map of the landscape with lines for others to follow blindly and pad their summit stats with. I’ve never been a fan of turning a hobby into a source of income or enduring the hassles of a paid partnership.
These realizations have real-world consequences on how I go forward with this site into 2021 and beyond. The first consequence is the removal of all GPS tracks. Over the years I’ve come to realize that much of the traffic to explor8ion is simply to download GPS tracks in order to blindly follow them and duplicate my experiences and pad summit stats. If I’m 100% honest about it this is the main reason I added them in the first place. I wanted to encourage more traffic to my site in order to feed my own ego (it’s surprisingly hard to admit that). I do not want explor8ion to be a GPS track repository, there are other sites that already do this. There are also many other trip report sites that have tracks for you to download and follow. I want folks to browse explor8ion for the adventures and the story that it contains. I want people to enjoy and get inspired by my photographs. I want to inspire people to do so much more than simply follow my tracks – I want them to create their own tracks, wherever life takes them. This is why I’m limiting certain trip reports to what I’m calling “premium content” users. In short, if you aren’t interested in my art or long winded rambles then this is clearly not a site for you and there are many others that will happily provide GPS tracks and easy summits. I can’t change what other folks do with their stories, I can only change my own and that’s what this post is all about.
The End of Discovery
My theory on the end of the age of discovery in the Rockies wilderness is quite simple. The 1st age of discovery in the Rockies was before anything was known about them in the wider world, other than local aboriginal knowledge (which sadly is still not very well known). This was an age when Swiss guides were hired by the railway companies to take their clients on tours of the Rockies and up unknown peaks. Rich Europeans and poor explorers dragged themselves and their clients all over the Rockies, bagging first ascents and mapping the rugged landscape in a frenzy of activity until the world wars disrupted a lot of them. The 2nd age of discovery was from around the mid 1900’s to the early 2000’s. This was the age of folks such as some hard core American and Canadian climbers and many other adventurous travelers. They wrote about their experiences in common shared media such as ACC journals, published guidebooks or their own personal notes and the odd summit register. Eventually some of them started publishing their adventures on the Internet using sites like bivouac or gravsports. Folks like Rick Collier managed quite a few first ascents of some very remote and obscure peaks but most FA’s were completed long before even these hardy folks started wandering around the more obscure rivers and valleys of the Rockies, following topo maps and their noses up many of the peaks for only the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time in recorded history.
In the early to mid 2000’s the age of the Internet and the 3rd age of discovery began in earnest and all mystery in the Rockies (and pretty much everywhere else on earth) was doomed to be lost. First it was just a small trickle of revelation. Sites like the Gravsports, RMBooks and ClubTread forums resulted in up-to-the-minute trip beta, trip reports and many photos and even videos to accompany them. Inevitably the competition for tough or hard-to-access peaks began in earnest as people recognized that there are only so many of these adventures remaining out there. “Bucket Lists” were started and finished, including completions of the “Kane list”, the “11,000ers list” and many others. Social Media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter took off, leading to even more competition and sharing of personal accomplishments and trips including photos, video and GPS tracks. Sites like ViewRanger, Strava and Gaia ensured that little dotted lines now crisscross the Rockies wilderness like goat paths – only these can be easily followed on a device that sits comfortably in our pockets. Today, other than a very few, very remote and obscure peaks and valleys, the 3rd age of explor8ion in the Rockies is coming to a rapid and inevitable end.
I’ll be the first to admit that when someone else posts a trip report from a relatively obscure area that I’m interested in, I lose my enthusiasm to attempt it myself. Even if I do eventually attempt it, it’s much less exciting and interesting than it would have been had I not known so much about it. The discovery buzz that comes with 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th ascents of many of the most remote and obscure Rockies summits is rapidly coming to an end for those of us that live for it. Soon all peaks except the truly obscure and relatively unknown or unattractive ones will have dozens of ascents and likely tons of Internet beta including Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Gaia GPS tracks and Instagram tags. I’m pretty sure we’re close to VR tours of most areas of the world, likely put together by satellites or drones and covering even the most hard-to-reach spots that haven’t seen an iPhone yet. Sites like FatMap and the Sentinel satellite system are just the beginning of this trend.
It’s taken me a long time but I’m finally starting to realize that while photos, videos and stories can be inspiring – maps, GPS tracks and too much beta can be have the exact opposite effect. Oversharing special areas of our planet for no reason other than ego or personal gain is never going to result in more protection, more solitude or more wilderness. It will always result in less of those things and it will always mean more human impact in places that don’t need or desire it.
My passion over the last 15 years or so has been exploring and documenting my travels through the Rockies but I have to admit and reconcile the fact that doing this in a public forum has impacted not only the landscape and wilderness itself, but a sense of the unknown that was so special about trekking through the Canadian Rockies. I’ve gotten more than one email from folks expressing their disappointment that I documented an area before they could get to it – taking away some of their anticipation and sense of adventure. The easy answer to this concern is that people can choose to stay off social media and sites like mine but that is easier said than done in this connected world of ours. It also doesn’t prevent a formerly quiet, natural area from getting much busier from folks who do read and use sites like mine and many others for trip ideas and new areas to set up camp or tramp through on their way to somewhere else.
Frankly, it’s getting harder and harder for me to defend sharing as much beta as I have been, when the end result is clearly less and less “wild” in our great Canadian wilderness. Another impactful trend that I’ve noticed over the last few years is the competitive side of humanity that treats the mountains and much of the landscape as a giant natural obstacle course. I’m not entirely without fault here either, as I post my total distances and times on every trip report which is sometimes seen as a challenge, even though I certainly don’t intend it that way. While I understand competition and the strive to be “the best”, this relentless attitude obviously doesn’t help the natural world! When trails and routes are simply props to set PB’s and brag to our Strava buddies how quickly we did the same peak or route as someone else they are doomed for abuse and overuse. And yes – once again I am not at all innocent here with my 53 ascents of Prairie Mountain so far this year! I fully understand and acknowledge that I am the world’s biggest hypocrite as far as most of this discussion goes and it’s starting to damage my soul more than I care to admit! Hence this post and hence these real-world actions that I’m taking to assuage some of the damage I’m sure I have inadvertently caused.
