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Point / Counterpoint: Are social media enthusiasts ruining hiking for everyone else?

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Image Credits: Linda Shu

No, social media isn’t the problem

By Alannah Wallace

Recently, complaints about crowding on BC trails such as Joffre Lakes and Garibaldi have skyrocketed. Places that were once pristine are now almost impossible to find parking in; full of damaged footbridges and campsites; littered with waste; and generally lacking solitude.

This has lead many avid hikers to claim that social media is ruining hiking in BC. While I sympathize, I think some problem-solving and perspective-shifting can make all the difference.

Platforms like Instagram get a lot of blame. Many hikers opt out of location tagging, to hide their favourite trails from the rest of BC. To these people: I’m sorry that some beautiful places are now crowded, but you have to share. The reality is that they’re not your trails, and there are plenty of others to hike in BC — stop being selfish.

Besides, seeing others on the trail isn’t so bad. Almost everyone I bump into is extremely happy to be there and a pleasure to talk to. Our surroundings motivate people to become more active — isn’t this what we want? If people are trying to get the perfect picture while doing this, who cares? That’s their prerogative.

Sadly, although we’re surrounded by beautiful backcountry, most of our population will never experience this. There’s no better way to rejuvenate from our “overworked” Western culture than walking through the mountains for 48 hours, or waking up to an eyeful of stars. So to anyone who wants to join, welcome! But please, do your part.

The real problem is increasing trail damage, pollution, and safety concerns. People litter trails with banana peels, apple cores, and even toilet paper. Not only is this an unpleasant view, but it’s harmful to the local flora and fauna. It’s also common to see people completely unprepared for the elevation gain, trail conditions, and overnight backpacking — which sometimes leads to injuries, death, and expensive rescue missions.

With guidance and education, we can reduce these problems. For example, many people just aren’t aware that although fruit peels are biodegradable, they can take years to fully degrade, leaving a mess for quite some time. Also, leaving food waste in the trailhead garbage can produces methane gas that is harmful to the atmosphere. Bring your food waste home and compost it; compost facilities use heat to degrade these products faster.

If you see someone on the trail making mistakes like these, kindly inform them of the consequences of their actions. Too often, I either see no one addressing these issues, or the opposite: people being extremely mean to others, which just makes the targets defensive and non-compliant.

So instead of grumbling to your other hiker friends about the Instagrammers on the trails, or bullying the casual hikers tagging locations and writing articles, do something that’s actually helpful, while acknowledging that everyone has the right to enjoy the immense beauty that BC has to offer.

Yes, it’s irritating and unhealthy

By Kendra Nelson

Picture waking up at the first sign of sunrise and preparing for a day of hiking in the beautiful mountains of super, natural British Columbia. After keeping a steady pace on a gruelling incline, you reach the summit. Ahhhhhhh, you think, 360 degrees of breathtaking nature — until you hear, “Now get me in a shot over here! Make sure my butt’s in it!”

It was only a matter of time before the issue of social media etiquette and hiking clashed. While many will defend social media to the death, there are plenty of reasons to leave the phone at home (or at least in your pocket) when going on a hike.

We live in a constant state of worrying about the future. Tests, assignments, grades, finances, relationships — you name it, we worry about it. Staying connected to your social media accounts, full of updates and pressures to keep up with everyone’s lives, can be exhausting. Leaving behind your “information box” lets you breathe, and breathing leads to living in the moment.

Being in nature has been scientifically proven to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. In his books, The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv refers to the development of a phenomenon he calls “nature-deficit disorder.”

He uses this term to describe behavioural issues present in children who spend excessive time indoors — a direct result of living in a high-tech society. Despite criticism from the medical community drawn by this informal title, the point remains that bringing your phone to the very place you go to escape that high-tech world is counterproductive.

Most hikers know that a sort of “hiking etiquette” exists. “Leave no trace,” “take nothing with you,” and “hike quietly” are among the rules. Many avid hikers have added “no cell phones” to the list.

I had a personal experience where a young girl had her phone blaring obnoxious autotuned rap as loud as possible. People don’t want to hear that shit on a bus, let alone a mountain. If you’re worried about bears, a regular speaking volume is often more than enough to scare off those timid creatures, even before you realize they were there.

Lastly, while I can’t refute that mountain pictures are beautiful, having every possible angle posted on Instagram ruins the surprise. The end goal of a hike is to view this beauty in person, and it’s even more rewarding when you haven’t seen it before.

Focus on the time spent with your hiking partner or, if solo, the sounds of nature, the smells, and the view you won’t get every day. Instead of aiming for the pristine mountaintop photo of you in your skintight yoga pants, why not work on making your health pristine instead? Make this moment selfishly yours. There’s no need to share.

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