Route-Itis

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
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oleander
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Route-Itis

Post by oleander » Mon Aug 27, 2018 8:26 pm

Just got back from 17 days in the Sierras (TR to follow, I hope).

Has anyone else noticed the Route-Itis that has taken over as a new mentality out there? Granted, this has been developing for years (or perhaps has been around forever). But on this round, it seemed particularly on display.

I intersected with people doing the SHR and, later, parts of the KCHBR. The part of Route-Itis that I understand very well is that it makes planning an off-trail route through the Sierra a heck of a lot easier. Just buy the Roper book or the Skurka guides and go. Less time spent out of your busy life in March, attempting to map out and recon this pass and that pass on HST or Summitpost or wherever. Someone else has done the (very hard) work for you, in picking the route, so why not follow? Heck I followed the SHR for several days myself, and it saved me some planning time, for sure.

Here are the mentalities that were a bit more concerning to me associated with Route-Itis.

1. Whatever is On The Route is, ipso facto, more interesting than whatever is Off The Route. This thinking started with the JMT; why would you hike anywhere else if you could just follow the JMT? Doesn't the JMT hit the very best parts? This time, I interacted with people following the SHR or the KCHBR who were genuinely confused that I was not strictly following "the route." That basin next door could not really be too interesting, otherwise why would [Route Author] have left it off The Route? There is a genuine lack of curiosity or desire for exploration. A sort of tunnel vision.

2. Potential crowding and...Less challenge with micro route-finding, because everyone else has pounded a trail. (I realize not everyone would agree with me that this is a minus, but having a use trail everywhere takes away some of the skill-building I seek to do.) Well-defined use trails and campsites now appear in some off-trail areas that used to show no sign of human presence. The KCHBR is the new SHR. Westbound over Longley Pass, the hard-pounded use trail does not curve north to South Guard Lake as one might expect. Instead it trends down to the SW in keeping with the KCHBR. The KCHBR is A Thing now, you guys.

3. GPS-itis and people who don't seem to know how to use their topo map and compass if the GPS runs out of juice. There are some highly experienced people on these routes but also a lot more inexperienced people out there than I used to see even 5 years ago. I tend to wonder if more people have gotten into trouble or if more rescues are being initiated on these routes.

4. This is a big one. People are waaaaaay overestimating how much they can/should do in a day. There were so many stressed-out people trying to accomplish, say, a 7-day section in 4 days. I mean MOST of the hikers I met were in this situation. They underestimate how much time it will take to go x miles. "How hard could it be? It's an established route." A result is that people are hiking on an inflamed hip (because no time), are hiking over extremely exposed passes while it's hailing (because no time), are hiking in the dark (because no time). Believe me, I love long days sometimes myself. It just seems like people are not accounting for Nature having its own plans, such as starting to thunderstorm at noon for 4 days in a row (as it did while I was on the SHR).

5. Frozen Lake Pass? Snow-Tongue Pass? King Col? People do not want to hear that these passes might be No Fun, or that nobody who's done them seems to ever want to do them again, or that there might be easy enough alternative passes or walk-arounds I could explain and show on their map. What you get is a blank stare. Followed by:

"But it's on The Route. So, Snow-Tongue Pass is what we're gonna do."

- sometimes then followed by some old-fashioned bravado. If everyone else has done those passes, why, I will prove I can do them too!

What have been your observations?

- Oleander








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wildhiker
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Re: Route-Itis

Post by wildhiker » Mon Aug 27, 2018 11:59 pm

Thanks for the observations, Oleander. I generally avoid the well-known trails and xc routes, so I don't have as much direct experience. Also, I just don't get up into the mountains as much as you! However, I have noticed a general decline in use on lesser-known trails while everyone complains about the overuse on the well-known ones. For example, I just did a week hike mid-August from Rancheria trailhead near Wishon Reservoir to Blackcap Basin (Pearl Lake) and back, with some cross-country shortcuts in the forest trail sections. I saw a total of 10 people, and only camped anywhere near (I mean, within miles) of anyone else on one night (at Pearl Lake). The trails are clearly little used, because they are faint and I lost them a few times (looked for blazes or old cut logs to get back on track). Blackcap Basin itself was gorgeous.

So I see a concentration of use in the last couple of decades, and I blame it completely on the internet. HST included. Social media especially! I think there is too much information, too easily accessed, combined with the natural competitiveness of youth trying to prove itself (other folks post their exploits - I can do it, too!). Thank God we have quota systems that spread out the use, or I think there would be even greater concentration of use. The internet also spreads knowledge to novices and people far away, who don't have enough general knowledge of the Sierra to know which trails might be attractive to them, so they look to these well-known and publicized trails and routes. Heck, I do the same thing when I go to a completely unfamiliar area (like my planned trip to the Dolomites in Italy next month), except I like to find real guidebooks that more succinctly synthesize information for an area, rather than endless internet searches.

-Phil

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by longri » Tue Aug 28, 2018 6:56 am

I love doing routes. Sometimes it's a bit OCD to stick to the route exactly but it's part of the game. It is a game. It's not unlike bouldering where you might avoid a hold because it's not "on" the route. Part of the game. Sometimes I push too hard in the mountains or overestimate my abilities, but that's part of the fun. I don't mind failing. On my most recent outing I walked so hard that one of feet blistered very badly. It took three weeks to heal when I got home. But I had a great time. I'd do it again the same.

I get bored just following my nose and sniffing the flowers. That's okay for a rest day but otherwise I want to be moving. For me the wilderness is one part beauty and one part gymnasium. I love the physical aspect.

If you want to walk in the wilderness some other way that's okay with me. I don't mind what you do.