It’s impossible for those of us who spend so much of our lives in the wilderness to ignore the fact that many special landscapes are now significantly impacted by (too much) human activity. Locally, I think of areas such as the Carnarvon Lakes, the White Goat Wilderness, Egypt Lakes, Highwood Pass, and obviously Lake Louise and the Skoki area. The Columbia Icefields is another area which was always well-traveled but never in the numbers of folks up there on a weekly basis nowadays, especially in spring. Skiing Mount Columbia in a day used to be rare. Now it’s done almost daily in prime season – often by multiple parties on the same day! The hwy 93 corridor used to be extremely quiet in the winter and is now full of parked cars and people everywhere you look on most weekends. The Rockies 11000er’s used to be an obscure list of mostly crappy, loose peaks that very few climbers were seriously interested in. Now the Facebook group supporting the quest has over 2700 members and some of the most remote peaks are seeing many ascents every year. The Scrambles in the Rockies Facebook group has something like 12,000 members! Then there’s the example of David Thompson Country. Only around 5 years ago most people wouldn’t be able to find it on a map. Than photos of the ice bubbles on Abraham Lake exploded it all over Social Media. Now it’s Covid-19 and random camping that’s made it popular. The area has been completely overrun by random campers everywhere, with guns, dogs, toilet paper and camera phones and is on a fast track to becoming an overused wasteland unless it’s granted some protected status very soon.
Even the remote landscapes of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario can’t escape the inevitable damage that human attention causes. I clearly remember when we first visited this special place there were very few established campsites and very few other paddlers to be seen anywhere. Over the past 5 years or so there are many more float planes landing on remote lakes carrying canoes and supplies. There are many more overused campsites along routes which have seen guided tours with paying clients introduced to them. Fishing in some of the hottest lakes has seen a dramatic drop in the numbers caught and melted beer cans now sit in well-used fire pits looking over hidden little back bays that used to see 1-2 paddlers per year at most. I can’t stop “progress” but I can certainly limit my impact in these and other areas by limiting the beta that I share on them.
These are just some small examples of the incredibly ironic and frustrating issue of humans literally loving (and “liking”) the wilderness to its detriment. There is nothing I can think of to rectify this inevitability – and I grieve the loss for all those many people who never got to experience this sense of discovery and for myself and my friends who won’t experience it in the same way for very much longer.
I cannot see how profiting off of the natural world in any sense (whether through money or popularity) is ever going to result in a cleaner, wilder and more pristine world. I cannot see a clear path forward for our tiny area of this planet that doesn’t result in less wild in our wilderness.
I know there will be many who say I’m exaggerating or off my marbles if I think that publishing a trip report on a relatively remote and hard-to-access area is going to result in its eventual demise or impact by humans. There will even be people who will say that my ego is way too inflated if I think my site has contributed in any way to the busy weekends in the Rockies west of YYC. I can only hope you’re right! Hopefully I’ve had ZERO impact with explor8ion and my conscience can be cleared on the matter. In the meantime, I’m taking the actions that I feel I need to take. You are more than free to take, or to not take your own actions as you wish.
We all have the same right to go out of our front doors and go on adventures in the wilderness. We all have the same right to make a living taking others on exciting trips that make their lives worth living. We all have the same right to share a nice photo or exciting video on social media and encourage everyone else to go take the same one. We all have the same right to enjoy an invigorating run in beautiful landscapes and challenge our friends to beat our times. We all have the right to make a living doing something we love. We all have the right to start a website or business that inspires others to get out of the concrete jungle for some much needed nature therapy.
Honestly, the issue here is not one that I can see any of us, including myself, ultimately resolving. There’s just too many of us humans with too much time and too much money, and simply too little wilderness to host us all without impact. It’s simple math. As an animal on this planet, we are too many and our appetites for new experiences and adventures are simply too large to be sustainable. C’est la vie.
I know this all sounds very bleak, but I challenge you to look inward and ask yourself what you and your friends are willing to do to limit the impacts we’re all having on the natural world? Are you willing to stay home on weekends so that the campsite you were going to stay at remains quiet? Are you willing to stop posting photos on social media so that others aren’t tempted to run out and duplicate your success? Are you willing to quit running mountain trails so that the mountain valleys remain untouched by human feet? Are you willing to stop sharing powder days with your followers so that the distant glaciers and valleys remain untouched throughout the long winter months? Are you willing to stop showing others new areas to explore for the sake of the wilderness itself? These are hard questions that I don’t have the answers to myself. 🙁
As for me and my contribution towards the ending of the 3rd age of discovery and the impact that explor8ion has had on the natural world, I am not 100% sure where my path goes from here over the next few months and years. It’s surprisingly hard for me to simply shut the site down – even though that’s what I think I must do sooner than later. I guess I have so much time invested into it that I’m not sure what I’d do without it. I know it’s also a blow to my ridiculous ego which is probably the only reason it’s still around at all – and I really, really hate that. I love this site and I love sharing my adventures as an inspiration for others to get out and explore this beautiful world. I mostly love exploring wild places and if one cannot exist without the other than I feel an obligation to do what I can in preserving that which is rapidly disappearing. Anything that I can do to lessen my personal impact on the natural world and promote user responsibility towards it is 100% worth it to me. If this means that explor8ion.com loses fans and fades into oblivion I am at peace with that.