Thoughts On The Web

By David Metsky

I started my website over 10 years ago to learn HTML and try and do something for the hiking community in the northeast. It was a small site at first, but there wasnít much competition so it caught on. My philosophy was always to print whatever accurate information I had without any editorializing. Since I wasnít publishing anything that wasnít very obvious to begin with, I didnít feel like I was doing anything with ethical implications. My goal was to provide something akin to an online version of the White Mountain Guide; lots of information, just the facts, let people decide for themselves.

The first time I felt a sense of concern was the page I created for the B-18 bomber crash site on Waternomee. I found the crash site by asking friends whoíd been up there and following their directions. It is a bushwhack and I didnít feel comfortable putting directions out on an open website for the world to see. Instead, I chose to send out directions to people who emailed me but I wondered if I was making things too easy, turning what was once a rare and elusive find into an easy access destination.

As I started posting more information about backcountry skiing, especially on Moosilauke, I got a few emails from folks worried that I was making it too popular. ďI used to be able to get first tracks all the timeĒ they complained, ďnow there are a dozen people on the trails every weekend.Ē My response to this was always that they had no right to a private playground in the mountains because others didnít know about it. Being first doesnít mean exclusive use, right? I felt it was my duty to popularize my favorite sport. It was a liberating feeling, bringing the remote to the masses.

Lately there have been a few incidents that have made me rethink my philosophy. I went skiing with some friends to a backwoods glade that is off any established trail and not on any map. Iíd heard about it for years, but this was my first chance to go up there and I was extremely excited about it. The conditions werenít great that day but I could see how wonderful that area was. I posted some pictures online and gave directions how to get there, thinking that there would be others who would like to know. My friends, whoíve skied there for years and helped create the access, asked me to remove the information, as they didnít want the area to be overrun. Later this winter I skied a wonderful trail in VT that is published in several guidebooks, but I didnít want to post a trip report because I knew it would attract more skiers to something that would be a much better experience with fewer people. Itís not like this area was hidden, but people didnít realize how good it was.

So Iíve made a decision not to post detailed information about backcountry ski trails that arenít already covered on my site. I have come to accept that posting information on this website or any of the online discussion boards is the same as listing a trip in a guidebook or a magazine. There is a phrase I learned while traveling: ďthe Lonely Planet EffectĒ. Any restaurant or hotel mentioned in the LP guides were overrun with tourists and backpackers, transforming them from the quiet, out of the way places that got them listed in the first place into something that was crass and commercial. Itís the same for those hidden areas for skiing, bushwhacking, or exploring. Itís the Hikenblurb Uncertainty Principle: ďThe act of publicizing a destination changes that destinationĒ.

So where does that leave me? Am I now reduced to changing the location names on my trip reports to keep my favorite places hidden? Or do I just not publish them at all, only putting out information about places that are already extremely popular? The answer Iíve come to is that each case is a separate decision. There are many places that wonít receive too many visitors no matter how well publicized they get, but most will be affected by getting press. And, for better or worse, the web is read enough that even posting information in an online forum will increase usage. My outlook has changed as Iíve observed the effects of publicity on remote and isolated areas.

Iím part of the problem as well as part of the solution. I have to resist the urge to publish stuff simply because I can. I liked being the person who delivers needed or interesting information to the world at large, but none of us lives in a bubble. When a guidebook is published, or an article appears in Outside, Backpacker, or even AMC Outdoors, people go to places they read about. If you want to keep places quiet, you have to learn to be quiet. I found out about these places by exploring or hiking/skiing with friends who did the exploring. The act of discovery is a joy in itself. Ask yourself, would you rather stumble across a hidden gem or just follow a herd path? The rest of the public is welcome to discover things the same way. Heck, Iím more than willing to take them there with me. I just have to remind them not to write about it.