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:02 am

I agree that social media drives this. They want to do a "named" route to say they did it. Not all bad if you also mix in non-known routes in your yearly backpacks. Most really do not want to do the planning homework, even if they have the time. The GPS tracks, PLB and route information are a security blanket for those without extensive off-trail experience. I really think many are afraid to step off the route. Many approach the backpack as an athletic event, not as a wilderness experience.

I too have noticed more use-trails, and not only in the Sierra. This is a trend in all backpack areas where off-trail travel is relatively easy. Not so much in areas with thick underbrush such as the North Cascades. On the positive side, at least on established trails, the extra use has kept trails open when the Forest Service has struggled to maintain them. Backpackers complain about horse use, but some trails would simply disappear if not for horse use.

As a guide-book writer who also describes set routes, I see both sides of the coin. I simply take my experience, that includes about two "dud" routes for each "good" route, and condense that into a guide so those who may only have one or two chances to experience the Wind Rivers choose high quality routes. I specifically DO NOT provide GPS tracks primarily because these do lead to excessive use-trails. Most routes have many small variations; six of one, half dozen the other. I leave it to the user to decide which variation they want to take. I offer 50 routes spread out over the area, varying lengths and difficulties. There are no "big name" routes; none are labeled "the best". My goal is to offer information, but not try to "sell" anyone on going someplace they are not initially interested in with or without my guide.

If you actually read Ropers SHR guide, he specifically says his "route" is flexible, only a starting point, and his route descriptions are somewhat vague and he does not get into daily mileages or how to do it. It is others, many years after he published his book who have taken Ropers route and made GPS tracks and more details. If I were Roper, I would be really upset about that.

The really big named routes such as the PCT, ACT and CDT have really gotten out of control. This is a world-wide phenomena. I know a few backpackers who are into this world-wide "named trail" phenomena. They hike, they blog, the go all over the world. I am not sure the environmental impact aspect even crosses their minds. Do not get me wrong- I really respect the endurance and tenacity required to do these routes. A few people doing this, and OK; exploding use and it becomes a real problem. I do not know the solution.

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by longri » Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:13 am

It's good to hear from a guidebook writer about this. The popularization of routes started there historically. Roper agonized over creating and publishing his route since he knew full well what it would likely result in. Of course he couldn't predict the exact extent. It's possible to be quiet, to not tell. Some can do it, but it's not human nature.

Nowadays anybody with access to the internet can publish routes. I'd never even heard of the KCHBR before. Now I know!

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by SSSdave » Tue Aug 28, 2018 12:00 pm

The focus on published routes doesn't seem to have much affect on the vast areas beyond that I and others more experienced enthusiasts seek. I would guess the majority of those that historically have had a backpacking adventure did not do so a second time. And that numbers of others will never do so 3 times in their lives. Despite the positives, there is considerable strenuous effort involved, biting insects, sleeping issues, eating issues, that will grate on minds of those that consider repeating. Not negative facets people might proclaim upon completing their adventure but rather walls to surmount doing so again. Additionally the tallest wall to climb over for most is probably the social aspect of trying to find others to do so or solo. In other words many may participate if their friends are driving the activity, leading the activity, but not so if it is just up to them. Also most novices are most often teens and young adults that as they become married, start families, begin a career, increasingly have other commitments and diversions in their lives that overwhelm any short term backpacking interests.

I'll expect that after a period of years the current thru trail focus will fade and a modest number of those experiencing such and have more desire will climb the walls, evolve in their adventures to areas we more experienced on this board get into.

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by rightstar76 » Tue Aug 28, 2018 3:56 pm

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Last edited by rightstar76 on Tue Aug 13, 2019 5:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by balzaccom » Wed Aug 29, 2018 7:03 am

I am not sure what the complaint here is. First of all, I think most of us on these boards subscribe to the idea of letting others hike their own hike. I do. If people want to use route and "epic" trails for their adventures, that's their business. If they want to hike in the same places, and camp in the same places, then that's the kind of hike they want. I know there are those who prefer to camp near other people for the sense of security and social interaction it gives them. That's their hike.

Second of all, the fact that the famous and named trails are busy is not new--I remember thinking the same back in the 1970's about the JMT--although traffic has absolutely increased on a lot of major trails. That's OK. We need people in the wilderness, because they become voters who support candidates who fund the NPS and USFS. That's more important than I can possibly stress. Pat them on the back and tell them to keep going.

Finally, the mountains are large enough that those of us who want isolation and privacy can always follow our topo maps to those places not on the main trails. We can find what we need there. No need to talk about it much--nor is there any need to feel superior to those who prefer to hike another way.
Balzaccom

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by AlmostThere » Wed Aug 29, 2018 8:25 am

The Big SEKI Loop literally started in a forum post on Backpacking Light, and these days you can find people asking on other forums about it as if it's Something Official. And the other day someone asked me about Riser to Kaiser. I said WHAT the he11 is that. She showed me in the All Trails app - it's the Deer Creek trailhead at Huntington Lake, to the top of Kaiser Peak. I said "that is literally not anything official, someone made that up because it rhymes, there is no "riser" anywhere to be found and hey, just go hike to the peak and have fun ok? stop confusing the locals."

She laughed. I rolled my eyes.

Get off my lawn with yer dagnabbed made up routes! Go hike a trail, lemme alone!

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Re: Route-Itis

Post by SSSdave » Wed Aug 29, 2018 9:38 am

I have a public confession to make. Yes I have a decades old chronic case of...

off-route-itis :eek:

Sure I use trails when after a bit of analysis that makes logical efficient sense, but must admit I am operating in hair trigger mode, quick to ramble off from dusty, smelly, horse apple paths when my tummy shows any sign of aching and that itchy scalp is not due to a mosquito bite.

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