In every hiking Facebook group, there are a good number of people who treat it like their own personal travel agent. Asking open-ended questions that could easily be answered through a google search, these individuals avoid doing their own research by asking others to do it for them. “Can my car get to the trailhead? What is the weather forecast looking like? Relying on people you do not know to research and plan a hiking or climbing trip isn’t a great idea, to say the least. Here is a full overview of this issue and a few good resources to research your own hiking and climbing trips.
You shouldn't trust beta from random strangers on the internet.
One of the biggest problems with Facebook-based mountain research is trust. Many self-proclaimed experts online are little more than advanced beginners. They may provide information that sounds right, but is wrong in practice. There are also many troll and spam accounts that enjoy purposefully sharing false information just to mess with people. If you are new to hiking or climbing it can be very difficult to tell when the info is accurate, and when it shouldn’t be trusted.
Stick to trusted sources like mountaineering and guide websites (like this one!). If you do ask someone on social media for advice, make sure you take a moment to ask about their experience to vet them first. If they do not seem legit, or the advice is questionable, always seek a second opinion.
Researching a hike teaches you what you need to know
Another issue with relying on others for research is a lack of learning for yourself. Going through the process of investigating a route, finding a map, and reading trail reports teaches you a lot about what you need to know to be prepared. If you always rely on other people to do the research, you will never learn what you need to know. This leaves you far less prepared if something goes wrong or you didn’t plan ahead. For example, if you don’t research fall weather conditions, you might not realize that you need to be prepared for snow as early as September.
Relying on others means you can't get updated information
Self-reliance is important in the mountains where rescue is hours to days away. If you rely on others to get information on weather or trail conditions, you won’t know how to get updated information on the morning of your climb, or even while out in the field. There have been many occasions where I found a cell signal while on a hike and used it to get updated info. That’s impossible if you don’t know where to go to get said information. Learn to research before your hike, so that if you need to do it during your hike, you can.
When should you ask others for information online?
Obviously, it is not a good idea to rely entirely on other people while planning your trip. However, there are a few specific things you might ask that are perfectly appropriate for social media. Specifically, it is a good place to get beta on trail conditions so you know what gear you need to bring. You can find information about picking a peak and route, checking the weather, and packing through solid sources, but it is sometimes only possible to get a recent trail report from someone online who has been there.
You can also check out 14ers.com and their trip reports, trailhead condition reports, and peak condition reports. They are more dependable than social media accounts, which are better as a last resort if there are no recent reports.
Resources for Researching 14ers
Here is a full list of the websites and resources I use while planning my fourteener hikes and climbs. They are a much better option than asking open-ended questions on Facebook. Safe travels on the trail!
- 14ers.com: Trail reports, peak condition reports, trailhead reports, and route guides for 14ers and 13ers.
- https://www.weather.gov: Use their MapClick forecast to get in-depth weather forecasts for any peak nationwide.
- https://www.mountain-forecast.com: Another good weather forecast site, though less specific than NOAA.
- Snotel Interactive Map: This map shows current snow levels and other information throughout Colorado. Great for the spring and fall when snow is variable.
- http://www.hillmap.com: An interactive map with slope angle data ideal for identifying and avoiding avalanche-prone slopes.
- Freedom of the Hills: This famous guide is essentially the bible of mountaineering, full of information for staying safe in the mountains.